Continuing with the focus on rookie players in fantasy, I move on to running back. Jimmy Kempski at Blogging the bEast did a post on Giants fans and their expectations for rookie running back David Wilson, and it helps illustrate my point here. Please check out his site if you are a football fan, specifically if you cheer for any of the NFC East teams.
The biggest factor in figuring out rookie running backs is their situation. Are they a true starter or part of a committee? Which part of the committee are they? Will they get goal line carries? Injuries play a big part too. Ryan Williams and Mikel Leshoure never made it on the field last season after being drafted in nearly every fantasy league. The other rookies primarily got their play time because the veteran back ahead of them got hurt. Its a crap shoot at best.
The rookie rushing leaders last season were DeMarco Murray and Roy Helu. They rushed for 897 yards, 2 TDs and 640 yards, 2 TDs respectively. Going back to my league’s position rankings, they finished 29th and 30th, making them low-end RB3/Flex options.
The first thing to take into account with these two players is consistency. Murray barely saw the field until week 7 when he had about 30% of his total output for the season. Over a 4 week span, Murray had 601 (67%) of his yards and both of his TDs, and then got hurt in week 14 and missed the rest of the season. Helu had a similar season, playing inconsistently for the first 11 weeks, never having more than 10 carries. Then in weeks 12-14 he had 334 yards (over 50%) and both of his TDs, followed that with an ok game, then missed week 16 and managed only 4 carries for 5 yards in the season finale. These players probably went undrafted or much later on in the fantasy draft, then won you some weeks if you managed to add them, and then cost you some as well.
Over the last 5 seasons, only 26 rookie running backs (there were 19 RBs drafted this year alone) have received 100+ carries, and only 6 have topped the 1000 yard rushing mark. (noteworthy, 8 of those 100 carry rookie backs came from 2008 and 3 of the 6 1000 yard rookie backs from that same season) The average stat line for these 26 rookie running backs comes out to 762 yards and 5 TDs. That doesn’t sound too bad, and that matches up pretty well with last seasons top guys in Murray and Helu.
The other thing to consider is who is getting these numbers and where they are coming from. Last year saw 5 running backs go in the first 2 rounds of the NFL Draft but the leaders fantasy-wise were DeMarco Murray(3rd) and Roy Helu(4th). Looking back over those same 26 backs to receive at least 100+ carries over the last 5 seasons, the break down is as follows: 10 1st rounders, 4 2nd rounders, 4 3rd rounders, 3 4th rounders , 2 5th rounders, and 3 of them were undrafted players. This list of 26 players has guys like Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson and Matt Forte on it, but is also includes names such as Delone Carter, Chris Ivory, Selvin Young and Kolby Smith.
Based on the numbers you could find a rookie running back good enough to be your #3 or 4 fantasy back, but the odds of if being who you think it will be are slim. The 1st round draft picks are the best bet to produce but it is by no means a guarantee that they will even play, and its just as likely you will be dropping them in week 4 to pick up the mid-round or undrafted rookie who is suddenly a starter, only to have them fizzle out a few weeks later as well.
When you look at Trent Richardson in your fantasy draft this fall, remember, even though the great A.P. went for 1341 yards and 12 TDs as a rookie, Darren McFadden was also widely considered a can’t miss player only had 499 yards and 4 touchdowns his first year in the league. Temper your expectations.