There may not be a better way to describe the 2012 season than the year of the rookie. While the quarterbacks received most of the headlines, the running backs were sure impressive too. Two guys who stood out in their inaugural campaign were Alfred Morris and Trent Richardson. This makes for an interesting debate, as Morris finished 2012 as the better fantasy rusher, but many feel that Richardson (who’s 9th-place rank wasn’t too shabby either) is the better, more talented back. Right now, who really knows? But one thing is for sure, I certainly wouldn’t mind having either of these guys on my fantasy team, and can’t wait to see what their sophomore year has in store for us all.
Making the case for Morris
Raise your hand if you selected Morris in your fantasy drafts last year. Not many of you, I presume. A 6th round pick out of Florida Atlantic, Morris wasn’t on many fantasy radars to start the season. However, Morris quickly turned into the waiver wire darling of the season, winning over the hearts of fantasy owners, as well as head coach Mike Shanahan. Known for causing fantasy headaches at the running back position, Shanahan stuck with Morris the entire season, and it paid dividends to both the Redskins and fantasy teams. Morris finished the season with 13 rushing touchdowns, 1,613 yards and 100.8 yards per contest, all ranking second in the league. Remember, this kid was a rookie. The combination of Robert Griffin III and the pistol formation certainly helped his cause, but to be honest, Morris was plain downright talented. According to Pro Football Focus, only Adrian Peterson, C.J. Spiller, Doug Martin and Marshawn Lynch made more opposing defenders miss their tackles last season. Only seven other rushers scored more fantasy points per snap (0.35) than Morris did. And only four backs ended the season with more total fantasy points than Morris. So, the real question is, can we see a repeat performance in year two? RG3′s Week 1 status is still up in the air, and I’m going to be honest, if he is sidelined for an extended period of time, it will be a bit more difficult for Morris to produce. Defenses will just force Kirk Cousins to beat them deep and will simply stack the box against Morris. Still, the high volume of rushing attempts is enough to keep him inside my top-10 at the running back position. His 335 attempts from last year were good enough for third-most in football, and if Griffin does miss time, you can expect Morris to get the ball even more. Last year, he saw nine games with 20 touches or more. I’ll take that usage any day of the week. Oh, and when RG3 does come back, defenses will have a tall task at hand. We saw how difficult the pistol formation was to stop a season ago, allowing Morris to make easier reads. Morris is a more than safe option this year.
Making the case for Richardson
Many people are incredibly high on Richardson this season, and for good reason. An explosive runner who runs with violence, can make you miss, and unlike Morris, has the ability to catch passes out of the backfield, Richardson is the guy in that Browns offense. Both of these backs got the ball a ton, but Richardson did it in more variety of ways. He had 267 carries to go along with an impressive 51 catches, which bodes extremely well for PPR owners. The workload for Richardson was intense. He posted eight 20-touch contests and only saw two games in which he didn’t carry the ball double-digit times. The Browns offense has an unstable quarterback, as well as their second-best offensive weapon in Josh Gordon suspended for the first two games. What does that mean? A heavy workload for Richardson. However, I just hope that very workload doesn’t lead to injury, something that Richardson is pretty familiar with. Last year, he only missed one game, but dealt with rib, knee and ankle issues, which certainly affected his ability to break long runs. Still, the number three overall pick rushed for a solid 950 yards and totaled 12 touchdowns, making him the number nine fantasy back. I think Richardson takes a huge statistical leap in 2013, especially in the receiving game. He has a new offensive coordinator in Norv Turner, a guy who historically has utilized his running backs in the passing game a ton. During his first two seasons with the Chargers, Turner helped LaDainian Tomlinson haul in a whopping 112 balls for 901 yards and four scores. Trust me, T-Rich will be the clear focal point of the Browns offense, and could seriously lead the team in receiving this year.
In a PPR league, I’m taking Richardson and not thinking twice. He is the more versatile back that is much more of a threat to catch 45-50 balls. However, in a standard format, I think I’d side with my personal preference of Morris. I think he will still end up with more carries than Richardson, and despite only catching 11 balls a season ago, Morris still outscored Richardson by about 50 fantasy points. Plus, Richardson still plays in the AFC North, a division filled with tough defenses. At this point, you are kind of nit-picking, and I have them both ranked very closely. It really all comes down to your league setup, but I don’t think you can go wrong with either guy in 2013, or years to come.
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.