For Fantasy owners, the NFL Draft is usually the audition process for Fantasy Football Rookie running backs that might make their way onto their Sunday lineups. In recent seasons, owners have been able to ride the success of rookies like Doug Martin, Trent Richardson, Alfred Morris, DeMarco Murray, LeGarrette Blount and Ryan Mathews.
Last year, we saw an unbelievably productive rookie class in Fantasy Football, mostly from the quarterbacks position, with Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson all posting QB1 Fantasy numbers. And even the running back position set some rookie marks as well, with Martin, Richardson and Morris scoring Fantasy points that landed them in the top 10 rookie RBs from the past 10 seasons.
But this Fantasy Football Rookie Running Backs class already seems to be a much bigger step back from recent years. As a matter of fact, most NFL mock drafts don’t have any running backs getting drafted in the first round. We all know, however, that won’t happen.
As a matter of fact, there has never been a draft in which a running back wasn’t taken in the first round.
I don’t think it happens this year, either. Although, it has become apparent that quality running backs can be found in the second and third rounds, unlike the quarterback, left tackle and defensive end positions.
So what are Fantasy owners looking for in a college prospect? Ideally, we want to see a player with great speed, decent size, good hands and the ability to block in pass protection. If you see a player with those attributes fall in the draft to a team with a halfway decent offensive line, you’ve got yourself an excellent Fantasy rookie sleeper!
2013 NFL Fantasy Football Rookie Running Backs
As I mentioned in my 2013 Rookie Quarterbacks Preview, I know I’m not an NFL scout, and I’m really just trying to relay what others are saying about a draft prospect. Sites like CBS, ESPN and NFL.com have the NFL Draft experts you’re looking for, and I really like WalterFootball.com, which is now in its 14th year. But below, what you’ll find, is a look at what owners might be looking for with the 2013 Class of Fantasy Football Rookie running backs.
Eddie Lacy, Alabama: Round 1
Alabama has churned out the past two highest drafted running backs in Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. Lacy should make it three straight drafts, which has to be some sort of record. His power back ability in college says a lot, but a sore hamstring and below average workouts have some doubting his chances of being a first rounder. This RB class is a very weak one, and Lacy’s the weak head of the weak class. He really does seem like a good sequel to Steven Jackson in St. Louis. The guys at WalterFootball.com compare him to Frank Gore. I like!
Possible destinations: Green Bay, Miami, St. Louis, Denver, Pittsburgh
Giovani Bernard, North Carolina: Round 2
At just 5-foot-8, Bernard offers a speedy option for NFL backfields to go along with some bruising backs in a tandem. He averaged 6.7 yards per carry last season, and the former St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale) star has good hands in the receiving game, too. Fantasy owners will be hoping for the next Doug Martin, but he’s probably more like a DeAngelo Williams, which isn’t too shabby.
Possible destinations: Cincinnati, Miami, Atlanta
Johnathan Franklin, UCLA: Round 2
Franklin seems to be a rising star at the right time, moving from a third-round possibility up into the second round. He looks like he will be an asset in the running game and as a receiver. He is super quick and rates as one of the fastest backs in the draft, earning the nickname “Jetski,” because he left defenders in his wake. His pass-catching ability should keep Fantasy owners interested – especially in PPR leagues. CBS’ Jason La Canfora likes Franklin to be the first running back taken off the board, likely to the Jets or Steelers.
Possible destinations: Cincinnati, Detroit, Green Bay, Pittsburgh, N.Y. Jets
Christine Michael, Texas A&M: Round 3
Don’t you want to call him Michael Christine? Rumors are that he has some character issues, but wouldn’t you if you had people calling you “Christine” all the time? These are just the types of players Fantasy Football owners want to keep a close eye on. How many times have “alleged headcases” fallen in the draft into the waiting hands of a capable coach? — 129. That’s how many times. (Not really, but I wanted it to sound impressive.)
Possible destinations: N.Y. Jets, Kansas City
Le’Veon Bell, Michigan State: Round 3
One of the bigger running backs expected to get drafted in the middle rounds, Bell will punish tacklers and works as a perfect complement for a speedy tailback (Ronnie Hillman?) In the NFL’s two-RB world, Bell could get goal-line carries to help (and hurt) Fantasy owners. ESPN Stats & Information had Bell gaining 921 yards after contact last season. Unfortunately, as KC Joyner points out, he didn’t do as well against better defenses, which he’ll be facing in the NFL. This could be a player you avoid in August.
Possible destinations: Denver, Chicago
Montee Ball, Wisconsin: Round 3
Had a chance to be taken in the first three rounds last year, but chose to return for his senior year. As a junior at Wisconsin (with Russell Wilson at QB), he tied Barry Sanders’ NCAA record of 39 total touchdowns. His senior year was disappointing, however, and NFL teams now see him a little less favorable than they did one year ago.
Possible destinations: Tampa Bay, N.Y. Giants,
Andre Ellington, Clemson: Round 4
Ellington took the rock after C.J. Spiller moved on to the NFL, and now he has a chance to possibly become a starting pro tailback, also. While he doesn’t have Spiller’s elusiveness, he definitely has a ton of speed, but the early part of his NFL career will likely be sharing time with another running back. Once he proves he’s big enough to carry the load, then Fantasy owners will look at him as more than a sleeper pick.
Possible destinations: Minnesota, Dallas
Stepfan Taylor, Stanford: Round 4
Taylor followed Toby Gerhart at Stanford, and he played well last season, despite the loss of QB Andrew Luck and TE Coby Fleener on the Cardinal offense. He doesn’t appear to be a standout player, but one that can do a little bit of everything well. And you have to love someone that comes up with an alter ego, like Kulabafi.
Possible destinations: Dallas, Atlanta, Arizona,
Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State: Round 4
At 6-foot-0, Randle is one of the taller backs in this class, which gives him a slight edge in the passing game. But he’s also lanky, at 204 pounds, which gives him a high center of gravity. He made 108 catches in his college career and is adept at picking up blitzes in pass protection.
Possible destinations: Minnesota, Green Bay, San Diego
Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina: Round 4
Lattimore tore his ACL in his left knee a few years ago, only to outdo that one by tearing his ACL, LCL and PCL, and dislocating his right knee last fall. Before the injury, he was projected to be one of the best Fantasy Football rookie running backs of 2013. But he would need an Adrian Peterson-like recovery times three if he was going to make much Fantasy noise this year. But by the looks of this year’s running backs class, Lattimore could be in line to be the highest ranked sophomore Fantasy running back in 2014.
Possible destinations: San Francisco, N.Y. Jets
Knile Davis, Arkansas: Round 4
Davis has dropped recently, but his 4.37 40-yard dash at the combine will likely get someone to jump the gun on him earlier than later. An injury history (fractured ankles three times in four years!?!) and a subpar 2012 has NFL teams thinking twice.
Possible destinations: Green Bay, Philadelphia, Denver
Mike Gillislee, Florida: Round 5
Gillislee is an interesting Fantasy Football sleeper for a couple reasons. He doesn’t have great size or speed, and other running backs are getting much more pub. But he has what today’s NFL loves from their tailbacks, which is great hands and the ability to block well in pass protection. The guys at WalterFootball.com compared him to Jamaal Charles, while NFL.com compares him more to Andre Brown.
Possible destinations: Atlanta, Arizona, Seattle
Don’t forget to check out our 2013 NFL Fantasy Rookie Quarterbacks preview for this year’s draft, too.
The 2013 NFL Fantasy Football rookie running backs class looks like it’s going to be one full of sleepers more than it is studs. But that won’t keep Fantasy owners from taking chances on them later in their drafts.
David Gonos spent 5 years as a CBSSports.com Senior Fantasy Writer and three more years writing with SI.com. Over the past 17 years, his work has been published on NFL.com, MLB.com, FanDuel, FoxSports.com and USA Today. Since 2001, he has been tracking down the Top 50-plus Free Fantasy Football Draft Tools online. You can contact David Gonos here.