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Freshmen vs. Sophomores

We’ll compare six players from the 2010 class versus six NFL sophomores from the 2009 class. In both regards we really don’t have a clear view on exactly what can transpire. But, judging by what we’ve seen so far we can begin to estimate their value in the future. That’s not to say we can guess production. If we could accurately guess highly productive players then we’d be in the championship every year. The best way of trying to gauge production is by trying to track opportunity. Here we’ll take a look at what limited the production we’ve seen and how they may be used in the 2011 season.

LeSean McCoy and Jahvid Best

Coming into the season many rankings had McCoy listed as the third-best back from the 2009 draft class. However after this season I’d be guessing that McCoy will be an early second-round selection, if not a first rounder. If McCoy can stay mildly productive to end the 2010 season he could turn into the Shonn Greene of 2011. The exception being that McCoy will live up to his billing. McCoy has filled the role of the departed Brian Westbrook exactly how the Philadelphia Eagles had planned. He’s a very talented runner and already a Top 6 receiving back. The thing that could play into McCoy’s hands is the Michael Vick situation. With defenses needing to defend DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin from capitalizing on Vick’s deep bomb arm strength while also trying to keep him contained from running outside, McCoy could have more room to run straight up the gut of the defense. I’m sold on the fact that McCoy will outperform his 2010 stat line next season.

Best is another one of these hybrid backs, built to run at you, yet can destroy you in the passing game. There are a few different factors that play into Best’s chances for a huge year next season. Firstly, are his durability concerns. He made some people nervous due to his college history and his first year in the pros really didn’t cool down the anxiety. In what we did get to see of him, he was good near the goal line, but not great. He’s an ideal third-down back that creates mismatches. His role this season near the end zone may be due more to the fact that Detroit doesn’t have a power back on the roster and less with the fact that Best has solidified his role as the red zone back. Luckily, no one has stepped up in his absence so Best will get another home run swing next season. If Matthew Stafford can say healthy and keep defenses honest then Best could have more room. But if Drew Stanton makes another special guest appearance under center, the mix of injury risk with situation would drown out his value.

2011 Edge – LeSean McCoy

Chris “Beanie” Wells versus Ryan Mathews

Wells’ first two years in the league have not been what most were expecting. He did have a nice string of games in 2009 but don’t be fully fooled by a few games. It’s very clear that Arizona has a hard time running the ball against most defenses. Added on top of that, it seems as though the Cardinals still haven’t figured out how they want to use Wells and Tim Hightower. There are times when Wells is called upon on the goal line, but more often than not Hightower gets the nod to score. That could be due to wanting to keep Wells fresh. Or it could be his inability to score from in close. Wells could have been a different player if Kurt Warner hadn’t retired. Defenses wouldn’t be able to stack the box and Wells would have more production. But Warner did retire and he’s not coming back any time soon. Next season could be a duplicate of this one statistically for him. He’ll get the carries, but with questionable quarterbacking, he’ll have a hard time getting the production.

Mathews has the polar opposite issue of Wells. Mathews could have an issue with his quarterback being too good to capitalize. The amount that Philip Rivers is allowed to throw could hurt Mathews’ chances. Rivers isn’t the same quarterback he was when LaDainian Tomlinson was there. Rivers has grown from a Top 12 quarterback to a Top 5 since Tomlinson left for the New York Jets. This factored in with what is certain to be a running back by committee (RBBC) next season isn’t a good combination. Darren Sproles and Mike Tolbert deserve their carries after showcasing what they are capable of. The cut of opportunity added with RBBC with a sprinkle of injury concern on top isn’t a chocolate covered sundae. Mathews will need to excel past his competitors, stay healthy and draw enough coaching attention to increase his workload back to what was expected. Those three things aren’t going to be easy for Mathews to do in 2011. This decision comes down to the surrounding cast. Wells suffers from two of the three aforementioned issues himself, injury concerns and RBBC. But I’d put my money on Mathews gaining the coaches attention than on a Cardinals’ quarterback gaining defensive attention.

2011 Edge – Ryan Mathews

Knowshon Moreno versus C.J. Spiller

Moreno

was set to be a 2010 bust. After proving to be serviceable as a plug and play in the 2009 season, owners were expecting a leap of sorts in terms of production. But three, (yes, three) hamstring injuries, including one suffered at the very beginning of training camp slowed down his efforts. Luckily, the madman Josh McDaniels was nice enough to ship Peyton Hillis off to Cleveland and bring in Laurence Maroney. Those two moves were huge for Moreno’s future value. That player change, Maroney for Hillis, ensured that nobody would challenge Moreno for top dog status in 2010. If Hillis had filled in and posted his Cleveland numbers in Denver then Moreno’s resurgence to being starter worthy wouldn’t have happened. Once on the field, Moreno proved to be great in all aspects of the offense. He’s great as a receiver and his 160 yards against Kansas City indicate that he can run well, too. Even after a dismal beginning to the 2010 season, Moreno could still finish with 800 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving. The latest shift of coaching authority into the hands of the running back coach could actually ensure that Moreno becomes the undisputed focal point of the offense, at least for the rest of 2010.

Spiller on the other hand does have competition added on top of his injuries. Fred Jackson has become one of the better options in fantasy over the past eight games or so. Spiller showed strong potential in the first few games of the season, breaking long runs and having ESPN Top 10 kick returns. But the shine faded quickly from Spiller. All it really ever takes is one small injury for the entire landscape to change. And sadly that is exactly what happened to Spiller. But he’s only been a pro for less than a season so it’s too early to tell if this is a fluke or not. Spiller has been compared to Reggie Bush since being drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the first round. The biggest difference between the two has nothing to do with each other and everything to do with their quarterbacks. If the Bills had Drew Brees you better believe that Spiller would be utilized more. Spiller’s talent is very apparent but his situation needs to be addressed by the front office brass in order to truly reach his full potential.

2011 Edge – Knowshon Moreno

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