While it takes time for quarterbacks, cornerbacks and defensive linemen to learn the nuances of the NFL game, running backs often make an instant impact.
In this case of the 2013 rookie class, this won’t be the case—at least not in the fantasy realm.
Eddie Lacy headlines a solid running back class—a class that lacks top-end talent and has a ton of question marks. The bruising former Alabama star trucked and spun his way to 1,322 yards and 17 TDs in the Crimson Tide’s national championship season, but even Lacy is a borderline first-round pick.
Beyond Lacy, it’s really a matter of taste. Giovani Bernard of North Carolina has the versatility and quickness to be a fantasy monster in a pass-happy offense, and Johnathan Franklin has the speed to be lightning to a team’s thunder. However, each player has at least one major deficiency, leaving a shadow of doubt about both his draft and fantasy stock.
Let’s take a look at which draft-eligible backs will be fantasy-relevant in 2013.
Eddie Lacy, Alabama
Estimated 40 Time: 4.57
2012 Stats: 204 carries, 1,322 yards, 17 TDs; 22 receptions, 189 yards, 2 TDs
Best Fantasy Fit: Atlanta Falcons
Eddie Lacy doesn’t have C.J. Spiller’s speed or Trent Richardson’s three-down skill set, but it’s hard to find a guy who runs harder than the borderline first-round pick. Checking in at a rock-solid 5’11”, 231 pounds, Lacy brings a menacing size/power package to the table to complement a nasty spin move. Although he doesn’t have great change of direction skills, he doesn’t need them. Alabama’s No. 1 back runs with power behind his pads and is rarely taken down on first contact.
With the Falcons releasing Michael Turner on Friday, there’s a glaring hole in Atlanta’s backfield. In many ways, Lacy is a better version of the former Burner. Both backs have incredible leg drive and rarely put the ball on the ground. However, the former Crimson Tide stud has a bit more agility and can make people miss when necessary. Although the Falcons like to put the ball in the hands of their terrific receiving duo of Roddy White and Julio Jones, Lacy could easily top 1,000 yards and approach double-digit TDs in Atlanta’s offense.
Giovani Bernard, North Carolina
40 Time: 4.53
2012 Stats: 184 carries, 1,228 yards, 12 TDs; 47 receptions, 490 yards, 5 TDs; 16 kick returns, 263 yards, 2 TDs
Best Fantasy Fit: Green Bay Packers
If the Packers had any semblance of a running game (and a better defense), they very well could have won the Super Bowl. Having Aaron Rodgers, arguably the best quarterback in the game, can help cover up a lot of warts, but it was evident in 2012 that Green Bay’s running game just wasn’t good enough. Mike McCarthy tried to manufacture yards with Alex Green, James Starks, Cedric Benson and DuJuan Harris but to little avail. The Packers averaged just 3.9 yards per carry and produced just nine rushing touchdowns.
And for a team that’s predicated on the passing game, none of the running backs made a big dent. If the Packers want to kill two birds with one stone, they ought to take a long look at Giovani Bernard. The former Tarheel enters the draft as a redshirt sophomore, but he put up great numbers at UNC. A true every-down threat, Bernard produced nearly 2,000 total yards in 2012, including 19 total touchdowns. Imagine putting him an offense with Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, James Jones and Rodgers, let alone with Jermichael Finley or Greg Jennings. The rewards would be bountiful for both player, team and fantasy owners.
Mike Gillislee, Florida
40 Time: 4.55
2012 Stats: 244 carries, 1,152 yards, 10 TDs; 16 receptions, 159 yards, 1 TD
Best Fantasy Fit: Pittsburgh Steelers
Out with one Florida back, in with another. Chris Rainey couldn’t keep himself out of trouble this offseason, leading to his release. But what better way to upgrade the running back spot by picking up a better former Gator who has a much more complete skill set than Rainey.
In Mike Gillislee, the Steelers would have a solid back who can do everything well. Although he doesn’t have Rainey’s quickness or Jerome Bettis’ pure power, the one-year starter has a solid blend of vision, speed and cutting ability. After spending three seasons as a little-known backup, Gillislee grasped the starting job as a senior and basically carried Florida’s offense to an 11-win season. The well-built mid-round prospect might not come off the board till the third or fourth round, but he has the skill set to step into a starting lineup. In Pittsburgh, he’d be running behind a very talented offense line that includes former college teammates Maurkice Pouncey and Marcus Gilbert. Though Gillislee needs to become more of a threat in the passing game, his reliable running style and ability to gain yards after contact would make him a solid No. 3 fantasy back as a rookie.