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Rookie running backs can make a difference

Knowshon Moreno could have an immediate impact in Denver.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Unlike my last feature which said that rookie quarterbacks almost never have any fantasy impact, rookie running backs can and do make a difference.

In 2008, three running back in particular - Matt Forte, Chris Johnson and Steve Slaton, helped their teams and fantasy owners everywhere to many a win. And the three I referenced weren't even the top picks in last year's draft. There were five running backs selected in the first round, two more in the second and three in third among 23 overall running back picks over seven rounds.

Of those 23 running backs, only 13 had carries in a game, but three rushed for over 1,000 yards and six had at least eight rushing touchdowns. Had Darren McFadden and Felix Jones not gotten hurt, they both would certainly have added to the list of fantasy-worthy running backs.

This year's crop of rookie running backs looks slimmer than 2008 with 22 backs selected, but only six in the first three rounds.

Those six were: Knowshon Moreno (Denver), Donald Brown (Indianapolis), Chris "Beanie" Wells (Arizona), LeSean McCoy (Philadelphia), Shonn Greene (New York Jets) and Glen Coffee (San Francisco).

The two who would seem the most likely to get enough opportunities to make a fantasy impact, barring injuries to a starter, are Moreno and Wells.

In Denver last season, the team ran through running backs like a hot knife through butter. It seemed every week there was a new starting tailback because of injury. Six different backs carried the ball for the Broncos last year including: Peyton Hillis, Michael Pittman, Selvin Young, Tatem Bell, Andre Hall and Ryan Torrain.

During the off-season the team signed Correll Buckhalter from Philadelphia, Lamont Jordan from New England and JJ Arrington from Arizona. But none is a franchise running back. So with the addition of Moreno, it could be that the team has decided the off-season moves weren't good enough to carry the running game. If that is so, them Moreno will get the chance to star.

In Arizona, you have a team which finished last in rushing during the 2008 season with just 1,178 yards on the ground and 31st (out of 32 teams) in yards per carry (3.5 ypc). While it's true that the team's best talent is behind center and at wide receiver, you still need a rushing game in the NFL. Both can co-exist, and even thrive, together.

With Edgerrin James at the twilight of his career and Tim Hightower seeming to be better in short yardage situations than as a franchise running back, the addition of Wells could be just what the doctor ordered. If he can stay healthy, he can certainly improve the ground game and possibly your fantasy team.

The remaining four top selections at running back won't see much playing time unless there are injuries to Joseph Addai, Brian Westbrook, Thomas Jones or Frank Gore.

First-Year Statistics for Selected Running Backs

PlayerYearTeamGSATTYardsTDRecYardsTD
Eric Dickerson1983LA16390180818514042
Emmitt Smith1990DAL1524193711242280
Terrell Davis1995DEN1423711177493671
Curtis Martin1995NE15368148714302611
Edgerrin James1999IND16369155313625864
Clinton Portis2002DEN12273150815333642
Ronnie Brown2005MIA142079074322321
Cadillac Williams2005TB142901178620810
Reggie Bush2006NO81555656887422
Joseph Addai2006IND022610817403251
Adrian Peterson2007MIN9238134112192681
Marshawn Lynch2007BUF1328011157181840
Matt Forte2008CHI1631612388634774
Chris Johnson2008TEN1425112289432601
Steve Slaton2008HOU1526812829503771
Jonathan Stewart2008CAR0184836108470
Kevin Smith2008DET122389768392860
Tim Hightower2008AZ714339910342370


Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Steve Schwarz at sschwarz@sportsnetwork.com.

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