It’s fantasy football season. Training camps are in full swing and we’re counting down the shockingly few days that separate us from another NFL season. Naturally, that brings the winds of bold predictions. I’ve got my own concerning the 2014 fantasy football season – particularly at the running back position:
1. LeSean McCoy breaks Chris Johnson’s NFL single-season yards from scrimmage record of 2,509 yards.
With a consistent passer at the QB position in 2014, the Philadelphia Eagles will be flying high on all cylinders. LeSean McCoy averaged an easy 5.1 yards per carry last season and with Philly’s #1 ranked run blocking offensive line coming into 2014 (according to PFF) it certainly isn’t out of the question to see that number increase. In 2009, the year CJ2K set the record, his ypc was 5.6, not unattainable for Shady.
The difference in the yardage can be attributed to Johnson’s massive workload of 408 touches as compared to McCoy’s of 366 in 2013. Earlier this preseason, Chip Kelly was asked what was different this year compared to last year. His answer? “Just that we’re going faster.” As if the Eagles didn’t already lead almost all “pace of plays run” categories in 2013, they are looking to increase that pace. Jimmy Kempski, a writer for The Philadelphia Inquirer had this to say “The Eagles’ pace during 11 on 11’s today was humming. They were often getting lined up less than 10 seconds after the previous play had ended.” The players feel much more comfortable under Chip Kelly’s system with a year under their belt. The quicker the pace = the more offensive drives. The more drives = the more touches for Shady. The man also has 4 capital letters in his name.. Beast.
2. Andre Ellington will finish as a top 5 fantasy running back.
After yesterday’s Cardinals training camp kicked off, Arizona head coach Bruce Arians had two things to say about Andre Ellington. The first was mentioning the 8-10 lbs of muscle Ellington added in the offseason. The second went something along the lines of “bellcow in our offense”. Ellington is a great receiver out of the backfield and the added muscle all but ensures he will see some of the goal line carries left behind by Rashard Mendenhall. Arians’ original projection of 25 touches per game for Ellington is a bit obscure, but if he can get remotely close, say 18-20, he is destined for a major breakout.
While the Cardinals o-line play was abysmal last season, the addition of Jared Veldheer will certainly help the cause. Posting a whopping 5.5 ypc and 9.5 ypr, Ellington is a back who possesses excellent speed and vision, and if he gets the workload that is being preached out of the Cardinals staff you can expect 1,500+ total yards with 9-11 total touchdowns.
3. Jamaal Charles will not finish as a top 5 fantasy running back.
Charles finished as the number 1 fantasy running back in 2013 and it wasn’t really close. After a 45 second holdout, Jamaal Charles received the two year, $18.1 million contract extension he was seeking, and is being widely selected as the top player in fantasy drafts this summer. But how often does the number 1 fantasy running back duplicate their top performance? Let’s take a look.
|Running Backs from 2005 to 2013|
|Year||RB Finishing 1st||Following Year Rank|
As shown above, the only player in the last 8 years to repeat their campaign was LaDanian Tomlinson from ’06-’07. On average, over this time span, the RB1 fell to the RB9 spot. You may say the numbers are skewed with Alexander’s RB28 ranking, but even excluding him from the math puts the average at RB6, right outside the top 5. While this isn’t a predictor of the future, JC does have some things working against him. The Chiefs three best offensive linemen left town this offseason, meaning JC should expect to get hit in the backfield much more often than he did in 2013. Defenses will no doubt scheme against Mr. Charles as he is basically the only weapon on this Kansas City offense.
4. Stevan Ridley matches his 2012 campaign
HBO’s television series Entourage is by far and away my favorite series of all time. What does this have to do with Stevan Ridley? Relax, i’m getting there.
Vinny Chase, the main character in Entourage, was once one of the biggest movie stars in the game but his career plummeted after he spent all his money on a damn Pablo Escobar movie called Medellin, which busted big time and he went on a hiatus. His long time agent Ari Gold scavenged desperately to find work for the Hollywood has-been but found no such luck. They went from meeting to meeting attempting to impress all of the big time executives to land him a roll. When one of the company Presidents finally agreed to cast Vinny, he said something that stuck with me. Ari asked why he chose to hire Vinny, the president replied “Once a star, always a threat”. Que Stevan Ridley.
Just two years removed from a 1,263 yard, 12 touchdown season as a top 10 fantasy running back, Stevan Ridley finds himself with one more chance to prove to coach Belichick that his fumbling problems are a thing of the past. He has all offseason to improve, adjust his grip or whatever it is that he needs to ensure fumbling will not be a continuous problem. As the top rusher in a high power offense, Ridley will control basically all of the goal line carries now that Blount is out of town. While he offers literally no additional value in PPR leagues, his rushing stats alone can propel him back to RB1 status.
5. The Falcons number one fantasy running back will not be named Steven Jackson or Jacquizz Rodgers.
As a die-hard dirty bird, I thought it necessary to throw in something ATL relevant.
All off season you’ve heard rookie running back hype stemming from Bishop Sankey, Carlos Hyde, Terrance West with sprinkles of some Jeremy Hill. One guy that’s being forgot about is the 4th round selection out of Florida State, DeVonta Freeman. The Falcons drafted the RB with a plan to turn him into their 3-down, feature back in the near future. My guess is that this will happen sooner rather than later.
DeVonta Freeman is a highly capable workhorse back. His skill set is very balanced, possessing smooth agility, a compact body frame and can be compared to someone like Frank Gore. He has great hands making him a threat as a receiver out of the backfield as well.
Entering the season, or at the least the offseason, the Oregon State Uruk, I mean Steven Jackson is penciled in as the top running back on Atlanta’s depth chart. At almost 31 years of age and 2,500+ carries under his belt, the wear and tear on his body is starting to take a toll. He missed 4 games last season due to a hamstring injury. Maybe it was a fluke, maybe not. Regardless, it was clear that he has lost a step. In the 12 games he participated in during 2013, he topped 100 yards in only one. Since 2011, Jackson’s rushing yards, ypc, receptions and ypr have all consistently declined, a clear indicator that his prime is well behind him.
While Jacquizz Rodgers currently occupies the second spot on the Falcons depth chart, he won’t for long. Rodgers has received his fair share of preseason buzz the last few years as a possible sleeper/breakout candidate but has proven somewhat ineffective when leaned on, averaging a minuscule 3.6 yards per carry throughout his career. It is highly unlikely to see Rodgers seriously chip away at anyone’s workload while operating as a Falcon.
Currently, Freeman is being drafted 127th overall as RB40. If Jackson suffers another setback or injury, or the Falcons coaching staff sees Freeman as a superior talent, he will fall right into place as the Falcons starting running back. If this were to happen, you can expect RB2 type numbers out of him.
Note: CBS’s fantasy expert Jamey Eisenburg’s projected stats for Freeman in 2014: 630 rushing yards, 3 rushing touchdowns; 54 receptions, 488 receiving yards, 2 receiving touchdowns.