But rookie running backs look likely to take back some attention from fantasy owners in 2013, with multiple players in line to make some sort of contribution for their new team. Two of the more notable options among this year’s rookie running backs are Montee Ball of the Denver Broncos and Le’Veon Bell of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Is one clearly a better option for fantasy owners this year?
The Case For Montee Ball
Ball enters the NFL as the NCAA’s all-time leader (Division 1) in rushing touchdowns (77) and total touchdowns (83) after an excellent collegiate career at Wisconsin. He enters a Broncos’ backfield situation that got less cluttered with the release of Willis McGahee, and it can be argued he was underused as a pass catcher in college (six receiving touchdowns in 2011).
As long as Ball proves he can hold up in pass protection, which is clearly an important factor with Peyton Manning under center, there’s no reason for the Broncos not to have him as their primary back. Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie Hillman are still around, but in my opinion it would be an upset if anything other than an injury to Ball made them consistently relevant to fantasy owners this year.
The Case For Le’Veon Bell
The Steelers have struggled to find a consistent running game over the last couple years, so it was not surprising they used a second-round pick on Bell. Bell had an excellent senior season at Michigan State in 2012, leading the country in carries (382) and finishing fifth in rushing yards (1,793) along with 32 receptions and 13 total touchdowns (12 rushing). With the loss of wide receiver Mike Wallace in free agency and tight end Heath Miller working his way back from a torn ACL, it would not be surprising to see Pittsburgh turn toward a fairly run-heavy offense.
Pittsburgh does have a deep group of running backs, with Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer and free agent signing La’Rod Stephens-Howling also in the mix. It’s possible Redman or Dwyer makes a case for significant playing time during the preseason, but if they had real staying power as a feature back we would have seen it by now.
Ball and Bell both enter good situations with a clear path to earning significant playing time immediately, but the questions attached to being in deep backfields keeps them out of the top tier of fantasy running backs this year. Both are solid options as a RB2 in all fantasy formats, but with any loss in playing time likely to come on passing downs they can both be downgraded some in PPR leagues.
My choice here, in a close race, is Bell. The Steelers should be running the ball more this year, and it would not be surprising to see him get 250-300 total touches as the team’s clear No.1 back right out of the gate. The Broncos will certainly be throwing the ball a lot again this year, creating the potential for week-to-week inconsistency from Ball through no fault of his own.
Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.