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Impact Rookies - Running Backs

1.02 - Ronnie Brown - Running Back - Miami Dolphins

Overview: Ronnie Brown is all the things that running backs are supposed to be. He's big, he's strong, he's fast, he's quick. He's got composure, he's humble, he's a hard worker. He can pick up the pass rush or receive the ball. He can bulldoze or outrun, shake'n'bake or steam-roll. So what's the issue? Simple: can he do it over and over and over again? Brown had more than 20 touches in a game exactly once in the last year, and it was the day he had his worst rushing output of the season (16/50 against Tennessee to go with 6 receptions). Granted, it's not like Ronnie Brown slipped in the draft because of questions about his durability. However, if you are looking for the negative, that, combined with the reappearance of Ricky Williams, is about it.

Brown is an interesting player because, as stated before, you couldn't close your eyes and envision a much better prospect than Brown. He is a hard runner capable of making people miss, but not afraid of contact. While his footwork isn't quite the equal of former teammate Carnell Williams, he has fantastic vision and awareness of how the play is developing as soon as the ball is snapped. And while Gus and AJ may not be the long-term answer at quarterback for the Dolphins, the addition of Ronnie Brown in the backfield should work wonders for the team's offensive output, particularly as their offensive line gets revamped and coached up.

Redraft: Ronnie Brown should be selected as a 3rd running back in redraft leagues as he is likely to receive a nice amount of work in Miami's running game, as well as a considerable number of receptions. Brown has a real chance to produce top-twenty numbers barring injury and warrants fantasy consideration as early as the latter part of round two on draft day. Do not be afraid to rely on Brown as a rookie. He is a very talented and hard working runner in an offense likely to give him lots of work. However, it is worth mentioning that if Ricky Williams is able to regain 2002/2003 form, Brown's value could plummet. Similarly, Williams and Brown have been operating in two-back sets this preseason and coach Nick Saban was never shy about using RBBC at LSU. Keeping that in mind, Brown does come with some risk.

Dynasty: There is not a scenario I can envision short of the Miami Dolphins moving to the Arena League that should cause Ronnie Brown to slip out of the top three in dynasty/keeper drafts. He is the highest drafted running back in a very long time for a reason, as he is expected to step in quickly and make an impact both as a runner and receiver. If you are selecting in the top three of your keeper/dynasty draft, be thankful that a prospect like Ronnie Brown might be there for you to select.

Our comparison: Big and quick like Corey Dillon; versatile like Tiki Barber

1.04 Cedric Benson - Running Back - Texas

Overview: It's a shame that Benson's bevy of emotions made him look so "off" on the Saturday he was drafted. The truth is, he's every bit the Bull ready to rumble through opposing defenses. While at Texas, Benson managed to generate a lot of flack for himself by saying things that weren't particularly popular with the locals. He won't be able to get away with that in Chicago. A lengthy contract holdout isn't likely to make him popular either.

Other than that, though, he's ready to take the ball 25 times a game and go up the gut week after week. Benson's strength is in his ability to generate yards after contact as well as fantastic goalline/short-yardage ability. These qualities will certainly fit nicely in Ron Turner's smashmouth offense. Benson isn't the most able blocker and hasn't had a lot of experience in the passing game, which means Thomas Jones will likely play a role in the offense even with Benson getting the bulk of the work. Additionally, Benson doesn't display a ton of "wiggle" but he has excellent footwork and makes a single cutback as well as anyone in this year's draft.

While Bears' fans are likely already somewhat sour on Benson, it should only take a few touchdowns and 100 yard games to change their minds.

Redraft: Benson should be considered a strong candidate for RB3/Flex in most redraft leagues with the potential to quickly become an RB2 depending on how much of a role Thomas Jones plays. Benson will likely garner the lion's share of carries in Chicago later this year barring the unexpected. His ADP is currently much lower then his real worth, which could lead to great value for you on draft day.

Dynasty: Benson absolutely should not slip out of the top-4 in any keeper/dynasty draft. He was drafted by the Bears to be the battering ram and centerpiece of a new, aggressive, between the tackles running game. If for any reason he slips out of the top-5, exploring a trade up to acquire him would be a fine idea.

Our Comparison: A bruiser like Stephen Davis; a goalline threat like Shaun Alexander

1.05 Carnell "Cadillac" Williams - Running Back - Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Overview: Even though Williams was drafted third among running backs, there is reason to believe he has as much promise, if not more, than either Ronnie Brown or Cedric Benson. Williams has phenomenal balance, footwork, and vision. Such traits simply can not be taught. He also runs with deceptive power and has the quickness to get around the corner. Unfortunately, he's been dinged up by injuries in the past and there has been some concern about his build, as he came to the draft a few pounds lighter then we might like to see in a top-tier runner. Furthermore, at times, he has been prone to fumble, although this is a relatively minor issue.

Nonetheless, Williams is a hard worker driven to succeed. He was the only top-tier skill player to show up to the Senior Bowl, and practices that week affirmed the fact that he can excel as a receiver. Williams has found himself in a West Coast hybrid that should cater to his abilities almost to a "t". Jon Gruden's offenses traditionally use the passing game to open the run game, which can only help Williams. While some people suggest that Gruden likes to spread the ball among running backs, we feel like he's never had a player the quality of Williams. We expect Carnell to get the bulk of the work in the Tampa rushing game. With Michael Pittman now seeing some work on special teams, its not out of the realm of possibility to think that Williams could get 300 touches this season.

Redraft: Like Benson and Brown, Williams should get plenty of touches in Tampa. While he isn't likely to carry the ball 20 times a game, he has the ability to make every touch count. The Buccaneers have long needed a complete goalline back and Williams fits the bill. Do not be afraid to count on Williams as an RB3/Flex in redraft leagues with the potential to post much much higher numbers if Gruden leans on him.

Dynasty: Williams can be considered as early as the first pick in dynasty leagues and under no condition should he fall out of the top four. The negatives about Williams are easily outpaced by the amazing athleticism and work ethic he has displayed over time. Williams should have a bright future in Tampa Bay.

Our Comparison: An Edgerrin James style combo of balance, vision, and quickness; a playmaker like Julius Jones

2.12 J.J. Arrington - Running Back - Arizona Cardinals

Overview: Predraft buzz couldn't much decide where Arrington would be selected - 2nd round? 4th round? - and as a result, we were all treated to a bit of a surprise Saturday when Dennis Green and the Cardinals selected him in the 2nd Round. There were rumors circulating late in draft week that Arizona would eye Arrington if they missed out on one of the Big 3 RBs, and sure enough, he was their selection.

Arrington quietly rushed for more than 2,000 yards last year for the Cal Bears and was the only back all season to break the century mark against the USC Trojans' vaunted defense (in addition to going over 100 yards against everyone else he faced). He has good speed (sub 4.5) and has the vision to find the hole quickly after patiently waiting for it to develop. On the flip-side, he's a hair shorter than you'd like to see in a feature back (5'9) and doesn't display the wiggle of this year's elite backs. Never mind that though. He's found a situation in Arizona with very little backfield competition and a coach that uses an offensive system that caters to Arrington's strengths. If Arrington can develop quickly as a blocker in the passing game, he could easily emerge as a three down back in an aggressive offense. He started the preseason slowly, but has looked better by the game, which is all we can really ask for.

Redraft: Arrington warrants consideration in redraft leagues outside of the top-20 but well within the top-32 among running backs. As the preseason comes to an end, watch to see if it looks like he's going to win the starting job outright before opening day. If so, he could be a fine choice as an RB3/Flex player with the chance to put up much better than expected numbers. Furthermore, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Arrington benefit from the Cardinals passing attack and post gaudy yards-per-carry numbers. The Cardinal line made Emmitt Smith look decent last season, and that was without a QB.

Dynasty: Arrington absolutely should be considered in the top-4 or at worst top-8 of every dynasty/keeper rookie draft. The stars are aligned for him to be a starting RB in the NFL, and that is value that shouldn't be denied for a WR or QB unless you have a dire need at those positions.

Our Comparison - A versatile package like Charlie Garner; a straight line breakaway threat like DeShaun Foster.

3.12 - Ryan Moats - Running Back - Philadelphia Eagles

Overview: Despite rumors of a draft day trade for Travis Henry, the Eagles stood pat and selected Ryan Moats, who reminds many football fans of the running back they already have: Brian Westbrook. Moats is a compact runner who is able to make things happen both between the tackles and outside the line. He is a decent pass catcher and despite playing at Louisiana Tech, Moats excelled against solid defenses geared to stop him. Moats displays vision and balance almost on par with the first round running back selections and shows many of the techniques needed to contribute most every down. Moats needs to work on protecting the ball, and like most rookies, he could stand to improve picking up the blitz.

Playing in Moats favor are the fact that the Eagles seem to like spreading the ball around, which will benefit Moats as a rookie, and second running back Correll Buckhalter is out for the season.

Redraft: Moats likely won't have much value in redraft leagues unless he is getting more snaps then we expect. Brian Westbrook is the lead runner in Philadelphia, and the team expects to bring in a big veteran to handle most of what is left over.

Dynasty: Moats should be considered after the top-tier running backs have been selected. His talent and situation make him worthy of an early to mid 2nd round selection on draft day. It is easy to see how at some juncture in the future he could garner significant playing time for the Eagles.

4.08 Marion Barber III - Running Back - Dallas Cowboys

Overview: Let the debate begin! Is Barber, the 4th or 5th rated back in many predraft circles, coming to town to split carries with Julius Jones? Or to take his job entirely? Or to back him up? Well, put us in the camp that thinks Jones will keep getting the ball as the feature back with Barber or Anthony Thomas (who may be cut) spelling him from time to time. Barber came in to this season with the chance to work his way in to the conversation with the Big 3. He didn't disappoint per se, but didn't distinguish himself except to lose touches to ultra-talented Gophers teammate Lawrence Maroney.

Regardless, in Dallas he'll likely be expected to develop in to the role of backup running back and in the event of a Julius Jones injury, Barber would compete with Anthony Thomas to carry the load. Barber has nice size and runs well between the tackles. While he does possess breakaway speed, Barber doesn't display the wiggle necessary to get through small spaces without lowering his shoulder. Long term, Barber should provide a quality backup for Dallas's running game to keep Julius Jones fresh, and in the event of a Jones injury, he could be able to succeed where Rashard Lee and Eddie George woefully failed. Currently injured (foot), Barber hasn't had a real chance to show what he's made of. Regardless, his roster spot in Dallas appears secure.

Redraft: Barber likely won't start the season with much value in redraft leagues. However, in the event of an injury to Jones or a more prominent role in the Cowboys offense, do not hesitate to roster him. Bill Parcells loves to run the ball, so it is possible that there will be enough carries to make more than one Dallas running back valuable.

Dynasty: While it doesn't seem like Barber was drafted to be a feature back for the Cowboys, he is a nonetheless talented runner in a system that loves to run the ball. Furthermore, from Kevan Barlow to Lamont Jordan, talented ball-carriers with good size often eventually get a chance to shine. He should be selected in the 2nd tier of running backs after the Big-3 and JJ Arrington are gone. Look for Barber to come off the board in the early second round in most dynasty/keeper drafts.

3.09 Vernand Morency - Running Back - Houston Texans

Overview: Vernand Morency picked up where Tatum Bell left off at Oklahoma State in 2004, taking over games and showing that he too was a very talented runner. Morency is a little shorter then the prototype runner, and his speed before the draft left a lot to be desired (4.6). However, Morency hits the hole hard and fast and is able to gain yards after contact. He is capable of making long runs and also punching it in from short. In the right situation, Morency could contribute right away…

…which brings us to his "situation." Morency was selected by the Houston Texans, who have long been rumored to be looking for someone to at least split the workload with constantly-dinged-up Dom Davis. They've tried Jon Wells, they've tried Tony Hollings. Yet despite a glaring need for depth along both lines, the Texans went on and used a high 3rd round pick on Morency. Frankly, Morency's talents dovetail nicely in to Davis's abilities, so it would not be a surprise to see them share carries pretty quickly. With Davis locked in to a long term deal, it's unlikely that the Texans view Morency as anything more then a compliment to Davis.

Redraft: Morency likely shouldn't be drafted in redraft leagues, however, don't hesitate to pick him up the moment it looks like he's going to get more than a handful of carries each game. The Tony Hollings Experiment doesn't appear to be panning out in Houston, which means there is still room for a viable second running back to step in and help out. Keep an eye on Morency's workload during preseason.

Dynasty: Morency is 25 years old, which has to be considered in dynasty leagues. However, he has gone to a situation where its easy to envision him contributing early on. He should be selected in the early to middle part of the 2nd round in most leagues, about the same time Barber III and Frank Gore are selected.

3.38 Maurice Clarett - Running Back - Ohio State

Overview: Nice work, Coach Mike. Take a guy that has effectively cast aside the system, his school, and scouting personnel and make him a 1st day pick, ahead of guys that followed all the rules and worked hard for their chance. Ah, who are we kidding? Its all about production and anyone thinking things like "character" will ever outweigh the possibility of great performance is fooling themselves. There was a time when Clarett - not Adrian Peterson - was making people ask, "Shouldn't he be able to enter the draft early? I mean, look at how good he is!" Those days are long gone, but now, through the natural progression of the rules, Maurice Clarett finally got a chance to stick on an NFL roster, which he promptly fumbled away. Let the ride begin…

Truth is, when Clarett was in shape and on a winning team 2 years ago, he was a darn fine running back. Great vision, good balance, good power. The truth also is that back then, Terrell Owens was happy in San Francisco and Rich Gannon was the MVP of the NFL. In other words, much has changed. From a performance standpoint, it's almost impossible to evaluate Clarett since he's done nothing remotely impressive of the physical variety in 27 months, including his lackluster combine and preseason. That said, if the Broncos spent a 3rd rounder on him (and by all accounts Parcells had promised to draft Clarett in the 4th round as well), then somebody still sees something there. It will be interesting - and wildly entertaining - to see if Clarett can get his act together and become a decent football player. As far as predicting how his career will unfold with any certainty, well, your guess is as good as ours. Right now, he is without a team after flopping completely in the Bronco's training camp. It wouldn't be shocking for him to wind up with someone else, just as it wouldn't be shocking for him to never surface again.

Redraft: Until he earns a roster spot somewhere, Clarett is of little value to anyone. Don't waste a roster spot on him this season.

Dynasty: It would be a mistake to take Maurice Clarett ahead of someone like Eric Shelton or Marion Barber from a talent perspective, but he certainly has been coming off the board in that area. We expect most leagues will see Clarett drafted in the early part of round 2, although now that he doesn't have a team, his ADP should drop like a rock.

3.01 - Frank Gore - Running Back - San Francisco 49ers

Overview: In fantasy circles, this one will be discussed. A lot. And then discussed some more. Frank Gore is a man of much lore ("He kept Willis McGahee on the bench!") and many injuries. It really comes down to this: Do you believe Frank Gore is the uber-talent that was sidetracked by a couple torn up knees? Or do you believe he's a guy with torn up knees who would be bagging groceries if not for the successful Hurricane history of running backs?

Put us in the middle. Sorry for the cop-out. However, here is what we can tell you about the most recent University of Miami running back: Frank Gore runs low to the ground, has a wonderful understanding of the game, and best of all, displays topnotch vision, balance and cutback ability. He also possesses a fantastic attitude and has the motivation - an ailing mother - to know not to waste his chance in the NFL.

On the flip side though, are the knees. Both of them. More explicitly, he has two reconstructed ACLs and has yet to show himself fully recovered from his most recent setback. His Senior year was reasonable, but hardly fantastic and the question is every bit as much "if" as "when" will he be back to full strength. The undeniable truth is this: 1. When healthy, Frank Gore looked exactly like the type of runner that could be a major contributor in the NFL. 2. Frank Gore has yet to demonstrate himself to be healthy, and his pre-draft workouts didn't do much to remind people of his talent. So, do you believe in the miracles of modern medicine? Or do you think the human body can only be healed so much?

As it was, San Francisco found a good reason to use a relatively high pick on Gore. Perhaps they think the upside is worth the risk. Perhaps they think the running back he is NOW could come in and help regardless of whether he ever gets back to 100%. Time will tell, but be prepared to hear 100 reasons why he'll fail for every 100 reasons you hear why he'll succeed.

Redraft: Gore is unlikely to have any redraft value at the beginning of the season. Even if he gets a significant number of carries early on, between the 49ers offensive line and potentially a new starting quarterback, even at full speed Gore may not produce much. However, as the season wears on and the team works to improve, he could offer decent fill-in value in deep leagues if he is getting a fair number of touches. Keep in mind, though, that for all intents and purposes, Kevan Barlow is going to enter training camp as the team's starting running back.

Dynasty: Gore is going a bit higher than you might expect in dynasty leagues. We've seen him selected as high as 1.05 and rarely does he slip lower than 2.03. He's been selected consistently in the ten to twelve range in many leagues. If you covet Gore, you will likely need to get in to that area to ensure a chance at him. If for some reason he slips to the end of round 1, past the first round skill position players, Gore is worth consideration and is as solid a selection as anyone likely to be on the board.

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