As far as rookies go, running backs have the easiest transition into the NFL. They do have to learn offenses that are more complex than what they ran in college and normally need to improve their pass blocking skills, but besides those two things the positions are pretty similar at both levels. Last year three rookie running backs finished in the top 17 in rushing yards (Lacy, Stacy, Bell) and Gio Bernard and Andre Ellington both had impressive seasons as dangerous receivers out of the backfield. There were no running backs drafted in the first round this year, but there weren’t any last year either and five of the top ten fantasy rookies were running backs.
For most of you in standard re-draft fantasy leagues, only the top few names on this list will make any difference to you. For those of you in multi-year keeper leagues or long-term dynasty leagues with deep rosters, I’ve broken down the fantasy potential of every RB drafted and a few relevant UDFAs.
* Before you rip me in the comments section keep in mind that these aren’t rankings of long-term success, just their projected fantasy impact this season.
Rookie Fantasy Rankings
QB | RB | WR | TE | IDP
1.) Bishop Sankey, Titans
Playing time - With the release of Chris Johnson, Sankey only has Shonn Greene and Jackie Battle to beat out on the depth chart, which shouldn’t be a problem. Greene will get his share of carries but he is a mediocre between the tackles back (3.8 ypc) who would be better used as a short-yardage guy with Sankey as the workhorse. I think Sankey will lead rookie RBs in carries.
Fantasy Outlook - Sankey is my early pick for offensive rookie of the year. He should be getting 15-20 carries and a few catches per game with the Titans and is a solid well-rounded back who doesn’t need to come off the field. He’s not a burner, but can run inside or out, is a smooth receiver out of the backfield, and was one of the best pass blockers in the draft. I think Sankey has a shot at 1,400 all-purpose yards, 40+ receptions, and 8-10 TDs.
Auction value - Re-draft $18, Keeper $25
2013 Player comparison – Reggie Bush
Draft him ahead of¹ – T-Rich, Rice, S-Jax
2.) Jeremy Hill, Bengals:
Playing time - Hill is the perfect complement to Gio Bernard and is the ideal fit for BJGE’s role last season. I wouldn’t be surprised if Hill gets close to BJGE’s usage from last year (220 carries) and should do much better then his pathetic 3.4 ypc. The Bengals are talking about using Bernard as a slot receiver more often which just leaves more carries for Hill.
Fantasy outlook – Hill is a powerful runner who excelled between the tackles in college and that is what he’ll be asked to do with the Bengals. I think Hill has a good shot at 1000 yards and 8-10 TDs.
Auction value - Re-draft $14, Keeper $20
2013 Statistical comparison – Zac Stacy
Draft him ahead of - T-Rich, S-Jax, Ridley
3.) Devonta Freeman, Falcons:
Playing time - S-Jax has lost a step or three and Jacquizz Rodgers is too small to be an every down back, which leaves the door wide open for Freeman to earn some carries. He’s short (5’8) but a stocky 206 pounds and I think he has enough bulk to hold up with a lead back workload. Whether he gets it or not depends more on S-Jax who will get plenty of chances to keep the role, but if he doesn’t show more burst than he did last year than I think Freeman can win the job outright. He wasn’t used much in college, so there is plenty of tread left on the tires.
Fantasy outlook - Freeman will have to beat out S-Jax for the job as I mentioned above, but I think he has a shot to do it. I had him ranked as one of the top 6 backs coming out of the draft and he is underrated due to splitting carries at FSU. He can catch out of the backfield, block enough to stay on the field and is fast and shifty enough with the ball in his hands to produce if given the chance. Freeman is a dark horse ROY candidate and could be a fantasy steal in the late rounds with 750+ yards, 40-50 catches, and 6+ TD a definite possibility once he takes S-Jax’s job.
Auction value - Re-draft $5, Keeper $10
2013 Statistical comparison – Gio Bernard
Draft ahead of – Mark Ingram, Shonn Greene
4.) Terrance West, Browns
Playing time - The Browns signed RB Ben Tate in the off-season to take over as the #1 running back and he should get most of the carries early in the season. Tate has never been a featured back and has had trouble staying healthy even when sharing the job. If he manages to hold up all season, then West probably won’t see more than 8-10 carries per game, but if he goes down then West is the back best suited for taking over as the primary ball carrier. He has the bulk to hold up running between the tackles and has the long speed to break a couple. I’d be surprised if West doesn’t get a few starts this year and if he gets a chance West is talented enough to keep the job.
Fantasy outlook – West will probably see a series or two to spell Tate early in the season and won’t have enough fantasy value to deserve a roster spot. Should Tate go down though, West instantly becomes a solid RB2. If you’re the type of fantasy owner that likes to draft handcuffs, West should be near the top of your list.
Auction value – Re-draft $4, Keeper $8
2013 Statistical comparison – LeGarrette Blount
Draft him ahead of – Mark Ingram, Shonn Greene
5.) Tre Mason, Rams
Playing time – Zac Stacy is the clear #1 in STL, but Isaiah Pead has been a disaster as his back-up and Benny Cunningham looked good at times last year (against the Bears at least) but is a similar back to Stacy. Mason has better speed than both and could see the field as a change of pace back this year. He’s stronger than your typical 3rd down back, and has an intriguing mix of power and speed that made him my #1 RB in this year’s draft. I think Mason is more talented than Stacy and if he can prove it as the season wears on he could carve out enough carries to be useful for fantasy purposes.
Fantasy outlook – Mason could be one of those late round picks that will require patience. As the season progresses I think Mason will see a bigger and bigger role and by the last quarter of the season (fantasy playoffs) Mason could be worthy of a starting spot. The Ram have an improved offense line and Mason has the power to run inside and the speed to break one outside. He’s a much more complete back than Stacy and I think talent will win out in the Rams backfield it just may take most of the season.
Auction value – Re-draft $3, Keeper: $8
2013 Statistical comparison – Andre Ellington
Draft him ahead of – Donald Brown, David Wilson