Campfire Chat: Favorite Rookie RB - Footballguys

The Footballguys staff discusses their favorite rookie running back

In a redraft league, considering their respective ADP, which rookie running back would you most want to have on your roster? And "none" can be an answer.

Editor's Note: This question was asked an answered before the Thursday night Preseason Week 1 games were played. References to Derrius Guice have been removed as he is now out for the season with an ACL injury .

Sigmund Bloom: Nyheim Hines - He's ideal for a Darren Sproles/Danny Woodhead role and is playing for a head coach (Frank Reich) who showed he understood how to use both as an offensive coordinator. Hines can run routes split out wide, or at least teams asked him to in workouts, and early reports have him lining up all over the formation. He's a big play option in the mold of Chris Thompson and could play a central role in the backfield right away as Robert Turbin will be suspended for four games and Marlon Mack is coming back off of offseason shoulder surgery.

Daniel Simpkins: I'll keep beating the Royce Freeman drum as I did in this Spotlight. I know news broke this morning that Mike Klis expects Devontae Booker to be the starter on opening day, but I have my doubts that will happen. If it does happen, how long will it last? He's proven to be ineffective when healthy and he's not a fit for the zone blocking scheme the Broncos will utilize. Freeman, on the other hand, is a great fit in that scheme and already has the patience, power, and jump-cutting ability that you want to see out of a rusher in this kind of a system.

Jason Wood: This is a bumper crop of rookie running backs. Quite a few are going to be fantasy relevant, at least for portions of the season, and a handful have the opportunity to be every week starters. I don't see how you can avoid the rookie class entirely, it would force you to reach for less compelling veterans at a higher-than-expected average draft position.

Rashaad Penny, Royce Freeman, and Ronald Jones II II are all being selected between 20th and 30th at the position, and all should finish at that level or higher.

If there's one potential grand slam value pick, it's Kerryon Johnson. Johnson is falling a few rounds further than his peers because of the Lions crowded backfield and the team's history of poor rushing tallies. That's a mistake. New head coach Matt Patricia wants to win and that means putting the best players on the field. Kerryon Johnson is the only three-down back on the roster. LeGarrette Blount is a ground-and-pound interior runner with no receiving ability. Theo Riddick is a premier receiver but an awful runner. Ameer Abdullah will be lucky to make the 53-man roster. Johnson, with a strong preseason, can be the bellcow and force opposing defenses into more of a guessing game.

Justin Howe: In my eyes, there's meat amongst the top four rookies, mostly gristle for a few, then massive value after.

Saquon Barkley is worthy of his ADP. He'll be a heavy-rotation guy, and he's head and shoulders atop this class in terms of ability. Barkley in mid- to late-Round 1 is ideal.

I love Freeman as a prospect, and I don't think much of Devontae Booker at all. In fact, I think Freeman takes the lead role by early in the season. But I question his 2018 ceiling, even with 250 touches. The Denver offense is breaking in a quarterback - a low-impact one - and could struggle to provide a big opportunity for a two-down guy. Penny is in a similar boat: a (presumably) one-dimensional runner with talent upside, but questions surrounding his rookie production.

From a value standpoint, the names I'm targeting are Nick Chubb and Jordan Wilkins. Chubb comes to drafters in Round 8 or 9, but he could be an 18-touch guy early on. Carlos Hyde is a flawed back, one who struggles to stay healthy and to catch the ball, and he was never a reliable option in San Francisco. Chubb is a similar talent, but younger and with similar capital (2nd round) invested.

Wilkins may have the inside track to lead the Colts backfield. With Andrew Luck back in the mix, that's a much bigger deal than it was last year. (And Frank Gore STILL finished RB12, by the way.) Mack showed strikingly little as a rookie, and Hines is a drastically undersized guy likely ticketed for a situational rookie role. Wilkins costs only a Round 13 or 14 pick, absurd value for a guy with such a realistic path to 225 high-impact touches.

Ryan Hester: As the guys have said, there are plenty of options here. The most appealing is Johnson, but it's not because of his coach wanting to win (they all do) or anything like that. It's because his price tag has accounted for most of his downside.

Penny and Jones are all going to be two-down backs due to key pass-catchers on their teams, but all are being drafted as RB2s. Freeman and Michel (RB3/flex ADPs) lack clarity as to their exact roles at this time.

With Johnson, there's both a third-down back and a lack of clarity, but at RB38, it's worth taking a shot. The likelihood of Johnson overtaking Riddick for third-down work is low, but overtaking Blount for first and second down is a calculated risk worth taking. And if that scenario comes to fruition, low-RB3/high-RB4 is still a cheap price for a two-down starter.

Will Grant: I have to agree with Jason that Kerryon Johnson is the best value play of the rookie running backs. LeGarrette Blount is a hammer and may vulture some short-yardage touchdowns from Johnson, but by the end of the year, Johnson could be the first 1000-yard rusher that the Lions have had in a LOOOOONG time. His current ADP puts him right around the 40th running back taken, and at that point, you're looking for bye week filler players. Johnson is a guy who could start out being a gap filler and turn into an every week starter by the middle of the season.

Honorable mention goes to Sigmund's mention of Nyheim Hines who is going in the 11th round right now. In a PPR league, Hines could be a great flex position starter, and by mid-season, he might even be a permanent fixture in your lineup.

Chad Parsons: In a strong class, there are plenty of viable options among the running backs. My general answer is there are more I am interested in than not for redraft as, even in an RB2/3 role to open the season, they can emerge with an injury in front of them or elevated role to be second-half impact players. Of them, Royce Freeman and Kerryon Johnson in roughly the RB25 ADP zone intrigue me the most. LeGarrette Blount is nothing more than a speed bump for the early-down role in Detroit on an offense yearning for a run game in recent years. Royce Freeman has only Devontae Booker, who has underwhelmed in his career plus carries minimal pedigree as a mid-Day 3 pick, in his way to a true workhorse role. Freeman and Johnson are both elite metric prospects, ranking in the top-10 percent of running backs drafted dating back to 1999.

Andy Hicks: With eight rooking running backs taken in the first 71 picks, there are many options to look at here. There will be plenty of redraft leagues where multiple rookie backs are on the same roster.

How many of these eight backs will be ready to contribute immediately given the issues surrounding pass protection? Two of the backs have stiff competition for playing time in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Both will eventually be expected to start, but when?

Detroit has had issues getting a running game going this century. That makes Kerryon Johnson, despite his value, difficult to rely on.

Royce Freeman has perhaps the easiest path to a starting job, but it remains to be seen whether Denver can run the ball effectively or whether Freeman is NFL-ready and capable.

Rashaad Penny will have to beat out Chris Carson, but even then, can Seattle run the ball? Last year they were a disaster and their defense could be sieving points this year.

Saquon Barkley is obviously the pick of the litter, but his draft price comes with RB1 expectations. The presence of Jonathan Stewart allows the Giants to ease him should they need to.

That leaves me with Ronald Jones II II. His opportunity is to beat out Peyton Barber and Jacquizz Rodgers, which shouldn’t be an issue for a highly credentialed back. He has explosive playmaker written all over him and even with a slow start to the season, I would expect him to eventually repay the investment by the mid to late part of the year. Most of the backs drafted need a good line in front of them and it would be a tremendous advantage, but Jones is good enough to bring an average unit with him. We need to watch training camp to ensure he is NFL ready, but this would be the rookie running back I would be targeting.

Bob Henry: I suppose my answer should be backed up by the one I have the most shares of in best ball drafts so far. That would be Sony Michel. However, I'm not sure that would be my answer if I'm looking empirically at the ADP data and not considering draft slot/position.

The best value in the early to middle rounds is Kerryon Johnson. The Lions traded up to get him and they have potentially their best offensive line and more balanced offense in the Matthew Stafford era. Johnson led the SEC conference in rushing yards and total touchdowns and was without question the alpha dog of the Auburn offense scoring 34 touchdowns over 36 collegiate games. He somehow gets dinged for durability issues despite playing in 24 games and touching the ball 508 times his last two seasons.

He is easily the most capable all-around back on the roster and yet he's often available into the seventh round.

In the second half of the draft, I'm also targeting Jordan Wilkins. Outside of Michel, I've probably rostered Wilkins the most of all the rookies since he's usually there for the taking in the 15th round or even later. Wilkins may end up being the team's lead runner yet he's the third Colts running back to come off the board. I like Nyheim Hines a lot, too, in PPR leagues, but I wouldn't be surprised if Wilkins earns most touches overall and gets into the end zone twice as often. With Luck looking like he'll be returning to the lineup, Wilkins has RB2-upside for almost free.

Phil Alexander: I have no problem taking almost any rookie running back at ADP, so I'll give you the one I'm avoiding instead. Nick Chubb landed in a squeeze for playing time. The only way he ends up an 18-touch-per-game guy early on, as Justin asserted, is if Hyde misses time with an injury. And even then, his upside is capped by the presence of Duke Johnson Jr (whom the team just extended) on passing downs.

Betting on a Hyde injury is not necessarily a bad idea considering he missed at least two games in each of his first three seasons. But many were betting against him to stay healthy at this time last year and Hyde went on to start all 16 games for the 49ers in 2017.

Chubb is a talent, but even at a somewhat depressed ADP, there are still better running back options on the board in his range. If I'm targeting a running back in a three-way committee in Round 8, it's going to be one tied to a productive offense, not a two-down back on the Cleveland Browns. Aaron Jones, Ty Montgomery, or even Matt Breida come to mind as options to choose ahead of Chubb.

B.J. VanderWoude: There are so many rookie-running-back options, so which one you choose comes down mostly to preference and ADP value. Would you rather have the running back with the easiest path to a starting position—and stardom—in Saquon Barkley? Perhaps it is the running back in the best offensive situation in Sony Michael. With respect to overall value and upside, I am going to agree with Andy here, and that is why I like Ronald Jones II.

With Jameis Winston’s suspension looming, the Bucs will have Ryan Fitzpatrick starting the season at quarterback. Fitzpatrick’s best days are behind him, so they will have to depend on the running game to be competitive, which is a severe understatement. Jones is a one-cut runner with top-end speed and quickness, is elusive in the open field and brings an explosive element to the Bucs backfield. Essentially, he is everything that Jacquizz Rodgers, Charles Sims, and Peyton Barber are not. Additionally, Jones has soft hands and solid route-running chops, which will allow him to be on the field on all three downs. He has a thin build for a workhorse back, which could limit his red zone opportunities, but it is not because he didn’t excel in that area throughout his collegiate career.

As my colleagues have mentioned, nearly all the rookie running backs coming off the board in the first 10 rounds (and even those thereafter) have redeeming qualities. I just like the value that Jones provides, as I think he has tremendous upside for his current draft position.

Dan Hindery: I am always a sucker for rookie running backs. It is a position with a much easier transition from college to the NFL than the other positions. We have seen rookie running backs step up as league winners down the stretch in each of the last three seasons. Just from the 2015-2017 rookie classes, we've had impact rookie seasons from Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt, Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, Ezekiel Elliott, Jordan Howard, Todd Gurley, and David Johnson.

The note about the rookie backs being especially useful down the stretch is worth remembering. Often the rookie backs will come at a discount due to uncertainty about their role early in the season. However, Adam Harstad and others in recent years have done some sharp calculations that show just how much more valuable fantasy production late in the season is. Typically, the rookie backs are really hitting their strides just in time for the fantasy playoffs.

I'm fine with all of the top rookie backs at their current ADPs, but my three favorites are Rashaad Penny, Sony Michel, and Kerryon Johnson. Penny has more upside as a receiver than some may think and has a massive opportunity in an offense that is desperate for playmakers to step up. There are plenty of targets up for grabs after the departures of Jimmy Graham and Paul Richardson Jr. The upside of Michel in the elite Patriots offense is extremely enticing. There is certainly a risk of a frustrating committee, but the upside, if Michel can secure the lead role and take most of the goal line opportunities, is immense. As others have already mentioned, Johnson is especially attractive because his ADP is lagging a round or two behind the other second-round rookie backs. He also has a nice fantasy skill set with his proven ability to be a workhorse in the SEC and above-average ability as a pass catcher.

My favorite draft approach this season has been to secure a top back in the first round and then attempt to get a good RB2 by taking multiple rookie running backs in the four through seventh rounds.

Ryan Hester: As the guy who evaluated a Footballguys mock draft, I can attest that Dan likes rookie runners. Of his first four backs selected, Joe Mixon was the one with the most NFL experience. Dan's team was well-balanced positionally, so if any/all of those rookies hit, look out.

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