While we can’t say that the NFL draft has turned into a running back’s dream just yet, seeing former Ohio State back Ezekiel Elliott go No. 4 overall to the Dallas Cowboys is a great sign for the future of the position.
In terms of talent, there was a clear drop-off after Elliott in terms of talent; most expected Derrick Henry from Alabama to be a second-round pick. In the end, that’s how it played out, and we didn’t see another back selected until the third round.
Fortunately, there are still a few players at the position who should be ready to step in and make an impact in 2016, so the question is, who should be on your fantasy football radar? Let’s take a look at the top rookie running backs and how they will likely rank in terms of production in 2016.
6. Jordan Howard, Chicago Bears (fifth round)
We considered keeping this list at just five players, but couldn’t justify leaving Howard off it. Since Chicago let Matt Forte leave, there have been rumblings that the Bears weren’t completely sold on Jeremy Langford as their featured back. And this is where Howard comes into play.
It was pretty surprising to see him fall all the way to the fifth round, as Howard, a transfer from UAB to Indiana, totaled 1,213 yards and nine touchdowns in 2015, an impressive 6.2 yards per carry. He will be a major playmaker in this league, and while he’ll likely remain behind Langford for much of this season, don’t be shocked to see him slowly take away touches as the year rolls on.
5. Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans (second round)
If the draft happened just a few months earlier, Derrick Henry would probably be No. 2 on this list. Instead, he’ll sit behind former Philadelphia Eagles running back DeMarco Murray. The Titans acquired Murray this offseason, and there’s little doubt that he’ll be their featured back in 2016. Unfortunately, this means that the man who rushed for 2,219 yards and a ridiculous 28 touchdowns last season for Alabama will get sporadic touches.
There is reason to believe that the Titans will try to bring him along as the season goes on and get him more and more involved, so it wouldn’t be shocking to see Murray’s role wind up being less massive than everyone expects it to be. One way or another, it’s hard to ignore the fact that Henry’s situation would have been much better had the team not traded for Murray.
4. C.J. Prosise, Seattle Seahawks (third round)
While it was surprising to see C.J. Prosise go above a few other running backs in the draft, there’s no question that he landed in a great spot. He’ll play alongside Thomas Rawls now that Marshawn Lynch has called it a career. While Rawls had an impressive season in 2015, the Seahawks will look to utilize the rookie to help ease the pressure off him this coming year.
Prosise is an interesting story, as he switched from wide receiver to running back in 2015, and averaged 6.6 yards per carry with 1,029 rushing yards and 11 scores. It’s obvious that the Seahawks see Prosise as a player who can catch the ball out of the backfield, while changing the game on the ground as well.
Expect Seattle to ease Prosise in, and don’t be shocked if he’s not an immediate playmaker from day one. However, after a few weeks, he should wind up being a major game changer.
3. Kenyan Drake, Miami Dolphins (third round)
There’s good news and bad news for Kenyan Drake. The good news is that he landed a great spot in Miami, a team that just lost Lamar Miller and will likely rely heavily on Jay Ajayi. This means Drake should get plenty of action early. The bad news is that he could have been drafted higher than the third round had he not been stuck behind Henry at Alabama.
Drake received just 77 carries last year, totaling 408 yards and a touchdown, while also catching 29 passes for 276 yards and an additional score. He has game-changing speed and should be an excellent weapon out of the backfield for Ryan Tannehill. Don’t be shocked if Drake is able to force his way into a 50-50 split with Ajayi.
2. Devontae Booker, Denver Broncos (fourth round)
Devontae Booker was a complete and total steal by the Broncos in this draft. The fact that he wound up falling to the fourth round is incredible. It wouldn’t have shocked us to see Booker get drafted soon after Henry, but instead he landed on a Broncos team where he’ll be able to push for immediate work.
It really wouldn’t be surprising in the slightest to see him actually take over in this backfield and become the go-to option. He’s a threat both on the ground and through the air, and over his two seasons with Utah, he totaled 2,773 rushing yards, averaged five yards per carry, scored 21 touchdowns, and caught 80 passes for 622 yards.
Booker’s game is the real deal, and Broncos fans will love the fact that they landed him, yet alone that it happened in the middle rounds of the draft.
1. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys (first round)
Ezekiel Elliott is the type of talent who doesn’t come around at running back every year. He’s the definition of a complete back, as he can not only be a force running the ball, but he can also catch passes and most importantly, he can block. The Cowboys need to keep Tony Romo healthy, and they now landed a stellar pass-blocking running back in Elliott, which means it will be hard for Dallas to justify keeping him off the field for too long.
The man who topped 1,800 yards rushing and scored 41 touchdowns the past two seasons already has the heart of fans of the Dallas Cowboys, but just wait until you see him play. Elliott is a difference-maker in every way you can imagine. He’ll be the top producing rookie in 2016, and will also take down the Offensive Rookie of the Year award as well.
Statistics courtesy of ESPN.com.