In a league where quarterbacks have captured the spotlight, elite running backs have become increasingly scarce and more valuable than ever. With dual-back systems becoming an integral part of many NFL teams and coaching game plans, it is vital to differentiate between work horse studs, and their time sharing peers.
With that said, I welcome you to Part 2 of my Sophomore Slump (Busters) series, RB Edition. I am going to cover the transition of the three running backs that exploded onto the scene during their rookie season, and try and determine if these rising stars are going to hold their value, or cause fantasy frustration for potential owners.
T-Richer or Poorer
I begin with the man-beast that the Tide washed up in the city of Cleveland, Trent Richardson. This very talented back was selected 3rd overall in the NFL Draft and carried as much hype as his draft position merits. Although T-Rich had a respectable season, it was far from the aspirations of the Browns organization when they scrambled to move up one spot to ensure his availability.
I don’t attribute some of his struggles to his talent level though, because injuries riddled this young man before, and during the NFL season. Arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee last August made it apparent he wouldn’t be 100% to begin the year. Having missed the entire preseason, T-Rich obviously did not have his legs completely underneath him, and a feel for the NFL game to start the regular season. This was blatantly evident through the first couple games, as the Browns eased him into his workload, and limited his touches and 3rd down opportunities.
By the time he began to appear healthy, injury struck again in the form of broken ribs against Cincinnati in Week 6. These broken ribs were diagnosed as a cartilage issue to the media throughout the season. T-Rich only missed one game and part of another, but it was clear to the public that his injury lingered for the remainder of the year. His 950 yards rushing weren’t overly impressive, although it broke Jim Brown’s rookie record, but his 11 rushing touchdowns were. Just the idea of multiple broken ribs makes me wince, and the fact that this young man continued to succeed at the goal line is remarkable. Imagine what he would’ve been capable of had he not sustained the rib injury. I’m sure it not only slowed him down, but altered his physical mind set when hitting the hole every time he touched the ball. T-Rich is not a guy who averts contact, but time after time he appeared to stutter step in the backfield or at the line.
I believe with time to heal in the offseason we will see a different style of running from him next season. His effectiveness and capabilities will be enhanced by his health. The major concern of course is if he is able to stay healthy. T-Rich progressed as a complete all-around back as the coaching staff finally managed to start working him into 3rd down situations. He hauled in 51 receptions, 367 yards, and 1 touchdown to go along with his rushing stats.
I honestly believe if T-Rich is healthy, used correctly, and has a consistently functional offense performing around him he will exceed most of, if not all of his rookie stat lines. The fact that he was the entire offense at times, and was somehow misused in certain games did not benefit him. The addition of Norv Turner should play a major role in the efficiency and usage of this well rounded stud. Look for Trent Richardson to live up to expectations, and possibly exceed many projections in 2013.
When we ponder the words exciting and explosive, we do not even begin to affiliate these words with a hamster. Thanks to Doug Martin, a Muscle Hamster flexed his way into the spotlight during his rookie tenure. As the 2nd to last pick of the 1st round, there are plenty of teams wishing they had a mulligan on last year’s draft. Martin not only rushed for a dazzling 1,454 yards, 4.6 YPC, and 11 touchdowns; his 1,926 yards from scrimmage were 3rd best ever in NFL history.
It seems like ages ago, but if you recollect, Martin actually started the season in somewhat of a time share and conceding goal line duties to LeGarrette Blount. It didn’t take long for that nonsense to evaporate. A 251 yard, 4 touchdown performance against the Raiders opened up everyone’s eyes. From that point on Martin seemed to carry a new found confidence, and took over the workload as an impressive workhorse back. Adding 49 catches, 472 yards, and 1 touchdown in the receiving game only boosted the value of this elusive, combination threat.
Considering the Buccaneers didn’t fully integrate Martin in as the every down back until part way into the season, and Josh Freeman having his ups and downs throughout the year, there is major room for improvement within the Tampa Bay offense. The receiving threat of VJax and Mike Williams only helps to aid the production of Martin. Although the offense lives and dies by Josh Freeman, it will be Doug Martin that the Bucs will center their scheme around come next season. I look for TB to utilize not only the rushing abilities, but the receiving skills of Martin in various ways in 2013. Comfort within the offense has developed quickly, and Martin is a home run threat every time he touches the ball. If the coaching staff can create a smooth environment around him, and maintain consistent play from Freeman, sky is the limit for this hamster.
I wouldn’t look for Doug Martin to destroy his numbers from the previous season, because realistically that would take heroic leaps in production, but I do expect consistent statistics from him. 1,500 rushing yards seems very obtainable, and his big play ability will yield plenty of yards on the ground and through the air. A key component to Freeman’s consistency will be Martin, and even though Martin’s value is adversely affected by Freeman’s poor play, I actually believe his consistent play will aid the production of his quarterback. His Buccaneers team showed glimpses of a playoff contender last season, but was unable to elevate above the miscues and sputtering at times. The addition of Doug Martin was a key missing piece for this unit, and as long as they are utilizing him correctly, and getting him the rock as often as possible, he will succeed as an individual and them as a team. Look for Dougie to stay Fresh heading into the 2013 season, and expect elite performances for years to come.
Performing his best Terrell Davis impersonation, Alfred Morris overachieved; to say the least for a 6th round pick, during his rookie campaign. Far from the draft position of his two rookie counterparts, Alf exceeded what anybody thought was possible with 1,606 rushing yards (2nd in the NFL), on 4.8 YPC, and 13 touchdowns. Morris single handedly put an axe to the “Shananigans” that have been plaguing fantasy owners for years in Mike Shanahan’s backfields. Placing unusual trust in his rookie running back, Alf immediately showed he had the talent and capabilities of sustaining the starting role. With the most carries for a rookie in NFL history, the trust was definitely there, and so was the production.
Alf set a single season franchise record for rushing yards, was named rookie of the week three times, and accumulated over 100 yards in 7 games this season. He didn’t just show flashes, Alf finished out the final 4 weeks with 7 of his 13 touchdowns. Morris made it very clear and evident that he is here to stay. As phenomenal as he was carrying the rock, he does have quite a bit of room for improvement as a receiver out of the backfield. With only 11 catches for 77 yards, we hope to see some development and more involvement in the passing game next season.RG3 is very prone to his option skills and his deep threat arm, so it isn’t a major surprise there weren’t many check downs coming Alf’s way.
The major question mark surrounding Alf heading into next season is RG3. A lot of Morris’ production this season came at the expense of the defense having to respect the option skills and outside speed of RG3. There is no doubt in my mind that his presence opened up a lot of running lanes for Morris throughout the season. I am not discounting what Alf was able to accomplish this year, but I do believe his numbers were enhanced by the threat of RG3. If RG3 is unable to begin the season, I look for teams to stack the box a bit more since Alf would be the only threat of carrying the ball. Even if RG3 is healthy enough to play all of next season, his effectiveness will have to be proven, along with the trust of the coaching staff of running the same offense. I can’t see Washington being ignorant enough to run as much of an option offense as they did, and dangle the risk of re-injury to their star quarterback. They won’t completely eliminate the style of the playbook, but I’d assume they will definitely scale it back. So depending on how much or if RG3 is a major running threat next year, it is hard for me to imagine Alf having the opportunity to run against such imbalanced defenses.
I believe in Morris’ talent, abilities, and future moving forward, but I just do not believe he will be able to sustain the rushing stats he posted in 2012. I expect progression as a receiving back, and wouldn’t be surprised if the touchdowns are there, but the possibility of pushing 2,000 rushing yards next season is just too big of a question mark to be confident in.
It is easy to notice the raw talent surrounding these 3 spectacular running backs, but a lot of their success moving forward does depend on the success of their team and the individuals around them. As strong as this season’s quarterback class was, these running backs are special, and could be dominant figures for years and years. Just remember, the jury is out, and these three new studs aren’t going to be cheap come next year’s drafts.
Amidst the progress between Part 1 and Part 2 of these Sophomore Slump (Busters) articles, I have concluded that I will be completing the trifecta and release a 3rd article: WR Edition (QB Edition – HERE). Please keep an eye out over the next few days for the final piece.
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