Rookie RB Outlook
By: paul.hickey | 6/11/10, 1:00 AM EDT
I'll tell you right now that there is an underground hot button issue brewing among dynasty owners regarding who the top 2010 rookie running back prospects are.
As it stands, four first-year ball-carriers will go in the first round of rookie drafts. While the consensus is that San Diego’s Ryan Mathews is at the top of the list in both dynasty and seasonal formats, the two pairs of remaining backs are extremely close to one another, from the standpoint of both physical traits and fantasy situation.
As LaDainian Tomlinson's replacement, Mathews should be the first overall pick in rookie-only drafts. He is expected to get 25-35 touches per game, and coach Norv Turner has said Mathews will get 45 catches this season, leading owners to believe that he could be a three-down threat. All on his lonesome, Mathews makes up the first tier of rookie running backs this year.
Where do the next four guys fall?
THE SECOND TIER
Buffalo’s C.J. Spiller vs. Detroit’s Jahvid Best
Spiller, the ninth overall pick, and Best, the 30th overall selection, bear many similarities.
Both are burners. Best ran a 4.35 40 and Spiller a 4.37. Spiller is 5-11, Best 5-10, and they both weigh just under 200 pounds (they are within three pounds of each other). Best produced more in fewer games than Spiller during their college careers, but he has some durability issues. Spiller, meanwhile, is often viewed as a better receiver. There is no question that both players have Chris Johnson-type abilities, and fantasy owners should be excited about each of them.
However, when picking between the two, I encourage dynasty owners to go with Spiller. While seasonal owners are likely to be more attracted to Best because third-year Lions RB Kevin Smith could start the season on the PUP list, Spiller is clearly the long-term solution in Buffalo. Seasonal owners are understandably concerned about the presence of Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch, but dynasty owners should not be. Jackson is 29 and will likely transition into a Chester Taylor-type role sooner rather than later, and Lynch isn't likely to be on the team’s roster when the season opens.The Bills were beyond thrilled to snag Spiller at No. 9 and are already in love with the kid. New coach Chan Gailey is building his offense around Spiller for the long haul, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him among the top five RB fantasy scorers for much of his career.
Best, on the other hand, reeks of riskiness to me. In the long term, I’m a bit scared by Best’s injury history, the fact that he plays in Detroit and the possibility that Smith, who also is young (23), will fight his way back eventually. While Best is a solid prospect, if you're on the clock trying to decide between the pair of playmakers, I give the strong edge to Spiller.
THE THIRD TIER
Houston’s Ben Tate vs. Cleveland’s Montario Hardesty
This one has recently sparked some serious debate among dynasty owners. The Texans and Browns traded up in the second round of the draft to get Tate and Hardesty, respectively, as both teams search for a long-term answer at running back.
Now, I need to clarify that both are rookie-only draft first-rounders, but one major factor to consider when picking between the two is that Houston finished with the league's fourth-ranked offense in 2009, while Cleveland finished 32nd. This means Houston moved the chains, stayed on the field and put its running backs in position to score more often.
So theoretically, Tate will be in position to score more TDs than Hardesty, based on his situation. I'm not one to rely simply on stats from a year ago, but I think you'd be hard pressed to prove that Cleveland is a better offense than Houston, and that definitely counts for something.
It's true that Cleveland finished higher in rushing yardage (eighth) than Houston (30th), but that was due in large part to Jerome Harrison's huge finish and the tendency to run Josh Cribbs out of the shotgun rather than pass the rock as the weather worsened. In addition, Harrison is a much bigger threat to Hardesty's value than Steve Slaton or Arian Foster is to Tate's.
Both Tate and Hardesty are big bruisers with prototypical size for an NFL feature back, and both will likely exit 2010 as their teams' unquestioned starters.
So, who do I give the edge to?
Tate is in a better offense and has virtually the same opportunity to start as Hardesty, and he has 4.4 speed. So, I give the slight edge on both situation and ability to Tate.
Walking the walk: In a recent experts dynasty league inaugural draft, I chose Tate at 6.12 while Hardesty was taken at 7.8 — less than a round later. Also, I chose Spiller at 4.3 and watched Best go off the board with the very next pick.
Paul Hickey is the lead contributor for Athlon Fantasy Football and operates the website NoOffseason.com, a 365-day resource for obsessive fantasy owners who eat, breathe and sleep fantasy football. While the site appeals to all fantasy heads, there is a special emphasis on dynasty formats and IDP leagues.
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