Rookies are polarizing in fantasy.
We’ve seen our fair shares of busts and we’ve seen those that exceed expectations in their debut season (*cough cough* Philip Lindsay). After a lot of talk about the top few rookie running backs, I decided to look at the first 15 running backs taken in this year’s draft. With a wide range of immediate contributors and roster-bubble guys, there is a lot to consider when picking a rookie for your team.
Josh Jacobs – Oakland Raiders (1st round, 24th pick)
Jacobs was the only running back to be selected in the first round this season. After the Raiders released Doug Martin, Jacobs was cemented as the top back in Oakland. He has the potential to become a solid three-down back in the NFL and could increase his value by becoming a more consistent receiving threat out of the backfield. With limited action at Alabama, he should have fresh legs for a long NFL season. Jacobs looks to be a low-end RB2 that should heavily contribute in an improved Raider offense.
Miles Sanders – Philadelphia Eagles (2nd round, 21st pick)
Sanders joins the convoluted Eagles running back committee, which has yet to see anyone take over the definite RB1 role. It looks like the Eagles will feature Sanders alongside newcomer Jordan Howard as the main backs. Sanders has the chance to become the lead back in Philly, but Head Coach Doug Peterson has favored a running back committee in the past. Look for Sanders to emerge as a solid flex option as we move deeper into the season. At Penn State, he flashed his ability to produce on the ground and through the air.
Darrell Henderson – Los Angeles Rams (3rd round, 6th pick)
Henderson steps right into the number two role for the Rams. He will be behind Todd Gurley to start the season, but we all saw the importance of back-up running back C.J. Anderson down the stretch. There are even more questions circling Gurley this season, and if anything goes wrong Henderson will be asked to step-in. At Memphis, he averaged 8.9 yards per carry showing off a wide skill set. He has the potential to average double-digit touches in the Rams’ offense behind Gurley, and his workload would only skyrocket if Gurley is forced to miss time. Look for Henderson as a late round steal, even with a rising draft stock.
David Montgomery – Chicago Bears (3rd round, 9th pick)
Shortly after the Rams took Henderson, the Bears traded up to secure the former Iowa State workhorse in Montgomery. He is a well-rounded player that can find holes in traffic, be effective in the passing game, and hold his own in pass protection. The Bears do have a crowded backfield with Tarik Cohen and newly acquired Mike Davis, but many believe Monty will stand-out (including fellow RB writer Anthony Haage, calling him a league winner ). Cohen will still be the feature back, especially at the start of the season, but Monty has the chance to shine in Matt Nagy’s offense. He’ll be worth targeting in the mid-rounds of your draft.
Devin Singletary – Buffalo Bills (3rd round, 10th pick)
The Bills followed the running back trend and selected Singletary out of Florida Atlantic directly after the Bears picked Monty. With the recent news of LeSean McCoy being released, Singletary’s stock has never been higher. He joins offseason additions TJ Yeldon and Frank Gore in the backfield and should jump to the top of the depth chart quickly. He put up massive numbers in college finishing with 66 touchdowns in 38 games and an average of 6.0 yards per carry. While he was underwhelming at the combine, he looks to have a big role in fantasy and could become a solid RB2.
Damien Harris – New England Patriots (3rd round, 23rd pick)
Harris was running mates with Jacobs at Alabama, but looks to have more of an uphill battle in the pros. In college, he ran for more than 1,000 yards twice showcasing his skillset. However, the Patriots will have one of the more crowded backfields in the league this season with Sony Michel and James White leading the charge. While Harris isn’t immediately penciled in as one of the top two backs, he still has value. The Patriots won’t waste the harjustice hill, d-running talent on the sidelines. As of now, Harris figures to be a solid bench player that will add some depth to your team. Plus, he would see an increased role if Michel or White goes down with an injury.
Alexander Mattison – Minnesota Vikings (3rd round, 38th pick)
Mattison joins the Vikings and immediately looks to fill-in for Latavius Murray, who went to Baltimore this offseason. Mattison will back-up Dalvin Cook, who has been productive in his short time in the NFL but has been hindered by injuries. Mattison proved that he is a capable runner at Boise State, finishing over 1,000 yards in his final two seasons. More importantly, he has showed off great hands this preseason. While he isn’t the most dynamic rookie running back, he figures to be an adequate #2 for Cook, who is always an injury threat. Look to steal him in the later rounds as a solid handcuff to an injury-prone player.
Bryce Love – Washington Redskins (4th round, 10th pick)
The big question about Love is what version we will see at the next level. Will we see the 2017 version who finished second in the Heisman? Or, will we see the 2018 shell that made him a questionable 4th round pick? He certainly showed the potential to be a homerun threat at Stanford but was limited by an ACL tear and an ankle injury. Once he gets past the first level, he has the speed and elusiveness to go all the way. He has a lot of upside, but also comes with a lot of risk. All signs point to him redshirting his rookie season on the PUP list. For dynasty players, he might be worth taking a flyer on, but don’t expect much this season.
Justice Hill – Baltimore Ravens (4th round, 11th pick)
The Ravens revamped their running back room this offseason with the addition of Mark Ingram and by drafting Hill in the fourth round out of Oklahoma State. Gus Edwards and Ingram look poised to carry the majority of the load in the early goings of the season, but Hill will still have a role in the offense. He’ll likely have a change of pace role with an emphasis on being a receiving threat. His speed is undeniable, and he has a knack for making defenders miss. As the season goes on, it is likely that Hill will adjust and get more touches. Like many of the other running backs, he could be worth a late round pick, especially in PPR leagues.
Benny Snell Jr. – Pittsburg Steelers (4th round, 20th pick)
As of now, Snell’s fantasy outlook doesn’t look very promising. He is slated as the third running back on the team behind James Conner and Jaylen Samuels, and that doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon. Snell has good size and isn’t afraid of contact, but he lacks the breakaway speed needed in today’s NFL. He also has a lot of work to do in pass protection and the passing game before being a threat through the air. Unless you have a very deep, dynasty, or rookie-only league, Snell doesn’t look to have a big role for this season.
Tony Pollard – Dallas Cowboys (4th round, 26th pick)
Pollard’s 2019 season will hinge on Ezekiel Elliot‘s availability. With or without Zeke, Pollard will see the field this season. If Zeke and the Cowboys can’t resolve their current contract issues, then Pollard has the inside track to start week 1. He has been a pleasant surprise during the preseason and has taken all the first team reps to this point. If Zeke gets his new contract, then Pollard will serve as more of a complimentary back, especially in the passing game. Fantasy owners should keep a close eye on the Zeke situation, and if Pollard is available in the later rounds, he is a solid pickup.
Ryquell Armstead – Jacksonville Jaguars (5th round, 2nd pick)
Armstead is a bully back from Temple that could carve out a nice role in the NFL. As it stands right now, he will be competing with Alfred Blue for the second spot behind Leonard Fournette, which could quickly result in a starting role knowing Fournette’s injury history. He is a solid downhill runner and blocker but isn’t very elusive. He also needs to develop into a better receiver, which limits his value. Assuming Fournette stays healthy this season, it will be worth following the battle between Armstead and Blue. Whoever emerges could be a good late-round bench player that is one Fournette injury away from starting.
Qadree Ollison – Atlanta Falcons (5th round, 14th pick)
It looks like Ollison will start his rookie campaign as the third back in Atlanta behind Devonta Freeman and Ito Smith. Ollison had a strong preseason and will look to carry that momentum into the regular season. He is a bigger back that works best inside the tackles. In traffic he uses his quick feet to find the hole but lacks the speed necessary for homerun plays. While he’s adequate in the passing game, there is nothing to noteworthy about his ball skills. I could see him getting chances in the Falcons goal line package this season. He isn’t worth drafting but could be a solid waiver pickup down the line barring any injuries.
Jordan Scarlett – Carolina Panthers (5th round, 16th pick)
Scarlett has had his fair share of issues off the field, but still managed to be a 5th round pick in this year’s draft. Unfortunately for him, there won’t be much playing time with Christian McCaffery at the helm. If given the opportunity to see extended field time, you’ll notice Scarlett’s speed, balance, and agility. He is well-built, which shows in his blocking, and has the ability to blend power with speed for big plays. I would not call him a threat in the passing game, which he’ll need to work on if we wants to stick around in the league. He isn’t worth much consideration in your fantasy draft.
Trayveon Williams – Cincinnati Bengals (6th round, 9th pick)
Following a torn ACL to fellow rookie Rodney Anderson, Williams looks to be in line as the third running back for the Bengals. Joe Mixon and Giovanni Bernard will account for the majority of snaps, making it tough for Williams to see the field. He proved that he can produce at Texas A&M but joins an already established running back room. With above-average vision and reliable hands Williams could make some waves in his NFL career, but I wouldn’t count on it for this season. He’ll struggle to find consistent touches and shouldn’t be considered in the majority of fantasy drafts.
Other notable draft selections:
Darwin Thompson – Kansas City Chiefs (6th round, 41st pick)
While I promised the first 15 drafted, I couldn’t leave out Thompson. The Utah State product is poised to have a big year. The recent news of the Chiefs trading Carlos Hyde to the Texans just cements Thompson’s role even more. He will likely start the season as the number two guy behind Damien Williams but will see plenty of action. He is a hard runner that will hit the hole and move the pile. He also has good ball skills and could be an additional weapon for Patrick Mahomes out of the backfield. He should be worth targeting in the later rounds of most drafts. Don’t be surprised if he becomes the feature back during the season.