Rookie running back stars could be lacking in 2014

Last week in this space, I wrote about rookie wide receivers and the impact they make in fantasy football in their first season. To help make the point, I used an analogy about students enduring the move to a new school.

This week, I'm turning my attention to rookie running backs and their immediate fantasy impact. To help me make this point, I'm going to stretch the new school analogy to its limits. Because what's the use in making comparisons if you can't exaggerate them to the maximum?

If rookie receivers are the new kids on the first day of school, rookie running backs are the new kids who enrolled early just to get acclimated. They might not know about the delicious burrito truck that parks around the corner from campus for lunch, but they can at least give you directions to the library.

Simiarly, the learning curve for rookie rushers has traditionally been shorter than for their pass-catching counterparts. As such there has been a greater number of them to find success in their first go-round in the NFL.

Dating back to 2009, there have been 108 running backs selected in the NFL Draft. From that group, 24 of them finished among the top 50 at their position during their rookie seasons. In other words, nearly a quarter of the running backs drafted made some sort of immediate fantasy impact. That would mean that just about every rusher who saw significant snaps with his team had some sort of fantasy value.

There are inherent advantages for a running back compared to a receiver. So much of a running back's production stems from that player's own ability. Yes, it's important to have a competent offensive line, but that's also applies to any passing game. However, receivers also have the added burden of needing a quarterback that can deliver the football on time and on target.

Another advantage for running backs -- especially in an age of multi-receiver sets -- is that teams rarely put more than one on the field at one time. If an offense decides to run the ball, there's usually only one place to go. When a team goes to the air, there could be as many as five potential targets.

But that's not the only thing successful rookie rushers had in common. The next thing might surprise you. Out of the 24 rookie running backs to finish among the top 50, 18 of them were in offenses that called running plays at a lesser percentage than the rest of the league. Read that again. You want to find a successful fantasy rookie running back? Try looking toward a passing offense.

While it helps to have a majority of your team's carries, it's not necessary in order to be worthy of a fantasy roster spot. Half of the backs in our list saw less than 40 percent of their team's carries during their rookie season. Of course as that number goes up, so does the fantasy production, generally speaking. For those rare backs -- five in total -- who were able to crack the 60 percent plateau, a top 15 finish was guaranteed.

That last part could be the biggest obstacle to finding this year's version of Eddie Lacy. The 2014 running back draft class was widely panned with the first rusher not taken off the board until late in the second round. Nonetheless, the law of averages would suggest that there are at least a few players out there who could make an impact right away.

Terrance West, Cleveland Browns: Sort of like that other rookie in Cleveland, West didn't win his position battle. But it wasn't for lack of production. The competition between West and Ben Tate was the most intriguing part of Browns camp. Tate's recent injury history suggests that West could play a significant role in the offense. But even if the starter remains healthy, the rookie still showed that he is worthy of cutting into the veteran's workload.

Andre Williams, New York Giants:Rashad Jennings is set as Big Blue's top running back option this season. But that doesn't mean Williams can't carve out a niche as a hammer near the goal line. He's not much of a pass-catcher, which could limit his ability to be on the field on third downs but he'll be a good handcuff option.

Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons: Freeman finds himself down on the depth chart to begin the season, but there are reasons to believe he'll move up the ranks before too long. Steven Jackson is on the downside of his career while Jacquizz Rodgers has long since hit his ceiling. Freeman offers the best of both backs and could be Atlanta's rusher of choice before the season is over.

It would be folly to expect any of these backs to post totals akin to what we saw from Eddie Lacy, Le'Veon Bell or Giovani Bernard last season. In all likelihood, these rookies are probably ticketed to land somewhere outside the top 20 at their position, which makes them better suited for dynasty league owners. Regardless, those new students have the inside track to succeeding at final exams.

Strained metaphors are the best.

Marcas Grant is a fantasy editor for NFL.com and a man who feels bad for all the kids headed back to school ... but not bad enough to consider trading places with them. Tweet him fantasy football questions (but no word problems) @MarcasG.

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