After months of speculation, rumors and player scouting analysis, the 2015 NFL Draft is officially in the books. Now we look forward to training camp battles, mock drafts, average draft position (ADP) analysis and hours of research to prep for the best day of the year – fantasy football draft day! Don’t feel like you need to go it alone, because Draft Buddy is here to help!
Post-NFL Draft the first order of business is to review where the top rookies landed and judge their opportunity for success, including potential for a big instant impact in the NFL and on fantasy football rosters. Every year there are a handful of rookies that deliver an outstanding season that no one saw coming.
My rookie analysis series, starting today, focuses on each skill position to identify the rookies that have the highest potential for a breakout freshman year. Here are my Top 10 rookie running backs.
1. Melvin Gordon, Chargers
Let’s start off with a surprise: Melvin Gordon, in my opinion, has the best opportunity to lead this year’s rookie running backs in fantasy production. The San Diego Chargers traded up to grab Gordon, which is a great sign they have big plans for him right away, even with a somewhat crowded depth chart. Philip Rivers survived the trade rumors and is still under center to help keep defenses honest, a big boost to Gordon’s prospects. Gordon could easily bulldoze his way to lead all rookies in rushing. Interesting factoid: Gordon broke the NCAA single-game rushing record with 408 yards, a record previously held by LaDainian Tomlinson, who ran the majority of his Hall of Fame caliber career with the Chargers.
2. Todd Gurley, Rams
Arguably the most talented running back in this class, Todd Gurley comes in at number two on my list for the upcoming season. Currently, Gurley is recovering from a torn ACL, which is the only reason he fell one spot in my rankings due to risk of the St. Louis Rams taking their time with him. Assuming he does not suffer any setbacks, Gurley will make an immediate impact for the Rams. The Rams play “in your face” tough defense and will try to control the game flow by running the football as often as possible. Once Gurley is capable of handling a full workload, which by my guess is pretty quickly into the NFL season, quarterback Nick Foles will not hesitate to get Gurley involved in the passing game.
3. T.J. Yeldon, Jaguars
The Jacksonville Jaguars are in desperate need of a bell-cow running back, and that might be just what they got in T.J. Yeldon. With only Toby Gerhart and Denard Robinson ahead of him, Yeldon should easily jump the depth charts to become the starter. He is the type of back that will chip away four and five yard runs and then follow it up with a first down through the air using his excellent pass-catching skills. He also has great blocking skills, which will make franchise quarterback Blake Bortles extremely happy and keep Yeldon on the field.
4. Tevin Coleman, Falcons
Atlanta Falcons have one of the most deadly pass attacks in the league with Julio Jones and Roddy White. However, to compensate for that, they have a horrible run game. They hope that Tevin Coleman will be the answer. New offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan likes to run the football and he is not afraid of using one running back (Alfred Morris) or splitting carries (Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell). If Coleman proves he can fit into Shanahans’ zone blocking scheme, he will find himself, at a minimum, splitting carries with teammate Devonta Freeman, who didn’t wow us last season.
5. Ameer Abdullah, Lions
Ameer Abdullah will enter Detroit Lion’s camp in a tough competition right out of the gate competing against Joique Bell for the starting position. Abdullah has amazing pass-catching abilities and explosive lateral movement, much like former Lions running back Reggie Bush, but with the ability to take a hard hit. It might take some time for Abdullah to earn the trust of offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, but once he does, expect him to have a major role in the offense, even if it’s splitting carries with Bell.
6. David Johnson, Cardinals
With teammate Andre Ellington’s injury history and underwhelming performance in 2014, it is no surprise the Arizona Cardinals drafted a running back, and a bigger back that head coach Bruce Arians prefers. David Johnson has the potential to be a breakout candidate if/when called upon for the full time job. Assuming quarterback Carson Palmer is recovered from his own injury and able to lead the charge, Johnson and his impeccable pass-catching skills make for a great opportunity to be a major steal come fantasy draft day. Expect him to start his career playing third downs with the potential to work his way to every down back.
7. David Cobb, Titans
David Cobb joins a very young and hopeful Tennessee Titans team. There could be some serious growing pains in Tennessee, between Cobb, fellow rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota, selected second overall in the 2015 NFL Draft, and rookie wide receiver Dorial-Green Beckham also expected to make an immediate impact. Cobb will face the “battle” of competing against sophomore Bishop Sankey for the starting running back spot. Sankey should be slotted atop the depth chart at the start of training camp, however any Titans fan can tell you that Sankey was a major disappointment in 2014. Unless Sankey shows major improvement, Cobb should be in the mix to earn the starting position over Sankey.
8. Duke Johnson, Browns
Unfortunately for Duke Johnson, he joins the Cleveland Browns already muddy backfield. He will compete with sophomores Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell for the starting job. Given how both West and Crowell split carries throughout 2014, there is no clear “lead dog” for the Browns. The Browns did bulk up their offensive line by drafting Cameron Erving, so that is a benefit. Watch the training camp news closely to see who is making a name for themselves.
9. Javorius Allen, Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens made many more off-the-field headlines at the running back position in 2014 than they would like thanks to the Ray Rice saga. On the plus side, Justin Forsett earned my unofficial “Waiver Wire Pickup of the Year” award. It isn’t often a player in his seventh pro season, on his fifth different team, has a breakout year like Forsett had last season. Let’s see if Forsett can repeat his 2014 numbers or if he turns out to be a one-year wonder. Lorenzo Taliaferro did not do much with his opportunity as the primary backup. Much like David Cobb mentioned above, Javorious Allen could be in line for significant carries if Forsett falters.
10. Cameron Artis-Payne, Panthers
One of my sneaky late picks this year will be Cameron Artis-Payne as he joins the miserable Carolina Panthers back field. With the departure of DeAngelo Williams, Artis-Payne steps in as the immediate backup to Jonathan Stewart. It is no mystery that Stewart has a long injury history, so Artis-Payne is in position for a nice opportunity if (when?) Stewart misses time. With Cam Newton at quarterback, there is always the threat of him tucking the ball and running himself. However, Artis-Payne is a bowling ball at running back, so he can provide some instant relief for Newton, who has been the most hit quarterback over the last four years.
Potential Sleepers / Dynasty Prospects
Jay Ajayi, Dolphins
Running back Lamar Miller could have some stiff competition in 2015, not only from teammate Damien Williams, but from rookie Jay Ajayi. We cannot overlook the fact that Ajayi has some knee issues that caused his stock to sharply drop in the NFL Draft. If his knee issues go away, Ajayi could overtake Miller, if not in 2015, then in 2016. He is a good risk-reward prospect for dynasty leagues.
Matt Jones, Redskins
With the departure of Roy Helu, Matt Jones immediately steps in as the backup to Alfred Morris in Washington. Jones is a big, physical, downhill back. Morris is a free agent after this upcoming season, so Jones has the opportunity to step up and prove himself as the future for the Redskins. Also, Washington drafted huge offensive lineman Brandon Scherff, so he will help the run game for Morris and Jones.
Jeremy Langford, Bears
With Matt Forte entering the last year of his contract, he will want to be paid big money as he has been one of the most consistently productive running backs in the NFL. The Chicago Bears are well aware of the situation, and also the fact Forte will be 30 at year’s end. The Bears are preparing for a future without Forte by further developing sophomore Ka’Deem Carey and drafting Jeremy Langford. With Carey not showing the coaches too much in 2014 and recently acquired Jacquizz Rodgers likely only around one year, Langford has all of the 2015 season to prove he more than capable of handling the workload that might be left vacant by Forte.