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Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 10 Rookie Running Backs for 2013

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Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 10 Rookie Running Backs for 2013
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If recent trends are any indication, there won't be any 1,000-yard rookie rushers in 2013.

While it is purely a coincidence, the last six 1,000-yard rookie rushers have occurred in even-numbered years. There were two 1,000-yard rookies last year (Alfred Morris and Doug Martin), one in 2010 (LeGarrette Blount) and three in 2008 (Steve Slaton, Matt Forte and Chris Johnson)—none in either 2009 or 2011.

Here are my early rookie running back rankings for the 2013 season only using standard scoring:

 

1. Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers

With Eddie Lacy still on the board, the Steelers passed on the Alabama running back and took a potential workhorse in Bell.

Now that Rashard Mendenhall is in Arizona, the main competition for Bell to get carries is Jonathan Dwyer, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in 2014. That said, the Steelers may be attempting to trade Dwyer based on a recent tweet from NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah.

“He’s coming from a pro-style offense … so I expect him to get into the mix and be a factor,” Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley said of Bell (via the Detroit Free Press). “He looks like a workhorse back and I think those numbers indicate that he’s quite capable of carrying it a bunch. He’s not a guy that you’d shy away from giving it to him 30 times a game.”

 

Finishing fifth in the country in rushing (1,793 yards), Bell (382 carries) carried the rock more than any other collegiate back. A big back (6-2, 230 pounds), Bell has the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield for a back his size as evidenced by his 67 receptions over the past two seasons and gets the goal-line touches.

 

2. Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals

For the first time in five decades, there were no running backs selected in the first round of an NFL draft. Selected 37th overall, Bernard was the first of five running backs off the board in the second round.

Not the biggest back (5'9", 202 pounds), Bernard is elusive with good vision, but he can run with power as well. In addition, he is an excellent receiver out of the backfield. In two seasons with the Tar Heels, Bernard ran for 1,200-plus yards and finished with double-digit touchdowns and 45-plus receptions both years.

 

With a 1,000-yard rusher already on the roster (BenJarvus Green-Ellis), Bernard might not get the same kind of opportunity that Bell could get. That said, he should still be one of the most productive rookie runners in the league.

 

3. Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers

Some mock drafts had Lacy going as high as 16th overall to the Rams, but he slipped to the second-to-last pick of the second round due to some medical concerns. In fact, Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazzette wrote that "one team source said the Steelers would not touch Lacy because his big toe had been fused."

For the national champions, Lacy rushed for 1,322 yards and 17 touchdowns last season and averaged 6.77 yards per carry in his three years with Alabama.

In an offense like Green Bay's, Lacy will help open up the team's high-powered passing game even more. In turn, the big back will face defenses that are unable to stack the box. Unfortunately for Lacy's fantasy owners, the Packers also drafted Johnathan Franklin in the fourth round.

 

If the Packers had drafted Lacy or Franklin (instead of both), that back would have been first on this list. The Packers got two backs more than capable of carrying the load, but they will each reduce the fantasy value of the other.

 

4. Montee Ball, Denver Broncos

When you rush for 1,830 yards and 22 touchdowns and it's a drop in your production, it's demonstrates how productive you were as a collegiate back. Ball finished with 5,140 rushing yards, 598 receiving yards and 83 total touchdowns in his career.

The school has produced a long history of uber-productive backs (Ron Dayne, P.J. Hill, John Clay, etc.) that have had limited success at the next level. Considering the short shelf life of NFL running backs, another concern is that Dayne (1,251) was the only Badger running back to have more career touches than Ball (983).

 

It's possible the Broncos will part ways with Willis McGahee, who turns 32-years-old in October, Knowshon Moreno has struggled to stay healthy and Ronnie Hillman is a change-of-pace back. In other words, Ball may see a heavy workload in 2013.

 

5. Zac Stacy, St. Louis Rams

A productive runner at Vanderbilt, Stacy finished with back-to-back seasons of 1,100-plus yards and double-digit touchdowns. Throughout his four seasons in the SEC, Stacy averaged 5.41 yards per carry.

 

With Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson standing in his way of significant touches, the powerful back (216 pounds, 27 bench-press reps at combine) could find himself with a significant opportunity to produce as a rookie.

 

6. Johnathan Franklin, Green Bay Packers

In my mock draft, I projected that Franklin would be a Packer. That said, I thought it would have happened a couple of rounds earlier.

While the Packers get a bargain in the fourth round and it's a great (real) football move, Franklin and new teammate Eddie Lacy will diminish each other's possible fantasy impact, as noted earlier.

 

Although he's not as big of a back as Lacy, Franklin has the ability to do it all including running in between the tackles. As a senior, he set the Bruins' single-season rushing record with 1,734 yards, caught 33 passes for 323 yards and scored a total of 15 touchdowns.

 


7. Stepfan Taylor, Arizona Cardinals

Although he will have to compete for carries with Rashard Mendenhall, who had his most productive years with Bruce Arians in Pittsburgh, and Ryan Williams, who has struggled with durability, Taylor has the potential to eventually become a workhorse back for the Cardinals.

In the past three seasons, Taylor has rushed for 3,997 yards and 38 touchdowns to go along with 94 receptions for 935 yards and five touchdowns.

 

Like with the Packers, however, the Cardinals added another talented back in Clemson's Andre Ellington to compete for touches.

 

8. Knile Davis, Kansas City Chiefs

With Davis, there are major concerns with durability and ball security, but he has all of the physical tools. Despite weighing 227 pounds, Davis ran a 4.37 forty and benched 31 reps at the combine.

 

Back in 2010, Davis ran for 1,322 yards and 13 touchdowns and was a first-team All-SEC selection along with Marcus Lattimore. (Alabama's Mark Ingram and LSU's Stevan Ridley were second-team selections that year.)

 

9. Andre Ellington, Arizona Cardinals

 

Competing with Mendenhall, Williams and Taylor for carries, Ellington may not get the opportunities he would otherwise deserve. Although he's not a big back, he has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons. I like Ellington much more than his current situation.

 

10. Joseph Randle, Dallas Cowboys

With Felix Jones no longer on the roster, Randle should serve as the primary backup to DeMarco Murray, the team's injury-prone starter. Considering Murray's durability concerns, Randle may have the opportunity to get a few starts in 2013.

 

Randle has averaged 5.5 yards per carry in his career including a career-best 1,417 yards last season. He has rushed for 38 touchdowns in the past two years combined.

 

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