Before his season was derailed by a fractured foot last December, DeMarco Murray was one of fantasy football's rising stars. Incumbent Felix Jones, presumably constructed from tissue paper and held together by Scotch tape, again failed to deliver meaningful numbers due to physical setbacks, thrusting the rookie into the spotlight. Though he crossed the chalk only once in seven starts, Murray racked up an impressive 104.5 total yards per game and 5.4 yards per touch as the primary rusher, quickly developing into a reliable RB2 in 12-teamers. He also ranked ninth in yards after contact per attempt among qualified rushers, an excellent indicator of his physicality and game-breaking abilities.
This offseason, followers have clogged the Noise's Twitter log with questions about Murray's status and perceived draft day value. Earlier this week, fanatics finally received some clarity. The Cowboy is officially back in the saddle. From the Dallas Morning News:
Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray said Monday that the ankle injury that prematurely ended his standout rookie season has healed and he has been cleared by team doctors.
"It's great," Murray told ESPN's SportsCenter. "I've been officially cleared by our doctors and I've been doing everything the past month or two without any limitations. I feel great."
Assuming he enters camp at full speed, Murray will be the 'Boys' undisputed lead dog this season. Because he's an explosive open-field runner with plus hands and has very little competition, he could net close to 300 total touches, making him a high-end RB2 in almost any format. His current Round 2 price point (14.8 ADP) is accurate.
The Dallas offensive line is a work in progress, but Big D's potent passing attack should greatly enhance the ground game's overall execution. At this point, consider Murray a borderline top-10 back who could easily join the position's elites with a full, healthy season.
• Lucifer Shanahan is once again up to his rascally ways. Posterboy for mediocrity, Tim Hightower, recently re-signed with the 'Skins and, according to insiders, is a strong candidate to retake the starting job, a shocking revelation when considering how well Roy Helu and Evan Royster performed in featured roles down the stretch last year.
What else is new? It would be an atypical season without Shanahanigans.
Attempting to sort through the mud, Helu is the more desirable fantasy back and is worth the moderate risk based on his current low-50s ADP. In five starts last year, he averaged 15.3 fantasy points per game, which ranked well inside the RB top-10 during that stretch. His outstanding versatility, tenacity between the tackles and first-cut burst fit ideally in Washington's zone-blocking scheme. Hightower may have the inside track, but Helu's talents could supersede the veteran in training camp. He's simply too good to be deployed as a complementary rusher.
But in Lucifer's devilish world little makes sense.
Through his beady rat eyes, Shanny views Hightower as a complete back who's downhill style is a perfect system-fit. Most importantly, Timmy is a blitz annihilator, a key characteristic with rookie Robert Griffin III at the helm.
For now, this is a largely indecipherable situation. Whoever emerges from the fray should hold substantial value. My bet on the roulette wheel, for now, stays on Red 29 (Helu).
• PPR players, be sure to circle/highlight/scrawl in blood rookie Ronnie Hillman on your cheat sheets later this summer. The Micro Machine, best known for his sensational hands and shiftiness in space, could become an unheralded FLEX producer in short order. John Elway is rather smitten by him. From NFL.com:
At first blush, Hillman isn't your typical John Fox back. He doesn't project as a bruiser between the tackles, but his ability to catch the ball -- and his blazing speed -- drew an interesting comparison Tuesday.
"To be able to have a weapon like Ronnie Hillman, he's a lot like a (Darren) Sproles," John Elway told Broncos season-ticket holders. "You can get great matchups ... (a) great change-of-pace back. … "He's electric. He's got a chance to make that big play."
In two recent expert mocks yours truly snagged the dark-horse both times in Round 9 of 14-team drafts. His situation is quite favorable. Willis McGahee entered the league when leather helmets were all the rage. Knowshon Moreno is a likely PUP candidate. And Peyton Manning, provided his neck doesn't shatter into a million pieces on first contact, should greatly bolster a Denver offense that was wildly erratic under Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow last year. If Hillman wows in training camp, he could quickly develop into a reliable RB2 in PPR formats and eventually graduate from the FLEX ranks in standard formats. Roughly 50 catches, 1,100 total yards and 4-6 TDs are possible.
• Owners purposely ignoring Jamaal Charles after he shredded his ACL in Detroit last year, be warned. The running back, who is currently operating at about 80-percent capacity, is fully prepared to unleash hell on opponents. From Bill Williamson:
"When I touch that field again, you're going to feel my pain," Charles told the Kansas City Star. "You're going to go through what I went through. It's going to be that way for me the rest of my career. …"
"If you're worrying about me not being the same, just look out for me this year," Charles told the Star. "I'm hungry. I want it this year. I've got the passion for it. I just can't wait to play football. I can't wait to bring stuff back to this community and show them how much we can win. I feel like this is a year for us that we can go all the way. I'm saying that because I feel it in me that I can bring a lot to the team this year, being bigger, stronger and maybe even faster."
The Chiefs' first full-squad practice is May 21, for which Charles must be cleared by Dr. James Andrews, his surgeon, before he can participate. But Charles said he feels he's prepared to practice.
"I feel I'm at the point where I can do that," Charles told the newspaper. "I feel I can do the same thing my teammates do. I do it without the coaches around. I catch the ball, I cut, I do a lot of drills and I've been doing this for two months."
The environment around Charles has changed since he last took the field. Romeo Crennel is now calling the shots and Peyton Hillis replaced Thomas Jones as his backfield tag-team partner. Though the former Browns bullmoose will likely dominate short-yardage/goal-line carries, the JC of KC is still poised to turn a significant profit at his current 19.3 ADP, particularly in PPR formats. The man is motivated, supercharged and destined to be the primary option in a largely conservative, ball-control offense. And don't worry about the TDs. Keep in mind nearly half of his 19 career end-zone plunges were scored on runs of 30-plus yards. And when pressed into a similar timeshare two seasons ago, he finished as the No. 4 RB overall in Yahoo! leagues.
Feel the pain.
• Kenny Britt's recovery suffered a setback earlier this week. The Titans receiver, who shredded his ACL last September, underwent a "minor" procedure to help alleviate swelling. The news sounds deflating, but the wideout was running close to full speed prior to the second surgery. He remains "confident" he will be available Week 1.
No doubt, Britt will slide in drafts due to the risks involved. Owner worries are understandable. But the profit potential is so great, he shouldn't fall beyond Round 5 or 6 in 12-team drafts. In early mocks, he's gone around pick No. 54 (WR21). Regardless if it's Matt Hasselbeck or Jake Locker under center for Mike Munchak's squad, Britt should thrive, provided he doesn't experience additional sidesteps. Remember prior to being carted off in Jacksonville Week 3, he was second only to Calvin Johnson in per game output, averaging a ridiculous 15.6 points. He's arguably the finest risk/reward receiver in fantasy this season.
• Former first-round pick Darren McFadden is functioning without limitations in offseason workouts. The fragile RB, who was cut down by a mysterious foot injury last October, is, according to new head honcho Dennis Allen, running and cutting at full-speed. Though he's comprised mostly of porcelain, the breakable back will enter the season as the Raiders' chief ball carrier.
McFadden and fellow Golden State rusher Ryan Mathews are cut from the same cloth. Both aren't exactly durable, but, if dipped in titanium, they are very capable of finishing inside the position's top-five. Even though the Raiders are under new management, they will likely be a conservative, run-heavy team. The offensive line is one of the most underrated units in the league. With Michael Bush now taking reps for the Bears, Run DMC has a great shot at going platinum. His 15.3 per game mark in seven starts ranked eighth among RBs, one spot behind Adrian Peterson. However, if you decide to take the plunge in the late-first (9.8 ADP), be damn sure to lock up Carolina castoff Mike Goodson late.
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