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Decisions, decisions. Fantasy owners are constantly faced with them. In Rounds 3-4 of most 12-team drafts, owners interested in acquiring an RB2 will have to make a tough choice. In today's royal rumble, Scott Pianowski, Brad Evans and Brandon Funston go toe-to-toe over rushing curiosities C.J. Spiller, Andre Ellington and Bishop Sankey.
Ding. Ding. Ding. Let the body slams begin ...
Scotty snacks on some Buffalo wings: The first thing to recognize with Spiller is that we're chasing an established upside, not a theoretical one. He was fantasy's No. 7 back in 2012, averaging a ridiculous 6.0 yards a carry. We've seen how good he can be at his best. And entering his Age-27 season (and a contract year, if that matters to you), I'd like to be invested again.
Even a down season from Spiller is still pretty darn good. Although he was held back last year by a persistent ankle problem (not to mention Doug Marrone's learning curve in Buffalo), Spiller still averaged 4.6 yards per tote and was a reasonable flex play most weeks. And we started to see vintage Spiller down the stretch, when his body (and the Buffalo game plan) finally cooperated. He posted 157 total yards and two scores in Week 13 against Atlanta, and he threw 133 yards at the Patriots in the season finale. His YPC for the second half of the year was over five.
Fred Jackson is still around, but come on - he's 33. Bryce Brown is also in town, though his flaws were well exposed in Philadelphia (the Eagles gave him away for almost nothing). Just about everything that could go wrong for Spiller last year did. No worries, we'll enjoy the discount this time around.
Although Spiller won't get the cheap goal-line scores that many other backs do, he'll do enough from outside the 5 to keep you happy. This is the rare player who can score from anywhere on the field, in a variety of ways.
Spill the wine. Take that back.
The Noise gets all hot and bothered in the desert: Nuclear in nature, generally unchallenged and slated to be a featured player in an emerging offense – Ellington possesses the most upside in this exercise.
The former sixth-round pick’s career changed Week 11 versus Atlanta. Against an unstable defense the rookie left Falcon after Falcon in his dust finishing with 162 yards and a touchdown on just 17 touches. The highlight: On a simple belly run, he shuttled toward the hole, saw two defenders, jump cut outside and was off to the races for an 80-yard scoring splash.
That seminal moment encapsulated what Ellington accomplished, in spurts, throughout 2013. According to Pro Football Focus, no rusher in the entire league, not Jamaal Charles, not LeSean McCoy, not Adrian Peterson had a higher percentage of his runs go for 15 or more yards (47.9 percent of his yards gained came on runs of 15-plus yards). Shifty, slippery and almost ghost-like in the open field, he also notched the fourth-best elusive rating among RBs with at least 100 attempts. Overall, his 0.32 fantasy points per snap ranked top-15 no matter position. Throw in his excellent receiving skills, and, suffice it to say, Ellington is an emerging three-down dreamboat.
Bruce Arians’ revelation in May his young rusher will receive 25-30 touches per game was steeped in sarcasm. The media, which has badgered the often snarky coach about Ellington’s workload, was merely throwing a bone. Additional speculation from the Cardinals' website the RB will log 20-22 carries per game is also a stretch. Though he has minimal competition, 16-18 touches per game are most realistic, with a significant chunk of that action coming in the pass game. If he nets roughly 5.0 yards per touch, an easy accomplishment considering what he achieved last year, you’re talking about a 1,400-1,500 total yard RB.
Yes, Arizona’s offensive line, even with the addition of Jared Veldheer, remains a work in progress, but the Cards’ stiff defense certainly helps Ellington’s cause. Having Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd to stretch the field also doesn’t hurt. Spiller and Sankey wish they had that kind of downfield firepower to alleviate the pressure. They would also kill for a competent QB.
Don’t worry about his smallish size and tough division, Andre is sure to be a fantasy giant this fall.
Funbags plays the homer card: Let's start this exercise off up-front with the guys that will be blocking for these running backs. Looking at last season's run blocking grades on ProFootballFocus, Tennessee netted out as the fourth-best unit in the league, whereas both Arizona and Buffalo finished among the bottom eight. It helps that the Titans are in a division where all three of the other teams ranked in the bottom 10 in the league in rushing yards per game allowed. It's a great situation for Sankey to land, and the fact that Shonn Greene, at age 29 and coming off two knee surgeries in the past 10 months, is Sankey's main competition for playing time makes things even better for the rookie.
Sankey, equipped with all the requisite skills to be a featured back, should be the favorite among this trio to lead in touches per game. And he's likely to get the key money carries down at the goal line that the other two backs most likely won't see. Last season, Spiller handle one carry inside the 5-yard line while teammate Fred Jackson amassed 15 such carries. As for Ellington, he didn't take a single handoff inside the 5 (that's out of 118 total carries). Expect Jonathan Dwyer to get the point blank shots for Arizona.
Sankey's not an abovious short yardage option given that he's only 5-foot-9, but he has at least 10 pounds on the other two, and as demonstrated with 26 bench press reps at the combine (second-best among all RBs), he's likely the strongest of these backs. Sankey was a strong between-the-tackles runner at the University of Washington, averaging more than 300 carries and scoring a total of 36 rushing touchdowns in the past two seasons.
I suspect that all three of these backs will compile comparable yards from scrimmage totals, but it's Sankey's higher TD upside that will carry him to a higher rung on the fantasy ladder.