There’s more truth serum to go around, so let’s use it on some starting running backs this time and see what’s really on their minds …
“It’s a contract year for me, but my situation makes me cringe. I’m coming off the worst injury of my career, my quarterback can’t keep a high school defense honest, my power-blocking offensive line is switching to a zone-blocking scheme, and, to make matters worse, I’ve been a total knucklehead the past two offseasons. Last year I held out for a monster contract when I had no leverage, and this year … well, I don’t even want to talk about what happened with that restaurant security guard. Know what else I don’t want to talk about? My fantasy value. I’m going in the second round, and while that may sound like a bargain, I’m in position for a lot of single-digit fantasy days.”
Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville
As a Jaguars fan, I hate approaching the 2013 season with pessimistic feelings toward their best player. Jones-Drew has been a true workhorse since Fred Taylor’s departure in 2009, but last year his carries, yardage and touchdowns took a noticeable hit.
In the five full games Jones-Drew played in last season, his carry totals were 19, 12, 28, 13 and 12 (16.8 carries per game). If you remove the 28-carry game against Indianapolis, those are Reggie Bush numbers — inexcusable for a workhorse like Jones-Drew. What’s even worse is the fact that Jones-Drew had two total touchdowns and eclipsed 80 yards just once in those five contests.
Sure, his 2012 holdout affected his role in their new offense, but the greater concern was the offense itself. You can’t commit to the run when you have an atrocious quarterback like Blaine Gabbert, who suffers from a vertically-shy arm and severe pass rush allergies. Gabbert’s ineffectiveness means the Jaguars won’t find themselves in late-game situations where Jones-Drew can rack up yards and kill the clock.
I’m not done with the bad news yet. This offseason, the Jaguars switched to a zone-blocking scheme, which works best for offensive lines sporting young, nimble linemen. Too bad the Jaguars center Brad Meester is old enough to have fathered this year’s draft class, and guard Uche Nwaneri specializes in power blocking. On top of that, the new coaching staff is implementing a new offense (which means more Gabbert disasters) and a new defense that is projected to start three rookies in the secondary (which means the Jaguars will be throwing to catch up). As it stands, I wouldn’t touch Jones-Drew unless Chad Henne takes up the quarterback reins. Even then, I’d be wary of the offensive line situation and their inexperienced secondary.
“Did you see what I did last year as a rookie? I finished as the No. 2 running back in standard leagues, and my two All-Pro guards played a combined total of seven games. I actually had four of my five best fantasy days after Carl Nicks went out for the year. Now, I get my starting guards back, and get this: my team’s 32nd-ranked pass defense improved big time with the additions of Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson. Know what that means? We won’t have to play from behind as much. So I can chew up clock, yardage and whatever else a Muscle Hamster eats.”
Doug Martin, Tampa Bay
No one’s denying that Martin is a first-round pick in every format, but I’d argue he’s a better choice than Arian Foster, who many experts have listed as the No. 2 fantasy back. The heaviest concern with Foster is the toll that his enormous 1,115 touches have taken on him over the last three seasons. That’s 371.6 touches per year. At an injury-riddled position. And one ugly hit sends an overworked guy like Foster to an early offseason.
Now what if I told you there’s a rising star who has a fresher body and numbers that are almost identical to Foster’s?
Martin had double-digit fantasy points in 12-of-16 games last season; Foster had just two more double-digit games. Foster had more carries (21.9 per game), but Martin has a younger body that averaged 19.9 carries per game. While Foster is at risk to cede carries to his talented backup Ben Tate, Martin is essentially the only show in town (try naming one of Tampa Bay’s backup running backs. I dare you). Both Foster and Martin caught passes in 15 games last season; however, Martin caught at least two passes in all 15 of those games (Foster had six games with just one catch). The one clear advantage Foster has over Martin at this point is touchdowns: 17-12. However, with Tampa Bay’s offensive line and defense getting bolstered over the offseason, expect Martin’s stats to jump as Tampa Bay spends less time playing from behind.
“Guys keep talking me up as a mid-round sleeper, but have they forgotten which team I’m on? Hello — the Arizona Cardinals? The team that produced the 32nd ranked rushing ‘attack.’ The team that hired Bruce let’s-chuck-downfield Arians as their new head coach. The team that’s starting Carson Palmer and his reckless arm under center. And did these fantasy gurus forget how bad my offensive line is? Hey, if you want to draft an injury prone running back from a team that had 75.3 rushing yards per game last year, then fine, throw me aboard.”
Rashard Mendenhall, Arizona Cardinals
Ever since the announcement of Mendenhall’s starting role in Arizona, there’s been buzz about him as a sleeper. It’s reasonable to suggest that a starting running back on a bad offense is worth a look in Rounds 6-8, but think about what you’re drafting in Mendenhall: an oft-injured guy who thrived for a couple years in Pittsburgh’ historically run-oriented offense. Now take that guy and stick him behind a dreadful offensive line that generated 1,204
total rushing yards last season (and 100 of those yards showed up on the statsheet of quarterback Kevin Kolb). Ugly? Hold on, let’s also toss in the fact that the Arians/Palmer combo means it’ll be raining incompletions come September. Now where does that put Mendenhall? Vying for his chunk of 1,100 rushing yards in a pass-first offense? Meanwhile you can grab Mendenhall’s Pittsburgh replacement Le’Veon Bell at around the same stage of the draft.
“I show up on the injury report as much as the statsheet, but if I’m healthy, I’m going to be a late-round steal in most leagues. Last year I had more than 1,000 yards on the ground despite my injuries, and I had six rushing touchdowns despite Andre Brown vulturing my goal line duties around mid-season. Now I’m in Indianapolis, and my new offensive coordinator is implementing a West Coast offense that should get me plenty of carries and a few catches each game. Plus, I’ll be the goal line guy. If I’m not wearing a boot.”
Ahmad Bradshaw, Indianapolis
Bradshaw is a maddening running back prospect due to his recent injury history. He’s had every foot problem short of amputation, and most recently he’s been reported to be wearing a walking boot again. If you believe he can get healthy by September, he’ll be a hot mid-round prospect. Where else can you get a starting running back of his talent level in Round 7? He’ll be the Colts’ starter, the goal line back, and a regular contributor in the passing game. Better yet, new Colts’ offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton is aiming for a more run-oriented attack (Indianapolis averaged 104.4 rushing yards per game last season), and the West Coast offense means that Bradshaw will see plenty of short passes headed his way. Even with the injury risk you’re better off snagging Bradshaw in the seventh or eighth round instead of a hot/cold wide receiver like Stevie Johnson or a mid-carder tight end like Vernon Davis or Dennis Pitta.