2011 Top Five Fantasy Football Rookie RBs

Matt DiAntonio@@gridironguruContributor IIIJuly 9, 2011

2011 Top Five Fantasy Football Rookie RBs

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    No position is primed to jump into the fantasy football world like the running back position.  Each year, several rookies contribute...and knowing which to invest in can take you a long way towards a fantasy football championship.

    It is important to remember that a player's draft position in the NFL Draft does not necessarily guarantee that player success in the NFL.  It is also unusual for the draft order to predict the most fantasy value for a given year. 

    You need look no further than last year's poster child for fantasy football sleepers: LeGarrette Blount of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    Without further delay, let's jump into this year's crop of exciting rookies.

5. Mikel Leshoure, Detroit Lions

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    There is a lot to like about Mikel Leshoure from a fantasy football perspective.  He is a bruising, North-South runner who will take over the short yardage duties for the Lions immediately. 

    Should Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson stay healthy, the Lions will have a potent offensive attack that should generate at least a handful of touchdown opportunities for the young runner.

    At worst, Leshoure becomes the touchdown vulture in Detroit.  But let's not limit him to that role just yet. 

    In his senior season at Illinois, Leshoure rushed for 1,697 yards on 281 carries with 17 touchdowns.  He has the makings of a premier back if he gets the chance.

    • Worst-case scenario: Handcuff to Jahvid Best
    • Best-case scenario: Takes over the starting role in Detroit
    • Likely scenario: 30% of the hand-offs, and short yardage work

4. Shane Vereen, New England Patriots

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    The New England Patriots shocked many when they tabbed Shane Vereen with the No. 56 overall selection.  Instantly, the Boston media began labeling Vereen as the heir-apparent to the aging Kevin Faulk.  In addition, he was labeled the new third-down back.

    Discounting Shane Vereen as purely a pass catcher, and a third down back is a mistake.   What's more, I don't believe the Patriots believe this is the case. 

    Vereen is a powerful, explosive runner who can make plays in space and is a strong fit for the spread offense that the Patriots like to run.

    While the entire world loves Danny Woodhead's story from 2010, Vereen is a superior talent and will steal the starting job pretty quickly in 2011. 

    That said, the Patriots love to swap RBs during the game so even a starting role in New England will only be good for 20 to 25 snaps per game.

    • Worst-case scenario: Part-time player who picks up more time as the season goes on.
    • Best-case scenario: Becomes the starter and plays for 25 snaps per game.
    • Likely scenario: Pushes the aging RBs out of the way, but shares time with several other backs.

3. Ryan Williams, Arizona Cardinals

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    There are many NFL Mock Draft sites that had predicted Ryan Williams to get drafted in the lower portion of the first round,based not on the needs of the teams picking there, but rather because Ryan Williams represented a solid value between picks 25-32.

    His speed and vision are impressive, and he has the talent to be a game changer at the NFL level. 

    The Cardinals were not happy with the results of their ground attack last year - and many believe that Arizona's management has begun to sour on previous high-round selection Chris "Beanie" Wells.

    In fact, rumors have sprung up that the Cardinals have dangled Wells in deals, including a potential deal that would bring Kevin Kolb to Arizona.

    • Worst-case scenario: Ryan Williams becomes part of a three-headed monster at the RB position in Arizona
    • Best-case scenario: Williams becomes the lightning in a thunder-and-lightning attack, and chews up some impressive yardage.
    • Likely scenario: Williams splits time, but finishes the season as the Cardinals top RB for total yardage in 2011.

2. Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints

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    Fantasy football fans rejoiced when the Saints turned in their draft card.  Simply said, I'm not sure that a running back could have picked a better spot than New Orleans...especially if Reggie Bush does not return to the team in 2011. 

    The Saints offense is explosive, and Mark Ingram will be asked to slide into a contributing role immediately.

    • Worst-case scenario: Reggie Bush returns and chews up 15 touches per game
    • Best-case scenario: Mark Ingram does his best Emmitt Smith impersonation and wins ROTY
    • Likely scenario: Ingram posts 650+ rushing yards and 5 TDs and is worthy of a fourth- to seventh-round pick.

1. Daniel Thomas, Miami Dolphins

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    The Dolphins have a void at running back that must be filled. All three of their best runners—Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams, and Patrick Cobbs—are free agents. It appears unlikely that Brown and Williams will be back in the teal and orange when the season opens in 2011.

    Despite having some questions at quarterback, the Dolphins run-heavy offense offers plenty of fantasy football potential. They will return a strong offensive line anchored by Jake Long. They spent their first round pick on Mike Pouncey, who is likely to start at center from day one and further solidify the running game.

    The Dolphins also have a strong tandem of wide receivers in Brandon Marshall and Davone Bess, which should keep defenses from being able to stack the box.

    For the savvy fantasy football fan, this amounts to a rare opportunity for a “plug and play” option at the running back position. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams shared a combined 359 rushing attempts in 2010. Any player who earns a majority split of those opportunities will have a legitimate chance at occupying a top tier spot in the fantasy football rankings.

    • Worst-case scenario: The Dolphins sign an elite RB via free agency
    • Best-case scenario: The Dolphins lean on Daniel Thomas, and he earns ROTY honors in a tough AFC East division.
    • Likely scenario: Thomas shares the role but emerges as the top dog gaining 850 rushing yards and 7 TDs