Running backs are more likely than any other position to make an immediate impact for fantasy football owners during their rookie seasons. Le’Veon Bell and Zac Stacy are two examples from 2013, as both finished as top-20 fantasy running backs despite being injured (Bell) or in a minimal role (Stacy) at the start of the season. Stacy and Bell both enter the season No. 1 on the depth chart for their team, but which second-year back should fantasy owners like better this year?
The Case For Le’Veon Bell
After missing the first three games of last season with a foot injury, Bell had at least 15 carries in 12 of the 13 games he played and finished fifth in the league in carries per game (18.8). Bell also had 45 receptions for 399 yards (8.9 yards per catch), and ranked third in the league in red zone carries (48).
Despite the signing of LeGarrette Blount, Bell is still Pittsburgh’s top running back and more than 300 touches looks like a lock if he plays all 16 games.
The Case For Zac Stacy
Stacy had just one carry for four yards in two September games, but upon taking over the starting job he hit the ground running with 249 carries for 969 yards and seven touchdowns over from that point on (12 games). A dismal game against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 14 (14 carries for 25 yards; three receptions for minus-three yards) did not come at a great time for fantasy owners, but Stacy still averaged 93 rushing yards per game with seven rushing touchdowns over an eight-game stretch from Week 8-Week 16.
Even if he cedes some passing down work to rookie Tre Mason, Stacy will not have his role around the goal line significantly threatened (40 red zone carries in 2013; eighth-most in the league) and his role in the passing game could still increase a bit overall (26 receptions last year).
Bell and Stacy are both in the second tier of running backs after the elite options in preseason fantasy rankings, and as fairly rare workhorses each may be the first running back a lot of fantasy owners end up with on draft day. Bell has nice upside in PPR leagues, with 50 receptions well within reach, but Blount’s potential to be a touchdown vulture is a concern. Stacy may not catch as many passes as Bell, and with similar average draft positions I’ll take Bell since he has a much higher ceiling even with a bit more downside.