Fantasy owners well know that rookie running backs have the potential to make your season. Generally not selected in the first few rounds of the draft, you have the potential to catch lightning in a bottle in the later rounds with players who can put up big numbers. Let’s take a look at my Top Five Rookie Running Backs for 2010:
1. Ryan Mathews – San Diego Chargers
LaDanian Tomlinson is now in New York. Darren Sproles is a solid running back, but at 5’6″ he is more of a change-of-pace/third down back, as opposed to an every down option. That puts Mathews, who was the twelfth overall pick in the draft, the likely recipient of significant touches. After rushing for 1,808 yards and 19 TD at Fresno State in 2009, he has the potential to put up big numbers.
2. Ben Tate – Houston Texans
Steve Slaton opens the season as the top RB in Houston, but after rushing for just 437 yards in 2009, there is no guarantee that he is the starter in Week 1. Enter Tate, drafted late in the second round, who has the ability to make a quick impact. Of the selection, nfl.com said “As a “one-cut” back with good speed and power, he excels at running between the tackles and is an aggressive finisher”.
3. C.J. Spiller – Buffalo Bills
He was the first running back drafted (ninth overall), but he doesn’t find himself in as good a situation as Matthews. With both Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch (though, there are rumors that he will be traded, which would certainly change these rankings so we will revisit this if need be) still on the roster, touches are going to be tough to come by. I’d look for Spiller to enter the season as the third down back, thanks to his lightning quickness, but the more he produces, the more opportunities he’s going to see. Long-term he may be the best of the bunch, but in 2010 he faces too much competition early to depend on.
4. Jahvid Best – Detroit Lions
The Lions are a team on the upswing. The offense is slowly coming together and Best, selected 30th overall, could add a dependability to the running game. Kevin Smith is still around, but he is returning from a torn ACL, so who really knows what he is going to bring to the table. If Smith is unable to return to the field it will be Maurice Morris that shares touches. If that happens, there’s no reason to think Best doesn’t quickly emerge as the main back (career best 628 yards in 2007). That means Best could emerge as the #1 back sooner, rather then later.
5. Montario Hardesty – Cleveland Browns
When Eric Mangini is running the show, anything can happen. At 6’0″, 225 lbs., at worst he should quickly become the power back, meaning he could become a great vulture TD guy. At best, he shows early that he is a better runner then Jerome Harrison and earns regular touches. Either way, he’s a great gamble on draft day, as he should prove fantasy viable.
Toby Gerhart – Minnesota Vikings
Yes, he has someone named Adrian Peterson standing in his way, but if the Vikings opt to run the ball more (and if Brett Favre either chooses not to come back or is hampered by his ankle injury, they could), Peterson is going to need a breather from time-to-time. Of course, if Peterson continues to fumble, it’s possible the Vikings use another option a little more often. With Chester Taylor now in Chicago, Gerhart should be that guy. Teams have used RB rotations more and more, and being the second back on a high-powered offense is an enviable place to be.
What are your thoughts on the rookie running back class? Who has the potential to have the biggest year? Who would you avoid?
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