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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Top Rookie RBs to Target in 2010

With the offensive scheming in the NFL quickly transitioning to more of a "spread" look, and teams incorporating the idea of "running back by committee", fantasy football drafters only have four to five running backs who are "workhorse" backs any longer.

These four to five; Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, Ray Rice, Maurice Jones-Drew, and Michael Turner/Frank Gore still have multiple question around all of them.

Adrian Peterson- fumbling problems and can he stay healthy like last season?
Chris Johnson- will the 358 carries take their toll on him in 2010?
Ray Rice- will Anquan Boldin's addition take away touches from him?
Maurice Jones-Drew- can he contiinue producing with a team that has absolutely no other weapons besides him?
Michael Turner- only played in basically 10 games last season, and
Frank Gore has one full healthy season in over his last 5 seasons?

All this to say that there is major uncertainty in the world of football and it is important to know that for the first time in many years, I believe there will be some serious production coming from the 2010 RB rookie draft class. Many of these running backs have already been named starters, and all except Ryan Matthews can be drafted with amazing value.

Late in drafts it will be wise to take a healthy dose of proven veterans, such as a Hines Ward- caught 90 passes again last season, but also take a chance on an explosive rookie, like Matt Forte in 2008 where he exploded onto the scene after being named the starter early in the summer. Nevertheless, strategy aside, here are some rookie running backs who will likely put up serviceable fantasy numbers in 2010.

1. Ryan Matthews: RB, San Diego Chargers
Norv Turner is quoted this offseason along the lines of saying he expects to hand the rock to LT's apparent heir, Ryan Matthews at least 300 times this 2010 season. It has been crystal clear that this offseason's agenda was to re-establish the rushing attack. A running back who has a similar skill set to that of Michael Turner, Matthews will be the new mustang which the Chargers will ride in 2010. The Chargers would not have traded up from pick 28 to pick 12 in the NFL Draft unless they saw him as their immediate starter and RB of the future. Don't expect him to catch many passes out of the backfield, however Matthews will likely share the bulk of the team's red-zone touchdowns with perennial Pro-Bowl TE Antonio Gates. It should not surprise you fantasy football fans when I say Matthews was worthy of a second round pick. The only other year in which I advocated an early draft selection to a rookie running back was when Matt Forte came into the league as the Bears lead back two years ago; sadly Forte was taken two picks before me by an owner who could not even pronounce Forte's last name...The NCAA rushing leader in 2009 is going to be heavily involved in the Chargers offense, who will be without their best vertical threat for the first 10 weeks.
Projection: 314 Rushes, 1315 Yards, 8 TDs, 15 Receptions, 230 Yards
Marginal RB1 or Solid RB2

2. Jahvid Best: RB, Detroit Lions
The Lions have been raving about this kid all offseason; the explosiveness, the top line speed, and agility are all impressive. If he is used efficiently in this coming 2010 season, we could see a star in the making. Some people note his size as a problem for him becoming a future lead back in the NFL, yet I think his size is absolutely perfect. At 5'10 200lbs he can hide behind blockers and use his explosiveness to hit the right holes. With Kevin Smith still recovering from a torn ACL, look for Best to be the best RB in the Detroit Lions backfield. This guy is a pure playmaker who will be a regular in "Sportcenter's Top Ten Plays of the Week."
Projection: 203 Rushes, 1009 Yards, 4 TDs, 34 Receptions, 420 Yards, 2 TDs
RB2 to Solid Flex option

3. C.J. Spiller: RB, Buffalo Bills
Another explosive runner, Spiller joins a very crowded backfield in Buffalo with healthy running backs Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch. In this particular scene I would rate the running backs on this team as such;
1. Fred Jackson
2. C.J. Spiller
3. Marshawn Lynch
Fred Jackson is the most complete back with ability running and catching the ball better than most; Spiller has the most potential, and I consider Lynch un-draftable due to his apparent lack of commitment and off-field issues. Yet Spiller is an extraordinary talent who no doubt can create running lanes for himself. Spiller is high risk/high reward, and although I feel he can outproduce all other rookie backs if he plays to his potential, I feel he will be drafted higher than he should be. Treat him as a low end RB2 or Flex player.
Projection: 185 Rushes, 834 Yards, 2 TDs, 35 Receptions, 210 Yards, 3 TDs
Marginal RB2 to Flex option

4. Ben Tate: RB, Houston Texans
Ben Tate is a big, strong, downhill running back, but not the most explosive running back.  However, he has great vision for a young ball carrier and played in a similar offense as the Texans at Auburn University. In a jumbled backfield, it seems that Tate will have a tough time getting enough touches to be an impact this season. However lets look at these sizes shall we?
Player A: 5'9 199lbs
Player B: 5'11 220lbs
Player A is Steve Slaton; productive in his rookie season, yet a non-factor last season. If Slaton's spinal injury is fully healed as he says, Tate will lose playing time considerably. Slaton is a better pass catcher than Tate is, and this offense is predicated upon the pass. However, Tate could be the workhorse back the Texans need. With a strong build at 220lbs, he can take 20 carries a game and can provide balance to a pass heavy offense that always seems behind in football games. If Tate can solidify a starting job through the pre-season, look for him to produce like Ryan Grant in Green Bay; around 250 carries, solid yardage, and a couple of touchdowns.
Projection: 225 Rushes, 918 Yards, 5 TDs, 10 Receptions, 103 Yards
Low-end RB2 to Flex option

5. Montario Hardesty: RB, Cleveland Browns
Hardesty would be much higher in my rankings, but he recently injured his knee. Hardesty was drafted by the Browns with the notion that he had fully recovered from his college knee injuries (yes, plural) to step in as the Browns lead back. This setback pushes Montario down draft boards and he could be a pleasant surprise if he makes a smooth recovery. As a mid round flyer, Hardesty can provide a team with some quality production in an offense that likely will switch to a West Coast Offensive system. Holmgren has brought in three accurate, short game passers who can move well in and out of the pocket (Delhomme, Wallace, and McCoy) and it seems very clear that they will implement a RBBC with the tandem of Harrison and Hardesty. Harrison will be the hot commodity come draft day, while Hardesty could possibly be a steal pick late in the draft. Look for him to play consistently well when he comes back from the knee injury, and also look for Hardesty to vulture most of the goal-line touchdowns away from smaller back Harrison.
Projections: 182 Rushes, 712 Yards, 8 TDs, 8 Receptions, 55 Yards
Flex Option to RB3

6. LeGarrette Blount: RB, Tennessee Titans
You guys are probably saying, "Titans? That's Chris Johnson's gig all the way man!" However Blount, who is most remembered for his Boise State sucker punch early last season, has impressed everyone in Titans camp with his hard work and improved character. At a massive 6'2 240, Blount looks like a more talented and polished LenDale White. If he can maintain the backup role under Chris Johnson, Blount could see some fill-in starts and will likely be the primary goal-line back. Look for a big touchdown total, but limited rushes and yardage.
Projections: 160 Rushes, 650 Yards, 11 TDs, 3 Receptions, 30 Yards
Handcuff RB or RB3 to RB4

Other Rookie RBs
Anthony Dixon- Apparently is having difficulties with grasping the offensive scheme and offensive coordinator has even said to reporters that he sometimes feels like "strangling" him.
Jonathan Dwyer- Has come to camp overweight, and aggravated his hamstring in his first practice. Rashard Mendenhall is the guy in Pittsburgh, don't read too much into Dwyer.
Joe Mcknight- Has potential to produce like Leon Washington did two years ago, yet LT2 is on the way. Limited touches will keep his production too low for fantasy consideration.

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