Second Year Studs and Duds- RBs
Nate Hodges continues his series on the best and worst second year fantasy football players in the NFL with a look at the running backs.
Second Year Studs and Duds- RBs
The 2013 rookie running back class turned out to be a very strong cast of producers for both redraft and dynasty leagues alike. A handful of players led fantasy football teams to championships a year ago despite league format and there’s even more who project to have bright futures.
This time a year ago, fantasy experts weren’t so sure if this group would be so fruitful. Many asked: is Eddie Lacy too fat, Giovani Bernard too small, Le’Veon Bell too slow, and is Montee Ball quick enough?
Many questions were answered as this group of runners proved to be ready for the NFL spotlight. However, things change quickly from season to season and many of these backs will be drafted much higher this season.
So which runners will be studs and which ones will be duds in 2014? All I can say for sure is that unlike the terrible class of dud quarterbacks there will at least be a few studs in this group. And if you pick the right ones you’ll have a great shot at holding the trophy at season’s end.
Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati
Bernard may or may not have been the first rookie runner off the board in your league a year ago but he probably should have been. He was the most talented runner coming out of the 2013 class.
Bernard possesses a rare skill set. He’s a dynamic runner highlighted by quick feet and the ability to move laterally without losing much speed. He also has very soft hands and is a weapon out of the backfield. Last season he was even in the top 20 for yards after contact.
In the running back feature for the 2014 Fantasy Draft Guide I profiled how even in standard scoring leagues it’s important to have a running back who can gain yards on the ground and through the air in today’s pass-happy NFL. In PPR leagues, it’s a must. Bernard is the prototypical back for the modern game.
Even splitting time last year with BenJarvis Green-Ellis Bernard was able to outplay his draft position in redraft formats. Dynasty owners have to be even more happy having the former Tar Heel on their squad. His touches should rise in year two despite the addition of Jeremy Hill in this year’s draft.
Hill’s a big bruising back and will compliment Bernard well. There’s already rumors that Green-Ellis could be released. Some owners worried that the addition of Hill would really hurt Bernard’s production. But when you consider the situation from an NFL perspective the Bengals were always going to pair him up with someone so it might as be a different style back that will allow the offense to move the football more as a whole.
Hue Jackson is also “running” the offense now which should mean the Bengals will be fairly run-heavy. They’ll protect Andy Dalton and not ask him to do too much.
A year ago Bernard graded out as a top 5 overall running back in the NFL. He’s a player the Bengals will lean on more and there should be plenty of touches for him to be a second year stud.
Eddie Lacy, Green Bay
Eddie Lacy also graded out as an overall top 5 running back in the NFL last year. I find that remarkable since prior to the season there were major questions about his weight and the ability to produce in the passing game.
Lacy proved the doubters wrong and had a nice season for the Packers. He also carried many teams to fantasy football championships especially in more casual leagues where he was drafted in the middle rounds.
Lacy and Bernard have very different measurables but put up fantasy points in a similar fashion. Sure, Lacy does more work on the ground while Bernard is better through the air but each player can score both ways which is vital.
There’s no reason to doubt that Lacy will be a second year stud in 2014. He is a bit of an injury risk and his ADP is in the top 10 overall. So it’ll be hard to get him at a value like you could a year ago.
Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh
Bell got off to a rough start in 2014 but quickly became one of the most consistent point producers in this class. He really didn’t have a dud game from week 7 to 16. There are some concerns with him in 2014 though.
While he was consistent a year ago I worry about his ceiling in 2014. The Steelers offensive line still has some issues and he only averaged 3.5 yards a carry last season.
On the plus side, Bell did much of his damage through the air so there’s even more value in PPR formats. He also fits the mold of a back who can score touchdowns and amass receiving yards. These are the types of backs I prefer regardless of scoring.
At his current ADP around 19 overall I’m just lukewarm on Bell. He’s really neither a stud or a dud for 2014.
Montee Ball, Denver
When I evaluated Ball before the 2013 draft I was disappointed by his lack of athleticism. He doesn’t really compare to the three backs I’ve mentioned above in that department.
However, Ball does have good vision and an ability to shed tacklers. In fact, his average yards after contact was in the top 10 last season. That’s better than Bernard, Bell and even Lacy.
Ball graded out very poorly in pass protection which was well documented as Knowshon Moreno played ahead of him last season. Obviously when Peyton Manning is your quarterback that’s very very important.
Running Backs that play with Manning run against the softest run defenses in the league. If Ball can stay on the field this year he’s surely to be a second year stud in this offense.
Andre Ellington, Arizona
Ellington is a high risk high reward player for 2014. He graded out as a top 10 runner last season with an astounding 5.5 yards per carry. That led the entire NFL.
He was also second in yards after contact per attempt which is equally impressive. His current ADP is 45 while his consensus running back ranking is 15.
There is risk here. But, while the first four backs above have great shots to be studs in 2014, Ellington could be a stud that you can draft at a significant value. I’d look to snag him as your upside back to go with at least one other who is safer and has a high floor.
Zac Stacy, St. Louis
This running back class was really impressive last year and Stacy was one of the big reasons why. He was drafted late in the NFL draft and late in your fantasy redraft league but came through for owners who took a shot on him.
He’s ranks as a top 15 runner for nearly all the experts here at PFF Fantasy as does every back in this article and probably will have a solid year if he stays healthy. But if I have to pick one back who may be a dud for 2014 I’ll go with Stacy.
He ran very hard last season but isn’t as talented as other backs on this list. He graded out poorly in the passing game and averaged less than four yards per carry. The Rams also selected Tre Mason relatively early in the NFL Draft.
I’m not sure Stacy will be a dud this season, and there’s definitely a point in every draft where I’d grab him. But if I have to pick one of these productive rookie backs from a year ago to not reproduce his numbers he’s the one I’d go with.
Nate Hodges is a lead writer for PFF Fantasy and radio host for Tennessee Sports Radio (Saturdays at noon eastern). Listen at TNsportsradio.com. His work can also be found at TopTierFootball.com. You can follow him on Twitter – @NateNFL