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Which rookie running back will have biggest impact?

On the heels of Monday's email chain discussing Dan Hanzus' list of the top 30 running backs in football, the Around The League crew is back to debate this year's top rookie running backs. The following was taken from an actual email exchange.

From: Wesseling, Chris

Sent: Tuesday, May 7, 2013 1:00 PM

*To: Sessler, Marc; Rosenthal, Gregg*


While writing the piece on the Broncos choosing Montee Ball over Eddie Lacy, I got to thinking, "which of the two will have a bigger impact as a rookie?" Let's expand that question to include all rookie running backs.

I'm still taking Lacy. The toe injury may be a concern down the road, but it certainly wasn't an issue when Lacy was steamrolling defenses down the stretch in Alabama's championship run. He's the favorite to take over at least the "thunder" role in Green Bay's high-scoring offense, with perhaps fourth-rounder Jonathan Franklin as "lightning." I'd say double-digit touchdowns aren't out of the question, but the Packers understandably like the ball in Aaron Rodgers' hands inside the 10-yard line. I still expect Lacy to be the leading rusher among NFL rookies.

MS: While still mourning the hate crime you two committed on Hanzus on Monday, I'll take my chances on Ball.

Sound chatter on Lacy, Wess, but he'll split too many carries with Franklin to lead the league in rushing. I see Denver parting ways with Willis McGahee and plugging Ball into the lineup to play the featured-back role.

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Elway is shaping this offense off what he knows: A late-30-something future Hall of Fame quarterback paired with a productive bell-cow. It worked in the late 90s, and it will work again.

GR: Poor Hanzus. He had to take the day off after yesterday's performance. This question doesn't figure to have the same body count because there are too many great answers to the question. For me, it comes down to Giovani Bernard in Cincinnati and Le'Veon Bell with the Steelers.

The Bengals offensive line is one of the best in the league, and that offense is screaming for big plays from the position. Bell is the heavy favorite to play all three downs for an underrated offense. Bell is my pick, but there's not a lot of separation.

MS: Bell is a juicy pick. I'm not sold on Bernard as league-leading material, mainly because Law Firm's still hanging around and I don't trust that offense.

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Last year at this time, if I told you Alfred Morris -- the 12th back taken -- would lead all rookies in yardage, you two would have ProFootballFocus'd me to death.

So my dark horse pick behind Ball? How about this year's 12th back, Zac Stacy, in St. Louis? With just Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead ahead of him -- and a Steven Jackson-sized hole to fill -- Stacy has a shot to make some noise.

GR: Stacy is a nice sleeper pick. And he fits into a mold in this draft class of classic, three-down backs that landed in nice spots. The trend in the NFL is supposed to be going away from the 300-carry, workman-like backs. But guys like Bell and Ball both were drafted to be three-down bruisers on playoff contenders. Perhaps we could trend back away from so many committees.

(And if we're talking draft sleepers, I'll roll with Andre Ellington in the sixth round to Arizona.)

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CW: I keep seeing speculation that the Broncos will cut Willis McGahee, but I don't buy it. Did John Fox suddenly lose his veteran running back fetish? I'm not sure Ball will ever be a three-down back in Denver. He won't be trusted on passing downs as a rookie, and that should be Ronnie Hillman's role in the future.

Arizona is certainly fertile ground for a sleeper, with injury-prone backs Rashard Mendenhall and Ryan Williams atop the depth chart, but I could see Stepfan Taylor getting the call before Ellington, who seems like "just a guy" to me.

I'm on record as predicting a breakout 2013 season for Isaiah Pead, so I'm skeptical of the Zac Stacy call.

GR: McGahee is turning 32 years old coming off a compression fracture and a torn MCL. Although it's a fair point about John Fox. He might only consider that a flesh wound.

CW: Let's wrap it up on that quip.

Follow Chris Wesseling on Twitter @ChrisWesseling.

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