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Second Year Running Backs

Mar 5, 2015

Bishop Sankey may retain his spot on the Titans, but not our fantasy rosters.

There is a common belief that bonds people together in the fantasy football community. We must place our name on players before they break out, thus giving us the right to refer to said breakout player as “my guy.” It’s a glorious bond that can last a lifetime – or at least until said player has a stinker of a year, at which point we can be seen in the bathroom scrubbing our hands shouting “FOREVER UNCLEAN!” A great time to locate these ego-fueling players is in their second season. The game will slow down for many of them. Players have time to truly grasp the playbook. A complete offseason with NFL trainers can produce ‘wicked gains’ in the weight room. Let’s take a look at some running backs headed into their second year!

Bishop Sankey – 2nd Round (54th Overall) – 152/569/2 – 18/133/0

Ah, Bishop Sankey. The first running back taken in the 2014 NFL Draft. The first 2014 rookie to enter our hearts. And finally, the first 2014 rookie RB responsible for the destruction of smart phones, computers, and televisions. People fell for Ken Whisenhunt’s tricks again! Sankey was the first RB selected in the NFL draft, so clearly he has the talent and would get an opportunity, right?? Maybe that would have been true, had he not been on a depth chart that contained professional vulture RB Shonn Greene. Greene’s presence, combined with Sankey’s non-ballroom-ready footwork, spelled disaster for Sankey’s fantasy owners. All the preseason warnings were there, yet they still jumped in on Sankey, who averaged over 4.0 yards per carry in only two of the eight games where he was given double-digit touches. Sankey’s rookie campaign was more painful than spending an afternoon on The Machine from Princess Bride. The Titans grade out negatively in nearly all aspects of the game, so an improvement in the offensive line is not guaranteed for next year. It’s only been one year, but Sankey’s career is resembling that of other running backs that Whisenhunt has drafted – Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams.

Ceiling: High Level RB3

Floor: Chuck E Cheese Ticket Attendant

Jeremy Hill – 2nd Round (55th Overall) – 222/1124/9 – 27/215/0

Perhaps you think calling for a Jeremy Hill breakout is not fair because he already broke out. Here’s the deal on “my guy.” His first shot at being a workhorse wasn’t until Week 8. He responded by punishing Jacksonville for 154 and two TDs. A few weeks later when Giovani Bernard returned from his injury, the carries were being split in an unpredictable way. Eventually, Hue Jackson saw the light (AKA “what every person with functioning eyes had seen for weeks”) – Hill was the superior running back and Bernard needed to move back to a complimentary role. In the final three games of the season, Hill averaged 23 carries and 132 yards. The formula is clear for the Bengals: give Jeremy Hill at least 20 carries and he will give you at least 100 yards. Hue Jackson had an Andy Reid type memory lapse for the playoff game against Indianapolis and Cincinnati got embarrassed. If Hill can average around 18 carries a game, he has the ability to be a top-5 RB in 2015.

Ceiling: Top-5 RB

Floor: Mid Level RB2

Carlos Hyde – 2nd Round (57th Overall) – 83/333/4 – 12/68/0

Hyde was another rookie running back that fantasy owners were putting some stock into. They were treated to an evening with Dr. Jekyll instead of his monstrous counterpart. San Francisco stayed the course with AARP member Frank Gore. To his credit, Gore had a strong year. Despite that strong year, the 49ers look like they’ll be turning the reigns over to the young buck. Hyde has the tools and makeup to be a three-down back in the NFL. San Fran will likely look to add some depth to the backfield, but all signs point to the team tipping back the science beaker full of that nasty concoction and hoping Mr. Hyde is the monster they drafted.

Ceiling: Low Level RB1

Floor: Low Level RB2

Tre Mason – 3rd Round (75th Overall) – 179/765/4 – 16/148/1

Mason took his Heisman Finalist Nomination and parlayed it into a job with the St. Louis Rams. The Rams were very confused about the direction they wanted to go with their backfield. Zac Stacy, coming off a notable rookie year, was quickly shoved aside and forgotten. Tre Mason sat out opening four games of the season before being handed a sizable role. He rang the Welcome-To-The-NFL-Bell in Week Seven when he contributed 85 yards and a touchdown in a winning effort against the Seahawks.  He continued a schizophrenic rookie year but put the cherry on top with an old school beat down of Oakland. Mason looks to be the guy, but faces a very tough NFC West. Hopefully the Rams’s remaining schedule is more soft than their divisional matchups.

Ceiling: High Level RB2

Floor: Zac Stacy Part Deux

Terrance West – 3rd Round (94th Overall) – 171/673/4 – 11/64/1

The Browns were an excruciating backfield to get a read on. The season opened with their big-ticket free agent Ben Tate having a great game, but getting (shockingly…) injured. Then UDFA “my guy” Isaiah Crowell seemingly placed Tate in the Cone Of Shame and snatched the Alpha status away. Third round pick Terrance West was performing so poorly, or made too many Yo Mama jokes about Ray Farmer, that he got himself deactivated for a game. Eventually West moved out of the dog house and started getting himself some serious carries. But something happened and it was back to the couch for Mr. West. Throw in a broken leg for superstar center, The Secret World of Alex Mack, and you have a recipe for a disastrous rookie season. Well, it wasn’t a complete disaster, but West does look to be behind Crowell on the depth chart. Ben Tate is gone and Alex Mack will be back. West looks to provide a high potential player at a bargain price in the 2015 draft.

Ceiling: High Level RB2

Floor: Low Level RB3

Jerick McKinnon – 3rd Round (96th Overall) – 113/538/0 – 27/135/0

He went to Jerick’s! The Vikings snatched the Combine Freak as a possible heir to the throne of Adrian Peterson. Little did they know, McKinnon would be needed much sooner than anticipated. After AP’s “departure” the team rode Matt Asiata for a few weeks, then unleashed McKinnon in week four against the Falcons . He did not disappoint, racking up 135 yards on the ground, including a 55-yard scenic scamper through the forest. He wasn’t as successful against the murderer’s row of rushing defenses he faced in the following weeks, but McKinnon showed he has a future in this sport. Unfortunately, Jack Mack was put on IR with a back injury. Lucky for him, all rumors are pointing to a departure of Adrian Peterson, leaving the position open for McKinnon to accept.

Ceiling: Low Level RB1

Floor: High Level RB3

Dri Archer – 3rd Round (97th Overall) – 10/40/0 – 7/23/0

The Combine is an event built for players like Dri Archer. The small framed running back that hailed from the Mid-American Conference brought the only thing that cannot be taught: speed. Buck Nasty Speed. The mob was rumbling with the possibility that Archer could break the 40-yard dash record held by Chris Johnson. He fell just short and posted a 4.26, while also being the top positional performer in the vertical jump, the three cone drill, and the 20-yard shuttle. His performance was rewarded when the Steelers drafted him in the third round. Draft day is still the highlight of Dri Archer’s career. Even in a shallow backfield, Archer was only given 10 carries. The Steelers made the investment yet seemed unable to utilize their weapon. Expect the Steelers to add an RB who can compliment the sensational Le’Veon Bell, pushing Archer even further down the depth chart. Until the Steelers show a commitment to getting Archer the ball in space, he is hands off.

Ceiling: Your Week 1 cut

Floor: The Mariana Trench

Charles Sims – 3rd Round (69th Overall) – 66/185/1 – 19/190/0

The 2014 Tampa backfield was about as stable as the San Andreas Fault and the season opened with so much hope. They added Logan Mankins and Anthony Collins to bolster their offensive line. Doug Martin was healthy and ready to return to his place of fantasy glory. They also added an interesting backup in Charles Sims. Hope is fleeting and it didn’t take long for the winds of destiny to steer these Buccaneers into a whirlpool of despair. Sims didn’t make it to opening week. He had to get ankle surgery after suffering an injury in training camp. He finally made his NFL debut in Week 10 and exploded onto the scene with a…fumble. Lovie Smith had already shown what happens to his RBs when they put the ball on the ground, they are excommunicated and the team will deny any knowledge of their existence. Luckily for Sims, the team had no choice but to stay with him. The rookie was not particularly effective on the ground, but showed vision and elusiveness when getting the ball in space. The Bucs are in complete rebuild this year and the backfield is full of questions. Sims may be given the opportunity to become the leader of the RBBC, but unless Famous Jameis or Marcus Mariota can perform, Sims and Tampa Bay will have another tough year.

Ceiling: RB3

Floor: Dungeon Master

Devonta Freeman – 4th Round (103rd Overall) – 65/248/1 – 30/225/0

Devonta Freeman entered the mainstream fantasy mind when he was given major coverage in the 2014 edition of Hard Knocks. The Falcons nominated themselves and took the plunge, allowing cameras to record all the happenings of their camp. Unfortunately, we got the Hollywood version of Freeman. Because he was heavily featured in the HBO series, it gave the impression he would be taking a huge chunk of the backfield workload in Atlanta. This was not the case. Even with Steven Jackson being old enough to hunt dinosaurs, the Falcons did not lean on the rookie. Looking to 2015, if you take at a snapshot Freeman looks setup for a huge opportunity. Jackson has been cut, Jaquizz Rodgers and Antone Smith are free agents. Unfortunately, Freeman did not produce with his chances last year. Jackson sat out the season finale and Freeman only received six carries. One thing to count on, the Falcons will be adding runners. The cost of the investment will let fantasy players know where Freeman stands with the team. If they add a significant free agent or spend a high draft pick, Freeman will be nothing but a low level handcuff.

Ceiling: Mid Level RB2

Floor: Just another head of the Atlanta RB Hydra

Andre Williams – 4th Round (113th Overall) – 217/721/7 – 37/130/0

Andrew Williams was in a similar situation to Jeremy Hill‘s. He was the back end of the two-person horse costume. However, Rashad Jennings was injured mid-season and Williams got an opportunity. Andre woke up that morning of October 12th, looked in the mirror and said, “It’s time for the Andre Williams era to begin!”. He then tribal shouted in his own face, further releasing the adrenaline to coarse through his veins. He spewed more inspirational words to get pumped up for his big chance! And then…(plays sad trombone from The Price Is Right) he fell on his face. He ran for 17/59/0 against the Eagles. More disappointing performances followed. However, towards the end of the season he put up two spectacular efforts. Granted, one was against the Titans – one of the worst rush defenses in the league – and the other against the Rams, who had been on a hot streak but were trending downward. Perhaps the big games didn’t come against high quality opponents, but Williams finally showed what the Giants had coveted during the draft. Jennings’ role moving forward is unclear as he is older and has had many injury issues in his career. With the Giants offense really clicking later in the year, Williams could provide a draft day steal and be a breakout star.

Ceiling: High Level RB2

Floor: Mid-Level RB3

Ka’Deem Carey – 4th Round (117th Overall) – 36/158/0 – 5/57/0

Carey had an interesting beginning to his NFL career. He was a highly productive player in college and had earned the hype given by the media. Unfortunately, he had a lousy combine. That, with his off-the-field troubles, caused this projected second round pick to tumble into the fourth. Through the offseason, the notes coming out of Chicago said the team was disappointed with Carey’s performance, even placing him behind Shaun Draughn on the depth chart. It wasn’t until the third game of the preseason that Carey climbed his way up to Matt Forte‘s backup. Looking forward, Carey is in a decent position for fantasy production. Forte has shaken his injury-prone tag, but is 29 years old and is nearing the 2000 carries mark. Carey has the talent to make some noise if given the opportunity, and that opportunity may come this year.

Ceiling: Low Level RB2

Floor: A decent dynasty league asset

De’Anthony Thomas – 4th Round (124th Overall) – 14/113/1 – 23/156/0

The Oregon scat-back wasn’t able to see his first NFL action until week four due to a hamstring injury. Thomas is the definition of a player who has far more NFL value than fantasy value. He is a difference maker in the return game – his 81-yard TD return demonstrated his value there. He is listed as a running back, but finished with more receptions than carries, and more receiving yards than rushing yards. Thomas is a specialty player that sits behind Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis. He won’t be filling up the fantasy sheet in 2015.

Ceiling: A hail mary play in leagues that count return yards

Floor: The basement from Home Alone – low, and occasionally scary

James White – 4th Round (130th Overall) – 9/38/0 – 5/23/0

If you want a good litmus test on White, Google his name. The top search result returns as James R. White, director of Alpha and Omega Ministries. That’s how little he did for the Patriots last year. Bill Belichick and the Pats have earned their reputation for winning and finding good players later in the draft. Many among the fantasy community believed James White (the football player, not the author of What’s with the Mutant in the Microscope) could be be fantasy relevant if given the opportunity. The moment for that opportunity came in Week Six after Stevan Ridley tore his ACL and MCL. White flew up the waiver priority list. Yet, he didn’t get a single touch the following week. Looking ahead to next year, the Pats are likely to move on from both Ridley and Shane Vereen. White will have an opportunity to become a part of the nauseating enigma that is the Patriots backfield.

Ceiling: RB3

Floor: Responsible for setting Jonas Gray‘s alarm clock

Lorenzo Taliaferro – 4th Round (138th Overall) – 68/292/4 – 8/114/0

Some people say timing is everything. Taken with a middle round pick, Taliaferro was buried on the depth chart. Then Ray Rice got caught on video being a terrible human being and Bernard Pierce continued his descent into suck-dom. Suddenly, Taliaferro found himself in a position to have a serious impact as a rookie. However, enter old-timer Justin Forsett, who turned in a spectacular year as the primary running back in Baltimore. Lorenzo was having a decent year until a foot sprain sent him the IR. Lorenzo is an incredibly interesting name to monitor this offseason. Forsett is a free agent, and if he doesn’t return to the Ravens, Taliaferro is the next man up in an offense now run by Marc Trestman. If you are new to fantasy, Trestman turns RBs into fantasy gold. A slight hitch in the plan is Taliaferro’s career numbers in the receiving game. If you add in the two years of college ball, that puts ZoT (kneel before ZoT!) at a grand total of 35 catches. However, he did pull in eight of ten targets in 2014, so more may come his way. Lorenzo has some dominos that need to fall, but if he wishes on the right shooting star he can be a middle round stud in 2015.

Ceiling: Low Level RB1

Floor: High Level RB3

Alfred Blue – Round 6 (181st Overall) – 169/528/2 – 15/113/1

When the Arian Foster owners saw their stud go down, hopefully they were holding Blue as a handcuff. Blue had a moderately successful rookie year. He was able to step in for Foster and produce – well, occasionally produce. Arian Foster guarantees two things in life: he will be a week-winning player, and he won’t play 16 games. Blue is likely to be a higher priced handcuff in 2015 because players know that Foster needs the protection. He only becomes a must-have back if you draft Foster, or if you feel like trolling and trading with the Foster owner later on.

Ceiling: Low Level RB2

Floor: Joseph “Blue” Pulaski

Lache Seastrunk – 6th Round (186th Overall) – 0/0/0 – 0/0/0

No, the stat line isn’t a typo. Lache did just about everything he could to make Washington’s 53-man roster. He had a solid preseason with 121 yards on 25 carries and caught two passes for 88 yards. However, it wasn’t good enough for Jay “QB Guru” Gruden. He bounced around and is currently signed to a reserve/futures deal with Tennessee. There is a glimmer of hope for Seastrunk: Shonne Greene is owed too much money for his age and injury history. Leon Washington will not be with the team next year. Antonio Andrews wasn’t even given a chance despite the farce of a player that Bishop Sankey looked like. Sankey will be on the team next year, but with nobody behind him. Lache has the makeup of an NFL running back, but it is unknown if he will get a real opportunity.

Ceiling: N/A

Floor: We saw it last year

Marion Grice – 6th Round (201st Overall) – 15/41/1 – 7/29/0

The Chargers’ sixth round pick was sent almost immediately to the practice squad. After Arizona fell into some RB trouble, they snatched up the hometown hero and put him on the roster. That’s basically the most action Grice saw the entire year. He handled a few carries here and there, but was quickly surpassed by Kerwynn Williams. Raise your hand if you’ve heard of Kerwynn before this year. Exactly. The future doesn’t look very bright for The Grice Is Right. If he lands on a team, it will be with a practice squad or as the emergency to the emergency.

Ceiling: Seriously??

Floor: Draft him in your Practice Squad Leagues?

Tyler Gaffney – 6th Round (204th Overall) – 0/0/0 – 0/0/0

Gaffney missed his rookie year after tearing the lateral meniscus in his left knee during training camp. The Panthers, who drafted Gaffney, thought they’d be sneaky by waiving him and then trying to stash him away. But Billy Belichick don’t play that. The Pats snagged the Stanford product off waivers and placed him on IR. Gaffney had a sensational final year in college with a line of 330/1709/21. The kid has ability. Knowing the Patriots, they acquired an RB for nothing, and will get great production out of him.

Ceiling: RB3 would sound insane, but it’s the Patriots.

Floor: Where we’re going, we don’t need…floors

Storm Johnson – 7th Round (222nd Overall) – 29/86/2 – 1/-4/0

The man who sounds like a real life GI Joe character was selected by Jacksonville in the seventh round. The team’s big free agent acquisition of Toby Gerhart was derailed by an injury and a plain lack of NFL ability. Things were very fluid in Jaguar Land for a while and eventually someone decided it was time for the league to feel the power of the Storm! They hoped for a hurricane. They received a pleasant breeze. The Storm Johnson experiment ground to a halt, Denard Robinson stepped up, and there was no need for The Cumulonimbus after that. Storm could hang around as the backup to the backup, but he won’t be on fantasy radars for 2015.

Ceiling: Beyond all reason, scoring two touchdowns again

Floor: Alex, what is, Where The Bodies Hit?

Branden Oliver – UDFA – 160/582/3 – 36/271/1

Branden Oliver! The waiver wire sensation! Talk about bookending your season. He was unstoppable in Weeks Four and Five, racking up 306 yards and three touchdowns. He spent the rest of the year on life support until having a pair of solid games to close the year. Oliver has surely solidified a spot on the roster for next year. Ryan “Glassman” Mathews is unlikely to return to the Chargers. That would leave Oliver and Donald Brown as beneficiaries. Oliver could be a good target as an RB4 in the 2015 draft, as he has proven upside. The question is: who shows up more? The 306-yards-in-two-games Oliver, or the eight-yards-in-two-games guy?

Ceiling: Low Level RB2

Floor: That guy you drop for Donald Brown

Isaiah Crowell – UDFA – 148/607/8 – 14/87/0

After going undrafted due to character concerns, The Crow could’ve packed it in and joined The Night’s Watch, but instead showed perseverance and made it on the 53-man roster in Cleveland. He became a household fantasy name after scoring twice on only five carries in the season opener. He continued to impress throughout the year, but got himself on Ray Farmer’s ‘Do Not Text List’ when he put the ball on the ground a few times. Eventually his talent lifted him back into the good graces of the Browns and he finished the season as the clear No. 1 in Cleveland. If the Browns truly commit to him, The Crow could feast this year.

Ceiling: Low Level RB1

Floor: High Level RB3

Mike Wright is a correspondent at FantasyPros and Co-Host of The Fantasy Footballers Podcast. To read more from Mike, check out his archive, his podcast, and follow him @ffhitman.

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