Now that we have completed the majority of our major events of the Rookie scouting period with the combine and most college pro days behind us we start to get a better picture of the best prospects in this draft (and if you need catch up, click on this magical 2013 NFL Draft link for coverage). Ranking the top rookie Running Backs for 2013 Fantasy Football has been extremely challenging mostly due to the fact that it is as much about what team a player lands on as it is about their football potential and ability. Could Doug Martin, Alfred Morris or Trent Richardson been impact players if they landed with the Vikings behind Adrian Peterson or in Arizona with what is considered the leagues worst offensive line? The answer is most likely no. With that in mind these rankings are strictly based on my personal assessment of each player and are certainly subject to change. Lets take a look at some of the names that could become valuable assets to your 2013 Fantasy Football teams next year and the teams I would like to see them play for…
1. Johnathan Franklin UCLA: Don’t ask me about the spelling of his name in fact I think I call him Justin Franklin more than I do Johnathan Franklin. Even with the weird first name Franklin is one of the most complete Running Backs in the draft. In my Senior Bowl article I was pretty convinced that he had great fundamentals but lacked the athletic ability to be a standout. Franklin proved me wrong by posting outstanding numbers in the combine in the 40 and shuttle drills earning my top “pre draft” ranking. My dream team for him would be the Green Bay Packers. Some view the Packers as a death with for Fantasy Running Backs but we have to remember they have yet to have someone talented enough to prove that to be wrong; even Cedric Benson was a quality option up until he was injured. I would think with his skill set Franklin would be very successful in the Packers Zone Blocking Scheme.
2. Giovanni Bernard UNC: Bernard has made a lot of noise in the off-season and is regarded as one of the best Rookie Running Back prospects in the draft. He didn’t have the any record setting seasons but has been extremely consistent posting nearly identical numbers in back to back seasons with the Tar Heels. I think Bernard can have an immediate impact on any team that he lands with and is drawing comparisons to Ray Rice and Maurice Jones-Drew. Those are some impressive names but I have a hard time finding anything to argue that. My dream team for him would be the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals had failed experiments with heavy power back BenJarvus Green-Ellis and speedster Peerman but Bernard gives the Bengals what they desperately need, a balanced and dynamic Running Back.
3. Joseph Randle Oklahoma State: Randle has quietly put together an excellent college career but has been overshadowed by players like Justin Blackmon and Brandon Weeden. With over 2,800 yards and 38 TDs in two seasons his production shows just how explosive he is, with a career average of over 5 yards a carry. The main concern with Randle is that he runs very high and will be susceptible to injuries if he doesn’t alter his run style. With that said I have no doubt he can continue his production even on the NFL level. My Dream Team would be the Arizona Cardinals. This ranking is under the assumption that the Cardinals restructure the many concerns with the offensive line but if any Running Back can overcome these it will be Joseph Randle especially in Bruce Arian’s offense.
4. Eddie Lacy Alabama: We all know Lacy as the power runner and Heisman candidate that carried his team to a national championship this past year, but we need to look a little closer than that when analyzing Lacy’s NFL potential. So far this off-season Lacy has skipped the Senior Bowl, Combine and now scouts might not even get to see him before the draft. The speculation is that Lacy doesn’t want a possibly questionable 40 times to affect his draft stock. I believe that is a bit of a reach and has mostly to do with a nagging hamstring injury but it is reason for concern. The expectation for Lacy is that he will emerge as a carbon copy of Trent Richardson, if he lands in the right spot I think that is possible but not likely. My dream team for Lacy would be the Pittsburgh Steelers. Lacy is built for a run heavy offense and would have no problem overtaking any potential starter in that backfield. With Lacy with the Steelers we would also get the added value of Alabama Running Back VS Alabama Running Back when they square off against the Browns twice a year.
5. Montee Ball Wisconsin: Ball is the Running Back in the draft that doesn’t have a ton of upside but his fundamentals are so solid that in the right scheme he could be a major contributor. There are a lot of concerns about the wear and tear that he might have sustained in college from taking a staggering 925 carries but Ball has shown that he is very durable and should have no problems at the NFL level. His surprising 4.62 at the combine also shows that he has the speed that so many people doubted. My dream team for Ball would be the St. Louis Rams. With Steven Jackson departing to Atlanta, the Rams are missing a power between the tackle running back with developed pass protection skills. There are still a lot of questions marks surrounding Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead so adding Ball to the mix would be very interesting.
6. Andre Ellington Clemson: Ellington is electrifying to say the least and he is extremely fast and agile. The only concern with Ellington is his size and inability to run between the tackles. He will only be successful if he can learn to adapt his run style and understand that NFL defenders are much quicker than defenders at the college level. Ellington’s strength is catching passes in space and because of this he could be an absolute impact player especially in PPR formats. My dream team for Ellington would be the Dallas Cowboys who need depth at the position and could use a dynamic play maker like Ellington as a change of pace back for Demarco Murray.
7. Le’Veon Bell Michigan State: At first look I thought I had made a mistake and was watching a fullback but realized that this player ran better than any fullback I’d seen. This fullback was actually Michigan State’s mammoth Running Back Le’veon Bell who is listed at an unbelievable 6’2” 244 lbs. Bell was the every down back for the Spartans and racked up almost 1,800 yards and 12 TDs. With an impressive combine showing equal measure of strength, speed and quickness, he has proven to be a coveted prospect in this year’s draft. My dream team for Bell would be the Denver Broncos. With Willis McGahee aging and Ronnie Hillman having issues in pass protection, he would have no problem stepping in as a major asset to a very impressive Bronco’s offense, just imagine what Bell could do while defenses are trying to figure out what Peyton Manning and the Bronco’s now Elite passing system with the addition of Wes Welker.
8. Marcus Lattimore South Carolina: Lattimore would easily be in my top three if not for a gruesome season ending knee injury that if you saw the picture probably still haunts you to this day. I like his chances to recover especially with a consult from the miracle worker Dr. Andrews but lets remember that this is his second serious knee injury. He has the ability to be a top NFL Running Back if fully recovered but if he is rushed back - which I think he will - we could be see another season ending or career ending injury at the early stages of his career. My dream team for Lattimore would be the Tennessee Titans where he could contribute in a complementary role with Chris Johnson until he is ready to take the full workload.
9. Stefan Taylor Stanford: Taylor has limited upside due to his lack of athletic ability but if he lands on the right team, his fundamentals are excellent and his vision is so good he could take on a partial role and become the coveted touchdown “vulture”, making him an asset in standard scoring leagues. My dream team for Taylor would be the New York Jets only because it would give him the most opportunity to make an immediate impact. Shonn Greene was recently released but actually put together some decent numbers the past few seasons, fantasy-wise. Although Taylor isn’t an especially explosive player, much like Greene he should have no problem outproducing Shonn, especially if the touchdown opportunities are given to him.
10. Christine Michael Texas A&M: The extremely athletic and talented Christine Micheal blew everyone away at the combine with his impressive bench press and 40 time. Not only that but his speed and athleticism are just as apparent on the football field. He could arguably be placed in the top 5 if not for questions about his pass blocking ability and injury history. If he stays healthy he could be an immediate contributor in the NFL. My dream team for Michael would be the Jacksonville Jaguars. With Maurice Jones Drew dealing with his own injuries and many questioning how much time he has left in the NFL, Christine Michael would be a formidable back up and would be ready to take the lead back role if Jones missed time in 2013.
11. Zac Stacy Vanderbilt: One of the most underrated backs in the draft is Stacy, mostly due to his size at 5’9″ 208 lbs. What he lacks in size he makes up for in well rounded fundamentals and athleticism. He is not the most flashy runner or powerful but Stacy always has the ability to grind out those needed yards and has what it takes to be an every down Running Back in the NFL. He could be a late round steal in the draft for many teams that need a productive between the tackles runner. My dream team for Stacy would be the Oakland Raiders who have their speed back in McFadden but lack a tough inside runner like Stacy. You might argue that Marcel Reece is that guy but unfortunately his skill set is needed at full back and was only a temporary solution. I wouldn’t be shocked if Zac Stacy emerges as the Alfred Morris of 2013.
12. Mike Gillislee Florida: Here is a very interesting player, every time I watch him I want to scream at how awful he is at carrying the football and how poor his general fundamentals are, but then he breaks that huge 60 yard run and I forget it all. I am hoping this will be the same for NFL scouts because I believe that these bad habits can be broken if he lands on the right team. We saw what fumbling problems for a rookie can do as we witnessed David Wilson spend the majority of 2012 seated comfortably on the bench. My dream team for Gillislee would be the Washington Redskins where he could be an addition as a much needed change of pace back for Alfred Morris. I know being drafted to the Redskins is like being drafted to Shanahan Running Back prison but I believe he would be extremely valuable in this offense if they needed to change schemes for teams keying in on the read option which was so effective in 2012. Morris’ inability to be involved in the passing game is slightly concerning and Gillislee could contribute in this aspect.