It’s been a long, lonely winter, folks, but here we are: the unofficial beginning of fantasy football pre-season. Once again zero RBs were taken in the first round. Wow! But just like last year (Lacy, Bernard, Stacy), a few of the 2014 rookies will likely put up impressive fantasy numbers despite being picked outside the first round. More than with other positions, RB success is very dependant on opportunity.
When it comes to rankings, let’s be clear: when I say “Dynasty” rankings, I don’t mean “Career” rankings. For keeper leagues, I’m focusing on the first few years of players’ contracts. After that point, a lot of unpredictable scenarios arise. They could be traded, their team could get significantly better/worse, they could shoot themselves in the foot (literally or figuratively), get abducted by aliens… You get the idea. With that said, the first few years of a player’s career are just as much (if not more) about their situation and opportunity as they are about talent. The best fantasy players will have a combination of BOTH!
[Note: If you’re interested in where the rookies stack up in redraft rankings, those will be coming at a later date]
1. Bishop Sankey – Titans
Before the draft we knew that the Titans desperately needed a starting RB. Bishop Sankey was chosen first among the position group because of his combination of quickness and durability. He has a huge opportunity to succeed in Nashville. Shonn Greene will vulture some TDs, but he’s now had two knee surgeries in two years. Sankey will pile up gobs of rushing and receiving yards. If you have the first dynasty pick, consider yourself lucky!
2. Carlos Hyde – 49ers
Frank Gore can’t play forever, and hearing coach Harbaugh talk about Lattimore’s rehab does not inspire confidence. In fact, he could earn a hashtag like this one in the near future. So, the physically gifted Carlos Hyde becomes the heir apparent to the 49ers running game. He might not pay dividends until next season, but if Gore gets injured Hyde could easily be the 2014 fantasy rookie of the year.
3. Devonta Freeman – Falcons
Freeman was the ninth RB taken, but his opportunity is about as good as it gets. The Falcons acquired Steven Jackson past his prime and he couldn’t solve their running woes. Now, over the next couple years, Freeman – a good all-around back who had a light workload at FSU – has an opportunity to be the best Falcons RB since Michael Turner circa 2008 (even though my phone tried to autocorrect his name to Donuts Freeman).
4. Terrance West – Browns
Ben Tate has a dicey injury history and the Browns are making the ground game a priority, so West could get a big opportunity this season. West tore up the FCS with his size/speed combo, but he needs to run more strategically or he will get banged up in the NFL. A promising pick for fantasy purposes.
5. Jeremy Hill – Bengals
It looks like the Bengals are going to stick with their thunder & lightning approach. Hill is a relatively big RB that will compete for the “thunder” role. BenJarvus Green-Ellis owners should be worried, but I don’t see Hill as a threat to the dynamic Bernard.
6. James White – Patriots
Stevan Ridley is on thin ice and Blount is gone. Vereen is good, but can’t handle the full load. A couple Ridley fumbles would mean early playing time for White, and he’s got the skills to take advantage of that opportunity.
7. Ka’Deem Carey – Bears
One of my favorite RBs in the draft, Carey will be backing up incumbent Matt Forte. Not a great situation this season. Although when Carey eventually gets the opportunity, he’ll be great. It could be a couple of years though.
8. Tre Mason – Rams
Mason is a very good RB who will succeed in the NFL. However, as long as Zac Stacy is tearing up defenses, Mason will have to wait in the wings. In other words, a long-term fantasy prospect.
9. Andre Williams – Giants
A big workhorse running back, Williams could steal some goal line carries in year one. However, he won’t knock the coaches’ socks off enough to supplant newly acquired Rashad Jennings.
10. Storm Johnson – Jaguars
Johnson’s biggest issue is fumbles, otherwise he’s a very good prospect without any outstanding characteristics. If he can work on ball security, he has a great shot at surpassing Toby Gerhart as Jacksonville’s starting RB (which isn’t an intimidating task). His upside isn’t as high as other rookie RBs, but he has a clearer path to starting as a rookie.
[Click the links below for more rookie evaluations and rankings]