The narrative is the 2016 rookie class is subpar and won’t have a significant impact in Fantasy. The Fantasy industry’s best and brightest tend to all agree, Fantasy success often comes in the form of talent and opportunity colliding. We should have at least one half of that equation with this year’s class. Thus I present to you, Fantasy Football Impact Rookies: Running Back Edition.
The running back position is both as certain and as uncertain as ever. What? That’s right. There will be running back by committees. There will be running backs who succumb to injuries. There will be running backs who disappoint. You can count on it.
This year’s running back class may not be the most talented we’ve seen, but the opportunity will surely be there. Frank Gore, Rashad Jennings, Justin Forsett, DeMarco Murray, Jay Ajayi and Arian Foster. These are the players the industry thinks will last a full season? I have my doubts, as should you.
Whether you are in a PPR or standard scoring league, there are a number of players outside of just Ezekiel Elliot who are worthy of drafting in 2016. We’ll go through the list of the running backs most likely to have a Fantasy impact.
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Fantasy Impact Rookies: Running Backs
Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
Elliott is the favorite for offensive rookie of the year after landing in Dallas. He most likely would have been the favorite no matter where he was drafted, but this is best case scenario for Fantasy owners. The Dallas Cowboys averaged 4.6 yards per carry in 2015, fifth best in the NFL. The Cowboys totaled the ninth most rushing yards last season and in all likelihood that ranking increases with the addition of Elliot.
Lastly, Elliott was an exceptional pass blocker in college, so any concerns about him coming off the field in passing down situations should be tempered.
Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans
Henry might be the most difficult of all the rookies to project. Last year’s Heisman trophy winner saw over 400 touches at Alabama in 2015. Critics will point to the inconsistency of other high volume backs to come out of Bama, but the reality is Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, T.J. Yeldon and Eddie Lacy have all had significant impacts in Fantasy.
Henry will compete and share carries with former NFL rushing leader, DeMarco Murray, in head coach Mike Mularkey’s “exotic smash mouth” offense. This most likely caps Henry’s ceiling as a rookie. There is potential for Henry to add significant value, however, as Mularkey’s offenses from 2008 to 2012 ranked in the Top 15 in both rushing attempts and rushing TDs four times.
Derrick Henry showing off his crazy footwork pic.twitter.com/M62Iroe7Rb
— Football Pride (@FB_Pride) May 21, 2016
Kenneth Dixon, Baltimore Ravens
Dixon, like Henry, is going to have competition for carries in year one of his NFL career. Justin Forsett and Buck Allen were significant contributors last season, totaling 288 carries and 76 receptions. Forsett faired better in the run game, averaging over 4 yards per carry, while Allen provided the Ravens with some versatility in the passing game, averaging nearly 8 yards per reception on 45 catches. Dixon may very well be the best RB of the trio but unless Forsett or Allen suffers an injury, owners may find this to be the most frustrating backfield in Fantasy.
Kenyan Drake, Miami Dolphins
The Fantasy industry doesn’t seem very high on the third round pick out of Alabama. Drake wasn’t used heavily in any one particular year but when you combine his four year totals, it’s difficult not to be impressed: 233 carries, 1,495 rushing yards, 6.4 yards per rush, 46 receptions, 570 receiving yards, 12.4 yards per catch, and 22 total TDs.
Drake likely enters his rookie season number three on the depth chart behind Arian Foster and Jay Ajayi, the two RBs most likely to sustain injuries in 2016. Foster is coming off an achillies tear and you can’t seem to read anything about Ajayi without the words, “knee” and “bone on bone” appearing somewhere in the article.
— Chris Kirschner (@ChrisK_AJC) July 31, 2016
Jordan Howard, Chicago Bears
The Fantasy industry will have you believe that Chicago Bears head coach John Fox hates playing rookies. They will also have you believe that Fox prefers to have a clear cut RB1 rather than a running back by committee. I bet Fox also prefers Manhattan to New Jersey and filet minion to Spam. Unfortunately for Fox, his options are somewhat limited when it comes to his 2016 backfield.
Jeremy Langford truthers are all too real and while it’s conceivable Langford improves upon his inefficient rookie season, the opportunity is there for someone else to step in. Langford averaged just 3.6 yards per carry as a rookie and appeared to lack the skillset to make tacklers miss on a consistent basis.
Howard probably won’t see much of a role in the passing game as a rookie, but given his size and ability to run between the tackles, Howard should carve out a consistent role for himself.
Paul Perkins, New York Giants
Perkins is the most talented running back on the Giants roster. Rashad Jennings will continue to get snaps due to Perkins’ lack of experience and deficiencies in pass blocking, but we’ve seen evidence Jennings isn’t able to carry the load by himself. Perkins offers the Giants offense a variable it has lacked since the departure of Ahmad Bradshaw.
Perkins is an elusive runner who is quicker than fast and has the ability to run between the tackles. Prior to the draft, some projected Perkins to be one of the top three RBs selected. He ultimately slid but may have landed in the perfect spot.
C.J. Prosise & Alex Collins, Seattle Seahawks
Prosise is a converted wide receiver and essentially has only one year of experience at the RB position. He offers the Seahawks offense versatility in their passing game as well someone with big play ability. Prosise had difficulty in pass protection last season and is still new to the position, which may open the door for Collins.
Collins isn’t the talent Prosise is but is probably more equipped to play within the offense and run between the tackles. The value of both of these rookies is predicated on the availability of Thomas Rawls. The Seahawks continue to state Rawls will be ready for Week 1 of the regular season but RBs who miss significant time in training camp often find their backups getting playing time throughout the season.
Devontae Booker, Denver Broncos
The Broncos are clearly not sold on Ronnie Hillman. Hillman posted decent numbers last season and the Broncos in turn signed him to just a one year contract. There are already rumors suggesting it won’t take much for Booker to overtake Hillman as the number two, which suggests Hillman may not be in a Denver uniform by the time Week 1 rolls around.
Booker is a cut-back runner who projects to do well in the offensive scheme head coach Gary Kubiak has in place. Keep an eye on Hillman’s status throughout camp as C.J. Anderson hasn’t proven to be the most durable of RBs. There could be an opportunity here for the rookie.
Wendell Smallwood, Philadelphia Eagles
Ryan Mathews only has one T in his last name and is jealous of Tony Romo’s collarbone structure. With a name like Smallwood, you have to assume the universe will even things out and make sure something goes right for this guy.
DeAndre Washington, Oakland Raiders
Washington is one of my favorite players in Fantasy this season. I don’t think he’s the most talented rookie by any means but I do think his season is the easiest to predict. The Raiders backfield is comprised of Latavius Murray and that’s about it. Murray has proven to be a capable runner but the need for a pass catching back is glaring.
Murray averaged the lowest yards per reception of any RB with as many as 40 catches in 2015, just under 6 yards per catch. Enter Washington, a small but strong RB with a skill set suited for the passing game and big play ability. Washington totaled 105 receptions for nearly 10 yards per catch over his final three seasons at Texas Tech. It shouldn’t take long for him to find a role in the Oakland offense. For those of you in PPR leagues, Washington should be a great mid-to-late round grab.
Josh Ferguson, Indianapolis Colts
Frank Gore is super old and Ferguson is next in line. I’m not going to waste your time with any other analysis. If you own Gore, you should probably own Ferguson.
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