Rookie RB’s are not easy to predict, many times these guys come in extremely talented but it ends up taking them some time to adjust to the NFL game. Or sometimes they just completely flop. The list is vast of talented Rookie RB’s that were expected to do much, but did extremely little in the NFL. But at the same time, many find success from the jump. Colts RB Edgerrin James led the league in rushing his rookie season back in 1999. Adrian Peterson jumped out the box right away and had a terrific year back in 2007. Also Clinton Portis in 2002, Mike Anderson in 2000 and Alfred Morris in 2012 all had excellent rookie seasons. Last year we had Todd Gurley, David Johnson and Thomas Rawls have productive years. There are many different factors that contribute to a Rookie RB’s success. Opportunity in a great offense, speed, power, agility, patience, etc. A successful Rookie Runner usually has a couple of these attributes going for him. Below are the backs I think have the best chance to be successful this season and as they move forward in their NFL career.
Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans
Derrick Henry is my favorite RB of this rookie class. I feel he is going to be a very special player in this league. He does not have the opportunity that Ezekiel Elliot has playing behind that Dallas Offensive line and being what looks like the #1 RB, but I think Henry is the more talented runner. At 6’3 244 pounds, Henry, who I call “Orc” who were those monster beings in the Lord of the Rings series, has a rare combination of Size and Speed. Yes he only ran a 4.5, but watch his game tape, he runs away from defenders because he has excellent burst and acceleration. He makes great cuts, can stiff arm defenders to the ground and break tackles with consistency. In Dynasty Leagues this guy is a must own player. Currently he is sharing time with/playing behind DeMarco Murray and that obviously will hurt his value for the start of the season. But for where he is going, currently 7th Round ADP, I am willing to draft this guy all day long. I will probably own him in every one of my leagues. He is a special and truly unique talent. I can only draft on talent and hope the situation fully presents itself later. I want the most talented players on my team no matter what the case, and Henry fits the bill.
Ezekiel Elliot, Dallas Cowboys
This is everybody’s fantasy darling this year. In Early drafts, Elliot was going top 3, then top 5, but has consistently been a 1st round draft pick in most drafts. That is a lot to bank on a rookie. Playing behind that Dallas offensive line could he produce an enormous rookie year? Sure, but I am hesitant to take Elliott this high. There have been many backs who weren’t the most talented, but had excellent offensive lines and they in turn had excellent seasons. Elliot does run with some power, is patient, and knows how to hit holes. He is a pretty good receiving back, but his game tape doesn’t overly impress me. Elliot was the beneficiary of some unbelievable blocking while at Ohio State, a lot of his runs were just straight breakaways, or just running through some gigantic holes. But Elliot definitely took advantage of those holes and now is running behind arguably the best offensive line in the NFL. There is no doubt he has great burst, but I am not impressed with tackle breaking ability or his agility.
I am just not willing to invest a 1st round pick on this Rookie RB. Elliot supposedly showed up to camp overweight and then had a hamstring injury that kept him from practicing, but he did play in last nights preseason game, looked pretty good and has another 2 weeks n change to get ready for Week 1. Alfred Morris has also played well running behind this line and is it possible he takes some Goal Line carries or maybe if Elliot has a slow start, Morris takes advantage. Darren McFadden is also looming. Everybody is so sure that Elliott is going to be the complete workhorse early and often, but I am not so sure. I am also not so sure he is going to produce at a high level early on. If Elliot was going in the 4th, 5th rounds I would likely be happy to take him, but because he’s going in the 1st round, I just can’t do it. You have to really wow me as a Rookie for me to take you in the 1st round of a Fantasy Draft and Elliott doesn’t truly wow me at all. Against I draft on talent first, not on situation. Elliot’s talent alone doesn’t justify a 1st round pick for me, despite the opportunity.
Josh Ferguson, Indianapolis Colts
Watch Ferguson play and he stands out on tape immediately. Incredibly fast and agile, this Kid has a chance to perform at a high level. He has struggled through two preseason games so far and also missed a block which is never a good sign, but the talent and situation both equate here. Frank Gore is 33 years old and everybody keeps talking Robert Turbin, but I’m not having it. For where Ferguson is going in drafts he’s worth a pick based on his extreme talent.
CJ Prosise and Alex Williams, Seattle Seahawks
How important is the running game to the Seattle Seahawks? Important enough that they drafted two Rookie Rb’s to go along with Thomas Rawls and Christine Michael. I like both of these guys, Prosise is the shifty agile receiving back while Williams is the power guy like Marshawn Lynch was. Problem here is a very crowded backfield with the talented Rawls coming back soon and Christine Michael unexpectedly producing the way he is this preseason. If you are looking for a guy to draft first it would be Prosise because he could earn a 3rd down role right away. But this backfield is so crowded at the moment and the talent doesn’t justify it enough to get so crazy about these two.
Rob Kelley and Keith Marshall, Washington Redskins
Both of these guys are talented in their own right. Marshall ran a 4.3 40 and is extremely quick. Kelley, the undrafted rookie from Tulane, runs with both power and burst. Both stood out immediately to me on tape. Matt Jones flopped as the starter last year, so please believe that his job is not very secure, plus he’s already hurt right now. Kelley and Marshall were supposed to split carries in last nights preseason game, but Marshall got hurt early in the game, providing an opportunity for Kelley. He produced with 12 carries for over 50 yards and even had a nice block which is a great sign. Kelley is definitely a guy you can get with your last pick in your drafts at this point. Right now he would be ahead of Marshall, but that could change. Either way both of these guys are talented and deserve to be watched. Then again I was all over Matt Jones last year and he failed to produce so maybe I am a sucker for these talented Skins backs. But the Skins offense has vastly improved and chances are that ones of these guys is going to be a factor this season whether it be Jones, Kelley or Marshall.
Kenyan Drake, Miami Dolphins
Do you remember his 95-yard kickoff return TD against Clemson in the National Championship game last year? Drake is a undeniably remarkable talent. He is Reggie Bush with a little less agility and speed but with more power and strength. Drake’s biggest knock is that he is often injured and is currently injured now for the Phins. Arian Foster did look good the other night and is the clear starter, but he has a lot of wear and tear and is very injury prone himself. Jay Ayjaji, Miami’s current backup has failed to impress. I am taking Drake, in an emerging young offense led by Ryan Tannehill, as a late round pick. I love this Kids talent and after all the heartache and injuries he’s experienced, you can’t help but root for him.
Jonathan Williams, Buffalo Bills
Williams runs with solid balance, power and a fair amount of speed. He has good vision and overall just looks like a solid RB. I think he becomes the clear handcuff to LeSean McCoy, especially after the nice TD run he had last night in the Bills 3rd preseason game. Reggie Bush is a shell of his former self and Mike Gillislee isn’t impressive. One note, he did get a DWI back in June, so how that affects him at one point this year is unknown. If you grab McCoy keep Williams in mind as last round handcuff or Week 1 or 2 pickup.
Kenneth Dixon, Baltimore Ravens
Dixon has been praised by teammates like Joe Flacco this preseason as he has flashed his talents. Dixon is a shifty, ferocious, well-rounded RB who is also excellent at catching passes. The Ravens backfield is very crowded with Justin Forsett, Javorious Allen and Terrance West, but you can argue Dixon is the most talented of the bunch. Forsett is aging, Allen is OK, nothing special and West has failed to perform previously in Cleveland. Dixon is another solid late round pick or early FA pickup. The talent once again warrants heavy consideration, especially playing with an established QB like Joe Flacco.
Devontae Booker, Denver Broncos
Booker reminds me of Arian Foster with his one-cut gliding running style. He even does that little bow thing that Foster does. He doesn’t have the best speed but has good vision and runs with good balance. Booker can break tackles and catch passes out of the backfield. He is currently behind C.J. Anderson but has moved ahead of Ronnie Hillman. The Broncos Defense is going to keep this offense in a lot of games so gameflow projects well for the Broncos Running Backs. Booker is a talented runner who deserves late round consideration and is a solid handcuff to C.J. Anderson.
Any other Rookies not listed here such as DeAndre Washington, Jordan Howard, Wendall Smallwood I am not thrilled with and will not be drafting.
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