After covering the NFL's rookie wide receivers last week, this week we'll turn to this season's crop of rookie running backs. Trent Richardson is the obvious pick in this group, but we'll dig a little deeper to find a few diamonds in the rough for fantasy owners.
Trent Richardson, CLE - The talented Richardson will be the focal point of the Browns offense out of the gate. The recent addition of wideout Josh Gordon adds another young weapon to the mix, as the Browns try to build a young nucleus to help prevent opposing teams from stacking the line of scrimmage against Richardson. Whether Richardson has a great, as opposed to merely good, season could be in the hands of the offensive line. Alex Mack and Joe Thomas are two solid cogs, and the team decided to add youth to the unit by drafting Mitchell Schwartz and Ryan Miller. While Miller will likely provide depth and not start right away, Schwartz should, after he was taken early in the second round ahead of players like Cordy Glenn and Jonathan Martin. Even if the offensive line is only league average, we should see a productive season out of Richardson, who has the upside to finish as a top-5 running back.
Doug Martin, TB - Martin is an interesting player to target especially since the new regime in Tampa Bay has no loyalty to LeGarrette Blount. Between the two, Martin is the fantasy back to target, especially in PPR formats, given Blount's lack of catches. Moreover, coach Greg Schiano is going to employ a run-heavy offense and is more than aware of Blount's six fumbles the last two seasons. Martin isn't especially fast (4.55 40-yard dash), but scouts praise him for his all-around game. The big question in the Bucs backfield will be who gets the goal-line carries, especially considering that Blount is the bigger back. If Martin secures the goal-line work and the lion's share of carries, though, he could end up as a top-15 running back.
David Wilson, NYG - I'm curious to see who the Giants would have taken had the Bucs passed on Martin and both he and Wilson were sitting there at pick 32. Wilson will be a fun player to watch this season, given that he's a home-run threat every time he touches the ball. The ACC Player of the Year is likely headed toward the dreaded time-share with Ahmad Bradshaw, however, provided that the latter is completely healthy. Once again, the key here will be who gets the goal-line work. Wilson is slightly bigger than Bradshaw, but the incumbent has the veteran status and also has the trust of Tom Coughlin, which might work in his favor. Initially, look for Wilson to get 10-15 touches per game while sharing the backfield with Bradshaw.
Lamar Miller, MIA - The Dolphins stayed right in their backyard, trading up to snag Miller from the University of Miami. Miller enters a crowded backfield featuring Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas ahead of him on the depth chart. That said, Miller ran the fastest 40-yard at the Combine (4.40) among running backs and could be used in the slot, especially given the uninspiring state of Miami's receiving corps. Miller comes with the red injury flag after dealing with both shoulder and knee issues the last year, which is why his draft stock dropped. If he is over said injuries, Miami may have gotten itself a steal. Miller has one of the bigger upsides of this class, so look for the Dolphins to be creative in finding ways to get him the ball.
Isaiah Pead, STL - Unless something happens to Steven Jackson (who has only missed two games in the last three seasons), it's hard to envision Pead having significant fantasy relevance. He's built for the third down/change of pace back role and won't be much competition for goal-line work. That said, the Rams could employ Pead in a bigger role if they decide to lighten Jackson's load as the bruising back approaches 2,000 career carries. When he's on the field, look for the Rams to get the ball to Pead on the perimeter where he can use his speed and agility to make defenders miss.
LaMichael James, SF - Yes, the 49ers are set on defense and at the offensive skill positions, but this was something of a puzzling pick. San Francisco now has Frank Gore, Brandon Jacobs, Kendall Hunter and James on the roster. Hunter has a similar skill set to James, making his second-round selection is even more puzzling. James doesn't have the size to compete for goal-line work and provided the other three running backs stay healthy, it's hard to imagine him getting more than five touches per game.
Chris Rainey, PIT - Rainey is one of the faster running backs in this year's draft, and his speed should be on display for the Steelers special teams. Rainey actually registered four blocked kicks in college and is versatile enough to line up wide for Big Ben as well. With his lack of size (5-foot-8, 180) he won't break a lot of tackles, but you can't tackle what you can't catch. Look for Rainey to complement Isaac Redman and Rashard Mendenhall (once he returns) as a fast, pass-catching back who can work out of the slot as well.
Bernard Pierce, BAL - If Pierce were in a different locale, there could be some fantasy relevance here. Unfortunately he'll have to fight for the backup spot in Baltimore, and though it's a gig he'll likely land, Ray Rice is firmly entrenched as the team's every-down back. Pierce does have a shot (albeit a long shot) at stealing goal-line and short-yardage work from Rice, given that he has a size advantage. However, that's an unlikely scenario and Pierce should only be grabbed if you believe in handcuffing and/or own Rice.
Ronnie Hillman, DEN - After the draft, John Elway compared Ronnie Hillman to Darren Sproles, which suggests he'll be utilized in similar manner, but that's not to say that he'll come close to Sproles' numbers. Still, I don't see much competition from Lance Ball or Knowshon Moreno, which means Hillman should lock up the job backing up Willis McGahee. It's not going to hurt Hillman to play with Peyton Manning and with McGahee limited as a pass-catcher, Hillman could find some value in PPR formats.
Robert Turbin, SEA - Turbin looked like a dark-horse candidate to steal carries from Marshawn Lynch as he possesses the size (5-10, 222) to be an every-down back. After Lynch was arrested on susipicion of DUI, however, Turbin is no longer flying under the radar. Turbin doesn't necessarily have the same speed as other running backs in this draft but has the ability to break tackles and gain yardage after contact. If the league suspends Lynch, who served a three-game suspension in 2009 on another legal matter, Turbin figures to take over. Leon Washington is utilized in the return game, and Kregg Lumpkin offers only modest competition for Turbin.
Cyrus Gray, KC - While a lot has been made of the thunder-and-lightning combination of Peyton Hillis and Jamaal Charles this offseason, Gray shouldn't go completely unnoticed. Both Hillis and Charles have had their injury concerns last season, and Gray should see some third down work even if both players are healthy. For now, he'll mainly provide depth for the Chief, but he could excel in a bigger role if Charles or Hillis goes down at any point.
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