Impact Rookies - Running Backs
Posted 9/5 by Colin Dowling, Exclusive to Footballguys.com
1.02 - Ronnie Brown - Running Back - Miami
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
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
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
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
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 -
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
3.09 Vernand Morency - Running Back - Houston
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
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
3.38 Maurice Clarett - Running Back - Ohio
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
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
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.