Running backs remain truly important in fantasy football and everyone loves rookies. Therefore, we look at five rookie running backs fantasy football owners should keep track of heading into 2016 drafts.
Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott was the first and only running back selected in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. It wasn’t hard to believe that Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys pulled the trigger on the big-name playmaker with the fourth overall pick.
Elliott became a household name because of his performance in the 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship game. He amassed 246 yards and four touchdowns on 36 carries. Elliott was named the MVP.
Elliott will enter the NFL after rushing for more than 1,800 yards in back-to-back seasons as a Buckeye. His 23 rushing touchdowns led the Big Ten and ranked third in the nation last season.
The Cowboys and Elliott may be a perfect match. The Cowboys averaged 118.1 rushing yards per game in 2015. However, their backfield was headlined by Darren McFadden and Joseph Randle. This goes to show that the Cowboys employ one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. In fact, they sent three offensive linemen (Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Travis Frederick) to the Pro Bowl last season. With the addition of a generational talent, the Cowboys’ rushing attack could be the NFL’s best in 2016.
After much debate on where he would land, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner was selected by the Tennessee Titans in the second round (45th overall) of this year’s NFL Draft.
Henry was astonishing in 2015. He rushed for 2,219 yards and 28 touchdowns, both tops in the country. In the College Football National Championship game, Henry gained 158 yards and scored three touchdowns.
The power back will join a rushing attack that struggled mightily last season. The Titans ranked 25th in average rushing yards per game with 92.8. Antonio Andrews led the backfield with an uninspired 520 yards.
It’s still unclear how Henry will be used, however. In March, the Titans acquired DeMarco Murray from the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for a fourth-round selection in this year’s draft. Murray averaged just 3.6 yards per carry last season and finished with 720 rushing yards.
After the draft, according to the Titans’ official website, Head Coach Mike Mularkey assured Murray that he was “still going to be the guy who is going to carry the load for us.”
At this point, Henry stands as a guy to stash on your bench. If Murray struggles, you better believe Henry will have every opportunity to cement himself as the starter. If not, Henry could establish a significant role in goal line situations. The six-foot-three-inch, 238 pound rookie is already one of the biggest running backs in the NFL.
Kenyan Drake spent the last four years contributing to the University of Alabama. Last season, Drake served as Derrick Henry’s backup, amassing 684 total yards and two total touchdowns. These aren’t stellar numbers, but there are reasons why he was selected in the third round (73rd overall) by the Miami Dolphins.
During his four years at Alabama, while battling through a broken arm and leg, Drake averaged 6.4 rushing yards per game and 12.4 yards per pass reception. He served as a kick returner last season, averaging 26.6 yards per return. The biggest play of his career came in the College Football National Championship game. Drake returned a Clemson kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown.
At the NFL Combine, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.45 seconds, third-best among running backs. Drake possesses six-foot-one-inch, 210 pound frame, giving him the ability to run with power.
After losing Lamar Miller to the Houston Texans, the Dolphins are desperately searching for a starting running back. Drake’s biggest competition will be Jay Ajayi, the second-year player out of Boise State. Ajayi averaged just 3.8 yards per carry last season.
Jordan Howard of Indiana University was selected by the Chicago Bears in the fifth round (150th overall) of the 2016 NFL Draft.
After transferring from the University of Alabama-Birmingham, Howard played one season for the Hoosiers. He totaled 1,213 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, averaging 6.2 yards per carry.
Howard is a powerful runner and led the draft class with 3.7 yards after contact. The biggest concern scouts have is Howard’s ability to stay healthy. Howard played in just nine games with the Hoosiers.
He’ll join a run-first offense with the Chicago Bears. The Bears rushed for 115.7 yards per game last season, ranking 11th in the NFL.
With the departure of Matt Forte, the Bears will likely give Jeremy Langford the first opportunity at securing the starting role. However, as we saw last season, Head Coach John Fox is not afraid to play rookie running backs. Jeremy Langford managed to carry the ball 148 times.
Devontae Booker will enter the NFL after just two seasons with the University of Utah. During his time with the Utes, Booker averaged 5.0 yards per carry and scored 21 total touchdowns. He was active in the passing game and possesses exceptional cutting ability. He did, however, fumble nine times in two seasons.
Booker was drafted by the reigning Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos in the fourth round (136th overall). Last season, the Broncos only rushed for 107.4 yards per game, ranking 17th in the NFL. Neither C.J. Anderson nor Ronnie Hillman impressed enough to cement themselves as the team’s future starter. Hillman led the team in yards with 863.
Booker will get a great opportunity to showcase his skills, especially since the quarterback role is still uncertain. Just like last season, the Broncos will rely on their run game and their defenses to take them back to the Super Bowl.