The fantasy value of rookie running backs

The running backs of the 2017 draft class spoiled us. One third of the RB1s (running backs that finished in the top 12 in fantasy points) last year were rookies, and now we’re all trying to get our hands on one of 2018’s top projected rookie running backs without realizing that we may be overpaying.

In the last 11 years, only the 2017 draft class had four rookies finish in the top 12. Two other drafts saw three finish there, two drafts had two, three drafts had one, and three drafts had zero. An average of 1.5 rookie running backs cracking the top 12 per year. Running back success generally comes at an early age, but rookies will need to walk into a perfect situation to maximize their potential. Saquon Barkley is as good as locked in for a RB1 finish this year. He was the best player in the draft, he’s a three down back who’s just as big of a weapon in the passing game, and the New York Giants took him with the second overall pick to be their playmaker and light a fire under their offense.

With Barkley locked in, and going by the average of the last 11 years, that leaves half of another rookie to crack the top 12. Here are some of the next best rookies and what might stand in the way of them turning in a RB1 season.

Sony Michel – Anyone who’s ever owned a Patriots running back in fantasy knows how much of a headache it can be. Bill Belichick loves to rotate players at the position, and then if a guy fumbles, he may be benched for multiple weeks. Last year, no Patriots running back was on the field for more than 35.5 percent of the snaps. In fact, they haven’t had a running back go above a 50 percent snap share since Shane Vereen in 2014 (52.5 percent). While they did spend high draft capitol on Michel, using a first round pick on him, it’s hard to trust that a rookie is going to be efficient enough with the opportunity he may get in New England.

Derrius Guice – This one is simple. Redskins coach Jay Gruden has already come out and said it:  “I think he can catch the football fine, but really, our role for him is quite easy to see. It’s first, second down. We have a third-down back. He’s not going to play on third down anyway.” If you play in a PPR league, which is now standard on both Yahoo and ESPN, Guice is not going to bring you many points from catching the ball. He’ll have to be extremely efficient on the ground to bring you RB1 value.

Rashaad Penny – What stands in the way of Penny’s potential success is the league’s worst offensive line, and the fact that he can’t pass protect. Pete Carroll said they trust his hands and view him as a three-down back, but he only caught 19 passes in his best season at San Diego St., and if he can’t learn to protect Russell Wilson the Seahawks might think twice about keeping him in on the field for third down. The draft capitol and the opportunity is there, but he will struggle mightily behind that line. Pro Football Focus graded the Seahawks as the 8th worst in run blocking as well as the 8th worst in overall offense.

These are the ECR’s (expert consensus rankings) top three rookie running backs after Barkley and they will have very productive rookie seasons. The chances of more than one of them cracking the top 12, however, are very slim, so be careful not to overpay for them or draft them too early.