The Footballguys staff was asked to mention their most significant rookie running back for the upcoming season. Most significant can have a lot of meaning, so - in this case - it means we just asked our guys to pick the rookie running back they most wanted to write about. Here are the results.
Melvin Gordon III - 6 mentions
Alexander - Melvin Gordon III isn't the most complete running back in this year's rookie class, but he does have the clearest path to a starting role. San Diego's 2014 starter, Ryan Mathews, is now backing up DeMarco Murray in Philadelphia, Branden Oliver (3.6 YPA) went undrafted for a reason, and Donald Brown (2.6 YPA) was a disaster after signing a three year, $10.5 million deal last off-season. Gordon will likely cede passing down snaps to a healthy Danny Woodhead, but 250 carries are within reach. San Diego severely lacked a home run threat in the running game last season - a problem Gordon figures to solve. The trio of Mathews, Oliver, and Brown totaled 12 runs of 15+ yards last season. Gordon had 40 in his senior season at Wisconsin. With the high profile addition of LG Orlando Franklin in free agency, the re-signing of dominant run blocking LT King Dunlap, and the round one trade-up for Gordon, the Chargers are clearly committed to improving a rushing attack that ranked near the bottom in almost every relevant statistical category last season.
Brimacombe - The Chargers traded up to the 15th overall pick to draft Melvin Gordon III and with that they will be looking for him to contribute early and often and help take some of the pressure off of Philip Rivers and the passing offense. Gordon showed last season at Wisconsin that he can handle a hefty workload as he rushed 343 times for 2,587 yards and 29 rushing touchdowns. The Chargers have struggled to find consistency at the running back position ever since LaDainian Tomlinson left town at the end of 2009. Look for Gordon to get involved at a heavy rate early in the season and with very little depth at the position (Danny Woodhead, Branden Oliver, Donald Brown). Although Todd Gurley was chosen before Gordon, he is still recovering from a torn ACL and may not be 100% until after the season even gets started and Gordon should hit the field running right from the get go.
Haseley - Melvin Gordon III is the most intriguing rookie running back of the 2015 class. His vast array of skills and combination of speed and technique make him an exciting back who is capable of gaining yards in a multitude of ways. Not only is the talent there to succeed, but the opportunity on a rushing-starved Chargers team is a perfect place for Gordon to shine. He should see the lion's share of the team's rushes, with a strong likelihood of exceeding 200 carries. The Chargers are prepared to make him their primary ball carrier and the yardage totals should follow suit. His touchdown totals may not be that high in year one, but the combination of athletic ability, talent and opportunity makes him a strong candidate to be a breakout rookie this season.
Heiser - What the San Diego Chargers are getting here with Melvin Gordon III is a running back who can contribute to every facet of the offense. And with Philip Rivers set to turn 34 in December, the Chargers’ offense will need to start relying on production from other areas. Ingram is NFL ready and can handle a full workload from Day 1. Now it’s on head coach Mike McCoy and offensive coordinator Frank Reich to put Ingram in a position to succeed.
Pasquino - While Tre Mason will feel heat from Todd Gurley towards the latter part of 2015, odds are that the Rams will form a RBBC at some point this year as they figure out which back should be the workhorse. That is not the case in San Diego, where the Chargers moved on from Ryan Mathews and selected Melvin Gordon III. San Diego needed a true starter in the backfield and they traded up to get Gordon to fill that role. Gordon will dominate the run attack for San Diego this year, and he has a ton of upside if he develops into a better pass protector and receiver out of the backfield. Gordon is much more talented than the current RBs on the San Diego Roster (Brandon Oliver, Danny Woodhead) so he has no real barrier to becoming the starting back for Week 1.
Tefertiller - Melvin Gordon III landing in San Diego with the Chargers is a dream come true for fantasy owners. He will be the unquestioned primary ball carrier for San Diego with Woodhead, Oliver, and Brown playing bit parts. Gordon has a very solid chance to be a fantasy RB1 as a rookie. The Chargers will give the youngster plenty of carries as the running game was one thing holding back the offense the past few years. This is a great fit for both the team and the player. Gordon has the ability to break off big plays, something the Chargers have struggled to do in big games.
David Johnson - 3 mentions
Hicks - Every year rookie running backs tend to get over drafted compared to their end of season results. It seems that every rookie back with even a sniff at the starting job gets taken earlier than otherwise should dictate. On average - over the last 10 years - one rookie every year finishes as an RB1, and fewer than two a year finish with enough points to rank as starting back in most leagues. There were 12 rookies taken in the first four rounds this year, and there will be the usual optimistic outlooks on guys drafted even lower than that. Last year Jeremy Hill was the only rookie with consistent output and he finished up as a low end RB1 despite 40 running backs, including four rookies, being taken ahead of him in most fantasy drafts. That’s what we need to find though, a rookie who isn’t being pencilled in to start and will see carries. They must have opportunity behind either a weak starter or be with a strong running team. At this stage out of numerous candidates I am running with David Johnson out of Northern Iowa. Andre Ellington cannot manage a full load and there will be no pressure on Johnson to start and be productive immediately. Johnson could be a low risk investment with a huge payoff late in most fantasy drafts.
Holloway - David Johnson is a 6’-1”, 224 pound running back that showed a lot of athleticism at the NFL Combine. He ran well and had an excellent vertical jump of 41.5 inches and broad jump of 10’7”. He played four seasons at Northern Iowa after red-shirting as a freshman and rushed for over 4,600 yards and also excelled as a receiver. He was drafted in the third round and could conceivably share running back carries with Andre Ellington, who has missed games in each of his two seasons with the Cardinals.
Simpkins - There were few running back fits in this draft that were better than Johnson-to-the-Cardinals. With his selection, the writing is on the wall for Andre Ellington. Johnson will become a better version of Ellington with time. He’s a stellar athlete and a great receiver, the best in the 2015 class by far. He has proven to be much more durable than Ellington throughout his college career. Arizona’s offensive line is improving steadily, which also bodes well for Johnson’s ability to make fantasy. His ceiling, especially in PPR formats, is extremely high. Target Johnson in the late first or early second rounds in dynasty leagues.
Todd Gurley - 1 mention
Wimer - Todd Gurley will be the most significant rookie running back added to an NFL team this season. The Rams made a strong bid to upgrade the offensive line in the draft (using four picks on the big guys up front, including the #57 and #72 picks) during the rounds after they drafted Gurley. This (and the addition of just one sixth-round wide receiver, Bud Sasser) signals an intention to focus on the running game during 2015. Gurley will be the centerpiece of the rushing attack, with Tre Mason in a backup role. Footballguys.com's Dr. Jene Bramel has a convincing narrative about why Gurley's ACL injury is not as worrisome as these often can be - Gurley should be fine to work into football shape during training camp. The Rams must think so too, using a 10th overall pick in the draft to acquire the former Bulldog star.
T.J. Yeldon - 1 mention
Parsons - Todd Gurley may be eased into the Rams offense coming off an ACL injury and Tre Mason being a high-functioning back in his own right. Melvin Gordon III has a learning curve coming for NFL passing downs and succeeding between the tackles. Yeldon, however, is ready to rock with a high-volume out of the gate. No Jacksonville back will challenge the former top recruit and Alabama star and Yeldon is a big, smooth chain-mover with soft hands.