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Fantasy News: Focus on Rookie Runners

Fantasy owners saw first hand last season what happens when rookies get a chance to shine, and although 2008 was supposedly the year of the “rookie running back” I’m thinking why can’t this 2009 class deliver as well. I know you’re ready for opening kickoff, but are you ready for possibly another year of standout rookie runners?

LeSean McCoy: Is there any player more important to the Eagles success than Brian Westbrook? Probably not, but you could start to make a case for “Shady” McCoy. You know the rookie out of

Pittsburgh who is temporarily filling in for the superstar at running back and working hard doing it, well at least according to

The Patriot News last weekend. Here is some of the dialogue courtesy of his teammates:

“I think LeSean is doing very well,” running back Lorenzo Booker said. “He meets with [running backs coach] Ted Williams every day wanting and willing to learn. This is the toughest offense to learn because it’s so dynamic and puzzling to a defense … we can score every way possible. He knows that he has to stay in his playbook.” 

Offensive tackle Winston Justice added, “He has a lot of confidence in himself … and you have to have that in this league. He has a lot of swagger for a young player and great vision. Also, he has one of the best running backs in the league to learn from.”

While Michael Vick will continue to steal the spotlight (more on him in “Speaking Out”) in Philly, McCoy will continue to go quietly under the radar. However, it is worthy to point out here that according to

CBSSports.com earlier in the week Westbrook was taking first-team reps and was showing no lingering effects of the offseason surgery he had performed on his foot. Nevertheless, I expect McCoy to step up and be a regular contributor even with Westbrook in the lineup. I’m thinking somewhere around at least 900+ total yards and five touchdowns with the potential of a lot more if Westbrook has troubles staying on the field.

James Davis:

 

Davis could be the most intriguing runner in this class and could make the biggest impact of any rookie period heading in to 2009. He’s made a solid case to be the starting running back for the Browns, rushing for 186 yards on 24 carries and showing great burst through the line in every game this preseason; much better than veteran Jamal Lewis’, as reflected by his 2.6 yards per carry average on his 24 carries. But how much weight is truly put in to preseason performances? That answer is yet to be determined. According to the

Cleveland Plain-Dealer, rumors are now flying high that current starter Lewis could actually be on the chopping block.

As for head coach Eric Mangini‘s reaction to Davis’ preseason rushing success, (per the

Cleveland Plain-Dealer): “I think the level of competition increases dramatically as we go into next week,” Mangini said. “There’s been a lot of backs over time that have had significant averages in preseason and didn’t quite translate [in the regular season]. I’ve enjoyed seeing him take advantage of the opportunity. It’s always better to finish with an eight-yard average than the alternative.”

I know we’re talking about Mangini here, but let’s face it – Lewis is 30 and Davis, who by the way was a huge steal for the Browns late, is young with fresh legs (yes, I know how that sounds). He has also shown time and time again throughout the preseason and training camp that he’s the better fit if the Browns want more big plays out of their running back. If Lewis stays I think Davis will still make his presence felt to the tune of somewhere around 800+ total yards and four touchdowns. If Lewis goes, and

Davis stays healthy, expect him to total 1,500+ yards and eight touchdowns along with claiming Offensive Rookie of the Year. 

Knowshon Moreno:

 On draft day I found myself dazed and confused about the Broncos’ early selection of the star out of

Georgia, but I’m going to be a little more careful this season, especially after seeing what the last running back that I thought that of (Chris Johnson) in 2008 did during the season. Besides that,

Moreno is thought very highly of in

Denver, and why not? The Broncos right now are without their star wideout Brandon Marshall and are dealing with a slew of injuries to offensive contributors Kyle Orton, Eddie Royal and Jabar Gaffney, so

Moreno’s presence will be huge and needed if and when he gets in to the game next week.  Yes,

Moreno has missed the majority of the preseason due to a knee injury he suffered in the opener against

San Francisco, but according to the

Denver Post he was out on the practice field earlier in the week.

Overall, I suspect that no matter what happens with the supporting cast coach Josh McDaniels will put a emphasis on getting

Moreno the ball in the running and passing game. My projection, barring injury, for the former Bulldog is 1,400 total yards and 10 touchdowns.

Glen Coffee:

 Looking for when to take a “Coffee” break in your fantasy draft? Alright, that was lame. Anyways, word out of San Francisco is that offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye has liked the style of play and balance he‘s seen out of his offense and wants to maintain that heading in to the regular season. “The ultimate goal in this deal is to try to get the balance, closer to 60-40 run-pass,” Raye said Tuesday. “And, if we can maintain the physicality that we have in the run part of it, it will make the other phases of it much easier.”

Now, this news looks great for Frank Gore owners, but even better for those planning on selecting Coffee. The rookie out of Alabama has had an outstanding preseason — 6.5 yards per carry — and seems to fit the style of play both Raye and head coach Mike Singletary have been encouraging like those new velcro cheater gloves. For the record, Coffee carried the ball 233 times, averaged 5.9 yards per carry and scored 10 touchdowns in a split role with Mark Ingram. My prediction is that he will battle McCoy,

Moreno and

Davis as the highest impact rookie this season, and will rush for at least 800+ yards and eight touchdowns, even with Gore in the lineup. And if No. 21 goes down at any point during the season, look out!

Mike Goodson: 

If I were to pick out one player that I’ve seen going way too high in the few expert leagues I’ve participated in it has to be Jonathan Stewart, which I guess isn’t necessarily a bad thing when you don’t like his 2009 potential to begin with. However, it may a bad thing for the Panthers offense, but a good thing for the rookie Goodson. There is now concern in

Carolina about Stewart’s lingering Achilles problem. And while the

Rock Hill Herald has recently suggested that Stewart himself has claimed that he will ready for the Panthers’ Week 1 showdown with the Eagles, there is no denying the fact that the second-year back has participated in just eight of the Panthers 48 offseason practices.

Meanwhile, Goodson continued his impressive preseason run on Thursday night against the Steelers with a 15-carry, 79-yard performance that pretty much guarantees him a roster spot behind Stewart and starter DeAngelo Williams. Now, I don’t expect Goodson to have a mind-blowing rookie campaign, but as we saw last season when casualties start piling up other players can start to emerge. My biggest concern with the Panthers is that if Stewart continues to be hampered Williams’ production will slide downwards. Crazy, isn’t it? You would think that if one running back can’t play the other will just get more carries, right? Yes, but the style of running that Stewart brought to the table in 2008 was what made Williams so great. As for Goodson, he’ll see some major carries if Stewart can’t stay on the field in an effort to alter the defense’s focus on Williams. Sure, the rookie’s strength isn’t bringing power, but that won’t be what the Panthers will be looking for him to do. 

The bottom line here is that unless the casualties do pile up, Goodson’s primary role will be to keep the runners ahead of him fresh. For him, 500 total yards and a must handcuff label for all Williams owners is a good projection for now, with the potential of double depending on the health of Stewart. 

Donald Brown:

On paper, to me, this looked like possibly the biggest impact rookie early on in the offseason, but as the preseason has progressed it has become more evident to me that maybe the Colts aren’t ready to give up on Joseph Addai just yet.  Nevertheless, as history has shown, Addai has had trouble staying on the field and we are talking about the Colts offense here. All you have to do is take a look at Dominic Rhodes’ stats from last season to see that even though the Colts ranked 31st in rushing yards per game (79.6) in 2008, Rhodes was still able to gain 840 total yards, catch 45 passes and score nine touchdowns in a split role with Addai. 

Now to be fair Addai has looked good and healthy in camp this offseason, however the Colts didn’t draft Brown in the first round to sit the bench. I fully expect Brown to get at least 15-20 touches per game even when Addai is healthy. The bad news for fantasy owners is that if they do draft Addai, they almost have to draft Brown, which would then mean they would have to select Brown between Rounds 8 and 9 as his

MyFantasyLeague.com ADP suggests. So will Brown be worth that high of a selection? Was Jonathan Stewart worth taking between Rounds 6 and 7 as his 2008 ADP suggested? If yes, then Brown is a steal, as I suspect that the Colts rookie will emulate what Stewart did in 2008 but with a little more emphasis on contributing in the passing game. At least 1,000 total yards and seven touchdowns is what I had in mind, with the opportunity for more if Addai gets bitten hard by the injury bug.

Others that will make an impact

Chris “Beanie” Wells: Early on in the offseason the Cardinals plan was to have Tim Hightower as their starter, but the winds of change may come rather quick as the rookie from Ohio State is starting to make a statement. And, according to the

Arizona Republic, if that statement continues to grow stronger he may make a leap over Hightower and become the new starter, something that head coach Ken Whisenhunt hasn’t ruled out. “I would never rule it out,” Whisenhunt said of Wells becoming the starter, “because you never know what can happen …” The biggest factor that will be keep Wells from exceeding his expectations is his health. If he stays healthy I think 1,200 total yards and five touchdowns isn’t out of reach.

Bernard Scott:

The Bengals’ rookie back has been a gem this offseason. He will sit as the No. 2 option behind starter Cedric Benson and, according to

Bengals.com, is a lock to make the team while Brian Leonard and DeDe Dorsey fight for the third spot. Scott has had character issues in the past, but if he stays out of trouble and healthy he will see the field in 2009. How much? That all depends on the status of Benson. I’m thinking 600 total yards and three touchdowns are reasonable numbers for the time being for this rising rookie; a great handcuff if nothing else.

Please Hold

Shonn Greene:

Greene looks to be a lock to make the team, but won’t be a factor this season unless Thomas Jones gets traded or released. He has the potential to be a 1,000-yard rusher in the Jets system, but that will most likely be further down the road.

Speaking Out: Money of Morale? 

I have to be honest and say that Roger Goodell’s decision to suspend Michael Vick just two games came as no surprise to me whatsoever. However, I was surprised to see that Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount was banned for the whole season after just a simple punch.

Now, I know this is a totally different kind of crime — on-field in front of millions, as opposed to off-field behind the scenes — but it got me thinking about what truly drives decisions made by those in charge, specifically Mr. Goodell.

Let’s face it — Michael Vick was suspended just two games because …

A) He’s the big story and will make the Eagles and the NFL millions this season. 

B) Is there really any other reason? 

And if I had to write to the commissioner about the feelings I have about his decision my letter would go like this …

Dear Mr. Goodell,

Shame on You! Shame on you for being the morally worst commissioner in all of sports next to Bud Selig. Shame on you for allowing Michael Vick to even strap on a helmet with any team. Most of all, shame on you for putting Benjamin before Oprah; after all it is the reason why you are leading the biggest sport in my world (forget soccer).

I hope you feel good about your decision morally when you start raking in millions this season. Good luck, and say hi to Bud for me! 

Morally yours,

Eric Huber

Ok, I have to admit – Roger’s latest decision was smart from a business standpoint, but I still can’t fathom one player getting suspended for a full season for one simple misdemeanor-like mistake while the other will run like the wind after committing a heinous felony no-less.

I feel ashamed that I’m a part of this. After all it does give me yet another great topic to write about, but I do want to make myself clear and say, “I only do what I do to help others.” Well, so I think. 

In the end I guess the same can be said about both decisions, well, so they think.  

Thanks for reading!

Eric Huber is a staff writer for FantasySharks.com.  E-mail him your letters and questions at

e.huber12@yahoo.com.

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