Think sliced bread, indoor plumbing and Chia Pets are special?
You ain’t seen nothing yet.
We’re on the verge of experiencing something truly amazing in 2010 and beyond. There’s a new stable of able running backs in the NFL, and you can thank an opportunistic bunch of rookie 2009 backs for giving us what will be quite a good show in the coming months and years … and for giving us something to debate right now.
So, which of the the following young backs will be the next elite fantasy force? Let the debating begin …
First, let’s look at the candidates.
Knowshon Moreno, Denver. Given the clearest path to fantasy relevance, Moreno was solid during the 2009 campaign. He produced the most yards rushing of all the rookie backs in 2009 (965) along with touchdowns (7). He also has a great chance of keeping his job. Correll Buckhalter isn’t a major threat for carries in that offense, and regardless of coach Josh McDaniels’ history of RBBCs, there is no indication that the Broncos are actively looking for another back. The biggest knock against Moreno was his yards per carry, which hovered around 4 all season (including 2.7, 2.2 and 2.0 performances in weeks 14, 15 and 16, respectively) and finished at 3.8. Some question Moreno’s explosiveness and homerun threat capabilities.
Beanie Wells, Arizona. Stuck behind over-achieving Tim Hightower through the first half of the season, Wells started to come on strong as the season progressed. He finished the year with a 4.6 yards per carry total in regular season games and a rookie-RB best eight touchdowns. He produced 861 yards rushing during the regular season on 193 carries. It was apparent that Wells has taken the starting job and doesn’t plan to look back. Beanie isn’t as big a threat in the passing game as others on this list and does have a history of injury concerns, although he had no trouble avoiding the IR in his first pro season.
LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia. Out of all the rookie backs in 2009, McCoy easily led the pack in receptions (41) and receiving yards (347). Both are indicative of what McCoy could do in a system known for utilizing a receiver out of the backfield. He also rushed for 664 yards and four touchdowns on 161 carries in 2009. In the six games where LeSean replaced an injured Brian Westbrook as the primary starter, he averaged 12.45 fantasy points and scored three touchdowns. Westbrook was recently released into free agency, paving the way for McCoy to emerge as a starting option at the moment, but there are numerous whisperings out of the City of Brotherly Love that the Eagles will be actively shopping for a veteran RB and depending on who they import, McCoy’s value could swing drastically on this list and overall.
Shonn Greene, New York Jets. Greene’s 304 yards on 54 carries and two touchdowns in three playoff appearances turned the collective head of fantasy owners everywhere, but Greene was successful well before that. He averaged over five yards per carry during the regular season, with 636 yards rushing during that span. That was all while Thomas Jones was sharing carries. Jones will not be back in Jetsland in 2010, opening up the doors for potential eliteness by Mr. Greene.
Felix Jones, Dallas. OK … he wasn’t a rookie in 2009, but Jones qualifies for this list because he’s in the same age bracket (same age as McCoy and Moreno, two years younger than Greene and one older than Beanie), he has taken over as his team’s probably starting back in 2010 and … well … this is my list and I can do whatever I want. Jones averaged a full yard per carry more than anyone else on this list during the regular season and was electric in the playoffs (217 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries … a whopping 7.2 yards per carry). Due to a declining skillset by Marion Barber and Jones’ playoff breakout, it is safe to assume that he’ll receive the lion’s share of carries in 2010, and could be golden if he can avoid the injury bug that has struck at times during his career.
So, we have five exceptionally talented young backs … all with potential to become something great in the NFL. All, amazingly enough, have found themselves in the fast lane to becoming their teams’ respective starting RB in 2010 and beyond.
But two questions remain … which has the best chance of becoming an elite fantasy RB and how many of these players will be top-flight stat options during their careers?
LeSean McCoy has the potential to be a big asset, especially in PPR leagues, however, I believe he will find himself in an RBBC quicker than any of these other options. The Eagles are looking at a wide variety of available talents, including Chester Taylor, Thomas Jones, LaDanian Tomlinson and others. They may even snag a bigger back in the draft and there have been strong rumors that they’ll pursue highly talented, yet highly troubled Marshawn Lynch out of Buffalo. None of this bodes well for McCoy, who was decent while replacing Westbrook in 2009, but not as dazzling as many expected or hoped for.
Knowshon Moreno is, at the moment, the leading horse in this discussion simply because he has more playing time under his belt than most of the guys on this list and should remain the unquestioned starter on his team. However, many expected Matt Forte to be the class of the 2008 rookies last season as a sophomore, and he was less than stellar. The one stat I can’t let go with Moreno was his yards per carry … which was easily the worst of the five on this list.
Shonn Greene is quickly moving up the dynasty rankings thanks to Jones’ impending release and hype surrounding his impressive playoff performances. What many people overlook with Greene that he recorded zero receptions … that’s right, none … during the entire regular season. Sure, Michael Turner was able to produce without being a major piece of the receiving game for the Falcons in 2008 and, when not injured, in 2009. However, his ceiling would be so much higher if he was also a part of the pass-catching option. I see Greene as the next Michael Turner from a receptions and overall upside standpoint. Greene will be elite, but not a top one or two-type fantasy back.
Felix Jones has yet to be a primary back for a full season in the NFL and has suffered injuries each season even in smaller roles. The sky is the limit for Jones if he can avoid missing time … it is just hard to project that over a full season. Still, his incredible yards per carry are impossible to ignore, and I fully expect Jones to be an elite fantasy back sooner or later depending on how he’s used and if the Cowboys can keep Jones fresh. With Barber and Tashard Choice at their disposal, the Cowboys shouldn’t be hard-pressed to keep Jones on the field more than off it. This is why I predicted Jones could be the 2010 version of Ray Rice in my super-sleepers post.
This leaves Beanie Wells, who may not be an elite receiving option, but definitely does enough in the passing game to reach a higher level of play in his NFL career than the Michael Turners or Shonn Greenes. Removing his six-for-19 performance in spot duty in week 17 against Green Bay, Beanie was an impressive 114-for-602 in weeks seven through 16 if you take out his weeks 12 and 13 games against run-stingy Tennessee and Minnesota – that’s 5.3 yards per carry during most of that stretch. He scored six TDs in the final seven regular-season games that counted for anything. In reading commentary at numerous sports and fantasy-related websites about all of those on this list, Beanie Wells got the best overall vibe, including one site, which said that he’s 90 percent of Adrian Peterson. Some point to a questionable injury history for Beanie, but he did stay healthy against some of the best defenders in the NFL during the second half of the season and has more of a chance of completing a full 16-game slate than Felix Jones, in my opinion.
So, if I had to gamble on which of these five young studs will be the next super-fantasy commodity, I’d place my money on Wells, although that could change at a moment’s notice depending on how other situations play out.
And out of the group, I see Greene, Jones and Wells being the three who will become potential top-five fantasy RBs at some point during their careers.
Want more running back discussion? Check out my early 2010 dynasty RB rankings here.
What is your opinion? Which of these guys will be the next elite fantasy option? We’d love to hear your opinion in the space below.