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Every year fantasy pundits attach memorable slogans to seasons.
Two years ago was dubbed the "Year of the Workhorse Running Back." Last season was coined the "Year of the Butt-Chin (Tom Brady)."
This year will forever be known as the "Year of Rookie Runners" (FYI, the "Year of Denver RB Shredded Muscles" was also considered).
Tagged the most talent-rich ground class in NFL history entering the season, this year's group of rookie rushers didn't disappoint. Matt Forte, Chris Johnson and Steve Slaton were cornerstones on several playoff rosters, finishing fifth, 12th and 13th in fantasy points per game among RBs respectively. Other unheralded youngsters such as Peyton Hillis, Tashard Choice and Tim Hightower yielded a bounty of production at crucial moments during the season. Meanwhile, mid-round draft picks Jonathan Stewart, Kevin Smith and Darren McFadden tallied serviceable points during pivotal stretches.
Next year fantasy owners may construct a shrine to Liberty's little known "Minister of Intense."
Rashad Jennings will be one of those man-crush inspiring backs.
Standing at 6-foot-1, 230-pounds, the powerful senior from tiny Liberty University is a bone-crushing marvel who keeper leaguers need to become familiar with.
In 11 games this season for the Flames, he ran like a man possessed, powering into the end-zone 19 times while averaging 5.7 yards per carry and 153.6 total yards per game. His highlight reel could make any NFL scout, and fantasy fan, salivate.
Jennings, who transferred to Liberty from Pittsburgh after his freshman season to be closer to his diabetic father, just might be 2009's version of Forte. A brawny, versatile back with nimble feet, 4.42 wheels and brute strength, the 23-year-old is a gritty workhorse who relishes contact between the tackles. His bruising downhill style, tackle-shredding ability and plus vision would thrive in any one-cut-and-go system at the next level (e.g. Denver). Built for endurance, he can handle an excessive workload without repercussion or bull through defenders as a power complement in a two-back scheme. Think Michael Turner with better hands. Danny Rocco, Jennings' college coach, described the youngster's talents best to the Roanoke Times earlier this year:
"I feel real confident he's going to make it in the NFL. He plays harder and faster on his 30th carry than he does his 10th."
A religious man, Jennings believes football is his "ministry."
If his game translates seamlessly, come September the Religion of Rashad will have a devout following.
Projected by several publications to land somewhere between the early-second to late-third round, Jennings is the type of back Lucifer Shanahan would surrender a pointed horn for. Relatively unknown and extremely gifted, his tireless approach and all-around skills would mesh perfectly with Denver's zone-blocking philosophy. Other teams with aging plowshares (e.g. Philadelphia, Cleveland and the New York Jets) would also be ideal destinations for the FBS All-American.
Scouts remark his blitz pickup and route-running efforts need to improve, but with a terrific combine, he could vault past much ballyhooed upperclassmen Javon Ringer (Michigan State) and Jeremiah Johnson (Oregon) on front office wish lists.
Outside of Jennings, here are five other backs to keep an eye on this spring:
Knowshon Moreno, Georgia, So.
2008 Stats: 227 carries, 1,338 rushing yards, 5.9 YPC, 27 receptions, 329 receiving yards, 18 touchdowns
Compares to: Cadillac Williams (Pre-injury)
Lowdown: Moreno is one dog that packs a vicious bite. Very likely to toss his name in the draft hat according to insiders, the Georgia sophomore is arguably the most naturally gifted runner in all of college football. An instinctual rusher, his defender-hurdling athleticism, break-tackle toughness and crease-exploding talents will surely attract numerous teams in Round 1 of April's draft. He doesn't possess elite speed (4.48-40), but his strong work ethic and all-around package will likely make him an instant star in any system.
LeSean McCoy, Pittsburgh, So.
2008 Stats: 284 carries, 1,403 rushing yards, 4.9 YPC, 31 receptions, 299 receiving yards, 21 touchdowns
Compares to: Steve Slaton
Lowdown: Although McCoy expressed earlier this month he would like to return to Pitt, this year's relatively weak RB stable could change his mind. After leading all freshmen backs in rushing yards last season, the electric Panthers runner followed with a strong encore performance totaling six games of 140-plus yards and 21 touchdowns. A flexible back with excellent hands, McCoy's shiftiness and tremendous balance make him very dangerous in space. However, because he runs more comfortably on the wings, many scouts question his interior toughness which could unfairly label him a "change-of-pace" back at the next level. Because the league is dominated by timeshares, McCoy would thrive as a slashing component in any two-back system.
Shonn Greene, Iowa, Jr.
2008 Stats: 278 carries, 1,729 rushing yards, 6.2 YPC, 8 receptions, 49 receiving yards, 17 touchdowns
Compares to: Jamal Lewis
Lowdown: This year's Doak Walker winner is a classic, throwback grinder. Standing at 5-foot-11, 235-pounds, Greene is built like a wild boar. A consensus All-American this season, the Hawkeye snowplow averaged a ridiculous 6.2 yards per carry, totaled 17 scores and eclipsed the century mark in every game. Because Greene has only logged 347 carries in his three-year collegiate career, there is plenty of tread left on his tires. Incredibly powerful, he also possesses surprising speed (4.58-40). Greene, who will likely forgo his senior season, is a readymade feature back with the size and strength to carry the rock 20-25 times per game.
Chris Wells, Ohio State, Jr.
2008 Stats: 191 carries, 1,091 rushing yards, 5.7 YPC, 7 receptions, 26 receiving yards, 8 touchdowns
Compares to: A smaller Brandon Jacobs
Lowdown: Wells' "Beanie" nickname may evoke thoughts of a little kid with a propeller hat, but his game is hardly juvenile. At 6-foot-1, 237-pounds the bruising back is a giant shelled-nut who routinely flattens opposing tacklers. A rhinoceros between the tackles, Wells grinds out yards after contact, pushing piles forward with marked ferocity. His tremendous cutback moves and serviceable peripheral speed should transition nicely into the pro game. Durability and consistency concerns are his most glaring negatives, but his physical, straight-forward style could rack a hefty YPC average at the professional level next season.
C.J. Spiller, Clemson, Jr.
2008 Stats: 109 carries, 612 rushing yards, 5.6 YPC, 30 receptions, 430 receiving yards, 10 touchdowns
Compares to: Chris Johnson
Lowdown: Splitting time with James Davis in the Tigers backfield, Spiller is a home-run hitting prospect with breakneck wheels (4.40-40). An extremely versatile back with tender hands that also excels on special teams, he would nestle perfectly into a lightning timeshare role at the pro level. His smallish size (5-foot-11, 193-pounds) and history of hamstring woes are worrisome, but with 10-15 touches, he could prove lethal, especially in PPR leagues. This season at Clemson, he totaled more 100-yard receiving than rushing games.
The Big Noise Big Board
To foster offseason discussion and to stray away from horribly mundane columns about fantasy resolutions or irrelevant end of the year awards, I've kidnapped the Commish's famous "Big Board," forced it to do Jagermeister shots and encouraged it to flirt with homely, yet willing women. Here is a very early look at the Noise's top-59 of 2009 (Stats through Week 16):
|Big Board 59: Football|
|1||Adrian Peterson, Min, RB||Purple Jesus not dominant but deserving of No. 1 pick – 9 100-yard games|
|2||Brian Westbrook, Phi, RB||Battled through injuries myriad to net seven 90-yard and five multi-TD games|
|3||Michael Turner, Atl, RB||Burner, a Round 3 bargain, ignited rosters with 123.7 typg/10 TDs Wks 10-16|
|4||DeAngelo Williams, Car, RB||Little Napoleon conquered all over second half – 17 TDs Wk 7 on|
|5||Matt Forte, Chi, RB||Mr. Universe routinely curled foes – 8+ fantasy points in 14 of 15|
|6||Maurice Jones-Drew, Jac, RB||Possible departure of Fred Taylor catapults MJD's value – PPR dynamo|
|7||Frank Gore, SF, RB||Limited by Martz offense, bum wheel, but totaled 7 100 total-yard games|
|8||Brandon Jacobs, NYG, RB||Football Frankenstein a TD monstrosity – found end-zone in 10 of 13|
|9||Marion Barber, Dal, RB||Toe and Tony Romo's absence labeled him bust – 12-15 TD when healthy|
|10||Clinton Portis, Was, RB||Excessive workload raises red flag but churned out 7 games of 100 total yds|
|11||Chris Johnson, Ten, RB||Midseason swoon briefly ran Captain Quick's ship aground – 100+ yards 7 times|
|12||Steven Jackson, StL, RB||Horrific OL not expected to improve – 14.2 FPPG 9th among RBs|
|13||Steve Slaton, Hou, RB||Slasher plunged dagger into opponents' hearts – 5 100-yard games in last 6|
|14||LaDainian Tomlinson, SD, RB||Turns disaster-filled 30-years-old next year – major Round 1 risk|
|15||Andre Johnson, Hou, WR||Best WR in NFL should see jump in numbers with full year of Schaub|
|16||Drew Brees, NO, QB||Hardly a gentle Brees – totaled 9 300-yard and 10 multi-TD games|
|17||Randy Moss, NE, WR||Cassel's adjustment hindered totals but Brady return means 1200-15 possible|
|18||Marshawn Lynch, Buf, RB||Too often Barbie, instead of Beast Mode, Lynch – 16th in RB FPPG|
|19||Tony Romo, Dal, QB||3-week hiatus took ammo from Rambo's gun, but 22.5 FPPG 2nd-best for QBs|
|20||Larry Fitzgerald, Ari, WR||Sat on jeweled throne of WR consistency kings – 11 games of 10+ fantasy pts|
|21||Joseph Addai, Ind, RB||Susceptibility to injuries curtails value – more of a high-end RB2|
|22||Steve Smith, Car, WR||Master creator in open-field, Smith's 12.6 FPPG ranked third among WRs|
|23||Peyton Manning, Ind, QB||Preseason knee procedures handicapped early numbers – 15 TD passes post-WK7|
|24||Anquan Boldin, Ari, WR||Face and hamstring injuries blackened stellar season – 14.2 FPPG tops at WR|
|25||Pierre Thomas, NO, RB||Unforgettable playoff run only the beginning – 112.8 typg, 9 TDs WKs 11-16|
|26||Roddy White, Atl, WR||Hot Roddy played at high RPM with Ryan at the helm – 11.3 FPPG No. 8 among WRs|
|27||Thomas Jones, NYJ, RB||Behind impregnable O-Line tallied 15 scores and 5 century-mark games – age a concern|
|28||Marques Colston, NO, WR||Thumb injury stymied production, but finished strong to avg. 92.5 ypg in last 6|
|29||Calvin Johnson, Det, WR||Megatron an intelligent machine who could destroy earth with average QB – 12.2 FPPG, 4th among WRs|
|30||Larry Johnson, KC, RB||Alpaca incident and evolving KC offense squashed value – 77.8 rypg, 5 TDs in 11 games|
|31||Reggie Wayne, Ind, WR||Absolutely maddening to own due to lack of scoring, but tallied fifth-straight 1,000-yard season|
|32||Brandon Marshall, Den, WR||Erratic in standard, yet consistent in PPR leagues – 98 catches third-best in NFL|
|33||Tom Brady, NE, QB||Giselle love massages should have knee back in shape for season's start, but nonetheless a risky pick|
|34||Greg Jennings, GB, WR||Speedy downfield threat clearly A-Rod's favorite target – 11.5 FPPG seventh among WRs|
|35||Kevin Smith, Det, RB||"Mallrat" surprisingly effective for winless Hello Kitties – four 100-yard games in last seven|
|36||Ryan Grant, GB, RB||Lengthy holdout and nagging injuries labeled Grant a "bust" – 9.6 FPPG No. 26 among RBs|
|37||Terrell Owens, Dal, WR||Magnet for controversy will be over-drafted based on name – one 100-yard game in '08|
|38||Aaron Rodgers, GB, QB||Transitioned beautifully into Favre-vacated role – nine multi-TD efforts in 16 starts|
|39||Tony Gonzalez, KC, TE||Amazingly productive year-in, year-out – 10.3 FPPG clear frontrunner among TEs|
|40||TJ Houshmandzadeh, Cin, WR||Loss of Carson Palmer sapped value, should rebound to 100-catch, 110- yard, 8-10 TD level next year|
|41||Ronnie Brown, Mia, RB||Heavily underutilized, he's a fringe RB2 entering '09 with Sticky Rickey still lurking|
|42||Jay Cutler, Den, QB||Mile High Machete consistently produced despite hard-partying ways– 22.5 FPPG tied with Romo|
|43||Jason Witten, Dal, TE||Averaged stout 7.3 targets, 4.9 receptions, 60.1 yards per game despite injuries|
|44||Reggie Bush, NO, RB||Injury concerns, general softness tags Reggie RB3 material in non-PPR leagues|
|45||Wes Welker, NE, WR||Heavenly PPR producer's 110 receptions outpaced WR pack – 10 games with 7+ receptions|
|46||Kurt Warner, Ari, QB||Turns 38 next season but Sultan of Stubble should be lock for 27-30 TDs|
|47||Antonio Gates, SD, TE||Never fully recovered from offseason toe surgery, which explains worst season since '03|
|48||Antonio Bryant, TB, WR||Late-season surge thrust Bryant to precipice of Top-10 – 145 ypg, 4 TDs WKs 14-16|
|49||Knowshon Moreno, FA, RB||Incredibly gifted Georgia sophomore would be very appealing in Cle, Ari or Cin|
|50||Dwayne Bowe, KC, WR||Enters third-year as one of game's best – scored 8+ fantasy points 11 times|
|51||Willie Parker, Pit, RB||Derailed by knee setbacks and poor offensive line, eclipsed 10 fantasy points in a game only 4 times|
|52||Philip Rivers, SD, QB||Unbelievably denied Pro Bowl nomination, Rivers tossed 32 TD passes, the most in NFL|
|53||LenDale White, Ten, RB||Baron of Blubber consumed chalk lines as if they were Pixy Stix – TD in 10 of 15|
|54||Dallas Clark, Ind, TE||Spectacular fantasy playoff run critical for Clark supporters – 92 ypg, 3 TDs|
|55||Donovan McNabb, Phi, QB||Still finished in QB top-10 despite tumultuous season – 19.5 FPPG|
|56||Braylon Edwards, Cle, WR||Crisco-secreting WR's numerous drops proved devastating – 7.0 FPPG 35th among WRs|
|57||Le’Ron McClain, Bal, RB||Freight Train most reliable back from Balt's three-headed mongoose – 92.2 ypg, 3 TDs WKs 12-16|
|58||Chris Wells, FA, RB||Powerfully built Ohio St. product could supplant aging Jamal Lewis in Cleveland|
|59||Kevin Walter, Hou, WR||Disrespected wideout quietly effective; finished with more TDs than Andre Johnson, White, Marshall|
SILENCE THE NOISE CHALLENGE RESULTS
Week 16 contestant: Collin from Chicago
Flames: 3-3, 50% (W – Shaun Hill, John Carlson, LenDale White; L – Lee Evans, Jamal Lewis, Trent Edwards (SS))
Lames: 3-2, 60.0% (W – Kurt Warner, Andre Johnson; L – DeAngelo Williams, Maurice Jones-Drew, Tony Gonzalez)
Noisers YTD - Flames: 45-49, 47.8%; Lames: 40-39, 50.6%; Shocker Special: 6-10, 37.5%
Challenge Winners: (Brian from Dallas, Noah from Kansas City, Bill from Indonesia, Zhen from Shanghai, Elliot from Fremont, Calif., Ryan from Ontario and Collin from Chicago)