A red storm is brewing in the desert. (USAT)
Fantasy is a speculative game. Predict the future, and you look like a genius. Don't, and you're painfully human. Gazing into the crystal ball, here's our view on 10 intriguing over/unders at the RB position for the upcoming season.
Andre Ellington, who Bruce Arians revealed, likely sarcastically, the young rusher would receive 25-30 touches per game, total touches this season 299.5
Andy – UNDER, but not by much. We're talking about a number that only 8-10 running backs are likely to reach, so it's hardly a big deal if Ellington doesn't get there. The kid was a highlight machine as a rookie, averaging 5.5 YPC and 9.5 yards per catch. You'll love the returns in 2014, even if he "only" sees 275-280 touches.
Brad – UNDER. It was pretty clear Arians was trying to silence the Ellington zealots, issuing a bold declaration that he won't live up to. Still, the pint-sized rusher should generate at least 15-18 touches per game, many of those come via receptions, en route to a banner top-15 campaign. Recall last year on just 118 rush attempts he logged 12 runs of 15-plus yards. The kid has bottle rockets strapped to his shoes.
Scott – UNDER, but I don't want this to dissuade anyone from taking him. Juke Ellington's case isn't about reps, it's about slugging percentage. He's going to hit a lot of home runs, and the Cardinals should have a better understanding of how to deploy him in Season 2. I hope I have some investments in him this fall.
Rashad Jennings, one of many useful early-middle round backs, combined yards in his new blue-colored threads 1,299.5
Brad – OVER. David Wilson is not yet medically cleared and rookie Andre Williams is a stone-handed, early-down only rusher. Jennings is the prototype Tom Coughlin back. He can pass block, catch the ball fluidly and runs tough inside. As the unrivaled starter he should total at least 17-19 touches and 85-90 total yards per game. You're robbing the blind at his current 68.2 ADP.
Scott – Should be an easy OVER. Jennings is capable of playing on every down and the Giants would love to saddle up to a bell-cow runner. The only concern with Jennings is durability. I wish we could sign up for that bloated ADP right now; it's likely to come down significantly by the time August rolls around.
Brandon – OVER. Jennings is a CKG — Coughlin Kinda Guy. I expect him to have a fully featured role, and with his receiving skills, I wouldn't be surprised if he picked up 350-400 of the needed yards here through the air. I think he'll end up close to 1,400 total yards.
Ballyhooed rookie Bishop Sankey, who has the inside track on leading the Titans in touches with Shonn Greene hobbled, final fantasy rank among RBs 23.5 (Will he finish as a RB2 in 12-team leagues?).
Scott – UNDER. Any back in front of Shonn Greene sounds good to me. Tennessee has a strong offensive line and this team wants to stay on schedule and balanced on offense; the Titans know they can't try to outgun people.
Brandon – UNDER. I don't think he'll have any problem finishing as a RB2. He's got a fairly complete skill set and very weak backfield competition. He should get at least 15-plus touches per game on average, and even if he only performs adequately, the workload should propel him to top 20 status.
Dalton – UNDER. I expect the Titans to be one of the three worst teams in the NFL this season, but I have Sankey as my No. 19 ranked RB regardless. It's all about opportunity when it comes to backs these days, and Sankey is looking at more touches than a lot of veterans.
Brandon – OVER. Hill's a big guy who takes care of the ball — one fumble in 371 career touches at LSU. The Law Firm went over this number last season. In basically the same role, I'd expect Hill to do the same.
Dalton – OVER. I'd be pretty surprised if Hill doesn't immediately replace BJGE as the team's short-yardage back and be more productive in the role as well. I'm going to guess Andy Dalton also regresses from 33 TD passes. I wouldn't be shocked if Hill reaches double-digit TDs during his rookie campaign.
Andy – Man, that's a good number — a rarity for Brad. Give me the OVER. BenJarvus broke the plane seven times last season, despite being generally terrible (3.4 YPC). As an Iowa fan, I'm still having Outback Bowl flashbacks, so I have all kinds of respect for Hill's ability.
Dalton – VEREEN. But I must say, I have Bell ranked ahead of Reggie Bush, so I really like him this year as well. Richardson's setup looks terrific but based on his performance last season, he's clearly last among this trio.
Scott – The right answer is NOT RICHARDSON. That guy plodded through a misunderstood rookie year (3.3 YPC? come on), then crashed in Season 2. The Colts should finally get the memo this season; Richardson was grossly overrated coming out of Alabama and isn't a true featured runner. VEREEN gets my endorsement, the second-most critical skill player on a Patriots team that refuses to take the WR position seriously.
Brad – JOIQUE-N-IT. I'm also rather high on Vereen, but Bell's cemented role as the goal-line option on a prolific offensive team separates him from the pack. In four starts last year, he accounted for 91.5 total yards per game and a pair of scores. Assuming his knee holds up, he should be in line for 15-plus touches per game and could flirt with 10 total touchdowns.
Forget PT Bruiser, Thomas' nickname should be 'Sticky Fingers.'
Always underrated Pierre Thomas, who is expected to log snaps in packages that featured Darren Sproles last year, total receptions this fall 79.5
Andy – UNDER. He's never reached this total, there's a history of injuries here, and he is absolutely not Sproles-like. PT is certainly a useful player, don't get me wrong, but you should be pleased if he can simply approach last year's numbers. We're not talking about a hidden superstar. The man averaged just 3.7 yards per tote last season. He's become the sort of player who's so underrated that he's overrated. I'll concede that he's very good at catching short passes from Earth's most accurate quarterback. But I'm not going to assume that Sean Payton wants a whole lot more PT in his gameplans.
Brad – UNDER. PT continues to be an extraordinary value in early Yahoo drafts going on average around pick No. 116 overall. He's not at all 'so underrated, he's overrated' as Behrens would lead you to believe. The Grizz is merely blinded by his disdain for PPR. The Bruiser is a consistent RB2-level contributor in catch-heavy settings. He caught 77 balls on 82 targets last year. However, an increase in snaps doesn't mean he'll turn into Larry Centers '95. Rookie Brandin Cooks will play a prominent role as an underneath weapon, attracting the majority of targets that went to Sproles last year. With that in mind, expect PT to again finish just shy of the proposed number.
Scott – OVER. Sproles is obviously gone, Thomas has that angelic catch rate, and I don't see a ton of passing-game competition in the New Orleans backfield (though I'll reevaluate during the summer).
Doug Martin, who Lovie Smith noted will remain a big part of Jeff Tedford's offense despite the coordinator's desire to implement a RBBC, final fantasy rank among RBs 20.5 (In other words, will he be a top-20 rusher?)
Brad – OVER. As stated previously, Tedford's history of RBBCs at Cal is a strong indication Martin won't be a 300-touch RB. Rookie Charles Sims is expected to carve out a formidable role on pass downs and either Mike James or Bobby Rainey should net roughly 7-9 touches per game, intensifying Martin's risk factor.
Andy – Oh, for sure. UNDER. Lovie is absolutely going to give us a useful, high-volume RB. This team will run all day, if game-flow allows it. Martin has already established his credentials as a three-down back. I'm sure we'll see other players in the backfield mix, but, at the end of the season, I doubt this will look like a full-blown committee.
Brandon – UNDER. If there's going to, in fact, be an RBBC in Tampa, Martin will most certainly be the chairman of the committee, and his workload should dwarf the others. I like rookie Charles Sims, but Bobby Rainey and Mike James are basically "roster filler" types. I'd expect that Martin will get the lion's share of work early on until Sims develops the trust of the coaching staff. Then maybe we'll start to see more of a true RBBC.
Christine Michael, who again has generated considerable buzz with Darrell Bevell discussing 'committee,' average touches per game with Seattle this fall 8.5
Scott – UNDER, mostly because I try to stay grounded with all the shiny, happy coaching quotes we get from the spring. Yes, I know Michael put up a splashy tape in last year's exhibitions. Yes, I know Marshawn Lynch is uhappy about his contract. But the world is filled with No. 2 backs who never get the workload they're projected for two months ahead of the season. I'm still a Lynch man and when the bullets are flying, I think Seattle leans on him, too.
Brandon – UNDER. I do believe this will be Marshawn Lynch's last season in Seattle, so the Seahawks need to make sure Michael is properly seasoned. But Lynch is too valuable to the '14 plan to limit his touches too much. And most of Michael's touches are likely to be carries since Robert Turbin handles passing situations, and was very good in pass pro. I'm guessing Michael averages somewhere north of six touches but south of nine touches.
Dalton – OVER. The safest answer here is under, but Michael is the type of player who could win your league for you. And he won't cost more than a (very) late round pick. This number is going to either be way over or way under (based on Marshawn Lynch's health). But my advice is to buy Michael stock.
C.J. Spiller, who claims his ankle is finally healthy, combined yards in a possible rebound season 1,249.5
Brandon – UNDER. Spiller is the poster child for preseason hype. But as long as Fred Jackson still has a swimming pool full of alien cocoons to dip his body into, I don't see Spiller getting quite enough of a workload to hit the over here.
Dalton – UNDER. I was all in on Spiller last year, and I also expect little from Fred Jackson this season, as the history of running backs at his age (33.5) basically suggests he has a zero percent chance of being productive. Still, there's also a worrisome history of Spiller's ability to stay healthy. I love his talent, but I'm betting against his durability/chances here. I also acknowledge Spiller has the skills to beat this mark by 500+ yards.
Andy – Sure, OK. OVER. I'm on board. Heck, Spiller topped 1,000 scrimmage yards last season, when he disappointed the world.
Risk management: On average since 2008, 41.5 percent of running backs drafted in the position's top-12 failed to finish top-15. Rank the following RB1s, according to Yahoo ADP, in order from riskiest to safest: Montee Ball, Eddie Lacy, Marshawn Lynch, Le'Veon Bell, DeMarco Murray, Doug Martin, Zac Stacy and Gio Bernard.
Brandon – Martin, Murray, Bell, Ball, Stacy, Gio, Lynch, Lacy
Andy – Remember, this is a risk-only ranking: Bell ... ... Murray, Ball, Stacy, Martin, Gio, Lynch ... Lacy.
Brad – Martin ... Murray, Stacy, Gio, Bell, Lynch, Ball, Lacy. Behrens' bitter hatred toward Le'Veon is stupefying.
Scott – Bell, Martin, Stacy, Murray, Bernard, Ball, Lynch, Lacy.
Dalton – Martin (by far) and then Bernard, Murray, Bell, Stacy, Lynch, Ball and Lacy.
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- Andre Ellington
- Jeremy Hill
- Rashad Jennings