In fantasy, owners tend to always want the next big thing. The veteran players, as safe and consistent as they are, no longer offer the appeal and excitement that rookies do. Rookie running backs, in particular, warranted a ton of fantasy attention during the 2013 season.
They surely didn’t disappoint.
Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
Outside of a certain St.Louis Ram, Bell was my favorite rookie back heading into this season. He didn’t receive a lot of hype, which I’m still not sure why, but he clearly proved that he is just as talented as any other back from his draft class.
Bell broke Franco Harris’ team rookie record for yards from scrimmage this season with 1,259. After missing the first few games with a nagging Lisfranc injury, Bell came out and immediately assumed the role of the bellcow for this offense, finishing with a healthy 244 carries (12th-most). He averaged a healthy 12.3 fantasy points per game on the year, the 1oth-most among backs. I don’t think people truly realize how productive Bell was during his rookie season. He rushed 244 times for 860 yards and eight scores, while tacking on 45 catches for 399 yards. He was very valuable in PPR formats, as he averaged 3.5 catches per game, while failing to go one whole game without hauling in at least one pass. His 52.1 snaps per game ranked fourth-most among all running backs, ahead of guys like Adrian Peterson, DeMarco Murray and Ray Rice. As a rookie, it was impressive to see Pittsburgh trust him so much, as well as use him so heavily. Bell carried the ball at least 20 times in five games this year, including touching the ball at least 20 times in 11 contests.
From a fantasy perspective, Bell closed the season out tremendously. He scored a touchdown in each of his final three games, averaging 15.6 fantasy points per game during that span. Very quietly, Bell finished with the 12th-highest consistency rating, coming in at 68.8 percent. That means he finished as a top-12 fantasy back almost 70 percent of the time. That, too, is ahead of Peterson and Rice. And from a PPR perspective, his consistency rating was a strong 75, which is good for the third-highest number.
The second half of the 2013 season was just a glimmer of what Bell has in store for fantasy owners down the road.
Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers
There is no other way to describe Lacy. The Packers rookie was the fantasy rookie of the year (at least in my opinion), rushing for 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns, both of which ranked top-eight in the league. Lacy was named the Packers’ team MVP of the 2013 season, which is high praise for a first-year player. If you thought Bell was a workhorse, Lacy carried even more of the load. His 284 carries ranked fifth-most in the NFL, and since Week 5, no running back has carried the ball more times. Of course, the absence of Aaron Rodgers obviously played a contributing factor, but this guy was going to be force-fed the rock regardless. He carried the ball 20 or more times in 10 of his 15 games this season, which is just awesome volume.
Thanks to an awesome second half, Lacy finished as the number six overall fantasy running back as a rookie. His consistency rating was strong, too, as he finished as a top-12 back 81.3 percent of the time, tied for the fourth-highest among all running backs. With Rodgers under center for the entire 2014 season, the Packers offense should be moving up and down the field consistently, providing Lacy with more opportunities.
Zac Stacy, St. Louis Rams:
What else can I say?
The peanut butter to my jelly, the Animal to my Hawk, Stacy was easily my favorite player during the 2013 season. I watched film, analyzed his game and wrote about him religiously during the offseason, not only saying he’d be the starter for the Rams, but fantasy owners would enjoy an Alfred Morris-like season during his rookie year. It wasn’t quite as good as Alf’s, but it was still very impressive. He didn’t assume the starting job until Week 5, but Stacy still finished as a top-20 fantasy running back. Another rookie who got the volume of work, only Eddie Lacy carried the ball more times than Stacy since Week 5. His 250 carries ranked 11th-most among running backs this year. He had nine top-12 finishes on the season, posting double-digit fantasy points in seven of his starts. Head coach Jeff Fisher loves this kid, and constantly fed the ball. Stacy led the NFL in game with at least 26 carries (five). With a rather weak pass offense, I expect him to continue to carry the ball quite a bit.
Zac Stacy, you’re waiver wire darling of the year.
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.