Around the NFL

Which RB will have most successful rookie season?

Last year's wide receiver crop was historical. Last year's running back group was largely forgettable.

Jeremy Hill had a terrific year for Cincinnati, but he was the only rusher to top 800 yards. Look for that number to rise significantly this season. Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon weren't taken in the top 15 picks to sit. Jacksonville grabbed T.J. Yeldon early in the second round to take over their starting job.

So which rookie running back will end up with the most yards? Could a sleeper like Cleveland's Duke Johnson, Detroit's Ameer Abdullah or Arizona's David Johnson emerge? Let's ask the Around The NFL crew.

Melvin Gordon

The Bolts traded up to get the former Wisconsin star, a sure sign they have big plans for him right out of the gate. A trusted college football evaluator predicted to me prior to the draft that Gordon would lead the entire NFL in rushing as a rookie if he ended up behind Dallas' offensive line. Behind San Diego's blockers, I think that translates to merely leading all rookies. If Todd Gurley wasn't coming off an ACL tear, Gordon would have much stiffer competition for "favorite" honors. -- Chris Wesseling

Todd Gurley

We've been told Todd Gurley is the most talented running back to come out of the draft since Adrian Peterson. That's good enough for me. Assuming Gurley has no setbacks in his recovery from knee surgery, he'll make an immediate impact for the Rams, who loved the Georgia star enough to make him the first running back to go in the top 10 since Trent Richardson in 2012. (Yeah, yeah, T-Rich is the cautionary tale in overvaluing "can't-miss" backs. I don't care.) The only catch here is if the Rams go conservative with Gurley's timetable, as coach Jeff Fisher indicated recently. But follow the logic: Fisher and GM Les Snead might not survive another six- or seven-win season. When Gurley proves his knee is sound, he'll be on the field. -- Dan Hanzus

Tevin Coleman

I'm going with someone other than Todd Gurley. Drawing comparisons to a young Darren McFadden, Tevin Coleman out of Indiana gives the Falcons a presumptive starter ahead of Devonta Freeman.

With new play-caller Kyle Shanahan on the scene, we expect Atlanta to focus on the ground game much more than before under Dirk Koetter. The 5-foot-11, 206-pound Coleman is a bigger player than Freeman, the second-year back who might wind up seeing more change-of-pace work instead of the large role coaches promised at the combine. I like Freeman as a pass-catcher, but after Shanahan started a pair of rookies in Cleveland last season, he won't shy away from doing so with Coleman.

It's only May, so keep this article tabbed in your browser. When I am dead wrong about this, you can let me know with an angry rash of tweets. -- Marc Sessler

Melvin Gordon

The Chargers' offensive line is a little more established, and the team has a clear-cut advantage over the Rams in the passing game with Philip Rivers in a contract year under center. This will keep eight defenders out of the box and allow Gordon, a slightly less dynamic runner than St. Louis' Todd Gurley, more opportunities to get to the second level and pile on the yardage. Plus, Gordon will have more time to learn the playbook and work behind his line. In the long run, Gurley might very well be the best option. In the short term, Gordon has more advantages for a team hoping to get off to a fast start. This also depends on how Gordon progresses in the passing game. The Chargers have plenty of options to turn to if the receiving component is not there for Gordon. This could ultimately impact his final numbers more than anything else. -- Conor Orr

T.J. Yeldon

Gordon was my original answer. He's healthy and has a clear path to a starting job, but Danny Woodhead could wind up taking a lot of his third-down work. Instead, I'll roll with Jacksonville running back T.J. Yeldon. Michael Silver's column on the draft process inside the Jacksonville war room showed how desperate coach Gus Bradley was to draft a bell-cow back, Yeldon especially. The Jaguars' offensive line additions this offseason show that they want to be a run-first team, and Yeldon hits town as the clear favorite to start.

Yeldon comes out of a pro-style offense with experience as a zone runner. He's the type of back who is going to pile up four- and five-yard gains and can excel on passing downs as well. Perhaps most important for this exercise, he faces the weakest competition for snaps of the top rookies. Denard Robinson is going to be a change-of-pace back, and Toby Gerhart is not guaranteed to make the Jaguars' roster. *-- Gregg Rosenthal *

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