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Fantasy Football 2011: Rookie Running Backs

08.14.11 at 2:29 am ET

Today we break down the rookie running backs for redraft purposes and for long term purposes. For those who may not know, redraft leagues draft fresh teams every year and have no carry over players from the prior year’€™s roster. Redraft leagues are, by far, the most common league type.

The 2011 NFL draft featured a large group of very talented tailbacks. This is one of the reasons that many of them went so late in the draft. Why spend a first rounder on what you can get later?

We see at least ten backs that have legit NFL skills and plenty more who can stick on NFL rosters. It’€™s a good year for talented backs. The downer is that most of them went to teams with established talent that must be beaten out or in some cases, like Kendall Hunter’€™s or Alexander Green’€™s, ridden out.

Here’€™s a look at our ten most talented rookie running backs. As I mentioned, there are more talented runners to discuss, so check us out over at next week, when we will release our comprehensive Rookie Reports.

Mark Ingram, RB, Saints

We like him in redraft leagues and he’€™s our top rookie running back for the long term too. The former Heisman winner is a good back and he’€™s multi-skilled, so he fits with the Saints offense perfectly. We doubt he totally dominates the touches in 2011 as Payton likes to rotate a lot, but do we think he gets more than any Saints’€™ back has since the days of the Deuce McAllister. It’€™s all about location and Ingram caught a real break going to the Big Easy. He’€™s a good player to target in all formats. Right now, we’€™d recommend backing him up with Pierre Thomas if your league’€™s roster limits allow it.

Roy Helu, RB, Redskins

In dynasty and long term formats, we are all over this guy, but it might take some time for him to reach the top of the depth chart. It’€™s frustrating, because we think he is ready to roll right away, but Washington seems to be going with veterans Tim Hightower and Ryan Torain for now. Helu is a potential bust-out as soon as he gets the chance.  He has everything we look for in a back. He’€™s fast and he hits the hole. He breaks tackles and has good field vision. The former Cornhusker is one of our favorite backs in the 2011 draft. The fact that he’€™s in Mike Shanahan‘€™s offense is an added bonus.

Ryan Williams, RB, Cardinals

Williams will have a role as a rookie and that helps a lot all leagues. We like him as a dynasty player, but there is the Beanie Wells issue and Wells comes into the 2011 season motivated and healthy. Williams will either have to clearly out-play Wells or wait for an injury. If and when he is the lead back, we like his chances of posting good numbers. There’€™s no doubt that he has NFL ability. Don’€™t bank on him being great right away, but we like his long term. He is a player to watch in preseason action.

Daniel Thomas, RB, Dolphins

Thomas looks like a pretty good back, but with Reggie Bush in town we expect a somewhat split backfield. Thomas has some upside, and is a nice guy to go after in dynasty drafts. He does not have the ability of guys like Shane Vereen, Roy Helu, Ryan Williams, Demarco Murray, Alexander Green or Mark Ingram, but he can be very effective. The addition of Bush may also indicate the role they see Thomas occupying over time. In terms of long term upside, we see him as a RB2 in fantasy but not elite unless the Dolphins do a whole lot of offensive upgrading. That’€™s not to say we don’€™t like this kid. For a big slow back, he does a surprising number of things well. He can catch the ball. He hits the hole very consistently, which speaks to his field vision and coach-ability. Lastly, he can throw the ball, and we know Miami likes to mix it up with wildcat and such. This guy is their new Ronnie Brown and he might be one of the few rooks that yields immediate returns.

Shane Vereen, RB, Patriots

A very solid talent and name to know, but we’€™ll have to see how he performs in camp to gauge his redraft impact. We like him in long term formats as he has a shot at becoming the Pats‘€™ number one in time. He’€™s been injured in camp, so that may slow him down out of the gate. Long term, this kid could be damn good. The issue for fantasy are BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Vereen’€™s fellow rookie, Stevan Ridley, who also possesses NFL skills. The Patriots now have a fully-loaded backfield. After all the drama with Laurence Maroney, they now have two guys who are both materially better backs.

Stevan Ridley, RB, Patriots

This guy has an NFL body for sure. Definitely a player to keep tabs on and he’€™s shown well in camp. In college he flashed solid big back skills and he is very smooth as a receiver too. With Shave Vereen in the fold, Ridley could end up being a fullback in New England, but he has feature back skills. Typical Patriots. As much as we like the guy, BJGE’€™s days as a fantasy force are numbered. Ridley is not much a draft target outside of long term formats, but if he somehow gets carries as rookie, we would expect him to perform well. Remember that if there are injuries in the Patriots backfield.

Delone Carter, RB, Cowboys

The Indianapolis backfield is somewhat undefined and we will be updating Carter’€™s value as things firm up towards the end of August. His potential in the Colts’€™ offense is very good. He’€™s a big strong kid and he runs between the tackles with power. The Colts’€™ offense has lacked a true goal-line back for a long while. Carter’€™s a great pick in long term formats, but he also has potential in 2011 if he ends up with a significant role. We’€™ll be watching this backfield closely in August. Right now, we see this kid as their long term starter and that makes him very appealing in dynasty and keeper leagues.

DeMarco Murray, RB, Cowboys

Dallas’€™ new back can play and he may be their future if he can stay healthy. Of course, he has a lot of competition for touches in the form of Felix Jones, so don’€™t go crazy in redraft leagues. We’€™ll keep a close eye on him in preseason. He’€™s a great guy to nab in long term formats. Murray is natural runner with Marcus Allen-like instincts. He also has speed and an all-around game, which is a great fit for the Cowboy’€™s offense. Dallas may have really stolen a guy here. He’€™s our choice to back up Felix Jones for fantasy in 2011 and if Felix goes down–look out. This kid is a potential stud.

Alexander Green, RB, Green Bay

Do the Packers ever make bad picks? Green’€™s got size and speed and he is the future in Green Bay. We think it’€™s between Ryan Grant and James Starks for right now, but this kid is the best back in Green Bay and we think he’€™s starting for them by next year’€™s opener. Green is a very nice pickup in long term formats–maybe THE best as far as this year’€™s rookie crop is concerned. He will be downright scary in the Packers’€™ offense.  And, if there are injures in Green Bay in 2011, he could surprise as a rookie. He has crazy ability. He’€™s a deep sleeper in redraft leagues and a must have rookie in dynasty.

Kendall Hunter, RB, 49ers

Hunter has stunning ability with the ball in his hands. MJD and Ray Rice have nothing on this guy in terms of cutting ability or balance. He’€™s plenty fast too. Kendall Hunter is going to be a player. He’€™s like Warrick Dunn, but with a better nose for the goal. If the 49ers fail to extend Gore, this guy’€™s value explodes and then it becomes a question of how much time Anthony Dixon would get in a combo backfield. Even in a time split, Hunter could end up being a mini Jamaal Charles in a year or two. Look out for Frisco, folks. Harbaugh’€™s got his first wave of talent. With this kid and Anthony Dixon in house, we doubt Frank Gore sees an extension.

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