Aug 12, 2014
Over the last week, we posted a poll asking you which RB sleeper candidate was at the top of your targets list. The results varied throughout the week and Falcon rookie RB Devonta Freeman led most of the way, but things certainly changed after a full week of preseason games:
As you can see, the final results put 49er rookie RB Carlos Hyde at top when it was all said and done with Freeman trailing by a significant margin, although he was still way ahead of Brown rookie RB Terrance West and Seahawk second-year RB Christine Michael. Was this an overreaction to one preseason game? Are there concerns about Freeman’s pass protection? Did the end of Marshawn Lynch‘s quick holdout sour some on Michael? Let’s take a look at each player’s projections (as of 8/12), what they did in the first preseason game, and news that has come out during training camp.
Carlos Hyde, SF (120 carries, 565 rush yards, 6 rush TDs, 16 receptions, 95 rec yards) – With Frank Gore sitting out, Hyde got the start in the 49ers’ first preseason game and was impressive, rushing five times for 39 yards against the Ravens. He quickly showed that he’s more than a between-the-tackles runner, as he showcased his underrated speed to the outside on his 19-yard run. With the 49ers losing RB Kendall Hunter (torn ACL) for the season and RB LaMichael James (elbow) until at least Week One, Hyde’s value shot up, which was to be expected, but his performance with the first-team offense in the preseason game really got people talking. We love him for the long-term, but wouldn’t be surprised to see him play an important role in 2014, although the team is in no hurry to move on from Gore, who’s in a contract year.
Devonta Freeman, Atl (150 carries, 660 rush yards, 4.5 rush TDs, 28 receptions, 265 rec yards, 1 rec TD) – It wasn’t surprising to see Freeman take the early lead in the poll with Falcon RB Steven Jackson suffering a significant enough hamstring injury early in camp that HC Mike Smith wouldn’t commit to Jackson playing before Week 1. With Jackson on the downside of his career, it was easy to get excited about Freeman’s chances, especially since the Falcons haven’t gotten much out of RB Jacquizz Rodgers. Freeman’s performance in the first preseason game (10 carries, 50 yards, 57-yard reception) certainly wasn’t a problem, but his perceived value may have dropped with Rodgers getting the start and RB Antone Smith getting snaps early in the game. Freeman showed nice wiggle and speed to the outside, but he also runs with toughness, and he runs a little bigger than his size. That was exactly what our college tape study of him showed, and it was good to see it on display in his first game. Our concern, as it is with every young back, is Freeman’s ability to pass protect, which OC Dirk Koetter said was the biggest adjustment going from college to the pros and said that Freeman just “okay” in his protection. That will be something to monitor throughout the preseason.
Terrance West, Cle (155 carries, 675 rush yards, 4 rush TDs, 18 receptions, 135 rec yards, .5 rec TD) – West has been getting love since the minute the Browns drafted him, which was warranted considering RB Ben Tate‘s injury history and the concerns about the passing game if WR Josh Gordon misses significant time with a pending suspension. While Tate is expected to start, the coaching staff, specifically HC Mike Pettine, has talked up West with Pettine highlight his pass-catching ability and RB coach Wilbert Montgomery comparing him to Brian Westbrook, who was a fantasy superstar in his own right. West didn’t start the preseason opener, but did get some time with the first-team offense, and ended up finishing with 10 carries for 22 yards and a catch for 8 yards. He did get blown up behind the (backup) offensive line a few times, and it was not his fault. But otherwise, he looked very, very good. West moved pretty well and ran hard and with patience. Even if West doesn’t end up as the starter, we’d expect the Browns to give him a significant role, especially if the passing game looks weak with Gordon.
Christine Michael, Sea (100 carries, 465 rush yards, 4 rush TDs, 15 receptions, 130 rec yards) – Michael has been on the radar since the Seahawks drafted him last season, but we preached patience since Lynch was still performing at a high level. The buzz picked up during the off-season with OC Darrell Bevell mentioning a committee approach during a fan event, although that comment seemed to be blown way out of proportion. Things had died down with Michael until Lynch’s holdout, but that ended rather quickly, although Lynch is now being investigated for alleged assault. Lynch sat out the opening preseason game, and RB Robert Turbin, who is still listed ahead of Michael on the depth chart, got the start in the opener. Michael flashed like he always does, but he cost the team 15 yards on a chop block only to follow that up with a fumble after catching a screen pass. So even though HC Pete Carroll told us at the combine that he’s going to push everyone on the roster for playing time, we don’t think he can be drafted with an expectation that he can help you early in the season, which is why Michael is listed in our overvalued article. We do think he’s more than a sexy stash-and-hope back, and he could be a nice changeup option in this backfield with 5-6 carries a game. But he’s also someone who will be drafted over some productive and more-valuable players.
Did you vote in the poll? Have thoughts, questions, or comments? Leave them below. Our newest poll deals with breakout TEs and we’ll detail the results of that next week.