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.
Player Receiving 12 Votes
Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas
Alexander: It's impossible to give an honest answer to this question that isn't Ezekiel Elliott. By all accounts, Elliott is one of the most talented running backs to enter the league in the last decade. But even if it turns out he's only an average NFL back, top-10 numbers are still on the way. Dallas finished third in team yards per rush attempt last season (4.6 YPA) despite mediocre talent at running back and defenses stacking the box against a toothless offense quarterbacked by Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel, and Kellen Moore. Their offensive line is the best in football, and Tony Romo's healthy return will boost the offense as a whole. Expect the Cowboys to return to their 2014 rush play percentage (50% -- third-highest in the league) and Elliott to see all the touches he can handle. If Elliott is even 75% as good as the scouting reports suggest he is, we could very well be looking at the best running back in fantasy football.
Fahey: This is another category that should have a consensus. When Darren McFadden and Joseph Randle were slated to play behind that offensive line they were appealing backs. Ezekiel Elliott should be a first-round pick at the very least because of the situation he landed in. Elliott should be a three-down back who plays in the redzone from the moment he steps on the field in Dallas.
Feery: The Cowboys saw their man waiting for them at the No.4 selection in this year’s draft, and didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger. Ezekiel Elliott received a ton of accolades throughout his college career at Ohio State, and turned plenty of heads at this year’s combine, but his biggest test lies ahead. To prove himself worthy of such a high pick – and that the Cowboys did not blow it, by extension – anything less than Elliott turning into a bell cow back would have to be considered a serious disappointment. He clearly has the tools to make it happen, and there are few better places to be employed as a running back in the NFL than as one that gets to line up behind the Cowboys offensive line. We’ll see if that portends into a smooth transition to the NFL. Either way, Elliott appears in line to be the most-scrutinized player in this year’s rookie class.
Haseley: Elliott is the runaway choice for most significant rookie running back. He has the best skills among all rookie backs and he has one of the best offensive lines in the game to run behind. There is speculation that we could see an extraordinary season from him in his rookie year, especially if Dallas feeds him the ball consistently week in and week out. Elliott has the perfect storm of ability, opportunity, and scheme to propel him into one of the better fantasy backs this year. It would be a surprise if he isn't in the mix for Rookie of the Year.
Hicks: Given his fantasy ranking Ezekiel Elliott will have to be an elite running back immediately. All the signs point to this being possible. He has an elite offensive line, a proven performer at quarterback in Tony Romo and all the skills to play in the NFL. He is probably the best pass protector at the position to be drafted in years and is an excellent receiver. The only thing that stands in his way is expectation. The last backs to be drafted this high as rookies in Reggie Bush and Ryan Mathews, didn’t fare so well.
Howe: Ezekiel Elliott should be very good, and I’m sure he carries a floor in the low-end RB2 neighborhood. The problem is, he’s priced by ADP at his absolute upside, and the upside of the league’s best runners, in fact. So it’s fairly unlikely he’ll be the most valuable – and therefore most significant – rookie RB. That honor will likely go to one of the several good-not-great backs who were drafted beyond the first round. But it’s way too early to decipher the backfields in Baltimore, Seattle, Tennessee, Denver, and a handful of other spots. So at this point, Elliott is the only RB I’m confident will even see the field extensively as a rookie. Scott Linehan does like to utilize a workhorse back in both phases of the offense; it just remains to be seen how that tendency holds up with a rookie as a featured back.
Magaw: Significant contributions could come from second rounder Derrick Henry (TEN), third rounder C.J. Prosise (SEA), fourth rounders Kenneth Dixon (BAL) and Devontae Booker (DEN) and even fifth rounders DeAndre Washington (OAK), Paul Perkins (NYG), Jordan Howard (CHI), Wendell Smallwood (PHI), Jonathan Williams (BUF) and Alex Collins (SEA), but the former Ohio State star is the only presumptive walk in starter from the 2016 RB class. Billed as one of the most complete backs to enter the league in the past decade, Elliot is a rare rookie that can do it all, including catch the ball out of the backfield, block in pass pro, run tough between the tackles and on the bonus plan, has the breakaway speed to take the ball the distance on any play, at any time, from anywhere on the field. Hand picked and drafted to play behind easily the NFL's best OL made this one of the best intersections and marriages of prospect, scheme and opportunity in the entire draft. Passing on super blue chip Jalen Ramsey must have been tough, but Elliot can take pressure off Romo and lengthen his career by running more effectively as well as blocking, and help mask defensive deficiencies by extending drives and keeping the stop unit rested and off the field. The prohibitive early Rookie of the Year favorite, and immediate threat to become one of the top 3-5 best RBs in the game.
Miglio: Elliott is going to be the unanimous pick here, and rightfully so. The hype reached a fever pitch soon after he was drafted to the Cowboys, where he will continue to benefit from playing behind a stud offensive line. Now Darren McFadden is out with a broken elbow, leaving Elliott an opening to impress coaches and get on the field earlier and more often than he might have otherwise.
Parsons: Ezekiel Elliott is the easy call for rookie running back additions this offseason. Elliott walks into an above-average offensive line and functional passing game with the Cowboys. Committees abound for other incoming running backs of note. Elliott has an elite draft pedigree, a three-down skill set, and quality athleticism. Elliott has top-5 upside even as a 21-year-old rookie.
Waldman: Although not as fast or strong as Todd Gurley, Elliott isn't that far down the ladder and his technical skills are a little better than the Rams' second-year back. The Cowboys rookie is that talented. If Dallas could have place Alfred Morris and Darren McFadden in a Frankenstein maker while adding elements of Marshawn Lynch and (young) Corey Dillon, Elliott would be the product. Dallas' offensive line is among the best units in the league and Elliott will allow the team to expand its playbook in down and distance situations that they couldn't do with McFadden. I expect Elliott earn at least 1300 yards on the ground and I would not be surprised if his upside is in the range of 1600-1700 yards. In terms of fantasy production for a single player, Elliott is the odds-on favorite as the most significant addition to any team this year, regardless of tenure.
Wimer: Dallas will feed Elliott the ball, especially in light of the most recent injury to Darren McFadden (gasp, I'm sure you are shocked that McFadden is injured again). Elliot has an elite offensive line in front of him; an offensive staff that wants to pound the rock in order to preserve Tony Romo from as many hits as possible; and Elliot has pro-ready skills. Among his draft class, Elliot landed in the best-case scenario for fantasy production this year (and beyond).
Wood: It’s hard to imagine anyone on staff choosing someone other than Ezekiel Elliott. In an era of running back committees, where the position has been downshifted among NFL draft priorities, the Cowboys selected Elliott with a Top 5 pick and are ready to make him the centerpiece of the offense. Elliott is one of the most complete runners to come into the league in years; his prowess as a blocker and receiver guarantees he’ll be the rare 3-down back in an era when most teams use specialists for different packages. As if that weren’t enough to get excited about, let’s remember Dallas has one of the league’s best offensive lines. This line allowed DeMarco Murray to lead the NFL in rushing and total yards in 2014, and helped Darren McFadden resurrect his career in 2015. Imagine what a powerhouse like Elliott will do in the same scheme?
Players Receiving 1 Vote
Devontae Booker, Denver
Holloway: The obvious rookie running back to discuss is Exekiel Elliott, selected 4th overall by the Dallas Cowboys. He should be everyone’s top rookie running back. There is another to keep an eye on and that is Devontae Booker. Drafted in the fourth round by the Denver Broncos, he begins the pre-season third on the depth chart. He fell in the draft primarily because of the two recent surgeries that he had to correct a meniscus injury late in his last collegiate season at Utah. Booker is a decent athlete, who ran for 2,773 yards, caught 80 passes for another 622 yards and scored 23 TDs in only 23 games over two seasons. The Broncos want to lean heavily on their running game so Booker should get opportunities behind C. J. Anderson, who has missed time in each of his three NFL seasons.
Kenneth Dixon, Baltimore
Simpkins: The 2016 running back class was considered lackluster by many, but there is one back who has a chance of making a big splash onto the fantasy scene at some point this year. Kenneth Dixon was easily the most talented and complete back to emerge from this group. His core strengths are that he is an excellent receiver, demonstrates high effort on every carry, and can be a three-down, between-the-tackles runner, The day three selection and “crowded” depth chart will spook owners, but if given a fair shake in competition, Dixon could become this year’s David Johnson.
Kenyan Drake, Miami
Pasquino: Wait, what are you thinking, Jeff? Drake over Ezekiel Elliott? Of course not, but I just wanted to give another name out there to consider since everyone will be talking about Elliott. Kenyan Drake has been called by some as a Reggie Bush type player, and we all know how significant Bush has been for fantasy in the past. Miami has a gap at running back with Lamar Miller now in Houston, so if you do not believe in Jay Ajayi as a feature back or even if you think there will be some type of timeshare in Miami, Drake offers respectable fantasy upside for a later round draft pick.
C.J. Prosise, Seattle
Harmon: It’s too easy to say Ezekiel Elliot here. In theory drafting Prosise sent off multiple signals. Spending said draft capital at the position, and then tripling down with two more backs in the late rounds, alerted the public to Seattle’s hesitance regarding Thomas Rawls’ health. Every single report coming out after the draft, all of which lacked any note of optimism, only served to confirm that suspicion. Additionally, the Seahawks taking a running back with primarily a pass-catching skill set might signal they plan to go forward as more of a passing team. If the hyper-efficient Russell Wilson takes the drivers seat of this offense instead of the running game, it just doesn’t mean great things for Prosise, but for the entire Seattle pass-catching corps.