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The Rookies – Running Back

Unlike the other skill positions, Running Back is the one position where a rookie can just *rip up* a fantasy league!  Smoke the guppies in your league chasing those whose reputation far exceeds their talent like Bettis and Faulk, and grab a future stud the less studious have overlooked.  And if you’re a dynasty league owner, rookie backs are the cornerstone of your franchise!  Ever win a league starting three wideouts every week?  Me neither. 

So without further adieu, here is the rookie running back class of 2005!!

1. Carnell “Cadilac” Williams  Tampa Bay Buccaneers
How often are the second and fifth picks in the NFL draft essentially platoon players on the same college team?  Amazing!  This year’s top running back is “The Caddy”!  An explosive and shifty back, Williams will provide the offensive spark the Bucs so desperately need.  He’ll likely lose a few carries to Michael Pittman, especially on third down, but once he learns the blocking schemes he’ll be an everydown back.  And believe me, Gruden will get him the rock 20+ times a game.  He can catch, which makes him that much better in PPC leagues. 
Short term:  A pretty good #2 RB in any sized league…get him!
Long term:  Also looking pretty good.  The Bucs offense can only get better and Williams has fresh legs compared to many college backs.  *Cough cough*…Cedric Benson…*cough*…  He’s been a top 3 pick in every rookie draft I’ve seen.

2. Ronnie Brown   Miami Dolphins
The other half of last year’s Auburn running tandem shows up at #2.  Brown is a truck, can catch the ball out of the backfield, has great speed…not much to dislike here.  A character guy and a hard worker too.  New Fins coach Nick Saban will love him.  He falls short of the #1 rookie more due to situation rather than talent…Ricky Williams is back, and since the Dolphins can get nothing close to fair value for him in a trade, he looks to be on the roster for the forseeable future.  For this reason, Brown may be in a dreaded RBBC, assuming Williams is at least a shadow of his former self.  Saban would love to see Brown win the job outright, but RW used to be pretty darn good if I recall.
Short term:  If Ricky whips himself into shape, the short-term is good but not great.  Brown could slip to the #5 or so rookie back for the year if he can’t get more than 15 touches a game.
Long term:  Things look great for Brown.  It’s hard to believe Ricky will be in town for more than just a season, and Brown has the makings of a workhorse back for years to come.  A top 3 pick in any dynasty rookie draft.

3.  Cedric Benson  Chicago Bears
Benson put up some tremendous numbers at Texas and looks to be a very solid back for the Bears.  He’s powerful but is more of a chain-mover than a threat to take it to the house.  His strong recieving skills will certainly help him at the next level as well.  But Benson has some warts too:  he had over 1100 carries in college and absorbed quite a lot of hits…one wonders if he may have less tread left on the tire than the typical rookie back.  And he’s also in a backfield with the underachieving but talented Thomas Jones, who had a pretty good fantasy season last year.  The chance of a RBBC may make Benson a worrysome pick in redraft leagues.
Short term:  He’ll likely split carries with Thomas Jones early on and perhaps throughout the season.  Likely a #3 RB in smaller redraft leagues unless he wins the job outright.
Long term:  Benson will be a workhorse and a consistent 1000 yard rusher if he doesn’t have to share carries.  The last of the ‘big 3’ of this year’s rookie class.

4.  J.J. Arrington  Arizona Cardinals
Arrington ran for over 2000 yards last year at Cal, and Denny Green is starring him in many evil plots in the Cardinals offense this season.  Though a little undersized, he’s stout and quick and has little competition in the Cards backfield.  He has decent hands and could be an everydown back if he can overcome his blocking weaknesses on third down.  The Arizona offense looks to be much improved this year, at least on paper, and Arrington is a sneaky pick in redraft leagues as well as a nice long-term choice in dynasty leagues.  It’s his job to lose and it’s not impossible to think he could be the best back in the class of 2005.
Short term:  He has the best combination of situation and talent in the rookie class.  If he can hold off Shipp in camp, he could flirt with a top 15 or even a top 10 fantasy ranking this year.
Long term:  Not as physically skilled as the top 3, but he’s in a good place.  Going in the 4 – 6 range in most dynasty rookie drafts.

5.  Eric Shelton  Carolina Panthers
There’s not a lot of mystery to Shelton’s game…it’s power running all the way.  Think Bettis.  Shelton has a nose for the end zone and is a bruiser that could cause some damage if given the chance.  DeShaun Foster is the clear starter in Pantherland right now, but he’s never been able to stay on the field long. With Stephen Davis pretty much done by many accounts, Shelton is a twisted knee away from the starting job.  He’s not going to catch many balls which hurts his value in PPC leagues, but he’s a powerful runner backing up a traditionally gimpy starter…not a bad guy to keep one’s eye on!
Short term:  Like I said, if (or when?) DeShaun goes down, it’s Shelton time!
Long term:  Hard to say, but he should be a starting back somewhere down the road.  Whether it’s this year or not you have to like the upside of this kid.  He’s being drafted in the 5 – 10 range in rookie dynasty drafts.

6.  Ryan Moats  Philadelphia Eagles
The drafting of Moats was a clear response to the negotiating problems the Eagles are having with Brian Westbrook.  Moats has a similar skillset…a smallish but very quick scatback with strong receiving skills.  Should Westbrook get hurt, hold out, or leave town at the end of the season, Moats could step into his role quite nicely and put up some very solid fantasy numbers for years to come.  If Westbrook signs a long-term deal by the time this hits the website, drop Moats big-time!
Short term:  Unless Westbrook has woes, Moats won’t get much PT.  A decent handcuff for BW, but not worthy of a redraft pick otherwise.
Long term:  Could be a stud down the road in the Philly system or could turn into a Kevin Faulk-type of role player.  A nice upside if you can stash him on your bench for a year.  Going in the 10 – 15 range in dynasty rookie drafts, but I’ve seen some where he can be had around 20.

7.  Frank Gore  San Francisco 49ers
Many think Gore was a reach as the first pick in the third round, but there’s no denying his upside.  Gore was considered a better back than Willis McGahee by some when they were college teammates at Miami, but that seems eons ago.  Both of them have had major knee problems since then, with Gore having blown out the ACL in *both* of his knees since 2001.  Edge James, Jamal Lewis…what is it about those Miami knees?  Anyhow, Gore will be two-years removed from his last ACL this season and if he can regain most of his prior flash, he could be a player.  Will his drafting light a fire under chronic underachiever Kevin Barlow, or will Gore plain-ol’ take over the job?  It’s hard to say at this point, but Gore is worth a gamble if he can be had at the right price.
Short term:  At best a platoon player with Barlow.  A late-round flyer in redraft leagues but someone to watch in camp and early in the season.
Long term:  It’s anyone’s guess…another knee injury could end his career, or he could steal the job from Barlow outright.  Roll the dice.  He’s going in the 8 – 14 range in rookie dynasty drafts.

8. Maurice Clarett  Denver Broncos
Personally, I don’t think there’s much of a football future for young Maurice, but being in the running-back mix in the Broncos system, he sneaks onto the list.  He hasn’t played organized ball in two years, looked terrible in pre-draft workouts, is not in top shape, has some *major* character issues…the Broncos jersey is about the only thing I like about this guy.  If he wins the starting job, he could be a top 5 back.  I’m betting he won’t, but who could fault you if you do?
Short term:  As always, evil Shanahan isn’t tipping his hand as to who he’ll play.  It’s anyone’s guess.  Certainly a massive upside if he’s the starting back.
Long term:  Once again, a total crapshoot.  Could be out of the league next year, or in the Pro Bowl.  Nobody makes me feel as dumb as Shanahan does.  Clarett is going in the 10 – 15 range in rookie dynasty drafts, though people seem to either love or hate this guy so expect some wide variations.

9.  Ciatrick Fason  Minnesota Vikings
Fason is raw but talented.  The Vikings backfield situation is murky as always, but Fason could eventually emerge as the primary back…it’s unlikely it’ll happen this year though.  Fason isn’t worth a pick in a redraft league, going in the 10 – 15 range in dynasty rookie drafts.

10. Vernand Morency  Houston Texans
Morency isn’t a super physical talent but seems to find a way to get the job done.  A 25-year old rookie who only has value if Domanick Davis should miss time.  A decent DD handcuff in redraft leagues, going in the 20 – 25 range in dynasty rookie drafts.

11. Alvin Pearman  Jacksonville Jaguars
A star at Virginia, he doesn’t seem to have the physical tools to be an everydown back.  But with the health of Fred Taylor in question and no established backup in Jacksonville, Pearman might suprise and get some significant playing time.  A possible Taylor handcuff in redraft leagues, going in the 25 – 40 range in rookie dynasty drafts.

12. Marion Barber III  Dallas Cowboys
Barber is a power runner who would seem to have the tools to be a decent NFL back, but Parcells talks of him exclusively as a returner and special-teams role player.  Until this changes, there’s no reason to draft Barber.  If this changes or Julius Jones misses time, Barber could be a hot waiver wire pickup.

13. Cedric Houston  New York Jets
Houston is a tough inside runner and Curtis Martin has to get act his age someday, but it’s doubtful that Cedric has the skillset to get enough carries to be draftable.

14. Brandon Jacobs  New York Giants
A monsterous back who could steal some goal-line carries from Tiki, but it’s hard to see his role expanding much beyond that.

15. Darren Sproles  San Diego Chargers
An exciting return man, but his diminutive size makes it unlikely he’ll become much more than a situational player.


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