We looked at the best rookie quarterbacks in Fantasy Football history last year, along with the best rookie wide receivers, and we’ll be updating those articles over the next week or so. Today, we’re updated the article on the best Fantasy Football rookie running backs ever (or at least back to 1990).
During the NFL offseason, usually around the time of the NFL Draft, I like to take a look back at Fantasy Football history, and review the most recent batch of rookies against their counterparts from previous years. This week, we’re looking at the best Fantasy Football rookie running backs ever, wondering if Ezekiel Elliott and Jordan Howard were able to climb into that group from 2016.
The 2016 class of rookie running backs was top-heavy, for sure, with Elliott and Howard finishing in the top 10 in standard Fantasy scoring, but there wasn’t another rookie RB among the top-24 running backs.
Back in 2015, it was Todd Gurley and David Johnson who led all first-year running backs, finishing fifth and eighth respectively. Again, it was a top-heavy year, without another rookie among the top 24 (Jeremy Langford and Thomas Rawls were 25th and 26th).
Essentially, that means that there were only two rookie running backs that posted starting Fantasy RB numbers (top 24) in each of the past two years.
In reality, though, we know that Fantasy Football doesn’t work like that, and every week is a different animal, so players like Washington’s Rob Kelley, Denver’s Devontae Booker and Tennessee’s Derrick Henry were all viable Fantasy players at different times last season.
Heck, you look a little bit deeper and you’ll see that there were actually a great number of usable Fantasy Football rookie running backs in 2016, including Oakland’s Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington, Baltimore’s Kenneth Dixon. And in 2015, we saw some success from Karlos Williams in Buffalo, Javorius Allen in Baltimore, Matt Jones in Washington and Duke Johnson in Cleveland.
Then again, Melvin Gordon III was the all-rookie bust of 2015, getting snatched up in the third round as the first rookie drafted in most Fantasy leagues. The Wisconsin bulldozing back was supposed to dominate in San Diego, with Danny Woodhead serving as his change-of-pace back. But he didn’t score one touchdown, hurt his knee and looked unimpressive. Until 2016!
But I bring Gordon up specifically for one reason – notice how many times the first rookie running back drafted in Fantasy Football leagues ends up being the top-scoring Fantasy rookie in a given year.
Over the past 17 NFL seasons, the first rookie drafted in Fantasy Football in those seasons ended up being the highest-scoring rookie just four times, which is 23.5-percent of the time. Of course, Elliott destroyed that notion last year, but he’s just one of 17!
Keep that in mind as you consider Cowboys RB Leonard Fournette in Round 2 this summer!
Below is a list of the Best Fantasy Football Rookie Running Backs Ever – or at least dating back to 1990, which is around when Fantasy Football began to become a mainstream hobby. The far right column “RB Rank” shows where the rookies ranked in Fantasy points at the running backs position by season’s end.
|Rank||Year||Rookie Running Backs||Fan.Pts||RB Rank|
|1||1999||Edgerrin James, IND||316||1|
|2||2016||Ezekiel Elliott, DAL||295||2|
|3||2002||Clinton Portis, DEN||289||4|
|4||1995||Curtis Martin, NE||267||2|
|5||1998||Fred Taylor, JAC||266||3|
|6||2000||Mike Anderson, DEN||256||4|
|7||1994||Marshall Faulk, IND||252||4|
|8||2008||Matt Forte, CHI||244||4|
|9||2012||Doug Martin, TB||243||3|
|10||2017||Kareem Hunt, KC||242||3|
|11||2007||Adrian Peterson, MIN||239||3|
|12||2017||Alvin Kamara, NO||233||4|
|13||2006||Maurice Jones-Drew, JAC||228||8|
|14||2008||Steve Slaton, HOU||226||6|
|15||2001||LaDainian Tomlinson, SD||220||7|
|16||1998||Robert Edwards, NE||216||8|
|17||2008||Chris Johnson, TEN||209||11|
|18||1993||Jerome Bettis, STL||209||2|
|19||1992||Ricky Watters, SF||208||8|
|20||2012||Alfred Morris, WAS||207||5|
|21||2012||Trent Richardson, CLE||204||9|
|22||1996||Eddie George, TEN||203||8|
|23||2016||Jordan Howard, CHI||203||9|
|24||2000||Jamal Lewis, BAL||202||16|
|25||1997||Corey Dillon, CIN||198||8|
|26||2017||Leonard Fournette, JAC||194|
|27||1996||Karim Abdul-Jabbar, MIA||191||9|
|28||2006||Joseph Addai, IND||189||11|
|29||2015||Todd Gurley, STL||189||5|
|30||2003||Domanick Davis, HOU||186||13|
Some interesting points to consider looking at the above table:
- Edgerrin James was the only rookie running back to lead all running backs in Fantasy points in a given season.
- Ezekiel Elliott finished second overall in 2016, and his Fantasy Football ADP is the highest of any rookie player ever — first-round.
- Another one of the best rookie running backs in the past six years, Doug Martin, still only finished ninth all-time. The position has changed considerably in recent years, when looking at the amount of usage and carries.
- The 2008 and 2012 seasons were bumper crops for rookie running backs, with three from each year landing in the top 20.
- Look at the one-hit wonders on this list, including Steve Slaton, Mike Anderson and Robert Edwards.
- Note that Domanick Davis eventually changed his name to Domanick Williams.
2017 Fantasy Football Rookie Running Backs Rankings
With everything we’ve learned in the past 25 years, let’s look ahead to determine who we think will be the best rookie running backs for the 2016 Fantasy Football season. Outside of Elliott, it doesn’t look to be a very exciting year for rookie Fantasy running backs.
Related: 2016 Rookie QB Rankings
- Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars
- Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers
- Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings
- Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals
- Samaje Perine, Washington Redskins
- Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs
- Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts
- Jamaal Williams, Green Bay Packers
- James Conner, Pittsburgh Steelers
- Joe Williams, San Francisco 49ers
- D’Onta Foreman, Houston Texans
- Wayne Gallman, N.Y. Giants
- Jeremy McNichols, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Donnel Pumphrey, Philadelphia Eagles
- T.J. Logan, Arizona Cardinals
Looking Back at Final 2016 Rookie RB Fantasy Rankings
There were just two rookie running backs to post top-24 Fantasy numbers among RBs last year. Here are the final Fantasy numbers from the 2016 Rookie Running Backs. (Fantasy Football points are from standard non-PPR leagues.)
- Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys: 295 Fantasy points (ranked 2nd among RBs)
- Jordan Howard, Chicago Bears: 203 pts (ranked 9th)
- Rob Kelley, Washington Redskins: 120 pts (ranked
- Devontae Booker, Denver Broncos: 117 pts (
- Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans: 92 pts (ranked
- Jalen Richard, Oakland Raiders: 86 pts (ranked
- Kenneth Dixon, Baltimore Ravens: 72 ts (ranked
- DeAndre Washington, Oakland Raiders: 70 pts (ranked
- Paul Perkins, N.Y. Giants: 61 pts (ranked 58th)
- C.J. Prosise, Seattle Seahawks: 44 pts (ranked 66th)
- Wendell Smallwood, Philadelphia Eagles: 42 pts (ranked 68th)
- Dwayne Washington, Detroit Lions: 38 pts (ranked 72nd)
- Kenyan Drake, Miami Dolphins: 34 pts (ranked 77th)
- Peyton Barber, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 31 pts (ranked 81st)
- Alex Collins, Seattle Seahawks: 26 pts (ranked 85th)
Looking Back at Final 2015 Rookie RB Fantasy Rankings
There were just two rookie running backs to post top-24 Fantasy numbers among RBs in 2015. Here are the final Fantasy numbers from the 2015 Rookie Running Backs. (Fantasy Football points are from standard non-PPR leagues.)
- Todd Gurley, St. Louis: 332 Fantasy points (ranked 5th among RBs)
- David Johnson, Arizona: 254 pts (ranked 8th)
- Jeremy Langford, Chicago: 122 pts (ranked 25th)
- Thomas Rawls, Seattle: 120 pts (ranked 26th)
- J. Yeldon, Jacksonville: 119 pts (ranked 28th)
- Karlos Williams, Buffalo: 115 pts (ranked 31st)
- Javorius Allen, Baltimore: 104 pts (ranked 35th)
- Matt Jones, Washington: 103 pts (ranked 36th)
- Duke Johnson, Cleveland: 103 pts (ranked 37th)
- Ameer Abdullah, Detroit: 96 pts (ranked 41st)
- Melvin Gordon III, San Diego: 83 pts (ranked 51st)
- Tevin Coleman, Atlanta: 46 pts (ranked 75th)
- Jay Ajayi, Miami: 33 pts (ranked 81st)
- Cameron Artis-Payne, Carolina: 30 pts (ranked 85th)
- Terron Ward, Atlanta: 22 pts (ranked 100th)
- Best Fantasy Rookie Quarterbacks Ever
- Best Fantasy Rookie Running Backs Ever
- Best Fantasy Rookie Wide Receivers Ever
- Best Fantasy Rookie Tight Ends Ever
Now we’ve covered the best Fantasy Football rookie running backs ever, while also previewing the 2017 Fantasy Football rookie running backs. This should give you a great idea of what to expect from the very best first-year tailbacks in the coming seasons.
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.