Around Fantasyland: Running backs

Posted May 31, 2012 @ 1:42 p.m.
Posted By William Del Pilar

During the offseason you often hear what we call "coach-speak" — when a coach or player raves the positives about someone coming back from injury or rookies potentially making an impact. Determining which statements are actually true is key to making the correct value pick. If you monitor the offseason news, you will have an easier time figuring out what is true and what is "coach-speak."

Remember history
Chargers head coach Norv Turner continues to talk up Ryan Mathews and said he can lead the league in rushing this year. Without a clear-cut No. 2 back to help carry the load, it's possible, which would make Mathews worthy of being a first-round pick. Remember, featured backs are a rarity now, and Turner has made elite fantasy stars out of Emmitt Smith, Terry Allen, Ricky Williams, LaMont Jordan, Frank Gore and LaDainian Tomlinson. Sure, some were already elite, but in a Turner offense as the bell cow, 1,000-plus yards and double digit touchdowns are the norm.

Looking good
The Titans have nothing but positive comments about Chris Johnson, who has been a regular in the team’s early OTAs. The fact that he would lose $250,000 by not participating didn’t hurt, but the team is stating he looks like he’s added upper-body weight and looks strong. CJ2K has to prove he can be consistent, but also prove he can produce against strong defenses after amassing solid second-half numbers against poor stop units. He remains a No. 1 fantasy back, but not elite.

Time to carry the load
According to Steve Corkran of the Contra Costa Times, Raiders RB Darren McFadden has been impressive and shows no sign of the Lisfranc injury that ended his 2011 season. Michael Bush is now a Bear and the drop-off in talent after him means McFadden will need to carry the load. He has yet to play a full season and has missed 12 games in the last two seasons and 19 in his four-year career. At 25 years old this season, he should be entering the prime of his career and could finally be ready to bear the physical pounding that goes along with being a featured back. If he can, he’s a steal after the third round in a typical 12-team league.

Two miracles in one season?
Many believe the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson will be ready and productive to return from his ACL, MCL and meniscus injury, and now Pittsburgh's Rashard Mendenhall is saying he won’t rule out his possible return by Week One. With soreness and swelling in the knee, he’s working on the side during OTAs. There is no time frame for his return and outside being a late-round gamble, he has minimal fantasy value right now.

Does it matter?
The Patriots have had second-year player Shane Vereen working with the first-team during OTAs, but at this point it doesn’t mean much. The team is hoping both he and Stevan Ridley improve well enough to handle most of the carries with Ridley working the inside and Vereen the perimeter. Ridley is the early favorite to grab as a low-end No. 2 with Vereen as an early late-round flier after a nearly invisible rookie season.

Third-down back and fighting the Turk
The last line of defense to protect the quarterback from the blitz is the third-down back and that was the reason the Browns gave Brandon Jackson $4.5 million for two years, including a $1 million signing bonus. Brad Childress pulled Adrian Peterson — who has lackluster hands — out of games on passing plays and that could happen to rookie Trent Richardson. As good as Richardson is, Jackson can also help keep him fresh all season, as "hitting the rookie wall" is a real issue for many players. Jackson is the third-down back and Montario Hardesty is listed as the primary backup, which means Chris Ogbonnaya could be on the bubble. Regardless, outside Richardson, no Browns back has any fantasy value until we see them during the preseason. 

Battling the Turk
This is the first season Knowshon Moreno knows his roster spot with the Broncos is not secure. Injury-prone and not very good, Moreno is fighting for a roster spot as the No. 3 back right now. With Willis McGahee entrenched as the starter and rookie Ronnie Hillman being seen as the No. 2, Moreno will battle Lance Ball and Mario Fannin. While a long shot to make the team right now, Moreno’s skills are a great fit in the offense that is being built around QB Peyton Manning. The problem is he has not shown he can play the pro game. He currently has no fantasy value.

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