NFL

Rookie RBs with an Immediate Impact – Robert Gonzales

D'Andre Swift (No. 7). Photo by Tammy Anthony Baker. (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Dating back to the 2015 draft, the top 5 RBs drafted in the first 2 rounds were most likely to make an immediate impact on their NFL teams. For each year I tracked the top 5 backs drafted, but only highlighted the backs that went on to be successful starters.

2015: Todd Gurley, 10th pick, 1st RB taken, Offensive Rookie of the Year
Melvin Gordon, 15th pick, 2nd RB taken, had a poor rookie season but became a bell cow eventually

2016: Ezekiel Elliott, 4th pick, 1st RB taken
Derrick Henry, 45th pick, 2nd RB taken, had to wait behind starter DeMarco Murray

2017: Leonard Fournette, 4th pick, 1st RB taken
Christian McCaffrey, 8th pick, 2nd RB taken
Dalvin Cook, 41st pick, 3rd RB taken
Joe Mixon, 48th pick, 4th RB taken
Alvin Kamara, 67th pick, 5th RB taken, Offensive Rookie of the Year
Kareem Hunt, 86th pick, 6th RB taken

As you can tell, 2017 was a very special year for the RB position. Kamara and Hunt were exceptional 3rd round picks, 6 of the top 6 RBs drafted became successful starters.

2018: Saquon Barkley, 2nd pick, 1st RB taken, Offensive Rookie of the Year
Sony Michel, 31st pick, 3rd RB taken
Nick Chubb, 35th pick, 4th RB taken

2019: Josh Jacobs, 24th pick, 1st RB taken
Miles Sanders, 53rd pick, 2nd RB taken
Devin Singletary, 74th pick (3rd round pick), 5th RB taken

In 2020, the top 5 RB prospects are Jonathan Taylor, D’Andre Swift, J.K. Dobbins, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and Cam Akers. Their college stats are as follows:

Jonathan Taylor: 5’11” 214 lbs, 2019 was the only relevant year of receptions for Taylor.
2017: 299 rush, 1977 yds, 6.6 YPA, 13 TDs, 6 Fum
2018: 307 rush, 2194 yds, 7.1 YPA, 16 TDs, 4 Fum
2019: 320 rush, 2003 yds, 6.3 YPA, 21 TDs, 6 Fum, 26 Recs, 252 Rec yds, 5 Rec TDs

D’Andre Swift: 5’9″ 216 lbs, Left out 2017 season when Nick Chubb and Sony Michel were the starters.
2018: 163 rush, 1049 yds, 6.4 YPA, 10 TDs, 1 Fum, 32 Recs, 297 Rec yds, 3 Rec TDs
2019: 196 rush, 1218 yds, 6.2 YPA, 7 TDs, 2 Fum, 24 Recs, 216 Rec yds, 1 Rec TD

J.K. Dobbins5’10” 216 lbs
2017: 194 rush, 1403 yds, 7.2 YPA, 7 TDs, 1 Fum, 22 Recs, 135 Rec yds, 1 Rec TD
2018: 230 rush, 1053 yds, 4.6 YPA, 10 TDs, 1 Fum, 26 Recs, 263 Rec yds, 2 Rec TDs
2019: 301 rush, 2003 yds, 6.7 YPA, 21 TDs, 2 Fum, 23 Recs, 247 Rec yds, 2 Rec TDs

Clyde Edwards-Helaire: 5’8″ 209 lbs, Left out 2017 season when Derrius Guice was the starter.
2018: 146 rush, 658 yds, 4.5 YPA, 7 TDs, 11 Recs, 96 Rec yds
2019: 215 rush, 1414 yds, 6.6 YPA, 16 TDs, 1 Fum, 55 Recs, 453 Rec yds, 1 Rec TD

Cam Akers5’11” 212 lbs
2017: 194 rush, 1024 yds, 5.3 YPA, 7 TDs, 1 Fum, 16 Recs, 116 Rec yds, 1 Rec TD
2018: 161 rush, 706 yds, 4.4 YPA, 6 TDs, 3 Fum, 23 Recs, 145 Rec yds, 2 Rec TDs
2019: 231 rush, 1144 yds, 5 YPA, 14 TDs, 3 Fum, 30 Recs, 225 Rec yds, 4 Rec TDs

Landing spots will be everything for these rookies. Even the best running backs weren’t able to produce in bad situations, for example, Derrick Henry. Talent + Opportunity usually = Success. These stats show the most successful rookie running backs that will likely be drafted in the first 3 rounds. Where they get drafted will likely lead to NFL success. Opportunity will be key but based on recent statistics we can reasonably say 2-3 of these backs will carve out a fantasy-relevant role this season. The first RB taken has had the highest hit rate over the past 5 years.

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