SEE 2013 UPDATE AT BOTTOM OF ARTICLE!
We are hitting running backs hard in the Speed Bumps and will make our first entrée into the deep rookie running back pool today with Denver’s Montee Ball. In total, 23 RBs were selected in this year’s draft (with several more added as undrafted free agents after the NFL Draft). There were five RBs drafted in the 2nd round, with Ball going as the 3rd back selected, but arguably to the most attractive landing spot playing alongside Peyton Manning and all those elite Denver wide receivers. Denver finished 2nd in scoring last year with 30.1 PPG and 3rd with 57 TDs. Ball is a decided underdog in this one in ADP or magazine rankings, going up against Stevan Ridley who finished as the 15th RB last year in PPR scoring (on a Patriots’ team that led the NFL in scoring by a wide margin at 34.8 PPG – New England also easily led the NFL with rushing TDs at 25) and Maurice Jones-Drew, who missed most of last year but is just one year removed from finishing as the 4th best RB in PPR scoring.
He’s the first rookie RB in the alphabet anyway and Montee Ball goes to perhaps an ideal situation (certainly in terms of the offense he will get plugged into). There were 57 TDs to distribute last year in Denver, the 3rd most in the NFL, and that would seem to only increase this year with the addition of Wes Welker extending drives, not to mention the addition of Montee Ball as well. Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie Hillman remain in the way and will get mixed in, plus HC John Fox is somewhat notorious for (stubbornly) playing veterans. Ball had a low forty-time (4.66) at the 2013 NFL Combine and had a poor time in the shuttle drill, plus he also posted just 15 reps in the bench press (tied for worst among RBs) but he sure was productive in college. Ball tied Barry Sanders’ record of single-season TDs in 2011 (39) and Ball left Wisconsin as the NCAA career touchdown leader (83). He also was a workhorse with back-to-back 300+ carries in 2011 and 2012 – for the full Montee Ball Rookie Profile click here. There is potentially elite fantasy RB points to be had: old man Willis McGahee was the 11th best fantasy back before getting hurt through Week 10, and journeyman Knowshon Moreno was the 7th best fantasy RB when he took over from Weeks 12 -17.
Somewhat easily ranked as the highest of these three RBs in magazine rankings and ADP is Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew. After a monster 343-carry season in 2011, MJD is off a disappointing season last year where he was the 13th best fantasy back through Week 5 (he was the 7th RB drafted last year on average) with just 2 TDs before breaking his foot. Jacksonville has a hip new uniform, new helmet, new logo, new GM, new head coach (Gus Bradley) and new offensive coordinator (Jedd Fisch). However, they have the same crappy QBs, Justin Blackmon is suspended for the first month of the season, and both Bradley and Fisch are brand new to their respective roles (for a few breakdown of the coaching changes, click here). So, expect maybe a re-building year for 2nd-year owner Shahid Khan as well. MJD is still a young back who should be in his prime (28) and should be a workhorse. However, Jacksonville was 30th in scoring last year (15.9 PPG) and MJD really has not been a great scorer of late himself. Despite 386 touches and 1,980 total yards in 2011 he had just 11 TDs and on 323 touches and with 1,641 yards in 2010 he had just 7 TDs.
With New England letting Benjarvus Green-Ellis walk last year in free agency, it was next man up and Stevan Ridley broke out in his 2nd NFL season with 1,263 rushing yards on 290 rushing attempts with a dozen TDs. He really could have had more, if not for the always unpredictable nature of HC Bill Belichick. Ridley didn’t even have half of New England’s 25 rushing TDs last year. With the team having lost four of its top five receivers from last year (Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Aaron Hernandez and Danny Woodhead – which accounted for a staggering 70.4% of Tom Brady’s completed passes) it certainly stands to reason that New England could have a larger emphasis on the running game this year. According to Patriots’ beat writer Jeff Howe, Ridley has added “a noticeable amount of muscle” in the off-season and is “looking like a house.” The one handicap for Ridley is he has received little work in the passing game to date and had just 6 receptions last year.
UPDATE 01/04/2013: This was a cheap one there for the taking, but Maurice Jones-Drew walks away with this Speed Bump despite not having the strongest of seasons. MJD received the most votes here, correctly so, and 48% of Speed Bump participants got a +1 in their count.
It was not a very impressive season for Maurice Jones-Drew, but he chipped in 1,117 total yards when it was all said and done, with 43 receptions and 5 TDs to finish as the #19 fantasy RB in the 2013 season. MJD though averaged just 3.4 YPC and he was dogged by hamstring and other lower body dings for a good part of the season. MJD is an unrestricted free agent heading into 2014 and we very well may see him on a new team and in our 2014 “Trading Spaces” series, and perhaps MJD’s stock rises a fair bit as well if he lands in the right spot and can take the off-season to heal up. After a 1200-yard, 12-TD season in 2012, Stevan Ridley was one of 2013′s bigger disappointments. Ridley’s inability to hold onto the ball got him in Bill Belichick’s doghouse hard, as Ridley finished with just 773 rushing yards on 178 carries for the season. Over the final six games, Ridley touched the ball just 48 times and was left inactive one week for good measure. Ridley remains a PPR liability and averages just 6.3 receptions per season over the last three years. This one was there for the taking for Montee Ball, but the rookie played second-fiddle to veteran Knowshon Moreno in 2013. Still, Ball had his moments and got much more involved down the stretch. From Week 11 on, Ball was the #21 RB and he finished his rookie season with a solid 4.7 YPC average. Ball showed plenty of hops, he was effective in the red zone and he also was surprisingly used a fair bit in the passing game finishing with 20 receptions. Ball’s dynasty potential remains very high, particularly in this offense.