Talent versus opportunity

Chris "Beanie" Wells was beaten out by Tim Hightower for the
starting job on a team that doesn't run that much any ways.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - In 2008, we saw four running backs come in for their rookie season and make a fantasy impact right away. The "Fantastic Four" were: Matt Forte, Chris Johnson, Steve Slaton and Kevin Smith.

The question for 2009 is: Who will be this year's rookies?

Unfortunately, my answer sheet is blank as there doesn't seem to be anyone ready to explode onto the scene.

Not that there weren't any talented offensive players from this year's draft - there are. The problem is opportunity to play.

Where as the four star running backs from the 2008 rookie class got an immediate chance to play, none of the top runners in this year's class will have that chance.

The highest drafted rookie running backs - Knowshon Moreno, Chris Wells, Shonn Greene, Donald Brown, LeSean McCoy and Glen Coffee all have obstacles in front of them preventing their ability to shine.

Before the Denver Broncos drafted Moreno, a star from the University of Georgia, with the 12th overall pick, they signed free agent running back Correll Buckhalter away from the Philadelphia Eagles. Add in a preseason injury and Moreno will struggle to get the number of carries to become "fantasy-worthy."

"Beanie" Wells has looked pretty good in camp and in exhibition games, but he was beaten out by Tim Hightower for the starting job on a team that doesn't run that much any ways. I expect Wells to eventually take over the starting role, but this will be a shared situation on a team which barely runs the ball 20 times in a game.

Greene will be third on the depth chart when the season begins and only if Thomas Jones falters will he have a chance to help your fantasy team in 2009. Down the road, certainly, but this year, barring injuries to Jones or Leon Washington, unlikely.

Brown, might actually get a fairly regular opportunity to touch the ball in Indianapolis, where starter Joseph Addai was a huge disappointment in 2008. Addai was named the starter, but Brown should still get 30% of the carries and more if he proves he can: a) hold onto the ball, b) block blitzers for the team's most important player - Peyton Manning. We all know Brown can run.

McCoy might also get an early opportunity what with Eagles star running back Brian Westbrook recovering from off-season surgery. Westbrook hasn't played a down in preseason allowing McCoy to get a lot of work with the first team.

Coffee might be the surprise of the group. Drafted with the 10th pick of the third round, the former Alabama running back has made a great first impression with head coach Mike Singletary. It appears that Coffee might steal the goal line carries away from starter Frank Gore.

Still, none of these running backs will get the opportunities that Forte, Smith Johnson and Slaton got, at least not right away.

2008 Top Rookie Running Back Statistics
Steve SlatonHOU2681,2829503771
Matt ForteCHI3161,2388634774
Chris JohnsonTEN2511,2289432601
Kevin SmithDET2389768392860

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