It’s pretty obvious who the top few rookie running backs are likely going to be. All you have to do is look at the first round of the draft and the situations the players will be in to make that determination. However how those three rank, as well as the bottom of these rankings, certainly has room for debate. Let’s take a look at how things currently stack up:
1. Trent Richardson – Cleveland Browns
The one back that will immediately step in and act as his team’s lead back, there’s no questioning that he is the elite prize among fantasy rookie running backs. He has the potential to be a Top 10 running back as soon as 2012 and in yearly formats the hype is going to help inflate his draft day value. That’s going to make him a somewhat risky selection, as we have all seen young running backs fail. However, entering into the year he’s the only option that deserves the top spot in these rankings.
2. Doug Martin – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Martin will likely share carries with LeGarrette Blount from Week 1, but has the potential to eventually emerge as the lead back with Blount falling into a goal line/short yardage role. Considering Blount is coming off a poor season (781 yards in 14 games) and is known to be a poor blocker and receiver, this really shouldn’t be much of a stretch. The Buccaneers passing game should be much improved, which will force defenses to respect it and could open some opportunities for Martin to run wild. He’s more of a low-end RB2/RB3 at this point, but could quickly develop into a must use fantasy option.
3. David Wilson – New York Giants
Many think the Giants simply panicked when they selected Wilson, one pick after Martin was taken by Tampa Bay. If that’s the case or not, the Giants did not use a first round pick to have Wilson fall into a third back type of role. He should fill the void created when Brandon Jacobs took his ball across the country to San Francisco. He may not have the same size as Jacobs, but he should get the same chances. Plus, with Ahmad Bradshaw being a major injury risk, Wilson could easily get significant carries early and often. If you do draft Bradshaw, Wilson is an absolute must own handcuff. The reason he comes in #3, though, is that he will need an injury to emerge as the Giants lead back.
4. Ronnie Hillman – Denver Broncos
The Broncos are going to be a much different team in 2012 with Peyton Manning. It’s not going to be a run first attack focused on wearing down opposing defenses. That’s the type of offense that Willis McGahee thrived in (1,199 yards on 249 carries). While he’s simply not going to be thrown to the side and forgotten about, Hillman offers the potential big play threat out of the backfield that could complement the passing game. He’s considered by many as quick and dynamic, though his size could work as a detriment to him operating as the lead back. If the Broncos get him 10-15 touches a game, as a change of pace to keep defenses honest, it’s realistic that he holds FLEX potential.
5. Isaiah Pead – St. Louis Rams
The Rams could easily try to limit the carries of Steven Jackson, as he has been nearly the entire Rams offense for some time. However, it’s going to be a slow transition and I wouldn’t anticipate Pead getting enough looks early on to have significant fantasy appeal. In dynasty leagues, absolutely, as he is the future at the position for the team. In redraft formats, he’s more of a low-end flier and nothing more.
What are your thoughts of the rookie running back class? Who will you be looking to draft? Who are you going to avoid?
Make sure to check out our 2012 fantasy football rankings: