I rode Alfred Morris, T-Rich (Trent Richardson) and "Muscle Hamster" Doug Martin to the chip last year. I need to know which rookie backs are gonna be the bomb this year and which backs are gonna have a sophomore slump.
Martin's volume, O-line will carry him
Easy: I expect a slight dip from each of those options. Martin probably is the safest bet to be a top-5 back among this group (I said why here and will add his stellar O-line as another reason), but I wouldn't overpay for him because of his erratic weekly performance last year and the fact that any change in his role will devalue him.
In Norv Turner's offense, which thrives on riding a versatile singleback, Richardson has the most upside for this year, but he's also the riskiest. Can he stay healthy, and how will the vertical O play with Brandon Weeden and company?
Morris probably won't see that many touches again, but he'll be a stable low-end RB1 that comes with the typical Mike Shanahan risk. (Though to be fair, his downside is effectively less damning than that of the recent rash of Shanahan creations.)
Two notable, pricey rooks have a solid opportunity to take a gig and run with it, so the value won't be as good as Morris' last year; they'll be more like Martin's and Richardson's from 2012.
My favorite is the bruising but nimble Le'Veon Bell, who has mediocre Pittsburgh Steelers competitors behind him. He should eventually pull ahead on the depth chart, though, and finish as a top-20 back, at minimum, as Pittsburgh recaptures some of its ground-and-pound ways.
Montee Ball is only listed as a Denver Broncos backup while he learns the system. At Wisconsin, his pass protection was solid -- something the Denver Broncos' Peyton Manning can appreciate after the revolving door of backside buttresses in his first campaign as a Bronco. Ronnie Hillman and Knowshon Moreno are backup plans.
Your more profitable grabs don't have to enter the season as your starters, but for the cost, they could do more damage. Giovani Bernard (Cincinnati Bengals) could yield the biggest PPR payoff of any rookie toter. I prefer Johnathan Franklin before Eddie Lacy because of the price, but I don't want to bank on either Green Bay Packers back that much this season. As Nick said while recalling a recent conversation we had, Zac Stacy could at least be a thunder to Daryl Richardson's lightning at a heavily reduced price.
Plenty to monitor: Cory likes Latavius Murray and Joseph Randle, who certainly deserve deep, last-round stabs. If Kenjon Barner finds consistent carries for the Carolina Panthers, he's a potential cavernous sleeper thanks to his shiftiness. Knile Davis, despite his technique flaws, could be a big play if Jamaal Charles misses time, but it's doubtful he'll have a big enough weekly role to earn fantasy love. Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington might make noise in Arizona if you're really looking to dig into the center of the earth.
Do you think Cam Newton will improve, regress or stay the same?
I'm not one to pay top dollar for quarterbacks because of the constant crop of middle-rounds breakthrough commodities, but Newton would intrigue me if I were to seek out the headliners. The transition in offensive strategy last year led to Newton's explosion that catapulted him toward the top of fantasy leaderboards.
I expect him to reside there once again now that Carolina will probably cut down on offensive verbiage and keep him in the pocket more often. While he's no true instinctual passer, he's more effective there than people realize, and any dual threat deserves a boost in statistical confidence. He's in my top seven, if not top five, fantasy assets at the position.
About Tim Heaney
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.
During baseball and football season, he appears on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio on Thursdays and Sundays, and every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.
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