Running Wild: The 2005 Rookie Running Back Class

By: Jason Clarke

One position that usually bucks the trend of players having a longer adjustment to the game and being productive players from the get go is running back. A few reasons exist for the immediate production you may get out of a rookie running back as opposed to a wide receiver or a quarterback.

One reason is that teams usually draft a running back because there is an immediate need at the position. Teams rarely draft a running back as experimental or development player. A few scenarios create the need to draft a running back such as when a veteran who is approaching the downside of his career, an existing player suffers a serious injury or when a star player blatantly abandons his team…cough, Ricky, cough. These situations almost force a team to find a talented replacement quickly who can step in on day one and carry the load of the team.

Another reason why rookie running backs produce quicker than other positions is the fact that running backs have the shortest career span of any position in the NFL. An average running back will play under four years in the NFL before hanging up their cleats. Teams expect them to come in, make an immediate impact and get the most out of them while they are still physically able to produce. The players at this position take such a beating that you generally want a young, physical specimen to carry the load instead of a grizzled veteran who may only have a limited number of carries left in his legs.

A small learning curve is yet another reason why a rookie running back can step in on day one and give you a thousand-yard season right away. Other than blocking assignments and short pass patterns, most of a running backs work is instinctive.

The best backs in the NFL create on the fly and have a talent and instincts that cannot be taught in the classroom. Other positions such as receiver or quarterback must spend a good deal of their time on the practice field and in the film room learning complicated schemes and techniques that will help them become a complete pro and future fantasy stud.

If you look at some of the bigger names in fantasy football today and take a peek at their rookie production you’ll see that they many of them were very productive in their first seasons

(Fantasy Points based on 1 pt. Per 10 yds and 6 pts. Per TD)
Rookie Yr.PlayerTeamRu. YardsTDsFantasy Pts
2004Kevin JonesDetroit1,1335143.3
2003Domanick DavisHouston1,0318151.1
2002Clinton PortisDenver1,50815240.8
2001LaDainian TomlinsonSan Diego1,23610183.6
2000Jamal LewisBaltimore1,3646172.4
1999Edgerrin JamesIndianapolis1,55313233.3
1998Fred TaylorJacksonville1,22314206.3
1997Corey DillonCincinnati1,12910172.9
1995Curtis MartinNew England1,48714232.7
1994Marshall FaulkIndianapolis1,28211194.2
1993Jerome BettisL.A Rams1,4298190.9

. It didn’t take long for these players to make the transition to the pro game and become significant fantasy producers in their rookie season. There were other rookie running backs that had some pretty good rookie years but faded off into the sunset, but we’re not worried about that right now. We are in search of immediate production!

A few players that should be on your draft radar for the 2005 season should be Ronnie Brown, Carnell Williams, Cedric Benson, J.J Arrington, Eric Shelton and maybe even Maurice Clarett.

Brown may be the most solid fantasy prospect for this season since he really faces no significant competition for the starting job. Even if Ricky Williams can come back and play this season, don’t expect head coach Nick Saban or his teammates to accept him with open arms. Williams has burned too many bridges and cast too much doubt in the minds of his coaches and fellow players to be handed back the feature running back job. Brown should not have much trouble beating out Sammy Morris, Travis Minor or Lamar Gordon for the starting job. None of those player possess the combination of size and speed that Brown possesses.

About the only question mark with Brown is if he will have enough players around him to make him successful. The offensive line is mostly a collection of journeymen and backups and A.J. Feeley did nothing last year to make defenses fear the Dolphins arial attack. Even if defenses stack the line and try to stop the run, Brown should get enough attempts to make a fantasy impact.

Rookie running backs other than Brown face some sort of competition heading into training camp. Carnell Williams will have to beat out incumbent starter Michael Pittman in Tampa Bay. Cedric Benson will have to battle with last year’s starter, Thomas Jones for the top spot in Chicago. J.J. Arrington may have to split time with Marcel Shipp who is returning from injury in Arizona and Maurice Clarett faces an uphill battle for playing time with Tatum Bell, Mike Anderson and the newly acquired Ron Dayne on the roster.

If we had to rank the top five rookie running backs in terms of fantasy value right now, it would look a little something like this:

1. Ronnie Brown, Mia
2. Cedric Benson, Chi
3. J.J. Arrington, Ariz
4. Carnell Williams, TB
5. Eric Shelton, Car

So when this years draft rolls aroundFree Articles, don’t make the mistake of simply dismissing a talent just because he a rookie. You might find out that you could get some outstanding production and value out of a wide-eyed rookie running back that has a bright future ahead of him.

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