Friday, June 26

Big 12 RB Preview

We take things for granted in Big 12 country, but not every team in America has a 4000+ yard passer, and 65% completions isn't universally considered an off week. In many of these other conferences, they have such a lack of confidence in the quarterback's ability to find even one of his five receivers open, that they just give the ball to someone standing behind the line of scrimmage, and say "have at it!" Most fantasy leagues reflect this passing deficiency, and have several starting spots reserved for such "rushing-backs."

1. Kendall Hunter, OSU
Hunter is the #1 back on the #1 rushing offense in the Big 12. In 2008, he was the only back in the conference to average over 100 ypg on the ground (1555 yds, 16 TD rush) and with most of the key ingredients returning in 2009, he should minimally duplicate those numbers. I'd look for him to break 1700, as the loss of TE Brandon Pettigrew may force the offense to shift plays over to the ground game.

2. DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma
DeMarco Murry was on pace to lead the Sooners in rushing in 2008, were it not for missing the Big 12 Championship Game and the BCS Championship game, a player that was sorely missed in a close setback against the Florida Gators. While the two may produce similar ground totals, Murray caught passes for 395 yards and 4 TDs to Brown's 109 yards and 1 TD - his use as an outlet receiver make him the better fantasy pick.

3. Chris Brown, Oklahoma
Brown led the Sooners in rushing and in TDs scored in 2008. I only have him behind Murray as that is his spot on the depth chart - if Murray stays healthy, I expect slightly better numbers from him. However, Brown is the preferred back in goalline situations. Might be more valuable in leagues awarding bonus points for tasteless Rihanna jokes.

4. Roy Helu, Nebraska
Helu put up 803 yards despite starting 2008 in Marlon Lucky's shadow. Now Lucky's gone, and new QB Zac Lee has minimal experience. The Huskers should be looking to lean on their back with some experience while the offense gels.

5. Jay Finley, Baylor
People who doubt my bold calls for a Bears Breakout in 2009 may shy away from this one, at least for one or two more picks in the conference. But let's look at the facts: Finley rushed for just 207 yards and 3.8 ypc in 2007 before Hope arrived on campus, then exploded for 865 (5.8) and 7 TDs in 2008. He also caught a pair of sweet tosses to the end zone from The Creamster. Folks, Baylor is the storm nobody sees coming in 2009, not only are they going to finish with a winning record but they will produce a pair of 1000 yard rushers. By technicality, they cannot both be Griffin, so this in the next logical choice.

6. Jake Sharp, Kansas
Sharp quietly ran for 860 and 12 in 2008, and should be good for the same this season. If you have your doubts about The Epic Rise of the Bears, draft Sharp 5th.

7. Keith Toston, OSU
Toston largely played mop-up duty in 2008, gaining 686 yards on 6.7 ypc. Towards the end of the season, his ratio of carries relative to Hunter's were increasing, and I expect OSU to focus their offense even more around the ground attack in 2009. Toston might not reach 1000, but he should top 800.

8. Derrick Washington, Missouri
Washington was a 1000-yard rusher in 2008, but he's all that returns of the once-mighty Tigers' offense. He'll get his carries, as Missouri tries to protect sophomore Blaine Gabbert, who's moving up from third on the depth chart to starting QB. But defenses won't be scrambling like mad to cover Jeremy Maclin and Chase Coffman with Chase Daniel's precision passing, so expect the fronts to be a lot sturdier.

9. Darrell Scott, Colorado
Scott had a limited 2008 due to injury problems, and carried just 87 times. Nonetheless, the former #1 RB recruit is expected to be the starter in 2009 for an offense that can't do much other than run the ball.

10. Baron Batch, Texas Tech
Texas Tech had their best rushing year in... forever?... in 2008. Really, the air attack was so good, even for Tech's lofty standards, that teams had to sacrifice run support to contain Harrell's barrage. With a new QB, Michael Crabtree taking off for the NFL, and three new starters on the OL, look for Tech's ground game to falter a bit.

11. Alexander Robinson, Iowa State
Robinson was a 700 yard rusher in 2008, and with Arnaud returning at QB the offense will probably put up about the same numbers.

12. Vondrell McGee, Texas
I feel compelled to mention again that the Big 12 is not a running conference. McGee gained 376 yards in 2008, sharing the workload with now departed Chris Ogbonnaya. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, while McGee's carries should improve, the Texas offense will still be centered around Colt McCoy, and jumbo back Cody Johnson will still be the short yardage specialist. McGee may be looking at 500-700 yards rushing this season, but more would require a fundamental change to the offense like like Greg Davis deciding to limit McCoy's rushing attempts.

13. Cody Johnson, Texas
Johnson was one of four Texas RBs to gain between 250 and 400 yards in 2008, a sign of the offensive philosophy. (giving the ball to the RB is what we do when we not only want to mix things up by not passing, but want to trick the defense even more by not having McCoy run it) Johnson shouldn't put up big yards -- I think Foswhitt Whittaker is going to take over half of Ogbonnaya's carries, and the rest by McGee - but this is the goalline back, and he punched the ball in 12 times last season. In the scheme of things, Johnson scored 12 rush TD, McCoy 11, and all other Texas RBs combined for 10.

15. Rodney Stewart, Colorado
Stewart actually ran for 622 yards in 2008, although he was a non-factor in the non-existent passing game. However, the Buffs' leading back ran for just two TDs. That's because Colorado doesn't score touchdowns - they punt. The Buffs offense is in such disarray, this rushing total may well decrease, and in any case the team certainly isn't putting points on the board.

Things to note:

* Colorado has talent at the RB position and a creative coach who can design plays to open up the field... but star receiver Josh Smith is transferring, and with him go the Buffs' ability to stretch the field.

* Kansas State was a devastating option team under Bill Snyder up until his retirement. The trademark slate of FCS schools is back on the schedule; if you're feeling risky, gamble that the ground stats are back with it.