Of course we save the best for last. Everyone loves running backs because they usually provide the solid foundation for fantasy teams. It is also the position that will be the most scrutinized by fantasy owners. So we needed to make sure we dotted our I’s and crossed our T’s.
First off let me say that I’m excited about this year’s crop of backs. The combination of talent and opportunity is very promising for fantasy owners. Our top ten freshmen backs are all long on potential and draft-worthy in just about any league.
Depending on how they perform when they strap on the pads this spring and fall, Jarvis Giles and Edwin Baker could end up in our top 30 running backs when it is all said and done. Our top rated freshman back last year, Darrell Scott, only checked in at #43. So we are putting higher expectations on this year's freshman class. Unlike last year when we had LeGarrette Blount checking in at #37, the JUCO ranks don't look as strong.
With that, here is initial look at the running back class for 2009.
Top Eight for 2009
RB Jarvis Giles, South Carolina
Jarvis Giles could be the spark coach Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks have been missing the last four seasons. Giles is a shifty back with breakaway speed. He hits the line of scrimmage hard and fast, and he’s arguably one of the most electric backs in the 2009 class. He has the most impressive film of all the backs I've seen this year. He's also on campus early, which is a huge plus. Prospectus: The Gamecocks need a playmaker on offense, and coach Steve Spurrier will give Jarvis every opportunity to be that guy this fall.
RB Edwin Baker, Michigan State
Last year at this time I was high on underrated Alabama running back Mark Ingram because of his rare blend of size and speed. Well, Edwin Baker is cut from the same mold. With the hole left by Javon Ringer, Baker, like Ingram, could easily be one of the top freshman running backs in 2009. The big concern with Baker has been his durability. Knee injures derailed both his junior and senior years. Despite the injuries, Baker cranked out six games with over 200 yards rushing, including a career high 462 performance in one week during his senior year. The last two years Baker has averaged an eye-popping 11.4 yards per carry. With legal woes looming over Glenn Winston, Baker has a combination of talent and opportunity. Prospectus: Barring a setback you will see Baker early for the Spartans.
RB Cierre Wood, Notre Dame
Besides Armando Allen catching balls out of the backfield, Notre Dame's running backs have been anything but awe inspiring under coach Charlie Weis. Cierre Wood could bring an end to the musical chairs we've witnessed the last two years. Wood has great vision, follows his blocks well and has a lethal cutback. His best asset might be his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, a trait that will serve him well in the Notre Dame offense. Like Jarvis Giles, Wood has big play ability and the Irish are in need of an impact player at running back. Prospectus: He will compete for carries this fall and could be a fantasy gem.
RB Chris Whaley, Texas
Mack Brown and fantasy owners are still in search of the next great Longhorn tailback. The quartet of backs trotted out last fall was long on promise and short on production. Opening the door for the physically imposing Chris Whaley to step and grab the proverbial bull by the horns (get it...Longhorns...I'll save the jokes for Brian). Whaley checks in at 6-3 and 230 pounds...a serious man-child. He rushed for 1,910 yards and 24 scores as a senior. And while he is big enough to bull you over, his preferred method of reaching the end zone is simply running past you. Prospectus:Could bust on the scene and allow Colt McCoy to spend more time in the pocket while Whaley piles up yards and scores on the ground.
RB Christine Michael, Texas A&M
Christine Michael is an explosive runner who gets up to speed quickly. At 5-11 205 pounds he is physically ready to play right away. While he can make cuts and take it to the outside, he's at his best when using his power running straight ahead. Michael is a back the Aggies could lean on. Prospectus: Michael will compete with Cyrus Gray for carries in 2009. The question is will they show a commitment to the run game in 2009?
RB Jaamal Berry, Ohio State
The departure of Beanie Wells has left a hole that many (including us) believe will be filled by Daniel Herron. However, incoming freshman Jaamal Berry should not be ignored. He's a departure from the power backs we've grown accustomed to and that are currently on the Buckeye roster. He'd rather make you miss than run you over. He moves with good balance and pad level, which make him an effective runner between the tackles. Prospectus: He's a change of pace from Herron and Bradon Saine, which could create a logjam at running back for the Buckeyes.
RB Bryce Brown,
Brown is considered by most recruiting experts to be the top running back prospect in the class of 2009. Brown put his skill on display in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, catching two long touchdown passes of 60 and 41 yards. The question is where is he going to go? Considered to be a strong Miami lean, Brown is taking his time deciding between the Canes, Kansas State, Oregon, USC, Tennessee and Auburn. Prospectus: He needs to pick a school before we can make an assessment. And I'm am not going to lie, the fact that he has a 'handler' has me a bit leery.
RB Larry Caper, Michigan State
Larry Caper rounds out what is one of the top running back classes in the country for the Spartans. On film Caper is not going to electrify you with his top end speed or flashy spin moves. He also frequently takes his runs a little too much to the outside for my taste. Something I was critical of Notre Dame recruit Jonas Gray for last year. However, Caper is a Coach Dantonio back, a workhorse who is capable of carrying the ball 40 times a game if need be. This is something he did on multiple occasions in high school. The Spartans are in need of a running back in 2009, and Caper has been a durable runner the last four years. Prospectus: The fact that we have two Spartan running backs in our top ten speaks volumes to how much they like running the football, and the hole they currently have with the departure of Javon Ringer. If Baker, Caper or returner Glenn Winston can separate himself this fall, you'll have a top fantasy back on your hands. Keep in mind we could also be looking at the dreaded split carries.
The Best of the Rest
We could go on for days regarding highly touted prospects like Trent Richardson and sleepers like Desmond Scott, Arthur Burns and Kendial Lawrence. But there is a long way to go between now and August, so stay tuned, as we'll have more on these newcomers later.
RB Trent Richardson, Alabama
RB Desmond Scott, Duke
RB Lonnie Pryor, Florida State
RB Patrick Hall, USC
RB Lamar Miller, Miami
RB Montrell Conner, Mississippi State
RB Eric Stephens, Texas Tech
RB De'Antwan Williams, Rutgers
RB Arthur Burns, Washington State
RB Kendial Lawrence, Missouri
RB Michael Ford, LSU
RB Dexter Pratt, Oklahoma State
RB David Wilson, Virginia Tech
RB Washaun Ealey, Georgia
RB Mike Gillislee, Florida
RB Knile Davis, Arkansas
RB Hasan Lipscomb, Minnesota
RB Ronnie Wingo Jr., Arkansas
RB D.J. Adams, Maryland
RB Timothy Flanders, Kansas State
RB Al-Terek McBurse, Purdue
RB Lamon Muldrow, San Jose St. (JUCO)
RB Dasarte Yarnway, California
RB Daniel Jenkins, Arizona
RB Teric Jones, Michigan
RB Adaris Bellamy, South Florida
RB Bradley Battles, South Florida
RB Onterio McCalebb, Auburn (prep)
RB Glasco Martin, Baylor
RB David Oku, TBD
RB Eddie Lacy, Alabama
RB Jeremy Smith, Oklahoma State
RB Leonard Mason, Colorado State
RB Brandon Wegher, Iowa
RB Damien Thigpen, UCLA
RB Fitzgerald Toussaint, Michigan
RB Chris Thompson, Florida State
RB Kendrick Hardy, Southern Miss
RB Roderick McDowell, Clemson
RB Tavon Austin, West Virginia
RB Lou Greenwood, Colorado State
RB Ben Axon, South Carolina
RB Stepfan Taylor, Stanford
RB Tyler Gaffney, Stanford