August 11, 2009

Fantasy Football - The Rookie Running Backs


Getting ready for the 2009 NFL season. Coming off 2 championships in the past 3 years, I am gearing for another money finish in my cash league. I have decided to write my insights and help those who may desire a little extra info that is my own, fresh, and has winning potential.

I have always considered myself an outside the box thinker and ahead of the curve. The supposed gurus are always recommending my strategies a year or two after I have been using them. This is essential. If everyone else is doing what you are doing, you have no real advantage - it becomes ALL luck. I can deal with some luck but I need an advantage to mitigate the luck factor. That is why I have been successful.

Which brings me to todays article: the 2009 Rookie running backs. Although having a pre-season stud running back or two on your roster is always nice, it is not always possible. I have long subscribed to the theory that you can load up with quantity at running back and play favorable match-ups and do very well. Also, by loading up on talented upside backs, there is a very strong possibility that you will have a stud a few games in to the season. I had Kevin Smith to run with Gore, DeAngelo, and Ronnie Brown and came out very well.

I believe that this years crop of young backs is one of the best to come along in a while. One tool you can use right away to guage for yourself a backs potential is to look on youtube for a players college highlight videos. Most of them are on there. When you watch, you can experience what its like to be a GM evaluating talent: how quickly does a back hit the hole, does he have a good sense of his blockers, does he get tackled by the first guy who touches him everytime or can he break tackles, can he make people miss, does he catch the ball nicely out of the backfield. You can use this vision as a template to envision him in his NFL’s offense.

One thing you can’t really see on the highlight videos is players ability to block and pick up blitzes (they are seldom ever shown). However, it is important to understand whether or not a player is capable in this area, as it is one of the single most biggest issue that keeps some young talented players off the field. The only way to get this info, is to seek it out. An example is James Davis the rookie out of Clemson drafted by the Browns. Most reports are showing he is having a great camp but his deficiency in picking up blitzers will keep him off the field enough until he can really improve. This is the same reason why McFadden is still behind Fargas in Oakland, although reports are showing DMac improving greatly.

So which rookie backs are worth taking a stab at this year? I can see 7 backs drafted this year. I like Knowshon Moreno, Lesean McCoy, Shonn Green, Beanie Wells, Donald Brown, Bernard Scott, and James Davis.

Knowshon Moreno just signed and is already slated to play in the preseason opener. Josh McDaniels loves his versatility. If you’ve watched him run in college he was sensational. He has power and balance, great hands, makes people miss and break tackles. Reports are Lamont Jordan have been looking good, but he lacks the 3 down back versatility of Moreno. Buckhalter needs to have a resurgence of epic proportions to limit Moreno. The biggest factor I see to Moreno’s stats is the health of Brandon Marshall. If he is hurt, it will allow teams to stack the box to stop Moreno, because they are not going to be scared of Gaffney or Stokely. If all goes well, 1400 yards and 8-12 TD is not out of the question.

My favorite rookie pick though will be Lesean McCoy. This kid can do it. The Eagles should be offensively very tough to stop this year. I see Brian Westbrook’s wheels falling off NOW - at 30 . McCoy has impressed in every aspect including blitz pick-up at camp (an Andy Reid necessity). He catches great out of the backfield and if you are in a keeper league - this guy could be gold. I may be reaching for him in the 6th or 7th round (his current Average Draft Position is 105 right now, but I suspect it will be shooting up soon), but Westbrook had offseason knee and ankle surgeries and I just don’t believe he’ll hold up. Its super value considering Moreno is going ADP 47. He could be a second half and payoff sensation if Westbrook breaks down. Eagles play at home against the 49ers and the Broncos during fantasy playoffs. The Broncos gave up almost 150 yards a game last year. I don’t suggest you reach like I do (its only for the fearless), but getting him in the 8th or 9th round is a must if you hope to land him, and if you own Westbrook, he is a MUST handcuff (get him early). I can envision 1000 yards and 8 TD in 10-12 games.

The second biggest pick most people like is Beanie Wells. I like him, but I probably will not be drafting him. Too many people like him more than they should and will probably take him before I would. He currently has a ADP of 64. Although I love the way he runs hard through the tackles and breaks tackles, his nose for extra yards, I must remind you all that the Arizona Cardinals were the most futile rushing team in the league last year. And although Edgerrin James decline and Tim Hightower’s lack of explosiveness are big contributors to this, I am a big proponent of this understanding in fantasy football - repeat after me: “It all starts in the trenches”. Offensive lineman are big reasons for the success of fantasy teams and it isn’t emphasized enough. I grabbed both DeAngelo Williams and J. Stewart last year because I understood how dominant the Panthers O-Line was. The cardinals o-line has been very good at pass protection but just not as strong in run blocking. The combination has led the team to its powerful air attack. I do see them as being better this year and they will be making an effort to run more, I just don’t see huge numbers this year. To top it off, he already has started camp with an ankle strain - is he injury proned, I don’t know but Hightower still looks to start and I question how improved the worst rushing team can be. Expect 1000 total yards and 8 TDs tops.

The next rookie is Shonn Greene. He could definitely be starting by season’s end. Thomas Jones is coming off a career year at 30 years old. He is 31 next week. He keeps in great shape and had a slow start to his career so he has less carries than Clinton Portis who is 3 years younger. Some believe Favre stretched the defense and gave room for Jones to run. “It all starts in the trenches”. The O-line of the Jets is young and is about to really flourish. Yes they will need Mark Sanchez to keep the defense back (Clemens won’t be starting by game 5 if I had to guess), but how effective will he be? They will really on defense and ball control to win. Leon Washington is currently second string and has always been electrifying when he plays, but as there premiere special teamer - they may not want to over use him. Greene is a bruising back - a shifty bowling ball of a player who had a great career at Iowa. The Jets have the Falcons and Colts on schedule for the fantasy playoffs - they were both bottom 3rd against run last year. Its worth a shot of a roster spot to see how the 3 back approach works for the Jets, what TJones still has left for 2009 and how they will use Washington vs. Greene. And when push comes to shove, Greene can certainly be the biggest TD vulture this year, so 10 TD is not out of reach. Whether he can get 800 yards depends on the 2 guys in front of him. But at ADP 134, I think he could be a great flex play some weeks and could be playoff gold. The Jets moved up in the draft to grab him, maybe you should take a 10th round flier here.

Donald Brown is up next. If Joseph Addai, who I figure will rebound this year, doesn’t perform, then Don Brown could be the steal of the draft. Watch his highlight video and see how electric he is. Fast, can cut, soft hands (Peyton Manning throwing), can take it to the house at anytime (my league rewards long scores heavily - yours probably does too). Here is the rub with Don Brown - essentially drafting Brown is a hedge bet against Addai. Addai started hurt last year and never really rounded in to form. He is healthy to start camp, as is Manning and the O-Line, so despite the coaching changes, the team should come out firing. I think Addai bounces back and will take him in my 4th round if he is still available. He has too much talent and potential in this offense to overlook. Here is another thing, if I do end up with Addai, I will be handcuffing him with Donald Brown early. DBrown has an ADP of 88, I’d take him 2 rounds earlier if I had Addai and here is why. You could almost start both backs some weeks. They could both be very productive catching balls getting lots of yards and TDs. The Colts took him in the 1st round for a reason. And should Addai fall on his face - JACKPOT. Take him if you have a shot in the 7th round.

How about James Davis - this guy runs hard up the middle and had a very prolific career at Clemson. He stayed for his senior year and his status actually went down due to fewer touches. The Cleveland Browns have a very good offensive line and dodged a bullet with guard Rex Hadnot, after believing he had torn his ACL, turns out it is just an MCL tear that will heal in a few weeks. The Browns will need to establish a running game as Mangini intends in order to have any success. Jamal Lewis just never seems to stop, but how much longer. He comes off a year where he rushed for 3.6 YPC after 4.4 the year before. He is a 240+ pound running back you had surgery on his ankle in the off-season. Let me say - I’m concerned about his ability to stay healthy. Lewis is ADP 108 now and I figure many other are worried. Jerome Harrison is 2nd on depth chart now but he figures to be a better 3rd down back. If you need a flier at the end, go with James Davis, who has the potential to surprise with his strength and speed and should Lewis get hurt, Davis will be in line for goal-line carries. I don’t see the Browns scoring too much this year, but 10 TD is a possible high mark. The main thing to consider is that he could be the guy at the end of the season and in the fantasy playoffs the Browns have the easiest schedule for rushers. They face the Chiefs and the Raiders, the 2nd and 3rd worst rushing defenses in the league last year.

The last pick I’ll consider is a guy by the name of Bernard Scott. He is 25 years old - one of the most prolific runners in college history, albeit mostly D-II. He comes with character risk but that seems to be behind him. He has great vision and ability to catch. The kicker is he has Cedric Benson in front of him despite showing some ability at the end of the last year, I realize that trusting in Benson is a very risky proposition. Watch camps close regarding Davis and Scott and draft them should they show skills in the preseason.

There are a couple others to watch in camps but only to keep tabs on. Players are always developing and somewhere along the line a star is born. That is todays fantasy story. There are some good rookie backs this season. If you could get a couple of the right ones, hold on to them and hope something good happens. See you all soon. If you liked this, let me know.
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