While it is always difficult to predict how rookies are going to produce, that certainly doesn’t mean that they don’t have value. Obviously, once we get a better feel for rosters we will be better able to rank these guys, so consider this early list knowing that it could change over the next few weeks:
1) Daniel Thomas – Miami Dolphins – If both Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams depart via free agency as anticipated, Thomas will be left sitting atop the Dolphins depth chart. Of course, you would expect the Dolphins to bring in a veteran back who could share carries with Thomas or maybe start until they deem Thomas is ready to carry the load. Even if that were to happen, the second round draft pick is described as a physical runner who could start the season off as a TD vulture and evolve into so much more. That alone would give him value, though the fact that he has experience in the Wildcat certainly doesn’t hurt.
Jeff Darlington of the Miami Herald (click here for the article) gave a great write-up of the situation with Thomas after he was selected:
“A physical back with the potential to be an every-down player, Thomas also has some intriguing pass-catching abilities that could also make him Brown’s successor if Miami continues to implement the Wildcat offense. But general manager Jeff Ireland was clear about something Friday night: The Dolphins didn’t draft Thomas because he was a Wildcat quarterback during his years in junior college.”
Could he be the new Ronnie Brown? That thought alone certainly makes him intriguing for fantasy owners.
2) Mark Ingram – New Orleans Saints – When he became the first running back selected in the draft (28 overall), you knew he was going to be put in a position to produce immediately. The real question is how quickly the former Heisman Trophy winner is going to be able to get up to speed and accustomed to the Saints offense.
However, you know people are going to question if this is an ideal landing spot for him. The team already has Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory on the roster, not to mention the potential of Reggie Bush (depending on which rumor you want to believe) and the fact that they have a history of being a pass-oriented offense.
Why would you draft him in the first round given that scenario? That’s a good question that only the Saints can answer. Maybe the talent was just too much to pass up at that point in the draft (especially since it was their second first round pick). Maybe they don’t anticipate having Bush and Thomas on the roster come Opening Day. Whatever the situation, there are a lot of questions hanging over Ingram and his potential impact. Long-term he could be the best running back from the 2011 draft, but I can’t place him there quite yet.
3) Mikel Leshoure – Detroit Lions – The injury history of Jahvid Best certainly could open the door for Leshoure to emerge as an every down back at some point during 2011. At 6’0”, 230 lbs., the second round pick out of Illinois instantly steps in as a great compliment to Best, at the very least. At best, even a healthy Best can’t hold him back, with Leshoure getting regular carries and Best becoming a third down/change of pace back.
4) Roy Helu – Washington Redskins – We all know Mike Shanahan’s history of developing unheralded backs and Helu could be the latest. Drafted in the fourth round, he certainly will get the opportunity. Ryan Torain led the Redskins in rushing in 2010 with 164 rushes for 742 yards, while no one else in the revolving door managed to impress. Keep a close eye on the situation, but he’s a good choice to take a flier on late in your draft.
5a) Ryan Williams – Arizona Cardinals – With Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells in place, there certainly are significant questions as to how he fits into the 2011 plans. Of course, with Wells’ injury history, a role could quickly develop for him. Monitor the situation, but consider him a low-end option.
5b) De’Rel Scott – New York Giants – Drafted in the seventh round, this is going to be an overlooked player by many. However, the Giants running back situation is extremely unsettled given the regression of Brandon Jacobs and the potential free agent status of Ahmad Bradshaw. Just to give you an idea of Scott’s speed, according to NBC’s Evan Silva (click here for the article), “With an official forty time of 4.34, Scott was the fastest running back at the NFL Scouting Combine.” The Giants have a history of getting production out of their draft picks, so he’s a name worth keeping in the back of your mind for later on.
5c) Alex Green – Green Bay Packers – The Packers lost Ryan Grant in 2010 and saw Brandon Jackson and James Starks step up and fill the void. Could they decide to go with a running back by committee approach, including their 2011 third round pick? At 6’0” and 225 lbs., he certainly could find his niche.
Make sure to check out the rest of the early rankings from Rotoprofessor: