Faceoff: Chris Wells
Chris Smith: Chris Wells is a player that I love heading into this season. My gut is even telling him I have him ranked too low at 9th overall. I see his blend of size, speed and talent and believe he may make a move into the top-five at the position this season.
Last season, he had nine games where he rushed for 5+ yards per carry behind an average offensive line that has been upgraded this season. He scored 7 times on just 176 carries and looked truly special at times throughout the season. The Cardinals brought him along slowly last season and he failed to reach the 20 carry mark in any one game. With those limited touches however he still finished as the 31st best fantasy back and if healthy, he may see his touches double in 2010.
Reasons for optimism this season
- Great fitness: Wells has looked lean and fast throughout the early camps. He has said the right things and wants to improve on his decent rookie season.
- Retirement of Kurt Warner should equal more rushing attempts: With Warner taking the snaps, head coach Ken Whisenhunt was confident in abandoning his typical run-first philosophy for a more aggressive approach. Now that Warner has left however, the Cardinals are ready to switch into a smash-mouth mode of football that is more his style having been a coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
- Offensive line additions: Veteran linemen Alan Faneca and Rex Hadnot have been brought in to provide toughness and improved run blocking and both are capable of opening holes for the rushing attack. The Cardinals run blocking should be much better in 2010.
Overall, I expect the Cardinals to run the ball at least 120 more times this season. Wells should have at least 250 carries but could earn more if he starts out well. The Cardinals also like Hightower to get the ball but there will be more than enough work for both guys this season. Wells will be a top-ten running back at worst in 2010.
Anthony Borbely: Chris Wells is a talented RB, no question about it. In the right circumstances, he could be a top-10 fantasy RB. However, I think the circumstances surrounding Wells this year leaves a lot to be desired. While I expect Wells to see an increase in touches this year, I see multiple obstacles in his way this year. I am on the skeptical side for the following reasons:
- The Cardinals' overall offense is obviously not going to be as potent this year. Kurt Warner's retirement is a huge loss for this team. Matt Leinart may or may do well this year, but the bottom line is this passing offense is not going to be nearly as good. Anquan Boldin is also gone. Now I think Steve Breaston will be a solid replacement, but the overall change from Larry Fitzgerald, Boldin, and Breaston to Fitzgerald, Breaston, and Early Doucet is a major negative. Defenses will have much less respect for the passing game and they know the Cardinals are looking to run more. Linebackers can play closer to the line. That alone will make it tougher to run. Saying they want to run the ball more and actually doing it are totally different things.
- Another factor that needs to be mentioned is the Arizona defense. Linebacker Karlos Dansby, who was arguably the Cardinals' best defensive player last year, left as a free agent. This is a huge loss for the Cardinals. I think their defense is going to struggle to get off the field and that will cut into the time of possession that the offense will have.
- Next is the Tim Hightower factor. I am not a big fan of his talent and there is no question that Wells is a much better runner, but Hightower brings a lot to the table for the Cardinals. He is a great receiver out of the backfield and a much better pass blocker and he will undoubtedly play on passing downs. I am concerned that a player as talented as Wells is still not the starting RB. That tells me that the coaches are more comfortable with Hightower. I realize that could change, but the bottom line is that right now, Hightower is the starting RB.
Overall, I am a big fan of Wells. There is no question he has a ton of talent. But I am not convinced he will see a big enough increase in carries to justify being ranked as a RB1 by so many people. I see about 225 carries and that is why I see him as more of an upper RB2 in the range of RB15 or so. I think ranking him in or near the top ten is a bit optimistic.