Rookie runners can help lead you to a fantasy championship

Rookies have made a much bigger statistical impact in recent seasons, as Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Matt Forte, Chris Johnson, DeSean Jackson and Eddie Royal (to name a few) have proven. While there has been a greater number of rookie quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends to help fantasy owners, running backs are still the most valuable of the first-year players.

That will continue to be obvious in the early-to-middle rounds of your fantasy drafts, as players like C.J. Spiller, Ryan Mathews and Jahvid Best will be some of the first rookies selected. That's with good reason, as countless rookie backs have become instant fantasy stars. Even in this era of backfield committees, runners like Forte, Johnson and Steve Slaton still became reliable starters in their first year.

In honor of those rookie backs who have led us to that coveted fantasy league championship, we've found the 10 greatest statistical seasons from first-year runners during the Super Bowl era. Players were rewarded one point for every 10 rushing and receiving yards and six points for touchdowns.

1. Eric Dickerson, L.A. Rams (341 points)

Dickerson rushed for a rookie record 1,808 yards and 18 touchdowns, caught 51 passes for 404 yards and scored another two touchdowns as a receiver out of the backfield in 1983. While he would never reach those receiving totals in a single season again, he did go on to rush for an NFL record 2,105 yards and 14 touchdowns in his second season.

2. Edgerrin James, Colts (316 points)

Fantasy footballers who took a chance on James in 1999 drafts were thrilled with the results. He rushed for 1,553 yards and 13 touchdowns, hauled in 62 passes for 586 yards and scored four times as a receiver. He would go on to become a fantasy superstar, rushing for 1,000-plus yards five times and scoring 75 total touchdowns with the Colts.

3. Clinton Portis, Broncos (289 points)

Portis recorded 33 catches, 1,872 all-purpose yards and 17 total touchdowns in his rookie season. What makes those numbers even more incredible is that Portis rushed for just 46 yards with no touchdowns in his first two games. He went on to rush for 100-plus yards in seven of his final 12 games and was a true fantasy superstar for owners.

4. Billy Sims, Lions (288 points)

Sims, not Barry Sanders, had the best rookie season among Lions' running backs in the past three decades. The top pick in the 1980 NFL Draft, Sims recorded 51 catches, 1,924 yards from scrimmage and 13 touchdowns as a rookie. In his second season, Sims had 1,888 all-purpose yards and 15 total touchdowns as the centerpiece of the team's offense.

5. Fred Taylor, Jaguars (266 points)

Taylor isn't the Florida running back you might expect to see on this list, but he was better as a rookie than Emmitt Smith. He rushed for 1,223 yards, hauled in another 421 yards as a receiver out of the backfield and scored a total of 17 touchdowns in 1998. Taylor would go on to become a solid fantasy back during his time with the Jaguars.

6. Curtis Martin, Patriots (265 points)

Martin, a third-round pick in the 1995 NFL Draft, was a tremendous find for the Patriots and fantasy owners alike during his rookie season. The Pittsburgh product rushed for an impressive 1,487 yards and scored 15 total touchdowns, helping countless owners to a title. He would go on to rush for 1,000-plus yards in 10 consecutive NFL seasons.

7. Curt Warner, Seahawks (261 points)

Before there was Kurt Warner the quarterback, there was Curt Warner the running back. He produced immense numbers as a rookie with 42 receptions, 1,774 all-purpose yards and 14 total touchdowns. Warner, the No. 3 overall pick behind John Elway and Dickerson in the 1983 NFL Draft, would endure knee troubles that would hinder his rise to stardom.

8. Barry Sanders, Lions (259 points)

Sanders, taken with the No. 3 overall pick in 1989 behind Troy Aikman and Tony Mandarich, rushed for 1,470 yards and 14 touchdowns as a rookie. He would go on to rush for 1,000-plus yards in every season of his career and was a first-round staple in all fantasy drafts. Had he not retired, Sanders might be the NFL's all-time leader in rushing yards.

9. George Rogers, Saints (258 points)

Rogers, the No. 1 overall selection in the 1981 NFL Draft, rushed for what was then an NFL rookie record 1,674 yards, scored 13 touchdowns and averaged a solid 104.6 rushing yards per game. While he never found that same level of success again in New Orleans, he did rush for 1,203 yards and a career-best 18 touchdowns with the Redskins in 1986.

10. Mike Anderson, Broncos (256 points)

Anderson, a major fantasy sleeper, rushed for 1,487 yards and 15 touchdowns as a rookie in Broncos coach Mike Shanahan's offense. Injuries and the selection of Portis in 2002 limited his value from 2001-2003, but Anderson re-emerged into a viable option with 1,014 yards and 13 total touchdowns in 2005. He spent his final two seasons as a reserve in Baltimore.

Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com. Have a burning question for Michael on anything fantasy football related? Leave it in our comments section or send it to AskFabiano@nfl.com!

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