Spotlight: Chris Wells

posted by Andrew Garda on Jul 3rd


Andrew Garda's thoughts

Chris 'Beanie' Wells had a decent rookie season in 2009 considering he was behind a back with a year's experience on him and playing for a team which was geared towards passing the ball. Wells began slowly but by mid-season he was putting up some pretty consistent fantasy points and had pretty much supplanted Tim Hightower as the lead running back. With a natural progression in the same offense, fantasy owners could have expected that Wells would be taking the next step forward.

Instead, the Cardinal's situation changed radically as quarterback Kurt Warner has retired, leaving a question mark in the form of Matt Leinart in his stead. Meanwhile, hard-working Anquan Boldin has also left and while Steve Breaston is a solid receiver, he also possesses a different skill set.

The offense is likely to change, but how - and more importantly how does that change affect Wells? First, the quarterback position. Matt Leinart has struggled a lot in his time in the desert - so much so that some sources like Adam Schefter think he might not even end up with the job. If that's the case - well really I don't know it changes much. Derek Anderson isn't much of an upgrade anyway.

Regardless of who the signal caller is, we can be sure that the quarterback position will see a dip in productivity and effectiveness. It's possible Leinart or Anderson come in and shock the world but it's also unlikely. You just don't go from Warner to an unproven player and not have some speed bumps, but it may also work to Wells' advantage. After all, it's unlikely the Cardinals will keep Leinart/Anderson throwing 500 plus times in a season like they had Warner doing the last couple of years.

Especially since, not only have they lost a quarterback who had really returned to form the last three years but a solid and reliable wide receiver in Anquan Boldin. I like Steve Breaston a lot, but again, he brings different skills to the table. Behind him is oft hurt Early Doucet and unproven (though intriguing) Andre Roberts. While Breaston can replace Boldin's production, the rest of the corps is getting thin. Again, I think this hurts the new quarterback and is a concern for the overall productivity of the offense.

Here's where this chaos could benefit Wells.

In order to limit the risk of too many turnovers and not enough production, the Cardinals will run. They won't suddenly morph into the Jets or Panthers, but they will run more. It'd be hard not to, considering they were last in the the league in attempts and attempts per game as well as 28th in total yards on the ground with a 4.1 in yards per carry. Even if everyone was comfortable with the quarterback situation, it's likely with some of the question marks beyond that position and with the incredibly small production from last year that the team would look to improve the output from the running backs.

This team will improve both because the offense will demand it, but also because from where they are starting (the bottom) there's nowhere to go but up. We haven't even really touched on Wells himself and what he can do. Chris Wells has a great combination of size and power and very good speed to boot. He's not a fantastic receiver but is better than the 12 catches he had last year. He's no Brian Westbrook, but he's a far cry from incompetent catching the ball. If he can stay healthy he will be the lead back in this offense. Hightower can play well, but we've seen his ceiling and it's not terribly high.

As the season progressed, Wells took over the majority of the carries, including red zone looks. In the last half of the season, he had 22 to Hightower's 18. Not a huge difference, but a shift nonetheless and one which will continue in 2010 as Wells is a more powerful and reliable runner.

Another positive amidst all the tumultuous change is the addition of Alan Faneca to the offensive line - also another sign the Cardinals mean to run. Faneca is a very solid run blocker and should improve the effectiveness of the ground attack. His pass blocking as Lammey would say is...not so very good. In fact, as a pass blocker he does a good imitation of a turnstile. But he is a big boon to this rushing game and will help improve the overall numbers generally and Wells' numbers specifically.

Positives

  • Ability - Wells can do it all. He can run with power and authority, catch the ball and flash the big plays. A guy like this will get used the majority of the time because when you give him the ball he gets positive yards, keeps his legs churning and you know good things will happen.
  • More emphasis on the run - With a lackluster group of potential signal callers, the Cardinals will try to limit the damage via running the ball which will create more opportunities for Wells to show off the aforementioned skills and cause some damage.
  • Lack of real competition - The only place Tim Hightower beat Chris Wells was in receptions and while I think he'll still hold that edge, even that might be a smaller gap than last season. Virtually everything Hightower can do, Wells can do better. We've seen Hightower's ceiling and it isn't high enough to threaten Wells anytime soon.

Negatives

  • Poor Passing Offense - On the one hand, a worse passing offense will mean more carries. On the other hand, it means more eight man fronts, more defenses keying on the run game and more focus on Wells himself. Even great backs can only do so much and Wells is still learning what it might take to be great.
  • Still Second Bananna - For now, Wells is second on the depth chart while Hightower gets a bunch of first team snaps in OTAs. This could be a bump in the road and something which will reverse itself in Training Camp. Or it could be the Cardinals are worried about Wells' ability to carry the full load over 16 games.
  • RBBC split - Hightower may not be the back Wells is, but he's there and he'll take some carries as well as potentially vulture some touchdowns. We expect the team to run more, but the Cardinals barely ran the ball in 2009. Even a significant amount of new touches may not amount to much in the grand scheme of things and may not be enough for two effective fantasy backs. In that case, Hightower's presence could cause problems for Wells' production.

Final thoughts

The situation seems a little murky with question marks at quarterback, offensive line, defense and even wide receiver. But Wells is too talented to be held back for long by that. While his numbers may be lower than what they could be on a team that has it together a little more, we've seen backs produce on bad or mediocre teams plenty of times. Hightower will not last long ahead of Wells and even if he 'starts' all season long, he'll likely be starter in name only while Wells gets the lion's share of carries. The offense will keep Wells from becoming a top fantasy running back, much less an elite one. But he should be an outstanding RB2 with the upside for bigger and better things.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

Iwannabeacowboybaby! said:

I was impressed in what I saw with Beanie Wells last year. The cream usually rises to the top and that's what happened in the Phoenix backfield last year and Wells emerged as their best RB. I feel like Arizona got rid of a lot of talent from last year's team and I really wonder how that will effect their team on and off the field. Will they fall behind and abandon the run? Will Leinart be able to handle the pressure and keep the team in games?

I'm a little scared to draft Arizona players at this stage of the season at where I have to pay for Fitz and Wells. If these guys actually have a good season, my guess is Leinart will end up being a fantasy steal and I'm not sure he will be.

rzrback77 said:

Arizona's running game has long been ranked in the lower tiers. For the past few seasons, there has been a slight uptick and there is constant chatter that their Pittsburgh West coaching staff longs to have a run first mentality. There is much more talk of that this off season with Kurt Warner's retirement and the trading of Anquan Boldin. Let's look first at the trends that have developed over the past three seasons.

07 - 357 comp 591 att 60.4% 4220 yds 7.1 ypa 32 TDs 24 int 401 rushes 1450 yds 3.62 ypc 9 TDs
08 - 417 comp 628 att 66.4% 4846 yds 7.7 ypa 31 TDs 15 int 339 rushes 1179 yds 3.48 ypc 14 TDs
09 - 393 comp 595 att 66.1% 4205 yds 7.1 ypa 28 TDs 18 int 363 rushes 1480 yds 4.08 ypc 15 TDs

The running game was by far the most effective in 09, rushing for over half a yard per carry more than the year before. They also scored more TDs on the ground. The split between the two RBs was quite a bit different as the year wore on.

Consider that the first half of the season

Hightower 8 gms 78 rushes for 283 yds 3.63 ypc 52 targets 40 catches 307 yds 7.68 ypc 5 TDs
C. Wells 8 gms 70 rushes for 310 yds 4.43 ypc 5 targets 4 catches 17 yds 4.25 ypc 1 TDs

Definite advantage to Hightower with Wells better only at rushing yards per carry

Moving on to the second half

Hightower 8 gms 65 rushes for 315 yds 4.85 ypc 28 targets 23 catches 121 yds 5.26 ypc 3 TDs
C. Wells 8 gms 108 rushes for 483 yds 4.56 ypc 11 targets 8 catches 126 yds 15.75 ypc 6 TDs

Hightower's only advantage in the second half was yards per carry and it was slight. Chris "Beanie" Wells managed 62.4% of the rushing attempts and also was more productive in the passing attack with a few long gainers. I think that these ratios will continue. I also think that the Cardinals defense will be better and combine that with my lack of trust for Lienart, I believe Mr. Wells will be very productive in 2010, especially in the red zone. At his current ADP of RB 13 and 27 overall, I may be buying.

Go deep said:

While i agree that Mendenhall and Moreno are in the same tier, i think Wells is easily in a tier above them. He just looked better than both even if it was a small sample size. He looks explosive for his size, and reminds me more of Jonathan Stewart. His offense scares me a bit, but with Fitz still there, the safeties wont be able to cheat up in the box. The Cardinals said they will run the ball more this year, and with Warner gone, i cant imagine they wont at least try. Hightower doesn't scare me much, he just isn't a very good runner. He will definitely get his share of receptions, and may steal the occasional TD, but there will be plenty of touches for Wells to be a top 5-10 RB.

MrTwo94 said:

As they say in the NFL, if you're not getting better, you're getting worse. Well, the Cardinals didn't leave us wondering. They clearly got significantly worse on both sides of the ball. The luxury of running the ball just may not be theirs next year. Sounds really nice, but if you can't get it done on defense and you struggle to convert third and longs then you aren't going to be pounding it down people's throats all season long as most Beanie fans expect.

In the last 3 years the Cards have had 366, 306, and 328 RB rushes (3.7 ypc, 3.6 ypc, and 4.3 ypc) to go along with 591, 628, and 595 passes. If the running game becomes more predictable and the passing threat becomes weaker then anything more than 4.0 ypc is going to be hard to expect. An increase in turnovers from the QB position will probably lead to less total plays and less trips to the red zone. They've averaged 15 rushing TDs in the last 3 years. I'd say 12 total is the most you can expect this year.

I like Beanie as a runner and I don't expect Hightower to continue to get the majority of goal line carries. I think the only think keeping Beanie from greatness is Arizona. (I mean, he'd have a rough go in StL, too, but put him on a good team and he's dynamite).


Chris Wells projections

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