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Written by Sam Gubner
Last year taught us among other things, that rookies and backup running backs can produce and be a very nice surprise for your team. Players such as Todd Gurley, David Johnson, and Thomas Rawls made immediate impacts for fantasy squads last season. All it takes is one injury an these rookies will take off. So now I want to show you which rookies you should stash on your bench or even start this season. All running backs mentioned in this segment are must-own handcuffs to the players currently starting over them.
Ezekiel Elliot – Dallas Cowboys
Elliot was taken fourth overall in the NFL Draft this season, and couldn’t have landed on a better team. With the aging Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris, Elliot has the opportunity to make an immediate impact. And with the best offensive line in football and a balanced offensive attack featuring Tony Romo and Dez Bryant, Elliot will be a perfect addition. Look for the Ohio State product to have a DeMarco Murray type of season and get tons of carries. Elliot is a good first round pick in fantasy football and a steal if you can snag him in the second.
Jordan Howard – Chicago Bears
Jordan Howard was a star at Indiana with 1,319 yards and 10 touchdowns from scrimmage. Even though he was drafted in the fifth round the Chicago Bears have big plans for Howard, already mentioning him in a running back by committee that involves him and Jeremy Langford. So besides Ezekiel Elliot, Jordan Howard is the only running back coming into training camp with a strong chance at securing the starting gig. For these reasons Howard is a very smart bench pick, especially for Langford owners as the starting job could switch week-to-week.
C.J. Prosise – Seattle Seahawks
C.J. Prosise is a great bench pick in fantasy football. Prosise is a great rusher using his speed and decisive cuts to rush for 1,029 yards and 10 touchdowns his senior year. But Prosise is also a great pass catching back, and was drafted in the third round by the Seattle Seahawks so at the very least will get to play on passing downs. In addition, the current starting running back who broke out as a rookie, Thomas Rawls, is quite injury prone missing a major portion of last season due to an ankle injury. If Rawls were to suffer another injury than Prosise is immediately a must-start running back in fantasy.
Derrick Henry – Tennesse Titans
If he wasn’t the reigning Heisman winner and arguably the most talented running back in the draft, I would write Derrick Henry off. But he is extremely talented and did win the Heisman so Henry should be owned in all fantasy formats. Henry led running backs in with 2,219 yards, 28 touchdowns, and 395 rushes (wow) in college last season. The reason Henry is able to have such a large workload? Well because he is a gym rat and is by far the most fit running back in the draft, bench pressing 440 pounds and squatting 500 pounds. Sadly, even with all of his talent and future durability, Henry ended up on a really bad team in the Tennessee Titans who already have a workhorse in the recently signed DeMarco Murray. But if Murray gets injured, which has done multiple times in the past, then Henry could join the fantasy elites in 2016.
Kenyan Drake – Miami Dolphins
Kenyan Drake never managed to get playing time at Alabama, but that is understandable as he played with college superstars such as Derrick Henry, T.J. Yeldon, and many others. And now after being drafted in the third round by the Dolphins, Drake may finally be able to showcase his talent. The thing that is unique about Drake is he is a bull-rusher being able to gain many yards after contact, and still has ridiculous speed running a 4.45 40 yard dash which led all running backs. And what gets even better is Miami workhorse Lamar Miller left for the Texans this offseason, so all the competition that is left is the injury prone Jay Ajayi. Expect Ajayi to win the starting gig out the gate, but if he gets injured or underperforms then Drake could be a great fantasy running back.
Kenneth Dixon – Baltimore Ravens
Kenneth Dixon was a superstar at Louisiana Tech with three 1,000 yard-25 touchdown seasons, causing him to be drafted in the fourth round by the Baltimore Ravens. Ravens already have a solid rusher in Justin Forsett, but to me they wouldn’t draft a prolific runner like Dixon in the fourth round and not give him a chance at some playing time. Also, Forsett is old and showed it last season breaking his arm and missing a large portion of the season. I think if Justin Forsett gets injured again, then Dixon will be a top ten fantasy running back and replace the void left by the disgraced Ray Rice.
Paul Perkins – New York Giants
While not being as good as Dixon, Paul Perkins was also pretty good at UCLA rushing for 1,500 yards and 10 touchdowns his last two seasons for the Bruins. Now being drafted by the New York Giants in the fifth round, Perkins could be in for a big year. With his competition for carries being Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams, Perkins could easily pass them up the depth chart and become a poor man’s Jamaal Charles. The reason I say this is because Perkins has good speed, and also has unbelievable moves and makes mind-blowing cuts that can easily break a defender’s ankles and allow Perkins to go on huge runs. Drafting Perkins late in the draft is a steal.
DeAndre Washington – Oakland Raiders
Wendell Smallwood – Philadelphia Eagles
Tyler Ervin – Houston Texans
Keith Marshall – Washington Redskins