While some rookie running backs were more highly touted than others heading into the NFL draft, their Fantasy value naturally shifts depending on where they land. Now that the draft is in the books, here’s a look at my Top Five rookie running backs for Fantasy leagues this season.
*Carlos Hyde is not on this list for two reasons: 1. Frank Gore is not dead yet, and we’re talking about this season. 2. Marcus Lattimore.
P.S. I really wish Jeremy Hill had gone to the Titans instead of Bishop Sankey.
1. Bishop Sankey, Titans: Considered the No. 2 Fantasy RB prior to the 2014 NFL draft (behind Carlos Hyde), Sankey was the only back to land with a team that badly needs a feature RB. Shonn Greene hardly fits the role, and while Dexter McCluster may be extraordinarily useful on special teams and in the receiving game at times, he’s certainly not the bullish player the team lost when they released Chris
Johnson. Jackie Battle is, to put it bluntly, old. At 5’10” and 200 pounds, Sankey is similar in size to Johnson and ran one of the top 40s in his class (4.49). He’s not the most elite athlete, nor is he the most creative runner, but he has the fundamentals to be a three-down back, and unlike his co-rookies, the RB out of Washington landed in a place that will afford him the opportunity to work on the other skills. Fantasy owners will love that he didn’t miss a single game in college, and he’s also a receiving back, which boosts his value in PPR leagues. Sankey is known for being a team player with natural balls skills who has good feet and is adept at finding the holes. He wouldn’t be the No. 1 back on this board if he didn’t land in Tennessee, but it’s tough to find feature RBs these days, and he’s got the quickest road to become one.
2. Tre Mason, Rams: You can bet Zac Stacy wasn’t pleased by this pick. Rams coach Jeff Fischer has said Stacy will likely get 70 percent of the carries, which leaves a little room for the 5’8″, 207-pound Mason to get involved. Stacy caught 26 passes last season, but it’s not really his strength and neither is blocking. Mason is a quick, decisive back who gets up to top speed quickly, has a nose for the end zone and reads blocks well. The Auburn product has been compared to the likes of Tony Dorsett and has a knack for picking up yards after contact. He’s not very tall, but he moves surprisingly well between the tackles for his size and has no durability issues. He may not make an immediate impact, but Stacy was selected in the fifth round of the 2013 draft, and he practically earned the starting job by default last season. There’s no guarantee he keeps it.
3. Andre Williams, Giants: Williams was one of the more intriguing “underdog” RB names of this draft. He averaged an impressive 6.4 YPC in 2013 at Boston College, but he doesn’t get up to his top speed very quickly. The 5’11”, 230-pound Williams has a solid understanding of blocking, though, which the Giants sorely need from anyone who can contribute, and he joins a team that has a lot of question marks at the running back position. It’s not clear when, or if, David Wilson, will return to action. Andre Brown is now a Texan. Rashad Jennings is OK, but he’s not a feature back and he’s often injured. And Peyton Hillis? Well, yeah. Williams runs well downhill, falls forward and has huge power that can punish linebackers and linemen who get in his way. It’s not hard to imagine him taking on the Brandon Jacobs role of yore and recording five or six short-yardage TDs his rookie season. Unfortunately for PPR owners, he didn’t catch a single ball his senior year. For non-PPR, purposes, Williams should outperform his ADP quickly. He’s a solid fit for the Giants who like a two-back system – one RB with Wilson’s versatility and one with Williams’ power.
4. Storm Johnson, Jaguars: The Jaguars keep saying they love Toby Gerhart, but it’s not like he’s the next Maurice Jones-Drew. Gerhart has had hamstring injuries, even with limited work throughout his career, so it’s not hard to imagine Johnson getting a chance to show what he can do sooner rather than later. At 6’0″, 209 pounds, the Central Florida back is very similar in size to Gerhart, and though Gerhart should start the season with a solid handle on the starting job, Johnson should get some early chances. If Gerhart misses time, he’ll get the chance to shine. Jordan Todman showed some flashes when Jones-Drew missed time last year, but he’s much smaller than Johnson. Although he’s a great pass catcher, his sub-200-pound frame won’t move many piles. Scouting reports said Johnson doesn’t shy from contact; he’s quick, though not speedy, can break tackles and has good instincts for the game. His legs are very strong, which helps with moving the pile. However, Johnson has some well documented fumbling problems and only scored on eight of 25 attempts inside the 9-yard line last year.
5. Devonta Freeman, Falcons: Steven Jackson is almost 31. The Falcons’ starter missed four games last season, though it felt like far more, primarily because when he was on the field he wasn’t very productive. Jacquizz Rodgers clearly is not a feature back. Enter the 5’8″, 206-pound Freeman out of Florida State. Freeman is short but has good vision and doesn’t waste time dancing around at the line of scrimmage. He has good balance, can catch balls out of the backfield and can block – or at least he is willing to try. He’s a safe pick for Atlanta, but he’s more of a complementary RB than a feature RB. Regardless of Jackson’s health, he should see time on the field. Rodgers will eat into the RB touches too, but he’s a free agent in 2015.