Punch Drunk Wonderland

Fantasy Outlook – Top 5 Rookie Running Backs of 2013

Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh SteelersThe 2013 NFL Draft is in the books and many UDFAs have been signed. We now have a picture of the rookie class and the systems they’re going to be playing in. For the first time in a long time running backs weren’t so coveted in the early rounds of the draft. This is both because of the talent pool, and because the evolving nature of the position on NFL teams. Teams rarely have the bell cow runner, so they’re not going to spend high draft picks on a guy to stuff into a committee.

That said, here’s a look at the top 5 rookie running backs at this point. Things will obviously evolve over the offseason.

1.  Le’Veon Bell (Pittsburgh Steelers)

Bell is a Steelers kind of back.  He’s a big bruiser at 6’2″ and 230 pounds, and he’s proven durable through college despite having more carries than any other RB. He has solid hands and is a good receiver out of the backfield. The assumption is that he will be competing with Jonathan Dwyer for the primary role, but there is plenty of time for additional movement on that roster. Pittsburgh has said they are moving to a new zone blocking scheme in 2013, so it will be interesting to see how Bell fits in. Big backs aren’t the typical fit, but if he has the vision and ability to cut then he could do well.  Look for him to get plenty of touches.

2.  Eddie Lacy (Green Bay Packers)

Lacy is a great fit on a Green Bay team that sorely needs help in the run game.  Like Bell, he’s a big back and his size and physicality will give the Packers offense some versatility. Obviously, Aaron Rodgers will be slinging the ball around the field but now with a back like Lacy they can try to keep defenses off balance. He’ll be competing with fellow rookie Jonathan Franklin and DuJuan Harris for touches. It could wind up being a committee, but I see Lacy getting the edge for primary touches.

Some have been concerned about his ability to cut after having a medical procedure to fuse his big toe. Time will tell, but early indications are that he should be fine.

3.  Montee Ball (Denver Broncos)

Denver has been smart in how they have tailored their offense to Peyton Manning. The loss of some arm strength has led to more check downs, shorter and intermediate passes, and more balance using the run game than on his Colts teams of the past. That is good news for a super athletic running back with solid hands. The Broncos may part ways with the aging Willis McGahee, or at the very least they may start phasing him out. This is a perfect opportunity for Ball to come in and shine in a high powered offense. Expect big things.

4.  Giovani Bernard (Cincinnati Bengals)

First of the board, but fourth on my list. Sorry. Bernard was the first running back selected and that wasn’t until the 37th pick over all in the draft. He’s small, fast, and has very good hands which should make him fit in well with a pass friendly Bengals team. The trick will be how this offense evolves in 2013. They’ve had their ups and downs.

The biggest downside for Bernard is that he will be competing for a role against BenJarvus Green-Ellis, a 1,000+ rusher in 2012. That’s not to say he won’t have a role. Even if he doesn’t win out a starting position, they could slide him into a receiving/gadget back roll similar to Reggie Bush or Darren Sproles.  He likely will have a bright future, but he’s number four on my list for 2013 rookie backs.

5.  Mike Gillislee (Miami Dolphins)

Reggie Bush is out the door and Daniel Thomas has been largely a disappointment for the Dolphins. All indications are pointing to Lamar Miller getting the most touches in 2013, but that certainly isn’t a lock. There’s going to be a competition and the situation is ripe for Gillislee to slide into a good chunk of action.


K. Smelser About K. Smelser
Kelly Smelser is Owner/Senior Writer for Punch Drunk Wonderland and PDFantasy Sports. Architect of the PDW fantasy football world and general spinster of NFL and Fantasy Football news and analysis. Long walks on the beach, sunsets, and other such niceties are also fine...