Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Fantasy Football Rookies: Running Backs

Most teams in the NFL today are forced to use a 'running back by committee' philosophy in order to be successful. Whether your a 'power' runner or an 'evasive' runner, it always comes down to what scheme an offense is running. For Rookie running backs to get an opportunity to play, they must demonstrate: vision, field awareness, pass protection/blitz pick-up and have receiving ability. Obviously, learning the play book and understanding the offense is also crucial in a rookie's opportunity to see significant playing time.

But what kind of impact can a rookie running back have in terms of production or fantasy football stats?

In 2007, RB Adrian Peterson (Minnesota Vikings) burst onto the scene with 1,341 yards rushing on 238 carries and 12 TDs. He averaged 5.6 yards per carry and 95.8 yards per game. Add another 268 yards receiving and 1 TD to total one of the top Fantasy players in the whole league.

Looking at the rest of the rookies though, only TWO running backs had 1,000 yard rushing seasons: Peterson and Marshawn Lynch (Buffalo Bills). Only FIVE backs had over 80 carries for the whole season, with only FOUR backs scoring more than 2 TD's.

So, with that in mind, who are the top RB's to make a Fantasy impact in 2008?

1) Matt Forte (Chicago Bears) The loss of Cedric Benson, combined with only competition from the "other" Adrian Peterson and 'scat back' Garret Wolfe means Forte will get to carry the ball A LOT next year for the Bears. So far he has looked great in Mini-Camps and OTA's. Also, by being a bigger back, he should be heavily used in goal line situations meaning more TDs. We'll see how far Chicago's offense goes with their questionable QB's and WR's but expect big things out of Forte.

2) Jonathan Stewart (Carolina Panthers) Despite splitting reps with RB DeAngelo Williams, I expect Stewart to be the workhorse picking up 65-70% of the carries. He is a big, productive runner who breaks tackles and finishes runs. Has great vision, playing instincts and attacks the holes. Also a short yardage back meaning more goal line opportunities for TDs.

3) Steve Slaton (Houston Texans) Slaton is a great fit for the zone blocking scheme that Houston bases their offense on. He has great vision, excellent speed and big play potential. While I don't see him in many goal line situations, he should still register a ton of yards in this offense. With his only competition being RB's Ahman Green and Chris Brown, expect to see Slaton get the bulk of the carries as the season goes on.

Runners-up: Ray Rice (Baltimore Ravens) and Darren McFadden (Oakland Raiders)

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