One of my favorite players coming into this season is Cardinals running back Andre Ellington, and I plan to target him in all drafts. His Average Draft Position will likely be Round 4 or 5, but I'll look at him in Round 3.
He has that much potential.
Ellington goes from playing behind Rashard Mendenhall as a rookie in 2013 to being featured this year ahead of Stepfan Taylor and Jonathan Dwyer behind a revamped offensive line. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians recently told me at the NFL owners meeting that Ellington is "very similar" to Jamaal Charles in his skill set, which is exciting.
"His skill set is so unique," Arians said. "I don't think even he knew how good of a receiver he was. ... He's not a guy you're going to pound into the middle 30 times a game and survive. You'd rather have him catch 10 passes and get 20 carries and let Stepfan Taylor or Jonathan Dwyer pound the ball in there. You see mismatches all throughout the league with tight ends, but I remember when that was a running back. You did those same things with running backs because they had a skill set that a safety or linebacker couldn't cover. It's going to be fun with Andre seeing how people cover him."
After hearing Arians talk, a better comparison for Ellington isn't Charles but more C.J. Spiller in 2012. That season, Spiller had 207 carries for 1,244 yards and six touchdowns and 43 catches for 459 yards and two touchdowns. He averaged 6.0 yards per carry and 10.7 yards per catch.
Ellington last year averaged 5.5 yards per carry and 9.5 yards per catch. His yards per carry was the best among running backs with at least 100 carries.
The rest of Ellington's stats were as follows: He was the No. 24 Fantasy running back in standard leagues with 118 carries for 652 yards and three touchdowns and 39 catches for 371 yards and one touchdown. By comparison, Mendenhall had 217 carries for 687 yards and eight touchdowns and 19 catches for 134 yards.
If you give Ellington the 99 additional carries that went to Mendenhall he would have run for 1,197 yards. Those additional 55 Fantasy points would have put him at No. 13 in Fantasy points, and that doesn't take into account any additional touchdowns.
Hopefully you're getting excited, but wait there's more.
I recently spent time with Ellington while he worked out with noted NFL trainer Tony Villani at XPE Sports in South Florida. Ellington is working on his speed and explosion and trying to gain an additonal 5-10 pounds on his 195-pound frame. He also took extra reps on the Jugs machine to keep improving on his receiving skills.
Ellington said he hopes to remind people of Chris Johnson, Charles and LeSean McCoy because "they're real shifty, not big guys, but they make the biggest impact on the field. That's something I like to do."
He's going to get that chance this season.
"(Last year) was good," he said. "It gave me an idea of where I stand. It laid out a foundation for me. I'm a guy that always tries to do better than what I did in the past. Since I had that pretty good season last year, it's only right that I have a better one next year. It's just something that will motivate me for next season."
Villani, who has trained Ellington since he finished school in Clemson, said Ellington spends time working on his routes with Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter, who helps out at XPE Sports. Villani said Ellington wants to be great, and he knows his career is just starting.
Ellington is looking forward to a big season in 2014.
"It's going to be a challenge, but what's life without a challenge," he said. "That's how I approach everything. I'm willing to work, and I'm willing to get better."
I'm buying in, and Ellington is someone you should target in all your leagues as well. He might not live up to the hype, but the potential is there for him to be a star.