Every season a number of rookie running backs make a significant impact on their respective teams and fantasy teams alike.
Last season featured the emergence of Todd Gurley and David Johnson as superstars. Others such as Thomas Rawls, Jeremy Langford, Matt Jones, and Jay Ajayi all showed cased their abilities, and all will enter this season as presumptive featured backs.
Karlos Williams and Buck Allen played a lot due to injuries, and they had some productive games as well.
There were a couple of busts in first round pick Melvin Gordon, and second rounder Ameer Abdullah, both endured rocky rookie seasons in pass heavy offenses.
Hopefully, they will have better luck in their sophomore campaigns.
Top 10 Potential Impact 2016 Rookie Running Backs
Below are just some of the rookie tailbacks coming into the NFL this season, but we do believe these guys have the best chance at seeing Fantasy success soon.
1. Ezekiel Elliot, RB, Dallas Cowboys
Elliott is far and away the best RB in this class. When a team with the best offensive line in the league, in dire need of defensive help, select a RB fourth overall, the expectations are enormous. I truly believe he is the favorite to lead the league in rushing this season, given his optimal circumstances.
Elliott had a storied career at Ohio St. In 2014, Elliott ran for 1,878 yards (second most in school history) and 18 TDs. He helped lead the Buckeyes to a national championship with an incredible three game stretch of 200 plus yard games versus Wisconsin, Alabama, and Oregon in the national championship game.
In 2015, he followed up his breakthrough sophomore season with another 1,800 plus yards rushing and 23 TDs. He tested great at the combine, running the 40 in 4.45 at 225 pounds, and showing off excellent quickness and strength.
It’s difficult to find a hole in his game. He might take a little time to fully develop his receiving and pass protection skills, but that’s about it. I feel comfortable ranking Elliott as a sure fire first rounder in any format.
2. Kenneth Dixon, RB, Baltimore Ravens
I had Dixon ranked as the second best RB prospect in this class. He slipped a little in the draft due to his average size and speed (5’10” 215, 4.56 40). He ended up going to Baltimore in the fourth round, which could not be a more perfect fit.
His only competition for touches is 30-year-old third down back Justin Forsett, and Buck Allen, who started 6 games out of necessity. Allen did little to impress, averaging only 3.8 YPC, and scoring only one rushing TD. Both Allen and Forsett can catch the ball, but they offer little else.
The Ravens are a team that strongly commits to the running game, and they appear have a very solid run blocking offensive line this year.
Won't be surprised if Kenneth Dixon is getting the majority of snaps in Baltimore by season's end. #Ravens got a steal. Great receiver
— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) June 6, 2016
Dixon had a record-setting career at Louisiana Tech. He was a highly sought after recruit coming out of high school, where he was named “Mr. Football” in the state of Arkansas. He chose to go to a smaller school in order to start as a freshman.
As a true freshman, he set NCAA records with 1,194 rushing yards and 28 TDs. In his four years at Louisiana Tech, he amassed 4,480 rushing yards, 972 receiving yards, and a FBS record 87 total TDs (That record was later broken by Navy’s Keenan Reynolds. Reynolds will also be playing for the Ravens this season, though his position is still unclear).
Dixon is a very well rounded back. He’s one of the best receiving backs in this class. He runs hard with underrated power, and has excellent agility. His skill set is similar to that of a Matt Forte, who flourished in coach Marc Trestman’s offense.
Trestman enters his second year as the Ravens offensive coordinator. Forsett and Allen will likely play in obvious passing situations. However, Dixon should get the lion’s share of the carries, and goal line work. Dixon has great upside as a mid to late round sleeper.
3. Paul Perkins, RB, New York Giants
Perkins is coming off two excellent seasons in the spread offense of UCLA. Despite dealing with several nagging injuries, Perkins managed to run for almost 3,000 yards and 23 TDs combined in his sophomore and junior seasons.
Perkins looks to be a perfect fit for the Giants offense. Under new Head Coach Ben McAdoo, the Giants will look to spread the field quite a bit with their very talented receiving corps. Perkins excelled in this type of offense at UCLA, and there’s no reason to believe he can’t do it in the NFL.
His competition in the Giants backfield is weak. He’ll compete for playing time with Shane Vereen (who is basically a WR), Andre Williams, and the always disappointing Rashad Jennings.
Perkins in slightly undersized, and has had issues staying healthy. However, he is a dynamic runner with great vision and quickness. He also catches the ball pretty well.
Perkins is a solid late-round pick. With a clear path to plenty of touches, his floor is very high.
4. C.J. Prosise/Alex Collins, RB, Seattle Seahawks
Undrafted rookie Thomas Rawls is coming off a great season, averaging 5.6 YPC, and three 100 yard games in 7 starts. However, his season ended with a broken ankle in week 14. Despite his success last year, there are concerns about Rawls.
He’s returning from a major injury, he has no receiving ability (only 9 receptions last season), and his durability is still a question mark. The Seahawks obviously felt a need to bolster their backfield, selecting three RB’s in the draft.
Prosise will fill an immediate need as the third down back, and likely contribute on special teams. Prosise is an incredible athlete. A converted safety and WR, he played only one season at RB for Notre Dame. He ran for 1,029 yards, averaging 6.6 YPC and 11 TDs in his lone season at the position. He’s a big play waiting to happen. With 4.4 speed and natural elusiveness.
His biggest weaknesses are ball security, inexperience at the position, and he’s not a strong between the tackles runner despite being 220 pounds.
Alex Collins on the other hand is a great between the tackles power runner. Collins was the No. 1 RB recruit in the country coming out of high school in Florida. He went on to have a great career at Arkansas.
Sharing time in the backfield with fellow NFL rookie Jonathan Williams, Collins ran for over 1,000 yards in 3 straight seasons (joining Herschel Walker and Darren McFadden as the only backs in SEC history to accomplish that feat).
Coming into the draft, I had Collins ranked as a top 5 RB, and the best power running prospect available.
Due to a poor combine performance, Collins slid all the way to the 5th round, where the Seahawks snagged him at a bargain price. Collins, who already runs as determined as anyone, now has a chip on his shoulder to boot.
He does lack breakaway speed, and is a very average receiver (making him and Prosise a very well balanced duo). Even if Rawls returns fully healthy and effective, Prosise will still provide solid value in PPR leagues.Collins value is more contingent on the health and effectiveness of Rawls.
If Rawls falters, Collins will likely take over as the primary ball carrier. Collins is unlikely to be drafted in most leagues as of now. However, keep an eye on him and Rawls in the preseason and early going of the regular season.
5. Devontae Booker, RB, Denver Broncos
Booker is definitely a top-five RB prospect. Powerfully built at 5’11” 220, Booker has an ideal running style for Head Coach Gary Kubiak’s zone running scheme. He is a one cut, instant acceleration, downhill runner.
Booker had two highly productive seasons for Utah after coming over from junior college. He took the junior college route because of academic reasons, not due to lack of talent (He committed to Washington St. out of high school).
Booker lacks top end speed, and needs some time to improve his receiving and protection abilities. He also has a lot of mileage on his legs for a rookie, and has been susceptible to injury.
The biggest issue hindering Booker’s value is opportunity. With C.J. Anderson the unquestioned feature back, and Ronnie Hillman still around, it will be difficult for the Broncos to give him many touches. Booker is a nice late round flyer. If something happens to Anderson, he will have a huge impact.
Best Of The Rest
DeAndre Washington, RB, Oakland Raiders: Overlooked by many due to his size (5’7″ 198), Washington is a tough and talented runner out of Texas Tech. He has excellent speed and quickness, and great receiving skills.
He is a nice complement to Latavius Murray in the Raiders backfield. Murray is a very average RB who lacks big play ability. The Raiders will look to get Washington a fair amount of touches, as he has much more big play potential than Murray.
Tyler Irvin, RB, Houston Texans: Ervin’s athleticism is tremendous. He’s small at 5’10” 192, but his combine workout was something special.
He ran a 4.36 40 with a 1.56 10 yard split. He had a standing vertical of 39″, and a broad jump of 10’10”.
He is very versatile, showing ability and production as a runner, receiver, and returner at San Jose St. I’m not sure exactly what the Texans plan to do with him, but he’s simply too talented to ignore.
Jordan Howard, RB, Chicago Bears:Howard, much like Tevin Coleman a couple seasons ago, is a powerful runner who put up huge numbers in the Indiana offense. Like Coleman, Howard is also not much of a receiver. At 230 pounds, Howard is a lot thicker than Coleman though, and he’ll have a better chance for success playing for the Bears.
I do expect Jeremy Langford to have a solid season as a three down back. Goal line touches and receptions for Howard may be hard to come by. Head Coach John Fox has always liked to utilize a two back system though.
Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans: Henry was the general consensus #2 RB prospect. He was the second RB off the board to Tennessee. I have several concerns with Henry.
He will have to buck a couple of trends. At 6’3″ 250 pounds, not m.any backs have had much success at that size. Also, Alabama RB’s (Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy, TJ Yeldon) have underachieved in recent years for whatever reasons.
He has no receiving skills. He’s going to Tennessee, which has been a horrible place for RB’s since Chris Johnson’s glory years. He’ll also be the backup behind highly paid FA DeMarco Murray.
Kenyan Drake, RB, Miami Dolphins: Drake has had a lot of hype surrounding him after running a blazing 4.31 40-yard dash at the combine (best among RB’s). The Dolphins took him in the 3rd round ahead of several more accomplished prospects.
Drake had a lackluster career at Alabama. Plagued by injuries, and fighting with Derrick Henry and TJ Yeldon for playing time, his production was limited.
However, he did show flashes of his explosiveness. He lacks the strength needed to be a consistent rusher, but Miami will try to get him the ball in space a few times a game.
That is the list of rookie running backs to keep an eye on for the 2016 Fantasy Football season. Of course, there will be plenty of injuries, and other names that pop up during training camp and the preseason. Keep an eye on these guys going forward.
Ezekiel Elliott Photo Credit: MGoBlog