Cleat Geeks

Can You Trust a Rookie Running Back?

Every fantasy football season we see some players that are hyped way beyond their potential, but we also see some future stars flying under the radar. Although it is hard to predict where each player will finish, it can be even more difficult to determine a rookie’s value. We have never seen these players in an NFL game, only in college hurdling over someone who was never even considered to make the pros. Arguably the most inconsistent position in fantasy football over the years has been the running backs. If you do not land a stud on your team early, you may see just how big of a drop-off there is! Pair the risk of a normal running back with the inexperience of a rookie, and this leads to a lot of headaches. I will share some facts of previous rookie running backs over the past few years with you, and together we will figure out if we can trust a rookie on our team as we pursue a fantasy championship.

rookie rbs

Over the past ten seasons, there have been 40 rookie running backs who compiled at least 150 carries. If you’re not good at math, this means there is an average of four rookies per season who carry the ball at least 150 times. Out of those 40 players, 13 of them finished the year as a top-12 running back and 12 more finished in the top-24. So again, this averages to 2.5 rookies finishing with at least RB2 value every season.

Now Zach, who has done this lately that I would know? Glad you asked.

Only two rookies finished in the top-24 last season in standard scoring leagues, Todd Gurley and David Johnson. Langford, Rawls, and Yeldon all finished five points or less outside of the top-24. Not a single one of these players were ranked as a top-24 running back at the beginning of last season. There were only two rookies ranked in that range: Melvin Gordon and Ameer Abdullah. Obviously, neither guy lived up to the hype.

There were three rookies who were top-24 in 2014: Jeremy Hill, Andre Williams, and Tre Mason. Again, none of these guys were ranked in the top-24 prior to week one, and Bishop Sankey was the only rookie who was.

Although this seems like we should not trust a rookie who is hyped, I do not think this is necessarily true. We just have to look at what they did in college, where they went to college, and what their current situation is in the NFL. As of right now, most have Ezekiel Elliott as an easy RB1, Derrick Henry as an RB3 with upside, then Jordan Howard, C.J. Prosise, Kenyan Drake, and Kenneth Dixon as a tier below that.

I believe Elliott will be a low-RB1 or high-RB2. He played well in college, but he never blew me away. The majority of the Elliott hype actually has very little to do with him. The Cowboy offensive line is clearly the best in the league, but I get nervous if we are basing Elliott’s ridiculously high value on five other people. I will say, he will be a stater for you every single week if he is healthy, and that offers some level of safety that not many running backs can give you. I think McFadden and Morris will steal touches away from Elliott, but the majority will be his. In short, I don’t think you will be unhappy is you draft Elliott where if ADP currently shows, but you could do better.

Now for Henry. He enters the season as the backup to DeMarco Murray. The only way Henry becomes someone with RB1 value will be if Murray gets hurt, so his potential is limited based on someone’s health. I am not willing to bet on a player getting injured, except Wes Welker. That guy gets a concussion every time he sneezes. I see Henry stealing more and more touches away from Murray throughout the season, which kills Murray’s value while not helping his much. I’d stay clear of both players.


Now for that final group. I would place my money on Jordan Howard (Bears) and Kenneth Dixon (Ravens) breaking out. Both are young, talented guys who will make their team better when they set foot on the field. It is kind of a toss-up between the two for me. I think Howard does not have a good player in front of him in Jeremy Langford, so he should be able to beat him out. Unfortunately, coach John Fox does not like to give rookies responsibility right away, so we may be playing a waiting game with Howard. Dixon is playing in an offense that loves to use running backs in every way, and he is a player that can take full advantage of that. We have to see how healthy and how well Forsett moves when he gets on the field, because he will get first rights at that spot.

There’s a lot of information here, so feel free to ask questions in the comments or over on Twitter @FantasyFlurry. I think we should be hesitant to jump on rookie bandwagons before we take everything into consideration. I think Elliott has everything going for him right now, and it’s his opportunity to lose. We know there will be at least one or two more rookies who will finish in the top-24 running backs. I think one of them will be either Howard or Dixon, and the other one will be someone we are not even talking about yet.

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