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Realistic Expectations for 2013 Fantasy Football Rookie Running Backs

Montee Ball

 

Montee Ball

May 10, 2013; Englewood, CO, USA; Denver Broncos running back Montee Ball (38) during rookie minicamp at the Broncos training facility. Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

In the past five seasons, not one single running back with an average draft position above 65 (according to ESPN) has run for 1,000 yards. Last year’s rookie best was Alfred Morris (1,613 yards), who was not even projected in the top-200, and almost definitely went undrafted in your league, just as he did in the NFL.

On the Green Bay rookie RB situation, Sports Jerks Network fantasy writer Rich Hribar notes it is an “opportunity for which we should remain wary over the next few months.” Read his article and you will see it is something he strongly recommends.

Hribar strongly recommends that you avoid it, that is, and at all costs. He goes on to reference an in-depth analysis from Chase Stuart, which examines the history of teams who have drafted two running backs in similar fashion. Seven seasons of Mike McCarthy have left Green Bay 26th in running back rush attempts (and 25th since 2010) over that span.

Packers running backs received the third-fewest red zone carries last year, and were 32nd within the opponents’ ten-yard-line.

One may logically respond, “Well, that’s why they drafted Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin, right?” But since McCarthy arrived in 2006, Green Bay running backs have only twice combined for more than eight touchdowns.

And only Ryan Grant has surpassed five individual scores, doing so only twice, in 2007 and 2009. Most seasons under McCarthy (and all of the past three), the lead back has had less than 200 attempts in a season.

No Packer has been trusted with more than 135 carries over either of the last two seasons. If either of these rookies becomes a fantasy commodity, it likely won’t happen in green and yellow.

Many owners want to use their fourth, fifth, and sixth rounders on these sexy, young picks, because of the upside. But fantasy championships are won and lost in these rounds. If you bust on these picks, you’re going to be climbing uphill for the rest of the season.

Chances are, your season’s already over. If you’re reading this, you probably know this painful truth well. It’s a common mistake, but that’s exactly how these players earn such high ADPs. It’s much wiser to ensure output during these rounds and save the upside risk for later picks. When there are still proven, sure bets laying on the table, the ones who turn their backs are the ones you get to call losers, year-in and year-out.

Le’Veon Bell and Montee Ball are two sexy options to discuss, and both have been linked to – you guessed it – timeshares.

Before you start crying profanities, remember why we place such a premium on the NFL’s feature back. Every season, we want to fall in love with the Ryan Mathews of the world (who was projected as a first to second rounder in his 2010 rookie campaign). Never forget.

Remember how high the ranks, and how poor the results, for rookies Mark Ingram, Jahvid Best, Shonn Greene, Daniel Thomas, Ryan Williams, Ryan Torain, Alex Green, Shane Vereen, Delone Carter, Bilal Powell, Roy Helu, and Mikel Leshoure. These rookies combined to average 277 yards in their first year, with none of them eclipsing 640 yards. How many times will we make the same mistake? It’s too romantic a fairy tale, that we pick up a beastly rookie RB, and lock him up so he never plays a down for another owner. All-too-often, this is a success-proof formula.

Gray Caldwell, editor of DenverBroncos.com, mentions that Ball is already slated to be in a timeshare committee approach, in typical John Fox fashion (have you already forgotten DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart?).

Mike Klis of the Denver Post joined the bandwagon to report Ball and Ronnie Hillman will split early down work, and Knowshon Moreno will come in for goal line work. At this point, most fantasy owners may be digging their heels in deeper, refusing to concede the truth. Zig when they zag. At length, Sean Tomlinson addressed this running back triclops (his word), and provided an Adam Gase quote from June. The Broncos offensive coordinator said, “Fox has always been great mixing in the multiple backfields and using different guys. He did it in Carolina, and that’s what we’re looking to [do]. We’ll do the same thing here.”

Great. Another one bites the dust. Only four of Fox’s eleven seasons as a head coach have produced 1,000 yard rushers, and in only two of those seasons did someone score more than eight touchdowns on the ground.

Bell is joining a crowded Pittsburgh backfield with veterans Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman, and the electric free agent addition LaRod Stephens-Howling. Matthew Marczi of Steelers Depot gives insight, via Jim Wexell, that Bell is listed “second on the depth chart … behind Redman.” Mark Kaboly of The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review confirmed this, while quoting Steelers RB coach Kirby Wilson as saying “You have to be able to protect the quarterback or you won’t play.” As with most teams, pass blocking will be a huge factor in playing time. And Dwyer and Redman finished as 2012’s top two rushers in pass blocking efficiency, according to Pro Football Focus.

In half of Mike Tomlin’s six seasons as head coach, the Steelers have failed to finish with a 1,000 yard rusher. And only once has a Tomlin RB earned double-digit rushing touchdowns. Since 2010, Pittsburgh has attempted the 11th most passes (100) inside the 10, for 33 touchdowns and 0 interceptions.

How far would you stray from that formula, with Ben Roethlisberger‘s unmatched improvisational ability in your arsenal?

Doubting a culture change? Take a look at offensive coordinator Todd Haley for a moment. During his three years as head coach of the Chiefs, Kansas City was 26th in red zone rushing attempts. And when he was Cardinals offensive coordinator during ’07-’08, only Detroit ran the ball less than Arizona.

Add to all this Evan Silva’s evaluation of Pittsburgh as the 24th-ranked offensive line for 2013, and it starts becoming clear why they finished 26th in rushing last year.

Unfortunately, while there seemed to be so many sexy rookie running backs to choose from this year, they also all come with flags for why each may be just another overvalued rookie. Never forget.

Stats courtesy of footballguys.com, teamrankings.com, pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, and profootballfocus.com.

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