Fantasy Football 2014: Rookie Preview; Running Backs
It’s not what it used to be.
Running back seems to be the most replaceable position in not only football, but perhaps all of sports. Seemingly every year, a backup steps in for the injured starter and doesn’t just provide serviceable numbers, but often times, better ones. Not many teams are paying up for running backs in free agency, and guys aren’t getting lead back contracts anymore. I mean, Knowshon Moreno is coming off a season where, statistically, he was a top-five back in football, but Denver didn’t even bring him back, which really wouldn’t have costed them much at all.
It’s not what it used to be.
The 2014 draft class is similar. It lacks a star back that will find his way to workhorse carries and no one jumps off the page. There’s no Giovani Bernard, who, by the way, wasn’t even selected as a starting back last year. No Adrian Peterson, no star. However, that doesn’t at all mean there isn’t value to be had here. In fact, there are a handful of backs that I like quite a bit and believe could have nice little careers, though, you may have to wait for immediate fantasy impacts. This time last year, I was salivating (literally) at Vanderbilt running back, Zac Stacy. I stated he would start for the Rams and serve as 2013′s Alfred Morris, for fantasy purposes. Fast forward to 2014, and I’m looking for the next Morris. The next Stacy.
Won’t you join me?
Like I said, there is no clear-cut top back in this year’s class. But, for me, it’s Sankey. I’m not exactly sure what it is, but I’m infatuated with this kid. Via my buddy Rich Hribar, who also loves some Sankey, Bishop had the top agility score out of any runner in this year’s class, and a top-10 score since 2002. And he also is familiar with a heavy workload, which is something he may see in his rookie year, unlike other backs. During his collegiate career, he averaged about 24 times per game, a very strong number to become accustomed to the NFL level.
- Terrific vision.
- Great cutback ability.
- Strong lateral quickness.
- Underrated overall quickness.
- Good in pass protection.
- Soft hands out of backfield.
- Durable, no significant injury history.
- Lacks breakaway speed.
- Underrated power, but still a weakness.
- Smaller frame.
- Average balance.
Sankey reminds me a ton of Giovani Bernard. A smaller back with great vision, strong cutting ability and good burst in between the tackles. I currently truly believe that Sankey will be one of the few fantasy relevant rookie backs in 2014, and I see him going somewhere in the second round to the Tennessee Titans. The team just released Chris Johnson, and I highly doubt they are comfortable with a Shonn Greene and Jackie Battle pairing to start the season. Sankey could come in and start right away, making him extremely fantasy relevant. Heck, one scout even called him a “poor man’s Emmitt Smith“, so he must be doing something right. Don’t be surprised if this guy becomes a potential top-25 fantasy back this season.
Other potential landing spots: ATL, ARI, MIN.
I already wrote about West, but I think he is another name to watch. Maybe not this season, as it’ll be very difficult for him to land in a destination that what result in him starting, but dynasty owners need to keep an eye on this guy, for sure. A traditional bellcow, West has the frame (5’9″, 225 lbs) that you like out of an every down back. Last year, he carried the ball almost 26 times per game, showing that he can handle a heavy workload.
- Nimble for larger back.
- Good lateral quickness, allows himself to find more running room.
- Strong pass-blocker.
- Durable, can handle heavy workload.
- Strong, churns for extra yardage.
That’s West absolutely leveling a defensive lineman in pass protection. You can’t teach that kind of power, and it only helps that he would then go on to make a five-yard reception. NFL teams love to see that kind of power and versatility.
- Lacks a ton of explosiveness.
- Moves East/West far too often for a bigger back.
- Needs to run with more violence.
- Sometimes sloppy with ball security.
West may not have an immediate fantasy future, but he is going to be around for a while. His 4.54 40-time is very impressive when you consider his size. West reminds me a bit of Joique Bell, a larger back with strong versatility. Bell is certainly a crucial part of the Lions current offense, and I think, assuming he lands in the right spot, West could make some serious noise in dynasty leagues down the road.
As fantasy football players, we love, no, crave running backs who make catches out of the backfield. I mean, how else would Darren Sproles be relevant? But seriously, the game added an entire scoring format for the concept, a format that Charles Sims out of West Virginia could be very successful in.
Drawing plenty of comparisons to Matt Forte, Sims has the total package in terms of talent and skill-set. A 6’0″, 215-pound runner with speed and pass-catching ability, how can you miss? During his four seasons playing college ball, Sims averaged almost 51 catches, which would translate to very fantasy friendly numbers in the NFL. I do wish he wasn’t going to be 24-years old when the season starts, and the fact that he finished his collegiate career with 800 touches could be concerning. But he will likely be a third-down back with upside in the NFL, and his presence in the passing game may extend his career, rather than banging between the tackles.
- Incredibly quick feet.
- Terrific cutting ability.
- Best speed and acceleration.
- Outstanding receiver. Makes catches away from his body.
- Pretty elusive in open field.
- Lacks power.
- Inconsistent vision, as Matt Miller states.
- Often bounces outside when isn’t needed.
- Below average pass-blocker.
- Needs to become more physical.
Sims may have the most talent and explosiveness out of any runners in this year’s class. His elite pass-catching ability is going to land him a team in the middle rounds, potentially a team like the Minnesota Vikings, who need another back with Toby Gerhart gone. He’d be a nice complement to Peterson, and with Norv Turner calling the shots for the offense, Sims’ pass-catching prowess would be a terrific fit. He may have the most long-term fantasy upside, despite his age.
Other RBs to monitor: Tre Mason, Ka’Deem Carey, Isaiah Crowell, Lache Seastrunk.
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