Saquon Barkley
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1. Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
Barkley not only is the odds on favorite to be the top rookie running back, he is a strong candidate to finish in the top ten of fantasy football scoring for all running backs. The last two seasons at Penn State Barkley averaged 1,813 total yards and 20.5 touchdowns.
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2. Rashaad Penny, Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks have been looking for a Marshawn Lynch replacement for a couple of years now. Penny more than doubled his production last year at San Diego State with 2,027 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns with another 18 catches for 142 yards and a pair of scores. If he can stay healthy, perhaps Penny can solidify Seattle’s backfield.
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3. Sony Michel, New England Patriots
Michel ran for 948 yards and 13 touchdowns on a 7.2 yards per carry clip last year for Georgia. He’ll form a committee with James White and Rex Burkhead, but given his explosiveness look for Bill Belichick to find ways to get him the ball.
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4. Derrius Guice, Washington Redskins
Guice averaged 1,373 total yards and 13.5 touchdowns over teh last two years at LSU. He should emerge as the lead back for Washington, but Chris Thompson should limit him to 1st and 2nd downs. Samaje Perine could be in the mix for some carries as well.
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5. Royce Freeman, Denver Broncos
Freeman finished his collegiate career at Oregon with 6,435 total yards and 64 touchdowns, including 1,639 total yards and 16 touchdowns last year. Freeman may enter the season behind Devontae Booker, but Booker may be better suited as the third down back leaving Freeman for early downs and goal line work.
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6. Ronald Jones II, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jones saw his production at USC improve each year culminating with 1,637 total yards and 19 touchdowns last year. He should enter the year as the lead back for the Bucs, which puts him in RB2/3 conversations.
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7. Nyheim Hines, Indianapolis Colts
Hines does not have a challenging climb to the top of Indy’s depth chart. He ran for 1,040 yards with 9 touchdowns at 5.7 ypc for NC State last year. If Marlon Mack struggles Hines could see RB3 status based on opportunity.
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8. Kerryon Johnson, Detroit Lions
Johnson had 1,508 total yards and 19 touchdowns at Auburn last year. LeGarrette Blount will cut into goal line work and perhaps some 4th quarter duties if the Lions are ahead. If they fall behind, then Theo Riddick will cut into the time. Johnson is an intriguing dynasty pick though.
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9. Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns
Chubb’s prospects would be much higher had the Browns not signed Carlos Hyde. He averaged 6.2 ypc with 1,175 yards and 13 touchdowns for Georgia.
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10. Kalen Ballage, Miami Dolphins
Ballage has to get past Kenyon Drake and Frank Gore to make an impact as a rookie. Barring injury, that isn’t a likely scenario. You never know though. Ballage did catch 44 passes as a junior for 469 yards and a touchdown to go along with 536 yard and 14 touchdowns on the ground.

knowshon-moreno
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Knowshon Moreno finally came to terms with the Denver Broncos.  Thankfully his holdout didn’t extend too far into Training Camp for Moreno to have a major setback.  He obviously won’t start the first couple of preseason games, but he should be able to get plenty of opportunities to compete for the starting Tailback gig.

Moreno was selected with the 12th pick in the NFL Draft, which is significant considering the shape their Defense was in last year.  He has the strength to run between the tackles, the speed to get outside, and the hands to catch the ball out of the backfield.  He’ll have to show he can pick up the blitz and he could be a three-down back eventually.  He’ll be pushed by fellow newcomer Correll Buckhalter, but Buck has been an career backup with a history of knee injuries, so I wouldn’t count on him to have too heavy of a workload.

Playing in the AFC West, Denver has some nice matchups.  They face Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Oakland to start the season, so it’s important he win the starting job by then.  He has another nice three game stretch starting in Week 13 when the Broncos face the Chiefs, and going into the fantasy playoffs when they face Indianapolis and Oakland again.  It’s not all a walk in the park though as Denver takes on New England (Week 4), Baltimore (Week 8), Pittsburgh (Week 9), Washington (Week 10), New York Giants (Week 12), and Philadelphia (Week 16).

If you’ve drafted already, perhaps you were able to sneak him a little later, but now that he’s signed he’ll likely go in the third or fourth round of fantasy drafts.  I’m expecting 1200 total yards and 8 TDs with 45 receptions.

Some of the best breakout performers in football fantasy leagues are rookies, who we’re not quite sure what we are going to get from.  Let’s take a look at who my Top 5 rookie running backs will be for this season.

1. Knoshown Moreno – Denver Broncos
He was ranked #19 on my Top 25 running backs list (click here to view), so naturally he’s going to take the top spot on this list.  He was the first back off the board, taken #12 overall, and enters the season with little competition in the backfield.  Does anyone really think Correll Buckhalter or LaMont Jordan offer much of a threat to his carries at this point?

Despite Mike Shanahan no longer leading the way, the Broncos have long been a team capable of creating running backs seemingly from nothing.  Moreno should be the next in a long line of success stories as he develops into a must use option in all formats.

2. Chris Wells – Arizona Cardinals
The other rookie who found his way into my Top 25 (#22), he posted back-to-back 1,000+ yards, averaging 5.9 and 5.8 yards per carry.  That may be college, but it is still worth noting.

With Edgerrin James jettisoned during the off-season, his prime competition will be Tim Hightower (399 yards and 10 TD last season).  I would be surprised if they didn’t at least split carries, but Wells has significantly more upside and should ultimately see the bulk of the carries.  He may lose some TD potential by sharing time with Hightower (which is the major difference between himself and Moreno), but that’s something that can be said about many at this point in the NFL.

3. Donald Brown – Indianapolis Colts
Even with Joseph Addai, the Colts saw an opportunity to add talent to the backfield and quickly took it.  It’s tough to imagine drafting a running back in the first round not to give him significant carries, so you have to imagine the Brown is going to get a chance to shine.

While Addai struggled last season, playing in only 12 games and picking up 544 yards, he began his career with back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons.  It’s hard to imagine him not getting an opportunity to play as well, which certainly will decrease Brown’s potential value.  That’s what keeps him a step behind the other two backs selected in the first round, he’s definitely in a situation to share carries.

4. LeSean McCoy – Philadelphia Eagles
Make no mistake, McCoy is going to be the back to provide a rest for Brian Westbrook, who we all know always tends to be battling an injury.  If Westbrook were to go down, opening up more playing time for McCoy, he could prove to have significant value for fantasy owners in all formats.  At this point, however, he’s not likely to be more of a bye week fill-in, as he doesn’t have the potential to put up huge numbers on a week-to-week basis.

5. Andre Brown – New York Giants
Last season the Giants employed a three running back set, with Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw.  With Ward now calling Tampa Bay home, the Giants needed a new back to join their three-headed monster.  In the fourth round out N.C. State, they may have found that man.

At 6′0″, 224 lbs., his stature is very similar to that of Ward and the Giants may lean on him to mimic his performance if they determine that Bradshaw is better suited as a third down back.  If that were to happen, Brown could see significant carries and really be a weapon in deeper fantasy formats.  Wait and see, but he’s a player worth keeping an eye on.

Honorable Mention: Shonn Greene, New York Jets

What do you think of these rookies?  Who will have the biggest performance?  Who’s likely to fall flat?

Now let’s take a look at the Running Backs that got drafted.

Knowshon Moreno, Denver Broncos
This move made little sense to me.  Moreno is a talented back, but Denver had more pressing needs to address.  Namely their Defense.  With Brian Orapko, Malcom Jenkins, Brian Cushing, etc. available, I feel the Broncos would have been better off drafting one of those three.  I did like their selecion of Robert Ayers a few picks later, but they had a chance to add two of the top Defensive players in the draft.  Another reason I did not like the move was the RB depth they added this Offseason with Correll Buckhalter, LaMont Jordan, and J.J. Arrington joining the Broncos.  To me Moreno is the best of the backs, but with that sort of depth, he won’t be the top producing Rookie Running Back.

Donald Brown, Indianapolis Colts
The Colts probably should have addressed their Run Defense with Evander Hood or Ron Brace, but adding a back was a key following the departure of Dominic Rhodes.  Joseph Addai is a talented back, but I’m not sure he can stay healthy enough to carry the full load.  Brown gives them a nice 1-2 punch, although his stats, along with Addai’s, will suffer barring an injury to one or the other.

Chris “Beanie” Wells, Arizona Cardinals - I feel Beanie will have the best Rookie season of all the backs.  Arizona will try to be a little more balanced next year like they were in the playoffs.  They are a better team when they play that way.  Wells will get plenty of carries.  If the Cardinals got a smaller back, perhaps Tim Hightower would have more fantasy value.  With Wells, he may not get quite as many touches in the red zone.

LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles – McCoy has the opportunity to be one of the better long-term RBs in this draft.  He is versatile and gets to learn from Brian Westbrook.  With Buckhalter’s departure, he’ll get some carries, especially when Westy gets nicked up and misses a game or two.

Shonn Greene, New York Jets - This was a pretty telling pick by the Jets.  Considering they only had two picks in the first five rounds, it is worth noting they took Greene with their third round pick.  Thomas Jones is getting up their in Running Back years and they must not feel Leon Washington is an every down back.

Glen Coffee, San Francisco 49ers – The Niners don’t have a lot of talent at RB behind Frank Gore.  Adding Alabama’s Coffee changes that.

Mike Goodson, Carolina Panthers - With DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart in front of him, Goodson has little value outside of Special Teams play.

Andre Brown, New York Giants – This is a luxury pick by the G-Men as they add the talented back in the fourth round.  Brown can slide into Ahmad Bradshaw’s slot as Bradshaw moves up to replace Derrick Ward.

Gartrell Johnson, San Diego Chargers – Gives the Chargers some depth as LT is aging and Sproles may not be big enough to handle the full load.

Happy Birthday Jake!
rashad-jennings-senior-bowl
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I conclude the Running Back portion of my NFL Draft Preview with Liberty’s Rashad Jennings.  The four-year back ran for 1507 yards on 264 carries (5.7 ypc) with 17 TDs.  He added 24 receptions for 190 yards and 2 scores.  His production improved every year.  He did not play against top competition, but he has the intangibles to make the transition to the pro game. 

He’s a big back at 6’1″, 230 Lbs with OK speed (4.59 forty time).  He has good hands out of the backfield for a bigger back.  He put on a show while on the Senior Bowl team.  According to Frank Cooney, The SportsXchange, NFLDraftScout.com ”Jennings commanded the attention of scouts with some stunning plays, showing startling bursts of speed on short catches. Based on his performance there against top talent from big schools, it seems apparent he might have starred anywhere.”   Jennings is tough to bring down and has a nose for the endzone.  He’d be a nice compliment to a team with a shiftier feature back.  Character is not an issue with Jennings.  He transferred from Pitt to Libert to be closer to his family as father is dealing with diabetes.

Here’s a look at where some of the experts have him pegged:
Scott Wright’s Draft Countdown:  101st best prospect, 7th RB

WalterFootball.com:  #92 to the Indianapolis Colts

Consensus Draft Services:  #77 to the Houston Texans

The Football Expert:  #70 to the Cincinnati Bengals

War Room Report:  65th best prospect, 6th RB

NFL Draft Scout:  76th best prospect, 7th RB

Happy Birthday Justin!

andre-brown
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Brown didn’t exactly set the world on fire for North Carolina State.  He ran for a modest 767 yards on 175 carries (4.4 ypc) with 7 TDs.  He added 29 receptions for 309 yards and two scores.  He had just 39 yards in a 29-23 loss to Rutgers in the PapaJohns.com Bowl.  He had just one 100+ yard game last year, and six for his four-year career for the Wolfpack.

He does have great size (6’0″, 228 Lbs) and speed (4.37 forty).  He is also very accomplished at catching the ball out of the backfield, especially for a big back.  According to Frank Cooney from The SportsXchange/NFLDraftScout.com, Brown “is a thick, powerful straight-line runner who can push a pile and break tackles and then run away from people with his speed. Brown is also an excellent receiver who causes mismatches against most safeties and linebackers, and he is strong, tenacious and reliable as a blocker.”  He has had foot surgery, which could scare some teams off, but ultimately his size, speed, and versatility will find him a home.  He is ideal as a compliment to a team with a smaller, established feature back.   

Here’s a look at where some of the experts have him pegged
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Scott Wright’s Draft Countdown:  #75 overall, 5th ranked RB

WalterFootball.com:  #112 to the Houston Texans

Consensus Draft Services:  #72 to the Jacksonville Jaguars

The Football Expert:  #74 to the San Francisco 49ers

War Room Report:  5th ranked RB

shonn-greene
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I continue my NFL Draft Previe with a look at Iowa RB Shonn Greene.  Shonn came out of nowhere after not playing in 2007 for academic reason and having 69 carries in 2005 & 2006.  He had 1850 yards and 20 TDs on 307 carries (6.0 ypg), and ran for over 100 yards every game this season and scored in all but one.  He was a beast down the stretch with 14 TDs in his last six games, including three in the Outback Bowl win over South Carolina.  

Greene is a thick back, measuring in at 5’11″, 235 Lbs.  His forty time at the Combine left plenty to be desired at 4.62, but he lowered it to 4.50 at his Pro Day.  He is pretty much a one-dimensional RB as he caught just eight passes last year.  He is capable of breaking tackles and is one of the better power runners in the draft.  He has good patience allowing the holes to develop.  I’m not sure he’s electric enough to be an every down back, but he should be good in short-yardage situations.

Here’s a look at where some of the experts have him pegged:
Scott Wright’s Draft Countdown:  92nd best prospect, 6th RB

WalterFootball.com:  #98 to the Cincinnati Bengals

Consensus Draft Services:  #98 to the Cincinnati Bengals

The Football Expert:  #68 to the Seattle Seahawks

War Room Report:  71st best prospect, 7th RB

lesean-mccoy
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We continue our NFL Draft Preview with a look at Pitt RB LeSean McCoy.  McCoy followed up a successful 2007 season (276 carries for 1328 yards, 14 TDs) with an even better 2008 campaign (308 yards for 1488 yards, 21 TDs).  He added 65 receptions for 549 yards and a score.  McCoy scored a TD in all but two games last year with six multiple TD games.  Unfortunately for Pitt fans, one of the games happened to be the heartbreaking 3-0 Loss to Oregon State in the Sun Bowl.  He scored in 8 of 12 games as a Freshman.

McCoy has a nice build (5’11″, 204 Lbs), but his forty time (4.50) wasn’t great.  He did not participate in the Combine because of the flu and did not set the world ablaze at his Pro Day.  According to Rob Rang, The SportsXchange, NFLDraftScout.com, “McCoy was stunningly unimpressive at his Pro Day, registering a 29-inch vertical jump that was matched or exceeded by every running back tested in Indianapolis and nearly half of the offensive linemen”.  Not exactly the explosive back NFL teams are looking for.  He is a hard tackle, has good hands, and is great at finding cutback lanes.  The knock on him though is his inability to run the ball inside effectively.  That, perhaps more than anything, is what will keep McCoy from being a first round selection.

Here’s a look at where some of the experts have him pegged:
Scott Wright’s Draft Countdown:  #53 to the New York Jets

WalterFootball.com:  #60 to the New York Giants

Consensus Draft Services:  #31 to the Arizona Cardinals

The Football Expert:  #45 to the New York Giants

War Room Report:  #36 to the Cleveland Browns

beanie-wells
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Following up an NFL Rookie class that featured Matt Forte, Steve Slaton, Jonathan Stewart, and Kevin Smith is going to make most Draft Classes look bad.  One of the Running Backs that could hold his own is Ohio State’s Chris “Beanie” Wells. 
 
Wells is a big back (6’1″, 235 lbs) with decent speed.  He was clocked at a 4.59 forty time at the combine, but improved his stock during his Pro Day, according to Rob Rang, The SportsXchange, NFLDraftScout.com, when he showcased 4.38 straight-line speed.

Beanie is a physical back that gets better throughout the course of the game, wearing down his opponents.  The drawback to his physical style though are the nagging injuries he was plagued by at the Collegiate level.  He was able to play through most of those injuries, but it still is a cause for concern.  However, his size, speed, vision, and ability to shed tackles make him an ideal candidate to make the jump to the next level.

Beanie ran for 3382 yards on 585 carries (5.8 ypc) with 30 TDs.  He wasn’t much of a factor in the passing game (just 15 career receptions), but he did have a tendency to step up for big games.

2006 vs. Michigan – 5 carries for 56 yards, TD
2007 vs. Michigan State – 31 carries for 221 yards, TD
2007 vs. Penn State  – 25 carries for 133 yards
2007 vs. Wisconsin – 21 carries for 169 yards, 3 TDs
2007 vs. Michigan – 39 carries for 222 yards, 2 TDs
2007 National Championship vs. LSU – 20 carries for 146 yards, TD
2008 vs. Wisconsin – 22 carries for 168 yards, TD
2008 vs. Michigan State – 31 carries for 140 yards, 2 TDs
2008 vs. Michigan – 15 carries for 134 yards, TD
2008 Fiesta Bowl vs. Texas – 16 carries for 106 yards

Penn State did hold him to 55 yards on 22 carries last year.

Here’s a look at where some of the experts have him pegged:
Scott Wright’s Draft Countdown:  #28 to the Philadelphia Eagles

WalterFootball.com:  #17 to the New York Jets

Draft King:  #31 to the Arizona Cardinals

Consensus Draft Services:  #14 to the New Orleans Saints

The Football Expert:  #21 to the Philadelphia Eagles

War Room Report:  #28 to the Philadelphia Eagles


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