Written by Matt Young
Despite not having a single running back go in the first round, the landing spots of this year’s rookie running backs provides for plenty of analysis and opportunities going forward for fantasy players. Unlike in prior years, there seems to be a small amount of immediate starter value, but opportunities definitely exist for some players to have a Zac Stacy-like rise that can be the difference in winning a fantasy championship.
Bishop Sankey – Tennessee Titans
Bishop Sankey was the first running back off the board by the Tennessee Titans in the 2nd round, and with the departure of Chris Johnson to the New York Jets, Sankey looks to be in line to be the day one starter, obviously providing the most value among the rookie running backs. In addition, it was recently released that Shonn Greene, Sankey’s new backfield partner, had knee surgery this offseason, further leaning the starting potential in Sankey’s favor. Pre-draft, Sankey looked like one of the better backs in the class, and the Titans seem to agree. He has the potential to be a three down back and earn himself the day one starting position, leading him to be the most highly sought after running back in the class.
Carlos Hyde – San Francisco 49ers
Carlos Hyde was drafted closely behind Sankey, landing with the San Francisco 49ers. Hyde was thought to be one of the top backs in the draft, but his landing spot doesn’t lend itself to very much initial value. Muddled in with Kendall Hunter and Marcus Lattimore behind Frank Gore, Hyde will likely require owners to stay patient much like Christian Michael, as both Gore and Lynch are likely on the downhill side of their respective careers. Given the chance, I think Hyde definitely has the ability to be a three-down back. He has some good quickness, but his overriding positive attribute is his ability to break-through tackles and finish off plays, keeping himself going forward for positive yardage. Hyde should definitely be one of the first running backs off the board in rookie drafts.
Charles Sims – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted Charles Sims in the 3rd round of the NFL Draft. An early favorite of mine, I was a bit confused as to why the Buccaneers went this way after having a high level of success with Doug Martin. I think the Buccaneers will find ways to use him, and he will quickly leap frog Bobby Rainey and Mike James on the depth chart. I believe he has the ability to contribute as a starter in the NFL relatively quickly, and with Doug Martin coming off a season ending injury in 2013, should be considered a quality pickup in this running back class.
Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell – Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns picked up two rookie running backs by drafting Terrance West and adding my personal favorite, Isaiah Crowell, as an undrafted free agent. I am not sold on Ben Tate, and with his injury history whichever one of these running backs can show the Browns they deserve the #2 job may have a good chance at contributing early in their careers. If he can continue to control his life off the field, I believe that Isaish Crowell will dispose of all the other running backs on this depth chart and can challenge Ben Tate for the starting position on a team that will need to run the ball while potentially starting a rookie at quarterback coupled with the loss of stud Josh Gordon.
Davonta Freeman – Atlanta Falcons
I really like the pick up of Davonte Freeman by the Atlanta Falcons. With veteran Steven Jackson and not much else on the roster, Freeman may be the closest running back to consistent playing time outside of Bishop Sankey. Freeman has drawn comparisons to the playing styles of running backs like Ray Rice and Ahmad Bradshaw, both of whom have the ability to catch passes out of the backfield. With the ever solid Roddy White and a healed up Julio Jones to catch passes from Matt Ryan, that may open up more pass catching opportunities for Freeman, allowing him to see the field earlier and more often.
Storm Johnson – Jacksonville Jaguars
A late round selection by the Jaguars reunited Storm Johnson with his college quarterback, Blake Bortles. With Toby Gerhart and Jordan Todman as the two backs on the roster, I am actually a fan of Storm Johnson’s landing spot. I know Gerhart never got a true shot at being a #1 back due to playing for the same team as Adrian Peterson, but there really isn’t much about him that makes me like him that much more than Storm Johnson, and despite Todman being from my alma mater (UCONN), I have to say that Johnson excites me more. Whoever makes his way to the top of the depth chart for the Jaguars will definitely see significant touches as they either try to acclimate their rookie wide receivers with Chad Henne or with fellow rookie Blake Bortles. I think Gerhart will definitely be the starter for Week 1, but I like Storm Johnson as a later round rookie pick that may pay big dividends in the future.
Alright guys, there are some of my quick reactions on the running backs of the 2014 NFL Draft class. I would be willing to bet that there will be more Zac Stacy-like seasons than Eddie Lacy-like ones and if you are the one who can correctly choose who that guy will be, it can be the difference that pushes you to winning the championship.