Rookie running backs usually make the biggest immediate fantasy impact, and this year's crop includes a couple of featured-back candidates. Just be careful not to overvalue them because you believe the grass is greener on the other side. Sometimes it's not greener and merely another dirt-filled dump site.
Rarity: A workhorse back
The Browns plan to use Trent Richardson as an every-down back, and team president Mike Holmgren believes he’s a better all-around back than Shaun Alexander, whom Holmgren coached in Seattle. Holmgren didn’t care for Alexander, so it might not be a fair statement, but Richardson will see enough touches to warrant taking him as a No. 1 back. However, don’t overvalue him above other proven commodities on draft day. Remember the Browns are a bad team and he often will see eight-man fronts.
Best rookie RB to target?
Despite being sidelined by a hamstring injury in OTAs earlier this month, Doug Martin is expected to win the Buccaneers' starting job from LeGarrette Blount. Martin’s dual-threat ability and first-round draft status would suggest this but fantasy owners need to be careful. Don’t overvalue him over some established players. Remember J.J. Arrington? The heralded fantasy rookie to take in 2005 ended his rookie campaign with 112-370-2 rushing and 25-139-0 receiving. Although I’m not saying Martin is Arrington, I’m saying don’t overvalue the Bucs' rookie.
Only a matter of time
Giants starting RB Ahmad Bradshaw has been able to complete only one season for a full 16 games (2010). David Wilson probably will have an opportunity to play this season and warrants a pick in all formats — his speed is sure to make some highlight reels. He will start the fantasy season as a flex and injury and bye-week fill-in with upside.
Potentially a bigger role than expected
Before this year's draft, Anthony Allen was the default No. 2 back for the Ravens and the handcuff to Ray Rice. However, that role now belongs to third-rounder Bernard Pierce. He also should see time as the short-yardage back, as he showed great ability performing those duties in college. Keep an eye on Rice, who has not signed his franchise tender and did not report for team activities in April. If he were to hold out, it would make Pierce more attractive.
The Broncos traded up in the third round to grab San Diego State’s Ronnie Hillman and believe he’s a change-of-pace back with perimeter speed that can be a playmaker. Right now, view him as the primary backup to Willis McGahee despite Lance Ball and Knowshon “The Bust” Moreno on the roster. This could change in training camp if Moreno turns it around or Ball’s play improves, but right now the team is high on Hillman.
The Seahawks believe they have another power back in the Marshawn Lynch mode in Robert Turbin. Considering the way Lynch runs, Turbin is sure to see time to spell Lynch and should be the No. 2 back to replace him if an injury occurs. However, Lynch has hands of stone whereas Turbin — who had 67-845-11 receiving in 37 career games at Utah State — could be the team’s third-down back. While I see this as unlikely early on and see Leon Washington keeping that role, I could see Turbin eventually taking it as part of his change-of-pace role. He is someone to target and draft and stash — but do handcuff him to Lynch.
The option in the Big Apple
At 6-0 and 241 pounds, Terrance Ganaway is a huge man to bring down and showed some skills with his hands at the Jets' rookie minicamp. He’s someone that dynasty and keeper-league owners should keep an eye on. He's also worth a late-round draft pick as a flier to stash in single-year leagues. The truth is, Shonn Greene has underwhelmed based on expectations and Ganaway could be a deep sleeper.
Darren Sproles clone
The 49ers' backfield is rich with depth, so don’t think LaMichael James is going to come in and make an impact. The team views him as a Darren Sproles type of player but they also have Kendall Hunter, who can play that role. Don’t believe head coach Jim Harbaugh when he says James could be in line for some goal-line carries. At only 5-8 and 194 pounds, that doesn’t make sense — especially with Frank Gore and Brandon Jacobs on roster. James needs to become a better blocker in the passing game and grades out as a late-round flier. Realistically, his value is in dynasty and keeper leagues for 2012.
The Dolphins view Lamar Miller as a return man who will take time to develop as a running back. However, to get his speed on the field in some capacity head coach Joe Philbin also sees Miller as a potential receiver. Remember, Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas are ahead of him on the RB depth chart. Miller could see time in the slot if he’s able to show an ability to play the position, and at 5-11 and 212 pounds he would be an imposing figure. For 2012, his value is only in dynasty and keeper leagues. That is, barring injury to Bush or Thomas.
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