1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 & 2002
NFL Draft 1997 - 2002: Running Backs
by David M. Dorey
July 3, 2003

Each season a number of players break out, generally on someone else's fantasy team, but obtaining those players before they turn hot is what your player drafts or auctions should be about. While we will be spending plenty of time this season looking at players, let's take a look back over the past four drafts that should be providing at least a few players that will turn in their first big career year.

I have taken the liberty of color coding the players for discussion purposes, but the assignments are somewhat subjective right now.

Stud Dud Now Cold Rising
Rnd 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002
Warrick Dunn
Antowain Smith
Curtis Enis
Fred Taylor
Robert Edwards
John Avery
Edgerrin James
Ricky Williams
Jamal Lewis
Thomas Jones
Ron Dayne
Sh. Alexander
Trung Canidate
L. Tomlinson
Deuce McAllister
Michael Bennett
William Green
T.J. Duckett
Tiki Barber
B. Hanspard
Corey Dillon
Marc Edwards
Robert Holcombe
James Johnson
Kevin Faulk
Joe Montgomery
Mike Cloud
Travis Prentice
J.R. Redmond
Reuben Droughns
Doug Chapman
Anthony Thomas
Lamont Jordan
Travis Henry
Deshaun Foster
Clinton Portis
Maurice Morris
Ladell Betts
Sedrick Shaw
Troy Davis
Jay Graham
Duce Staley
Jon Ritchie
Skip Hicks
Ahman Green
Chris Floyd
Rashaan Shehee
Amos Zereoue
James Jackson
Kevan Barlow
Travis Minor
Lamar Gordon
Brian Westbrook
Leon Johnson
Darnell Autry
Chad Levitt
Nicky Sualua
Michael Pittman
Tavian Banks
Curtis Alexander
Carlos King
Sedrick Irvin
Sean Bennett
Olandis Gary
Curtis Keaton
Rudi Johnson
C. Buckhalter
Jonathan Wells
Travis Stephens
Kenny Bynum
George Jones
June Henley
Raymond Priester
Jonathan Linton
Wilmont Perry
Chris Howard
Cecil Collins
Jerry Azumah
Charlie Rogers
Terry Jackson
De'Mond Parker
Paul Smith
Michael Wiley
Dante Hall
Sammy Morris
Chad Morton
Derrick Blaylock
Chris Barnes
Verron Haynes
Steve Lee
Calvin Branch
Rod Brown
D. Shelton
Harold Shaw
Fred Beasley
Kevin McLeod
Dustin Johnson
Frank Murphy
Thomas Hamner
Mike Anderson
Dee Brown
Dan Alexander
Josh Scobey
Larry Ned
Adrian Peterson
Brian Allen
Chester Taylor
Terry Battle
Jerald Sowell
Jon Haskins
Ken Oxendine
Marcus Parker
Edwin Watson
Tarik Smith
Ernest Blackwell
Ron Janes
Madre Hill
Autry Denson
James Finn
Mike Green
Patrick Pass
Shyrone Stith
Rondell Mealey
Derek Combs
Luke Staley
A. Womack
Leonard Henry

Everyone will be hotly pursuing what runningback will be turning the corner this season, but let's look back and see what past history can tell us about the position.

Clearly, first rounders have had good years. Not only did they enter the league with some sort of pedigree, but their cost in a high draft pick and subsequent dollars means that they definitely received a good opportunity. Of the best eleven runningbacks drafted in the past four years, eight of them were first rounders and the other three were second rounders (Anthony Thomas, Travis Henry and Clinton Portis. The only true flops were Thomas "how'd I cut my hand?" Jones and Ron Dayne. While Dayne has not been without some value, he has certainly missed expectations.
2003 Rookie RBs
1.23 BUF Willis McGahee
1.27 KC Larry Johnson
3.13 BAL Musa Smith
3.29 TEN Chris Brown
3.32 OAK Justin Fargas
4.02 DET Artose Pinner
4.04 HOU Domanick Davis
4.08 MIN Onterrio Smith
4.11 DEN Quentin Griffin
4.18 CLE Lee Suggs
4.35 JAX Labrandon Toefield
6.33 CHI Brock Forsey
7.04 JAX Malaefou Mackenzie
7.15 SD Andrew Pinnock
7.21 DEN Ahmaad Galloway

Those players thought most likely to have a good 2003 campaign include Kevan Barlow who is slowly taking the reins from Garrison Hearst, Trung Canidate who jumps on the Redskin's carousel, Correll Buckhalter who returns from injury after showing nice promise in his rookie year and T.J. Duckett who will help the Falcons to keep defenses guessing.

Oddly, the past few years has seen a number of players taken in the fourth through sixth rounds that had great games only to settle back into a different role for various reasons. Olandis Gary and Mike Anderson took their turns as the Bronco wunderkind for a season and Sammy Morris started strong only to fade into the background. It appears the deeper backs benefited from an injury situation on their team, but then returned to being the average back that was drafted deeply.

This season's rookie crop is different than any in recent memory. Not one of them were drafted with the intention of being a starter in week one if ever. McGahee (BUF) and Johnson (KC) went to already established situations. Travis Henry, surprised as we all were, already had over 1700 yards and 14 touchdowns but evidently was not enough to keep the drooling Bills from pulling off a coups of sorts. McGahee is rehabilitating his knee but there is zero doubt he will get a chance when he is able to play. Johnson sits behind the best fantasy back in the NFL last year, but Holmes is 30 years old and has just a bit less negotiating room than, say, back in March.

Rookie rushers will be taken in fantasy drafts this season and most likely at least one or two will be significant in fantasy terms. But rest assured, this will be more likely from an injury situation and the teams that actually drafted a runner in the first three rounds where the best backs have been coming are all sitting behind an established - if not great - runningback. No one wants to see an injury, but it may bother you less if you have that rookie backup this season.