What was the Greatest Class of Rookie Running Backs Ever?

Eric Dickerson, rookie running backs

I love looking back at NFL Draft history, especially as it relates to Fantasy Football. So I thought I’d look back at rookie quarterbacks and rookie running backs to see what recent seasons have produced, as well as NFL history.

And hopefully, this information can help us out as we look at the 2013 NFL rookie quarterbacks and running backs.

The 2012 QB class had four different rookies score enough Fantasy points to land in the top 12 rookie QBs dating back to 1991, making it the best rookie class ever.

So if 2012 QB class was the best ever, then what was the best rookie running backs class?

Steve Slaton, Rookie Running Backs

Interestingly, Steve Slaton led all rookie running backs in 2008, with 1,282 rushing yards. (He hasn’t played in a regular season game since 2011.) Photo Credit: Skaines

Sure, over the course of their entire careers, the 1983 NFL Draft produced the best eventual NFL class, with John Elway, Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, Tony Eason, Ken O’Brien and Todd Blackledge going in Round 1.

But in their rookie year, in 1983, not one of those quarterbacks ranked in the top 20 in yardage and Marino (20) was the only rookie QB with more than seven passing touchdowns that year.

Take a look at this listing of rookie running backs that came out of the 2008 class and think about how good they have been over the past five or so years.

  • Jamaal Charles, KC
  • B. Green-Ellis, NE
  • Matt Forte, CHI
  • Tim Hightower, WAS
  • Peyton Hillis, DEN
  • Chris Johnson, TEN
  • Felix Jones, DAL
  • R. Mendenhall, PIT
  • Ray Rice, BAL
  • Steve Slaton, HOU
  • Kevin Smith, DET
  • Jonathan Stewart, CAR
  • Mike Tolbert, SD
  • Oh yeah, and the highest drafted Fantasy running back that season – Darren McFadden!

Those 14 running backs have had a major impact on several Fantasy ballclubs over the past half-decade. In that 2008 season, however, Slaton led all rookies with 1,282 rushing yards, and Forte led all rookie RBs with 244 Fantasy points. McFadden checked in at a rather disappointing seventh among rookie running backs, with 102 Fantasy points. That rookie class had five players land in the top 20 in Fantasy scoring among all rookie RBs dating back to 2002.

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As you can see, the rookie running back class of 2008 and 2012 takes up a large portion (nine) of the top 20 freshmen tailbacks. Keep this in mind as you get ready to draft a rookie running back from the 2013 NFL Draft class. There isn’t a guaranteed stud in it, like 2012 with Richardson.

Actually, this 2013 class could look a little more like the 2011 group, led by DeMarco Murray. While Mark Ingram was considered a stud, he was picked by the Saints, who also had Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory.

Looking back even farther, here are a few other rookie running backs draft classes that really stood out for me.

  • 2000: Mike Anderson, Jamal Lewis, Shaun Alexander, Ron Dayne, Thomas Jones
  • 1996: Eddie George, Karim Abdul-Jabbar, Mike Alstott, Tim Biakabutuka,  Stephen Davis
  • 1995: Terrell Davis, Curtis Martin, Tyrone Wheatley, Rashaan Salaam, James Stewart
  • 1994: Marshall Faulk, Errict Rhett, Bam Morris, Charlie Garner, William Floyd, Dorsey Levens, Jamal Anderson, Lamar Smith
  • 1990: Emmitt Smith, Rodney Hampton, Barry Foster, Steve Broussard, Chris Warren, Brian Mitchell, Johnny Johnson, Terry Allen
  • 1985: Bo Jackson, Keith Byars, John L. Williams, Ronnie Harmon, Neal Anderson, Dalton Hilliard, Tom Rathman, Rueben Mayes, Barry Word
  • 1983: Eric Dickerson, Curt Warner, Gary Anderson, Roger Craig, Johnny Hector, Craig James, Kelvin Bryant
Eric Dickerson, rookie running backs

While the Rams did pass on Jim Kelly and Dan Marino, it’s tough to argue against them drafting Eric Dickerson in 1983. Photo Credit: Kitzanador

My favorite classes out of that group are the ’94 and ’95 group. Man, they were churning out running back Fantasy beasts back then! In ’95, Davis and Martin were two of the top Fantasy running backs in NFL history, and then in ’94, there was more depth. Faulk, Rhett, Levens and Anderson all ended up having at least one big Fantasy year. Rhett’s career was derailed by a holdout with the Bucs (good job, Drew Rosenhaus) that led them to drafting Warrick Dunn not too long after.

What were your favorite classes of rookie running backs?

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