The latest fantasy roundtable video to which I refer you takes up the question of Washington Redskins running back Alfred Morris versus the Cleveland Browns' Trent Richardson. The two second-year backs are ranked ninth and eighth, respectively, in ESPN.com's preseason running backs rankings. And as the panel points out, they are very similar runners in terms of style.
A year ago, of course, this would have been a ludicrous debate. Richardson was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 draft. Morris was the No. 173 overall pick in the same draft. At this point last year, no one outside of the most serious Redskins fans knew who Morris was, and not even they realized he was a legitimate candidate for touches in the Redskins' cluttered backfield.
But Morris finished his rookie season second in the league in rushing yards, and now it's a debate. Do you take Richardson, who stays on the field for third downs and catches some passes but comes with some durability concerns and is playing for a new coach who didn't draft him? Or do you take Morris, who's a non-factor in the passing game but a sure thing to get the ball a ton and pile up yards on first and second downs?
Matthew Berry, an admitted Redskins fan who doesn't hide that allegiance, argues strongly for Morris on the grounds that he outperformed Richardson in fantasy last year and that there's no reason to suspect a production-altering change in scheme or usage. "People don't realize how much a Mike Shanahan team runs," Matthew says, and he's right. Shanahan is determined to lead the league in rushing again this year. Assuming quarterback Robert Griffin III runs less than he did as a rookie, that bodes well for Morris' ability to rack up the yards. Matthew also says of the Redskins coaching staff, "They believe in him in a big, big way," and I think he is correct in this as well.
As is often the case, it comes down to personal preference. Richardson was the No. 3 pick in the draft for a reason. He's a superstar talent, capable of delivering the kinds of big plays for which Morris isn't inclined or asked to try in the Redskins' one-cut rushing offense. If you're looking for upside, Richardson's likely the better play, even though we haven't seen him in the particular offense the Browns plan to run this year. He's not a scheme-specific back. Morris probably is a scheme-specific back, but he's in the same scheme that made him a rookie star. This isn't a "Mike Shanahan running back" thing, where the guy is likely to lose his role without warning. Morris is the man in Washington, and while he may not deliver the high-end spectacular production some of the top backs offer, there are few surer bets in the first round this year.