Adam Levitan

Training Camp Lowdown

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Battle Stations: Running Backs

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

5. Isaiah Pead vs. Daryl Richardson vs. Zac Stacy
We’ve talked a ton about this three-way battle, so I’ll keep this brief. I hit on it here and here, while Evan Silva has commented here and here.

Try to follow this math: There’s a 60 percent chance that one back will emerge from this camp battle projecting to receive 75 percent of the carries.

Note that Pead is suspended for Week 1 and Richardson was listed as the starter on the team’s first depth chart.  Stacy is a fifth-round rookie that the Rams traded up for. Add it all up and we have a real mess on our hands.

I keep going back to this June quote from OC Brian Schottenheimer:

"We're going to try to play to their strengths. With (Steven Jackson) last year, it was a little different. It was harder to do the committee because every time you took him out, you knew you were missing his leadership and his toughness. This year I think we've got nice pieces to try and blend in and differently attack people."

Prediction: The battle ends up too close to call as Week 1 approaches, leaving a true three-headed monster to play situational roles.

Average Draft Position: Pead = 126.6; Richardson = 84.7; Stacy = 129.3

6. Mark Ingram vs. Pierre Thomas
For the third straight year, there’s a lot of buzz in fantasy circles about Mark Ingram. I’m not buying it.

Perhaps the most misguided argument propping up Ingram is that he’ll have more chances now that Chris Ivory is gone. Ivory was only active for six games last year and totaled 40 carries. The year before that, Ivory was active for six games and totaled 79 carries.

You don’t have to be Greg Cosell or Jon Gruden to see that Ivory is a freakish, special talent. So why wasn’t he used more in New Orleans? Injuries played a part, but the Saints could never find a consistent role for him in their scheme.

Ingram has a similar inside, pounding style – except he’s not as explosive and doesn’t break tackles at the same rate Ivory did. He’s averaged 3.87 YPC over the last two seasons vs. 4.81 for Thomas over that span. So why would the Saints carve out a role for Ingram if they didn’t do so for Ivory? He is a liability in the passing game on a team that throws to win.

Prediction: Ingram ran behind Thomas throughout the offseason. Expect that to continue right through September. Thomas wins the starting job handily and shares the majority of backfield work with Darren Sproles. Ingram is brought in to run on predictable running downs, further limiting any breakout appeal.

Average Draft Position: Thomas = 123.2; Ingram = 94.8

7. Rashard Mendenhall vs. Ryan Williams vs. Stepfan Taylor vs. Andre Ellington
I discussed why I don’t like Mendenhall in last week’s ADP overvalued column. He enters camp as the clear-cut starter thanks to his Steelers relationship with head coach Bruce Arians, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be productive. Coming off that ACL tear and subsequent lower-leg issues, Mendenhall lacked burst en route to 3.6 YPC in six games last year.

If Williams is healthy, he’ll provide stiff competition. Of course, that’s a big if. Since becoming the No. 38 overall pick in the 2011 draft, Williams has played in just two games thanks to a torn patella tendon sustained during his rookie preseason. Last year, he was relieved when a shoulder injury ended his year early because he wasn’t confident in his knee holding up.

Taylor is merely a workmanlike runner that missed OTAs and minicamp due to the NFL’s graduation rules. Ellington is someone to watch because he’s explosive, but is more of a perimeter runner.

Prediction: Mendenhall wins the starting job for Week 1, but struggles behind a subpar offensive line and ends up in a committee.

Current Average Draft Position: Mendenhall = 60.5; Williams = 148.5

Adam Levitan is in his sixth season covering football and basketball for Rotoworld. He won the Fantasy Sports Writers Association award for Best Series in 2011 and 2009, and ESPN's overall fantasy football title in 2000. Find him on Twitter.
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