2012 Fantasy Rookie Rankings: Running Backs
It’s never too early for fantasy football rankings, and it’s certainly never to early to start projecting what to expect from rookie players. Mix the two, and you’ve got yourself one nice bowl of “hypothetical”.
I know it’s early, but I already see a couple potential stud rookie running backs out of this 2012 class, and some others that may not be far away from making an impact.
Remember the hype guys like Daniel Thomas and Ryan Williams got last year? Well, Thomas was inconsistent, and Williams went down before the regular season could even start. On the flip-side, Mark Ingram was over-value by many, while Roy Helu went on bit of a tear to end the season.
Rookies are tough to predict, but this is what we do. Here’s my take on the top rookie running backs heading into the 2012 season:
1. Trent Richardson (Cleveland Browns)
No knock on Peyton Hillis – but if he could be a beast in Cleveland, the sky is the limit for Richardson. T-Rich is an elite talent at the position that can run with power and speed, and can also catch the ball out of the back-field. He’s a complete back that will be the focal point of Cleveland’s offense. He’s the leading candidate to top all rookie backs in carries, rushing yards, and touchdowns.
2. Doug Martin (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
As stable as Richardson appears to be, an argument can be made that Martin is more versatile and more explosive. Some fantasy experts have him as the top rookie back. I’ll hear the argument, but he at least will lose some short-yardage and goal-line carries to LeGarratte Blount, so I won’t put him quite that high just yet. Still, he wasn’t compared to Ray Rice for nothing. Martin can ball, and he should start right away.
3. David Wilson (New York Giants)
Brandon Jacobs is gone and Ahmad Bradshaw is rarely healthy. Translation: Wilson is officially the top rookie running back sleeper of 2012. He may have to bide his time early, but he’ll eventually earn his shot, and I think he’ll steal the show. Wilson is a balanced back with good speed and the ability to continue to get yards after contact. He’s definitely a guy to watch.
4. Isaiah Pead (St. Louis Rams)
This is where the major drop-off starts. Not necessarily in talent, but in fantasy impact. Pead definitely can put up numbers in his rookie season, but he’ll need Steven Jackson to go down in order for it to happen. That’s entirely possible, but he’s probably more likely to make an impact on third downs and as a change of pace runner early on.
5. Ronnie Hillman (Denver Broncos)
Hillman will start his career as a change of pace back, but has the talent to be a fine runner at the next level. Willis McGahee is aging and both he and Knowshon Moreno have a sketchy injury history, though, so regard Hillman as a nice sleeper option.
6. Robert Turbin (Seattle Seahawks)
Marshawn Lynch got a new deal and is the man in all respects, but Turbin should help take some of the load away in year one. Leon Washington is a third down back at best at this point, so Turbin shouldn’t have a ton of competition for the top backup job. If Lynch goes down, Turbin could definitely carry the load and be a productive fantasy back.
7. Bernard Pierce (Baltimore Ravens)
Ray Rice carries the ball a ton and Ricky Williams is retired. In other words, Rice may see less carries to keep him healthier for the end of the year, while his top backup spot is wide open. Pierce figures to slide right into that role without much struggle, and would carry instant RB1 value if Rice were to ever go down.
8. Lamar Miller (Miami Dolphins)
Miami is already supposedly looking for ways to get Miller on the field other than at running back – which tells you he’s as explosive as advertised. He’s a little raw, but he could see time at receiver and on returns, in addition to running back. With Reggie Bush’s injury history in mind, Miller could be a guy to monitor closely.
9. LaMichael James (San Francisco 49ers)
James may never be a true feature back, but I don’t think he has to in order to be an effective fantasy weapon. There have already been whispers about Frank Gore seeing the ball less to save him down the stretch, while no one behind him demands the ball just yet. James is the most talented back behind Gore, and the most explosive, as well. Jim Harbaugh knows it, and he’ll look for ways to get James involved as much as possible.
10. Vick Ballard (Indianapolis Colts)
Joseph Addai is gone and Donald Brown and Delone Carter don’t appear to have the makings of a true feature back. Ballard actually might, as he has good size and runs very well in between the tackles. He’s not a speedster and will need to improve as a receiver, but he can compete with Brown and Carter early.
11. Chris Rainey (Pittsburgh Steelers)
Rashard Mendenhall may not play much (if at all) in 2012 due to a torn ACL late in 2011, and Isaac Redman is far from a sexy option. That means Rainey could get sprinkled into the back-field early. The beauty with Rainey is that he should also see time at receiver and on returns, giving him added versatility and possibly extra position eligibility in fantasy leagues, as well. He’s extremely fast and explosive, so it’s hard to imagine him not getting onto the field in some fashion early.
12. Alfred Morris (Washington Redskins)
Morris lacks elite speed or explosiveness, but he’s a tough runner who can pound the rock. He will start his career behind Roy Helu and possibly Evan Royster, but he’s a smash mouth player that fits perfectly for Washington’s zone-blocking scheme if he gets the chance.
13. Chris Polk (Philadelphia Eagles)
I’d take Polk a couple spots higher if LeSean McCoy weren’t the starter in Philly. Still, the Eagles have made some comments about cutting back McCoy’s workload, while Polk brings great size and versatility to the table. He has some medical issues to get past, but there is not a lot of tough competition for him to beat out, and he brings value as a receiver out of the back-field. Don’t be shocked to see him right behind McCoy at some point in 2012.
14. Terrance Ganaway (New York Jets)
I’m probably the only person this high on Ganaway, but I honestly think he’s one of those solid runners who was over-looked. He doesn’t have amazing speed, but he’s a tough runner with some wiggle. He also has good vision and is tough in between the tackles. If Shonn Greene struggles again in 2012, Ganaway could be a guy worth monitoring.
15. Cyrus Gray (Kansas City Chiefs)
Gray is a complete back with good size and nice fluidity when he runs. He’s no burner, but he can catch the ball out of the back-field, and he routinely makes people miss in the open field. Jamaal Charles is coming off of a torn ACL and may not be his speedy self, while the bruising Peyton Hillis is also coming off of an injury-plagued season. Gray won’t have value if those guys are healthy and effective, but considering their histories so far, Gray needs to be monitored.