Nearly every Fantasy Football season, there are at least a couple of rookie running backs that have fortified a Fantasy team’s run into the playoffs. But this Class of 2012 Rookie Running Backs is finishing up the season as one of the best. Two of these running backs are guaranteed to be drafted in the first rounds of 2013 Fantasy Football drafts, and a third is certain to be picked up in the second round.
That’s quite a boost of talent added to a position that lost Fred Jackson and Ryan Mathews to injury this year, along with several players that took a big step back Fantasy-wise.
Let’s first take a look back at rookie running backs from the past 10 seasons.
Fantasy Rookie Running Backs From 2002-11
Top 20 Rookie RB Fantasy Efforts Since 2002
|Players in CAPS still playing|
|Rk||Year – Players||FPts|
|1.||2002 – Clinton Portis, DEN||289|
|2.||2008 – Matt Forte, CHI||244|
|3.||2012 – DOUG MARTIN, TB||243|
|4.||2007 – Adrian Peterson, MIN||239|
|5.||2006 – Maurice Jones-Drew, JAC||228|
|6.||2008 – Steve Slaton, HOU||226|
|7.||2008 – Chris Johnson, TEN||209|
|8.||2012 – ALFRED MORRIS, WAS||207|
|9.||2012 – TRENT RICHARDSON, CLE||204|
|10.||2006 – Joseph Addai, IND||189|
|11.||2003 – Domanick Davis, HOU||186|
|12.||2002 – Marcel Shipp, ARI||179|
|13.||2006 – Reggie Bush, NO||177|
|14.||2007 – Marshawn Lynch, BUF||177|
|15.||2008 – Kevin Smith, DET||174|
|16.||2009 – Knowshon Moreno, DEN||170|
|17.||2004 – Kevin Jones, DET||167|
|18.||2005 – Cadillac Williams, TB||162|
|19.||2008 – Jonathan Stewart, CAR||148|
|20.||2005 – Ronnie Brown, MIA||144|
2011 — Last season, we didn’t have ONE rookie rush for over 1,000 yards. This season, by contrast, we have THREE finish over the century mark. Only one rookie from 2011 had at least three rushing touchdowns (Mark Ingram, five TDs), compared to three rookie running backs that rushed for 10 touchdowns in 2012. Only DeMarco Murray became a high draft pick in his sophomore season. Roy Helu tied Murray in Fantasy points, but the Redskins running back situation was too muddled this preseason to make him a high pick.
2010 — LeGarrette Blount came out of nowhere to be the only rookie to rush for 1,000 yards — and he did that in just 13 games and only seven starts. Ryan Mathews led rookie running backs with seven rushing touchdowns, as a running back that was drafted in the second round of most drafts — before getting one NFL touch. Jahvid Best was also talented, and led the group in Fantasy points, but couldn’t stay healthy. While five rookie running backs rushed for four or more touchdowns that year, only Mathews showed much Fantasy potential. But it looks like C.J. Spiller will end up as a 2013 first-round pick.
2009 — This year was interesting because it produced several impressive Fantasy rookie RBs, but not one finished their first year with 1,000 rushing yards and only two had more than four rushing touchdowns. Arian Foster and LeSean McCoy are the headliners, but Knowshon Moreno was thought to be the class of this draft back then, along with Beanie Wells – and they both scored seven rookie rushing touchdowns. Shonn Greene, Donald Brown and LaRod Stephens-Howling have had success too.
2008 – This might have been the greatest rookie class of running backs in NFL history, with three players rushing for over 1,200 yards, and eight players scoring at least five rushing touchdowns. Strangely, some of the most successful in that first year have been huge disappointments since (Tim Hightower, Steve Slaton and Jonathan Stewart). But five others will finish 2012 in the top 15 among Fantasy running backs (Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Chris Johnson and Ray Rice).
2007 – The 2008 season was even more impressive coming off a top-heavy 2007 season, where Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch were the cream of the crop. They were the only running backs to rush for over 730 yards, and only one other RB rushed for more than two touchdowns. Peterson and Lynch are still going strong, and Ahmad Bradshaw has played well when healthy.
2006 – This draft class was a mixed bag, with Maurice Jones-Drew looking great as Fred Taylor’s complement back. Reggie Bush led the parade of disappointment (565 rushing yards, six TDs) as the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL Draft, with DeAngelo Williams and Joseph Addai are really the only other notable names from this class.
2005 – This was the season of the Auburn Tigers, as their backfield got drafted in the top five picks of the NFL Draft, and Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown led the entire class on the field. Frank Gore was the third-best rookie, and even he only had 608 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns. Darren Sproles surprisingly outlasted guys like Marion Barber. Cedric Benson and Brandon Jacobs are broken down veterans from this class.
2004 – Kevin Jones and Julius Jones led this rookie class as the only running backs with over 700 rushing yards and five touchdowns. But Rams rookie RB Steven Jackson and then-Chargers RB Michael Turner are the only ones still working as starters – for now. Notice, however, that neither of them were starters in their rookie seasons, as Marshall Faulk and LaDainian Tomlinson were RB1s. (Interestingly, this was also counted as Willis McGahee’s rookie season, although he was drafted the previous year and sat out with a knee injury.
2003 – While there were better rookies from this class eventually, Domanick Davis was the surprise rookie stud in 2003. He rushed for 1,031 yards and eight touchdowns as a fourth-round pick out of LSU for the Texans, and he followed that up with another 1,000-yard season in 2004. He hurt his knee the next season, changed his name to Domanick Williams, and finished his career with 3,195 career rushing yards. Players like McGahee (knee injury) and Larry Johnson (backup to Priest Holmes) would need a couple more years before making a Fantasy name for themselves. Onterrio Smith, on the other hand, made a new name for himself, also – “The Whizzinator” rushed for 579 yards and five touchdowns in his first season.
2002 – This rookie running backs class was known for two things, pretty much: How great Clinton Portis’ great career began, and how bad William Green, the first running back drafted, was for the Browns. Green actually had the second-best Fantasy season for rookie RBs that year, but he stunk after that. Portis’ 1,508 rushing yards and 15 rushing touchdowns are still the high mark for rookies over the past decade. There were six rookie RBs that had at least 500 rushing yards, and four rookies with at least five rushing touchdowns. (Brian Westbrook eventually became a Fantasy stud from this group, also.)
David Gonos spent 5 years as a CBSSports.com Senior Fantasy Writer and three more years writing with SI.com. Over the past 17 years, his work has been published on NFL.com, MLB.com, FanDuel, FoxSports.com and USA Today. Since 2001, he has been tracking down the Top 50-plus Free Fantasy Football Draft Tools online. You can contact David Gonos here.