NFL Rookie Rankings Part Two: The Running Backs
After a couple of technical errors, and a short break from writing, I finally finished the running back edition of the rookies. There are some obvious guys at the top, but some very good sleepers toward the bottom of the list.
The key to being a successful rookie running back is not necessarily skill, but playing time. There have been numerous running backs that have had the skill, but were buried on the depth chart to start their career. There were also some unknown guys who made an impact in their rookie season.
My No. 1 rookie running back is Knowshon Moreno of the Denver Broncos
There is not a lot separating Moreno from Chris Wells, and I feel it could go either way. I went with Moreno due to the fact that he'll have a feature roll.
ESPN.com's Bill Williamson has stated that he expects Moreno to start and be the "focal point" of the Broncos offense. Numerous other sources have also said they expect Moreno to start Week 1.
Out of all of the rookie running backs, he's the only one guaranteed to start Week 1. Just knowing this little bit helps his value.
Knowing he has job security and the confidence of his head coach should help him out. He is in a great position to succeed.
He has great speed, excellent vision, and is a complete back. In 2007, he had 20 catches, and in 2008 he had 33 catches and two touchdowns. Being an every-down back will also help his fantasy impact.
With Kyle Orton under center, Knowshon could benefit from being a solid receiving back. Last season, rookie Matt Forte had 63 receptions due to Orton liking to often dump the ball off to his backs. Little passes out of the backfield can really boost a rookie's confidence, and make him feel like his quarterback trust's him.
Last season the Broncos used seven running backs and finished 12th in the NFL with 1,862 rushing yards. With one running back getting the majority of the carries, he should be able to get into a rhythm and put up some very good numbers.
Along with the 12th most yards in the NFL, the Broncos had the third best rushing average in the league. This is more important than total yards, and bodes well for Moreno. The Broncos ran the ball just 387 times, the fifth fewest number of rushes in the league.
If they commit to the run more this season, Knowshon can easily rush for 1,000 yards. Not only can he be a threat on the ground, but he should be able to do some damage catching passes out of the backfield.
Being a dual threat that’s already been handed the starting job, Knowshon Moreno comes in at No. 1 on my list.
My No. 2 rookie running back is Chris Wells of the Arizona Cardinals
Wells could end up as No. 1, but he has more obstacles to overcome than Moreno does. He will have a little competition in Tim Hightower.
Hightower has reportedly lost some weight and is determined to be the starting running back in Arizona. Even with determination I don’t think Hightower can hold off Wells, not for the entire season anyways.
The worst case scenario for Wells is a running back by committee which is very possible for this season. Next season, he should be the featured back. Regardless of his situation I have him at No. 2, but he could easily be first and just as easily be third.
He has the skills to be a very good running back. He is a great combination of power and speed, and has good vision. A lot of people say he has durability issues, and he’s already proving that to be right.
The Cardinals passing offense could either help or hurt his value. It all depends on how you think it will work out. The passing game could either keep defenses modest and open up the run game, or it could hurt them if they don’t run the ball enough.
It also could hurt due to the fact that the Cardinals have built a good offensive line for the passing game, not the running game. They gave up the 11th fewest sacks last season, but they also had the second worst yards per attempt running the ball.
No running back can be really successful with blocking that bad. Some people will say it was the running backs and not the line, but the running back can only make so many people miss.
One thing that should benefit Wells is Kurt Warner’s age. Coach Whisenhunt said that he wants to run more and throw less this season. He wants to save Kurt’s arm for later in the year, and he feels they ran the ball effectively in the playoffs and wants to carry that over to this season.
If they run the ball more this season they might be able to get into a better rhythm and improve their average. I think Wells is better than James so regardless, their average should increase a little.
If Wells is the feature back this season he could possibly outscore Moreno, but if it’s RBBC he might end up third behind Donald Brown. Due to those questions, he comes in at No. 2.
My No. 3 rookie running back is Donald Brown of the Indianapolis Colts
Donald Brown is in an interesting situation. He will not be the starter, but will get a couple of carries each game. That’s not why he’s No. 3, though.
The only person ahead of him on the depth chart is Joseph Addai. Addai is very injury prone and will probably miss some time this season. He has only played one full season in his three years in the league.
The most carries Addai had in a season was 261 in 2007. He has never had more than 64% of the carries for the Colts. That leaves a lot of carries for someone else to take, and Donald Brown will gladly take them.
Another negative on Addai is that his average has gone down each season he’s been in the NFL. In 2006 he averaged 4.8 yards per carry, in 2007 he averaged 4.1 yards per carry, and in 2008 he averaged 3.5 yards per carry. That does not look good for Addai.
If he can’t break this decline, his career could be very short lived. At 26, he is declining at a very fast rate. Having someone to take some of the pressure off of Addai could save him.
This means even if Addai stays healthy Brown will get his fair share of touches. He should have at least 100 carries regardless of Addai’s status. It will be up to him to make the most of those carries.
If Addai continues to slip, Brown might even be able to steal the starting job away from him. He might be a great steal in fantasy leagues, and is definitely someone to keep on your radar.
Brown’s worst case scenario would be a handcuff for Addai owners, which isn’t a bad thing with Addai’s durability problems. Like Wells, he does have some questions that need to be answered. Even with Addai preventing him from being a top pick, he still has potential and comes in at No. 3.
My No. 4 rookie running back is LeSean McCoy of the Philadelphia Eagles
McCoy is in a similar situation as Brown. Both guys have a running back in front of them with durability issues. Brian Westbrook’s issues could be bigger than Addai’s though.
In Westbrook’s seven-year career, he has never played a full season. That alone makes McCoy look like he will get a decent amount of playing time, but there’s more than just that. Westbrook had offseason ankle surgery and isn’t expected to start practicing until mid-August.
With that much time off of doing any real workouts, Westbrook will need to get back into football shape. This could take some time, and he might not be in ideal shape until a couple of weeks into the season.
It’s also possible he rushes back and could end up re-injuring it. If something drastic happens McCoy could end up getting the majority of the carries for a period of time.
When he gets his carries he will excel in the Eagles offense due to his slash running style and pass-catching ability. Numerous people have called him a Westbrook clone. If he turns out to be half the player Westbrook is, he will be a great back for years to come.
During McCoy’s two years at Pittsburgh, he played in every game. He was a dual threat while leading the team in rushing yards, and was their second leading receiver. Being able to do both will get him more playing time down the road.
With Westbrook turning 30 this season, McCoy will be used to keep him fresh and healthy. He is a great pick in dynasty leagues, and an excellent handcuff for Westbrook owners.
He has the potential to become an elite back in a couple of years, but will be a great backup for now.
My No. 5 rookie running back is Shonn Greene of the New York Jets
Shonn has one of the toughest roads to playing time, but it could all crumble and he could walk into a job. Thomas Jones has not been happy, and the Jets were considering trading him.
It seems like Jones is going to stick it out in New York and be their starting running back. There is still a slim chance he gets traded, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Either way Greene will get some playing time.
If Jones would still get traded, which is highly doubtful, Greene would become the starter. Leon Washington would be his only competition, and he’s too small to be an every-down back.
If this would happen Greene would get a huge boost in fantasy value. He would have the potential to be a top three rookie running back behind a very good offensive line.
Here’s the more realistic situation: He splits carries with both Washington and Jones. It will probably be similar to the New York Giants running back situation of last season.
Jones will get the majority of the carries with Washington and Greene each getting their fair share of the carries. Regardless of the situation, Greene has pretty good value. He will make the most out of his carries.
If Jones doesn’t come out of the gate fast he could lose playing time. This would lead to Greene getting the majority of the carries, with Leon getting the second most. No matter what, it’s one of the better places for a rookie running back to be.
One reason they should have a successful ground game is the offensive line. The Jets were ninth in the league in rushing yards last season and averaged 4.7 yards per carry. The Jets put together a great offensive line, and should have success again this year.
Last season the Jets rushed the ball 422 times. I expect them to run the ball a lot more this season for two main reasons. The first reason is their quarterback situation.
If Kellen Clemens is the starter then they will run the ball because he’s not a great passer. If Mark Sanchez wins the starting gig, they will run the ball to take the pressure off of their rookie quarterback.
The second reason is the coaching staff. Their new head coach comes from a hard nosed, run first offense. He likes to run the ball to control the clock and let the defense win the game.
This will lead to all three backs getting a decent amount of carries, and making all three relevant in fantasy football this year.
My No. 6 rookie running back is Arian Foster of the Houston Texans
This is one of my sleeper running backs that are flying under the radar. He has a great shot to get on to the field this season with very little competition other than Steve Slaton.
His main competition for the backup job will be Chris Brown, and he’s very injury prone. He will also compete against Ryan Moats and fellow rookie Jeremiah Johnson. Brown has the early advantage due to the fact he’s a veteran, but Foster should be able to pass him.
Foster had a terrible senior year at Tennessee, but that wasn’t his fault. The entire team had a disappointing season. Even in that season, he averaged 4.4 yards per carry. In 2007 he rushed for more than 1,000 yards and had 12 touchdowns to go with a 4.9 yards per carry average.
He was overlooked in the draft due to a less than spectacular senior season, but he has the potential to be a good player in the NFL. If he can carry over the 2007 performance, he will have been a great pick by the Texans.
The main reason I think Foster has potential is because of Slaton’s size. At just 5’9”, 215 pounds I don’t see Slaton being able to play the majority of every game. I know he pretty much did last season, but he’s just too small.
If Foster can win the backup job he will get on the field a respectable amount. Slaton will need some breathers to avoid getting injured, and to stay fresh. He could possibly be the goal-line back if Brown gets injured, which is almost a guarantee.
With Foster there is a very big question. Will he win the backup job? If he can win the battle he will have some good value, and will be a solid late round pick. The Texans backup battle will be something to look out for during training camp.
My No. 7 rookie running back is Rashad Jennings of the Jacksonville Jaguars
This is the deepest sleeper of them all. I think he has great upside, but he has to get the backup job first. His only competition is Greg Jones, who is really a fullback with tons of power.
Now a lot of people don’t know much, if anything about Jennings. He played his freshman season at Pittsburgh, where he rushed for 411 yards on just 86 carries. He transferred to Liberty the next season to be closer to his ailing father.
When he arrived at Liberty he weighed 265 pounds, but was determined to be the starting running back. He lost more than 35 pounds and eventually became the starter.
By moving closer to home to be with his father, he showed he’s a good guy, and by losing the weight he shows he has determination. He has the heart to be a great running back in the NFL.
He rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his three seasons at Liberty and averaged more than five yards per carry. Now I understand that’s at a small school, but it’s still pretty impressive.
At 6’1”, 231 pounds, Jennings was one of the biggest backs in the draft. He has the potential to be a great goal line back, but don’t let his size full you. Jennings' hard work continues to pay off as he reportedly improved his 40-yard dash time from 4.67 to a very good 4.4.
He has created a lot of upside for himself, and the Jaguars situation has also boosted his value a little bit. Maurice Jones-Drew has not had more than 197 carries in a season so it’s possible he gets injured in his first year as the featured back.
If he gets hurt, expect Jennings to make the most out of his opportunity. The more I read about this kid, the more I like him. He has great character, and has a great work ethic when he applies himself.
Rashad Jennings will be the steal of your draft, I guarantee it. He makes a great late round pick, and should not disappoint anyone who drafts him.
My No. 8 rookie running back is Andre Brown of the New York Giants
Andre Brown has some big shoes to fill this season. His job will be to replace Derrick Ward in the Giants three-headed monster.
At 6’0”, 224 pounds Brown is a perfect replacement for the 5’11” 228 pound Derrick Ward. Last season, Ward rushed for more than 1,000 yards for the Giants. Brown will not be expected to rush for 1,000 yards, but a couple of hundred yards seems very doable.
Last season the Giants led the league in rushing with more than 2,500 yards. They also had the highest average per carry. With a very weak passing game this season, the Giants will be running the ball an awful lot. They will once again have success on the ground, and will do it with multiple running backs.
The carries will most likely be split up between Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Andre Brown. Brown will probably get about 100 carries this season and will be a solid running back to keep your eye on.
He has great skills and is an excellent pass catcher out of the backfield. Last season at North Carolina State, Brown rushed for 767 yards on just 175 carries. He also had the second most receptions on the team, and accumulated 309 receiving yards.
Brown would make a very good third down back with his catching abilities and his pass blocking abilities. He has had injury problems in the past and will have to stay healthy if he wants to make an impact.
Brown will be a nice compliment to Jacobs and Bradshaw. He is in a great position to succeed, and it’s up to him to take advantage of it. He makes a great late round pick and has great upside.
My No. 9 rookie running back is James Davis of the Cleveland Browns
James Davis has one of the toughest roads to get on to the field. Most likely he will start the season as the third running back. He will be behind Jamal Lewis and Jerome Harrison.
They are both solid running backs and it could take Davis some time to get on to the field. It might take an injury for him to get some carries, but no matter how he gets on the field, expect him to make some big plays.
He rushed for more than 1,000 yards in both his sophomore and junior seasons, but had a disappointing senior season. In the two 1,000 yard seasons, he averaged more than five yards per carry, and during the lesser senior year he still averaged a respectable 4.4 yards per carry.
He slipped to the sixth round because of the weak senior season. This makes him a great candidate as a sleeper. He is very underrated due to being drafted so low, but the numbers show that he has potential.
Davis is not your typical running back, he is a playmaker. He’s a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball.
While he will most likely start out as the third running back, that could change quickly. Jamal Lewis is only 29, but he’s been in the league for 10 years already. At some point he’s bound to decline to some extent, and that might be this season.
I also don’t think Jerome Harrison can be an every-down back in the NFL. If Lewis goes down, Davis could become the starter and see his value shoot through the roof.
If he can be the 2006 and 2007 James Davis he will be a great late round pick or possibly even a great waiver wire pick up. He is most certainly a guy to keep an eye on.
My No. 10 rookie running back is Glen Coffee of the San Francisco 49ers.
Coffee has an easy road to the backup job. The problem is San Francisco has no problem giving Frank Gore practically every carry.
Last season, Gore had 72 percent of the 49ers carries and if you take out the carries from the two games he missed, he had 80 percent of carries. If he has that many of the carries, Coffee will have a tough time becoming relevant in fantasy football.
In Coffee’s only season as the starting running back for the Crimson Tide, he rushed for more than 1,000 yards and averaged 5.9 yards per carry. He was a big contributor in their unexpected great season.
Last season, San Francisco was one of the worst rushing teams in the league, but had a decent average of four yards per carry. Under new head coach Mike Singletary they will be committed to the run, and should have a better year on the ground.
The 49ers have a new offensive coordinator in Jimmy Raye as well. His philosophy relies on a physical, hard-nosed running game. It also focuses on utilizing each offensive position in the passing game. There are individual plays drawn up for each position from running back to tight end. This could be beneficial for Coffee with more touches for both him and Gore.
Coffee won’t get too many carries, but he should get anywhere from 50 to 100 carries. The 49ers have said they would like Coffee to weigh around 220 pounds. He is currently at 209 pounds, and his weight could determine how many carries he receives this season.
Coffee is a pretty solid running back. He can make defenders miss in the open field, and he can run over defenders. He has a lot of power for his size and can surprise defenders when he runs them over.
Even with Coffee’s skills he will probably struggle to find playing time. It’s going to be hard for him to take carries away from Gore. Gore is a great feature back, and the 49ers are going to want the ball in his hands as often as possible.
That wraps up my top 10 rookie running backs. Part three will be coming shortly with all of the top rookie wide receivers.
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