2013 Rookie Rankings: Running Backs
Dynasty & Keeper Rankings
Welcome to the rookie rankings for running backs. One thing to really bear in mind as you go through these rankings is the way I rank. As I said with the QBs, these are long term rankings for folks in keeper and dynasty formats. One huge factor in projecting a given player is the player’s depth chart situation. For example, it’s better to be drafted by San Diego than Minnesota from a depth chart standpoint. The player may not have earned a bump in value due to poor competition, but this is not a meritocracy. This is about who will produce stats in the future and that’s largely about opportunity. I’d rather be a hammer than a nail, and I’d rather have to beat out Ryan Mathews than Adrian Peterson. If I could, I surely would.
Paul Simon lyric references aside, the 2013 RB class may lack AP types, but there are backs who will have very solid careers and there’s plenty of depth. The purpose here is to rank them as best we can and to highlight the players we feel have upside for fantasy purposes. For redraft value, just go to our regular rankings.
I’m now back in the film room (my attic) taking a last look at a few receivers. The rookie wides should be done by tomorrow or Wednesday depending on how well I manage my time. The tight ends will follow on Friday at the latest and we’ll also start releasing our articles on each of the NFL's eight divisions. We’ll bring you up to fantasy speed by highlighting all the material changes at the coaching and roster levels. This is a must-read if you’ve been spending the bulk of your free time on fantasy baseball. We’ve got your back.
This article has been reformatted. The write-ups are now posted below the rankings. They stretched out the page too much as part of the grid. Live and learn.
|1||1||Le’veon Bell||Steelers||Michigan State||6’1”||230||4.60||2 (48)|
|2||1||Giovani Bernard||Bengals||North Carolina||5’10”||205||4.53||2 (37)|
|3||1||Montee Ball||Broncos||Wisconsin||5’11”||210||4.66||2 (58)|
|4||2||Eddie Lacy||Packers||Alabama||6’0”||220||4.55||2 (61)|
|5||2||Denard Robinson||Jaguars||Michigan||5’10”||199||4.43||5 (135)|
|6||3||Johnathan Franklin||Packers||UCLA||5’10”||205||4.49||4 (125)|
|7||3||Christine Michael||Seahawks||Texas A&M||5’11”||220||4.54||2 (62)|
|8||3||Zac Stacy||Rams||Vanderbilt||5’8”||216||4.55||5 (160)|
|9||3||Joseph Randle||Cowboys||Oklahoma State||6’0”||204||4.63||5 (151)|
|10||3||Knile Davis||Chiefs||Arkansas||5’10”||227||4.37||3 (96)|
|11||3||Kerwynn Williams||Colts||Utah State||5’8”||195||4.48||7 (230)|
|12||4||Mike Gillislee||Dolphins||Florida||5’11”||208||4.55||5 (164)|
|13||4||Kenjon Barner||Panthers||Oregon||5’9”||196||4.52||6 (182)|
|14||5||Andre Ellington||Cardinals||Clemson||5’9”||199||4.61||6 (187)|
|15||5||Marcus Lattimore||49ers||South Carolina||5’11”||221||---||4 (131)|
|16||5||Mike James||Bucs||Miami||5’10”||223||4.53||6 (189)|
|17||5||Latavius Murray||Raiders||Central Florida||6’2”||223||4.40||6 (181)|
|18||5||Stepfan Taylor||Cardinals||Stanford||5’9”||214||4.76||5 (140)|
|19||5||Jawan Jamison||Redskins||Rutgers||5’7”||203||4.68||7 (228)|
|20||6||Michael Hill||Chargers||Missouri Western State||5’10”||205||4.59||UDFA|
|22||6||Rex Burkhead||Bengals||Nebraska||5’10”||214||4.73||6 (190)|
|23||6||Cierre Wood||Texans||Notre Dame||5’11”||213||4.56||UDFA|
|26||6||Spencer Ware||Seahawks||LSU||5’10”||228||4.63||6 (194)|
|27||6||D.J. Harper||49ers||Boise State||5’9”||211||4.52||UDFA|
|28||6||Miguel Maysonet||Browns||Stony Brook||5’9”||209||4.62||UDFA|
|29||7||Theo Riddick||Lions||Notre Dame||5’10”||201||4.68||6 (199)|
|30||7||Michael Cox||Giants||Massachusets||6’1”||214||4.58||7 (253)|
|31||7||Chris Thompson||Redskins||Florida State||5’7”||192||4.42||5 (154)|
1) Le’veon Bell, Steelers
In long term formats, if a tailback is what you need, then Bell is the guy I like for the long term. What’s nice is that he’s looking pretty good for 2013 as well. He’s got a solid all-around game and was one of “Rotobahn’s Guys” going into the draft. Bell goes to a team committed to the ground game and fairly well committed to him after using a second rounder to secure his services. Bell has the skill set to play in any game situation. He has the size and agility to be very good in pass protection. He is athletic as a ball carrier and can beat you in a number of ways. The most underrated is probably his cutting ability which is often stunning for a back his size. He also has the athletic ability to hurdle those would-be tacklers who would try and go low on him. He’s not a fumbler with only five fumbles as a college player. The final piece is his ability as a receiver. He’s got good hips and soft hands and can do serious damage after the catch. This is a man who could score a lot of touchdowns alongside Ben Roethlisberger. Some will gripe about his lack of straight line speed, but we feel his size and agility more than makes up for that. For example, he had a 3-cone drill time of 6.75 seconds at the combine. Very impressive for a 230 pound back.
2) Giovani Bernard, Bengals
Gio was one of “Rotobahn’s Guys” going into the draft and we are quite content that he landed in Cincy for the long term. That said, in the short term, he’ll probably be in a time share with BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who excels in pass protection and is a very solid player. If Bernard is the player we saw on film at N.C., then he will slowly take the job from BJGE and probably have the starting gig at some point this season or by the start of 2014. If he has an outstanding camp, he could arrive sooner, but don’t discount Green-Ellis in the near term. For the long term we love this fit for “Gio.” If he’d gone to a power running team or a team with little talent, his weaknesses could become exposed, but with Cincinnati, he’s just one component in a balanced attack. He’ll be able to get into space enough to make some big plays. Bernard has good all-around measurables save for upper body strength, but what makes him potentially special are his feet. He’s got great quickness and balance and is a very fluid receiver with good hands. He’ll have some extra value in PPR formats. This is a player I am targeting in dynasty. If you want to take him at the top of a dynasty draft, I think that is very reasonable. To me, for the long term, it’s either Gio or Le’Veon.
3) Montee Ball, Broncos
The interesting thing about Ball is that he could very well have a non-traditional value curve. He’ll most likely be a rookie starter in a high-power Peyton Manning-led offense. Now that Willis McGahee is gone, that role seems imminent barring a very poor camp. Of course, Peyton Manning is not long for the NFL. He’ll most likely be around this year and next. So, when we project Ball’s long term value, we see him playing behind Brock Osweiler or Zac Dysert. Nice players, but obviously a long way from Manning, who is arguably the best ever. As for Ball, he’s a great fit for what the Broncos need right now. Is he the kind of dynamic back that can carry the offense? We have our doubts on that one. He’s a very sound all-around back and he has enough size to carry the load. He’s also very good at hanging onto the football with only 4 career fumbles and over 900 carries. Ball is an NFL back, but he needs a good offense around him. My personal theory is that he’ll play early on even if he’s not all the way there, because Peyton is in win-now mode. This guy will most likely be fast-tracked as a rookie, because they don’t view Ronnie Hillman as a primary back. By later in the season, Ball should be a very consistent source of fantasy points and it could happen right away.
4) Eddie Lacy, Packers
If you are looking for upside and can stomach some risk, this is your guy. Lacy is a player we had a borderline first round grade on. If he gets into better shape and proves to be healthy, he could be a RB1 guy as the Packers’ starter. It’s tough to figure out just how serious his toe situation is, but I know I’d rather he didn’t have it. And, the risk is not just his health, but the other talented backs on the Green Bay roster. Both Johnathan Franklin and Alex Green are capable of getting the job done nicely, so Lacy has to be really good to earn a bell cow role. There are no scholarships at tailback in Green Bay. Know this much, if all the GB backs play to their full potential, Lacy will be the starter. It’s in his hands.
5) Denard Robinson, Jaguars
Robinson is one of our favorite players in this draft and you could argue taking him higher or a lot lower. His scouting report is linked below. He really couldn’t have hoped for a better place to go on draft day. Jacksonville seems to be headed for a varied open-minded offense with guys like Robinson and Ace Sanders. One key element when valuing Denard for the near term is MJD’s health. If Jones-Drew is not able to play at any point, we think Robinson is the back to own. Nothing against Justin Forsett, who would certainly get some time because of his all-around skills and experience, especially in pass protection, but he’s still a journeyman for a reason. Robinson is a special player and that is exactly what the Jaguars need. The upside contained in Robinson is hard to calculate. He throws a really good ball for a non-QB which is what he is now. He’s not good enough to be an NFL starter, but he can rip off a good deep ball for you at any time. He definitely complicates things for the defense. And, another key thing to remember is that Denard is used to playing a hybrid role. He’s done it before. He’ll embrace it. If he develops and masters the offense, he is, quite simply, the kind of talent that you don’t take off the field. That’s what he’ll be in a season or two. Year one is MJD-dependent, but Robinson’s time is most definitely coming. This is a kid who could digest the QB position at Michigan. The NFL will not shock him. It’s only a matter of time.
6) Johnathan Franklin, Packers
Franklin is a guy we really like and had a second round grade on. He lands on a team that offers great opportunity, but also great competition for playing time. The UCLA product could be anywhere from a RB1 for fantasy to a backup on his own team and that is true for both the short and the long term. Adding both Franklin and Lacy has some merit depending on your league’s rules, especially if the Packers deal Alex Green as has been rumored. Franklin’s a very underrated player and could be a feature back in the right situation. The one complaint we have that could really derail him is ball security. He fumbled too often at UCLA, but he did improve significantly as a senior with just a single fumble. If that improvement holds, he can do great things. Lots of upside here.
7) Christine Michael, Seahawks
If you can draft for the long term, there may not be a better RB to pick than Michael, who can do a lot of good things with the football. Check out my full scouting report on him linked at the bottom of the page complete with jaw dropping game footage. The rub with Michael is that Seattle is loaded at tailback and Marshawn Lynch is locked in atop the depth chart. That being said, they did not take Michael for no reason when they already had Robert Turbin as a starting caliber backup. It’s possible that Lynch could be a cap casualty as soon as next year. There are also the threat of suspensions for Lynch now and in the future. Michael has enormous upside starting in 2014 and maybe sooner if there is a problem with Marshawn.
8) Zac Stacy, Rams
Here’s a player we really like, but the rub is that he’s stuck in a backfield with two other players we really like and they’ve been there a year longer than Stacy has ... giving them a slight advantage for 2013. So Stacy could be in a long term battle for playing time. The upside is that he’s a fine back and the Rams are accumulating a very nice offensive roster. There could be room to run in St. Louis in the coming seasons. If Stacy has an advantage in the St. Louis backfield scrum, it’s this.... Stacy is not only the biggest back of the three, but he’s also the most versatile. He can run the wildcat and he throws a decent ball so he really is a dual threat. OC Brian Schottenheimer has some Wildcat chops from his days with Brad Smith in New York. Stacy also offers the most contrast to Tavon Austin. Check out the link to Zac’s scouting report at the bottom of the page.
9) Joseph Randle, Cowboys
I really like Joe Randle. When you watch his game tape, there is a lot to be positive about. My one concern was speed and he was slow at the combine. It clearly cost Randle on draft day. Perhaps his loss is your gain. While he’s definitely not the ball carrier that Cowboys’ starter DeMarco Murray is, he’ll most likely prove to be more durable and that may end up being the key. If I own Murray in dynasty, Randle is a priority. He could be a very effective player in the passing game and find plenty of space as the Cowboys are very good at getting the safeties out of the play with Bryant and Witten. Randle is clearly the best back in Dallas after the oft-injured Murray. He’s got value and he could end up having plenty of 2013 value too if Murray misses time again. He could be a nice PPR guy if he gets the job at some point. He’s a versatile back and good football player. The Cowboys got nice value by landing him in the 5th round. We had a 3rd round grade on him and it would have been higher if he’d timed better at the combine.
10) Knile Davis, Chiefs
He’s a serious contrast to Jamaal Charles, which is to his advantage in the short term. To his disadvantage is his football IQ due to missing so much time in college due to injury woes. Knile might take a while to get up to speed, but, if he does get there, he is a serious talent. A backup role is perfect for him as a rookie, but over time, he and Charles could become a powerful 1-2 backfield where both players are fantasy relevant. Check out his scouting report and footage linked at the bottom of the page. A little good coaching and patience could go a long way with this kid. If I own Jamaal Charles, I am definitely targeting Knile in dynasty leagues. He has an extremely rare combination of power and speed. Needs a good camp to play a lot in 2013.
11) Kerwynn Williams, Colts
Williams is an outstanding sleeper. He was taken by the perfect team. Kerwynn is multi-skilled and will give Andrew Luck a quality outlet option once he is up to speed in the offense and in pass protection specifically. The addition of Ahmad Bradshaw should pretty much kill Williams’ rookie value unless there are injuries, but Bradshaw is likely a one-and-done player in Indy. In dynasty, Kerwynn is a savvy pick once the studs are gone. He’s not as exciting as some runners and he’s less than ideal size-wise at 195 pounds, but he fits Indy’s offense very, very well with his speed and ability in the passing game. When you consider the rest of the competition in Indy, Williams is a player to own. I’d take him over any QB.
12) Mike Gillislee, Dolphins
I’d prioritize this kid if I already owned Lamar Miller. That much is for sure. Miller could cap Gillilee’s value, but you never know. The Florida product is a nice fit for the Dolphins’ offense and can pass protect, which gives him a real shot at supplanting incumbent backup Daniel Thomas. That being said, Thomas has talent too, and for now, he appears to be ahead of the rookie. Still, the new regime didn’t take this kid for no reason and he has the talent to produce as a lead back if given the chance. He’s very sturdy as a runner due to his wide base style and breaks tackles at a high rate. Another plus for the former Gator is ball security with a fumble rate under one percent.
13) Kenjon Barner, Panthers
Barner is a guy we really like and we’ve heard some positives from the Panthers on him already. People are writing off Barner because of his size, but we see him as a durable runner after the way he took the pounding at Oregon. If he’s good enough for Chip Kelly, he’s a good back. He could end up working as a tandem with Jonathan Stewart and maybe even Mike Tolbert down the line. Check out Kenjon’s scouting report linked at the bottom of the page.
14) Andre Ellington, Cardinals
Right now, Rashard Mendenhall appears to have the inside track in Arizona, but Mendy has some mileage on him and he has some dents in his frame. Ellington could be very good at some point, especially if he is afforded time to learn the system and get healthy. Check out our full scouting report on Ellington linked at the bottom of the page. The key for Ellington is to get ahead of fellow rookie Stepfan Taylor. Taylor is talented too and is a little better in pass protection. Ellington is a high upside pick that will likely require some patience. He was a potential steal for Arizona in the 6th round. He can be a steal for you too if you can afford to be patient.
15) Marcus Lattimore, 49ers
There is a lot of optimism surrounding Lattimore, but we don’t share it. And, I hope we’re wrong, because a comeback would be a great story. His injury is just too awful to envision a return to the level required to play a major role in the NFL. And, even if he makes it back, what are the odds of continuing knee problems? He may get cleared and play some ball, but he will just be a part of deep backfield in Frisco. It’s nice to know that he’ll make some NFL money. San Francisco is clearly targeting 2014 for his return, which is smart. He’s a mid-round flyer in dynasty the way we see it.
16) Mike James, Bucs
We like James a whole lot and he will be a very nice handcuff option for Doug Martin owners as long as he can have a solid camp. We think he will. This pick had HC Greg Schiano all over it. James is big, tough and fundamentally sound. His bulk, aggression and strength will be an excellent compliment to Doug Martin. He can play some fullback too which could definitely increase his fantasy value with Martin healthy. James is a very capable blocker and receiver. This was a very solid draft choice by Tampa. He’s pretty well under the fantasy radar, so he could be a late steal in dynasty leagues. If I own Doug Martin, there is no way I am not targeting Mike James.
17) Latavius Murray, Raiders
Murray is a serious talent. You can see some footage on him in our scouting report that is linked below. The key for Murray is to get up to NFL speed in terms of his all-around game. Murray has the size/speed combo to be a special player.
18) Stepfan Taylor, Cardinals
Taylor is a complete player and that will serve him well in Arizona. He’s battle-tested from his days at Stanford. This kid has been well coached and he is very likely to have a role for the Cardinals long term. The question is, can his play in the passing game and as a pass protector open things up for him in other areas? It may, because protecting Carson Palmer is going to be absolutely huge for the Cards over the next year or so. Taylor is definitely a player to own in large dynasty leagues, but his upside does not rival the more elusive backs in this draft. He’s also in a crowded backfield that includes Rashard Mendenhall, a player very familiar with new HC Bruce Arians’ offense from their days in Pittsburgh. If you have the time to be patient, Taylor could emerge. He’s also one of the players to consider if you already have Mendenhall. The other player we’d recommend is Andre Ellington.
19) Jawan Jamison, Redskins
He’s a RB and he’s on Mike Shanahan’s offense. He’s worth a flier on those two facts alone. We like Jamison and our primary concern was his speed, but you can play for Shanny with Jamison’s timed speed. He’s a tough kid and he’s versatile and he almost never loses the football. This kid could be Alfred Morris’ long term complement with Roy Helu struggling with health. He’s definitely worthy of a late flier in dynasty drafts, especially if you own Redskins backs. Washington had plenty of needs and they still took this kid. They obviously like him.
20) Michael Hill, Chargers
You know us, we have to scour the football universe for talent. Hill is one of those small school players with a legit chance. He’s one of the unheralded guys who really caught a break and went to a team with a new HC/OC tandem and a wide-open backfield. Yes, Ryan Mathews is in-place, but with his penchant for getting body parts displaced, there’s some daylight here. The other long term player in SD is Danny Woodhead, who is not a serious threat to dominate touches and is more of a high-quality role player. Hill runs with outstanding patience, vision and balance. He keeps his feet moving and survives contact well for a back his size. He’s good in the passing game from what we’ve seen. Hill could be a way for Ryan Mathews owners to reduce risk late in dynasty drafts if you play in a deep format. For non-Mathews owners, Hill is a worthwhile flier.
21) Michael Ford, Bears
You want a great deep sleeper? Here he is. Mr. Ford didn’t play all that much at LSU but he did do some good things and after a very solid showing at the combine, he was scooped up by the Bears. Ford could use some time to develop, but with Matt Forte and Michael Bush ahead of him, he’ll have some time if he can stick on the roster. New Bears HC Marc Trestman is a teacher of the highest order, so Ford is a player to watch in deep long term formats. This is a project that has a chance to work.
22) Rex Burkhead, Bengals
Rex is a good back and we expect him to earn a job in Cincy and eventually become a key role player. Burkhead could have some fantasy value someday because he’s versatile and fundamentally sound. He’s a very good goal line back for a player his size and keeps the ball secure. Rex is deceptively agile and athletic. He could be the long term compliment to Gio Bernard if BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a cap casualty after this season. This kid is a really good football player and a savvy late pick if you take Bernard early on.
23) Cierre Wood, Texans
He’s in a fight for a job this year, but we suspect that he will land a job somewhere if he does get let go in Houston. Wood, based on what we see on film, is an NFL running back in terms of ability. He just needs to find an opportunity. With an aging Arian Foster and with Ben Tate likely to test free agency in 2014, Wood could find daylight with Texans in the coming years. We’re very surprised that Wood didn’t get drafted. He’s big and athletic and has a lot of the skills that transfer well to the next level. He could have a very nice future in Houston if he can stick and learn the offense. He’s worth a spot on dynasty rosters for sure.
24) Dennis Johnson, Texans
Johnson is a player that should get more respect. He’s a bit small and had some fumbling problems at Arkansas, but he has some serious skills in pass pro and catching the football. He got a lot of snaps in favor of Knile Davis because of this. Johnson is competing with a lot of good backs in Houston, so he has limited short term appeal, but he could have a role and he contrasts well with some of their bigger backs. He’s definitely worth a look in deeper dynasty formats.
25) Ray Graham, Texans
With Graham, it’s all about his knee. Forget the combine results. If Graham is at full strength, he can do better. The former Panther is a back we like due to his alpha running style, vision and cutting ability. He’s also a good back in the passing game. He suffered an ACL in 2011 and clearly felt the effects of that in 2012. He’s deep on the depth chart in Houston and could potentially go to the practice squad or stick as the last back on the depth chart. This is a good scenario for him. If he can stay in Houston and Ben Tate leaves via free agency, he could be in line to play behind and eventually with Arian Foster down the line. Graham has talent and is worth a look later on in dynasty drafts.
26) Spencer Ware, Seahawks
Ware is a very hard and effective runner which is evident if you watch some of his tape from his days at LSU. There’s plenty to like, but, sadly, he’s on a very deep and talented team and is now ticketed for an apparent fullback role. Nevertheless, Ware is a name to know if there are injuries in Seattle or if he changes teams and lands in a favorable situation. Ware can carry the load. He has the talent and runs with good pad level and surprisingly nimble feet. He also looks faster than he ran at the combine. Seattle knows RBs. They are loaded.
27) D.J. Harper, 49ers
The 49ers certainly have an eye for tailbacks. Harper is a player that could be very good in time if they develop him. He’s had two ACL injuries to the same knee, but he ran well at the combine and stayed healthy the past two seasons. He’s got potential, but he’s a lot like some of the smaller backs they already have. Harper has the talent to play in the NFL and is worth following for dynasty purposes.
28) Miguel Maysonet, Browns
Check out our scouting report on Maysonet linked below. He’s now in Cleveland, where he faces an uphill battle for touches and is no lock for a roster spot, but he is an NFL caliber ball carrier. He’s worth a late flier in deep leagues.
29) Theo Riddick, Lions
He’s a good football player, but he may not be be a running back at the next level. He could end up being a hybrid player. He did play some receiver in college, so a role like Darren Sproles’ plays in N.O. is a possibility. With Reggie Bush’s injury history, that could make Theo an interesting player at some point. He’s a deep flier in dynasty and a player to follow.
30) Michael Cox, Giants
Cox played just a single season at U Mass after transferring from Michigan, where he didn’t get enough playing time. It was a good move as he produced well in 2012. Cox is a big strong back and he could pair with David Wilson some day down the road as a power compliment.
31) Chris Thompson, Redskins
He’s returned against the odds in 2012 after suffering a devastating back injury in 2011. He’s small and there are tons of backs in D.C., so it’s hard to get too excited here, but this kid has a lot of ability as a receiver, so perhaps he could carve out a role if he can stay healthy. He’s also a potentially great kick return guy. He’s a viable pick in only the deepest of formats.
- Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon
- Denard Robinson, QB-WR-RB, Michigan
- Johnathan Franklin, RB, UCLA
- Zac Stacy, RB, Vanderbilt
- Andre Ellington, RB, Clemson
- Christine Michael, RB, Texas A&M
- Miguel Maysonet, RB, Stony Brook
- Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas
- Latavius Murray, RB, Central Florida
- Le'Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State
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