handful of NFL rookies will step up every year and make
fantasy owners take notice. Historically, rookie rushers
merit the most fantasy consideration as they have a better
chance at putting up big stats than any other position
and while this years tailback class appears weaker
than in years past, countless NFL enthusiasts are still
doing their best at separating the next Clinton Portis
from the next Rashaan Salaam.
in mind that all predictions at this early date are
based on the rookie being given a chance to start
in Week 1. And now, the Top
5 Rookie Running Backs Rankings.
Lee Suggs, Virginia Tech NCAA fans knew
Suggs as one half of the dynamic VT running back
duo nicknamed The Untouchables when he
teamed with the younger Kevin Jones to form the most
ridiculous-stat-building backfield in college football.
Suggs himself exploded on the college scene in 2000
when he rushed for 1207 yards and 27 touchdowns as
a sophomore. After losing his entire junior season
to a knee injury, he returned in 2002 to play in
all 14 games, racking up 1329 yards and 22 TDs on
the ground. And whats even more scary is that
Suggs barely had 60% of his teams handoffs. Sure,
VT ran the ball a lot, but Suggs managed to score
on almost one of every ten rushes, which is flat-out
silly on a team with VTs schedule. And make
no mistake He is much more than his statistical
elevates himself above fellow rookie rushers as the
best pure runner. He has an incredible
ability to accelerate through quickly closing holes
with enough force to throw off the first would-be tackler.
This also makes him invaluable at the goal line. He
has been routinely timed around a 4.40/40 and that
speed can make him extremely dangerous once he improves
his slightly flawed outside running. While fumbling
is often the bane of rookie rushers, Suggs received
national attention for his 401-carry streak without
putting the ball on the ground. He does NOT fumble.
FANTASY VERDICT: If Suggs goes to a decent team,
he will impress immediately. Dont hesitate
to call his name early in the 4th round of your fantasy
Justin Fargas, USC Fargas's recent 4.38-second
run in the 40-yard dash at the combine was enough
to convince skeptics that he's for real (for perspective,
Michael Bennett's combine time was 4.40). No one
can doubt Fargas's raw talent he was the top
prospect in the country coming out of high school
(in one high school game, he actually flipped over
oncoming defenders, landed on his feet, and ran 30
yards for a TD). He has everything you look for in
an NFL prospect: good size (6-1, 220), great vision
and patience, and the ability to break tackles. That
he does not have a household name is due in part
to the unusual path he took in college.
started in Michigan, but never got on track due to
a coaching style not suited for his strengths and,
more importantly, injuries (his only real concern).
After transferring to USC before the 2001 season, Fargas
was injured again and had to wait until 2002 to showcase
his true talent. And showcase he did. After only 43
carries in his first six games, he exploded in the
second half of the season and averaged 127 yards per
game with 5.5 yards per carry in the four of his six
games with at least 18 carries all against solid
competition. Fargas continued to impress even after
the season. At the Senior Bowl practices, Fargas was
highly praised by pro scouts after he showed great
hands in addition to his ball-carrying skills. To put
it simply, the kid's got game. In addition to almost
certainly being the fastest back in this year's draft,
Fargas is just plain hot.
FANTASY VERDICT: Be willing to wager an early 6th-round
draft pick that Fargas continues his hot streak in
Larry Johnson, Penn State Although Johnson
didn't rack up his 2,087 rushing yards against the
nation's top defenses, do not dismiss his huge season
as a fluke. Why? Simply because he averaged 7.7 yards
per carry the most by any other running back
who reached the 2K mark. If the stats exaggerate
Johnson's ability as a runner, it's only by a slight
margin. Johnson's great year was the product of a
big runner (6-1, 228) with great vision (he finds
almost all the cutback lanes) and an incredible break-tackle
ability which he uses to throw off defenders of all
sizes. He's also the best receiving back in the class.
Johnson can run a 4.50/ 40, he's not considered very
elusive. He runs with an upright style, much like Eddie
George, and is more likely to lower his shoulder at
would-be tacklers instead of trying to make them miss.
Remarkably enough, though he takes plenty of hits,
he's had no major injuries to date.
FANTASY VERDICT: Has definite NFL potential, especially
after coaches have an offseason to tailor his running
style to fit the pro level. An early 7th-rounder.
Onterrio Smith, Oregon Other than a healthy
Willis McGahee, Smith is the only back in the class
who could compete with Suggs and Fargas in a foot
race. He's been reported to consistently post 40-yard
times in the 4.40-4.45 range and is probably the
best outside rusher in the draft. Quickness and agility
are Smith's bread and butter. Due to his slightly
smaller frame (5-10, 218), he won't overpower many
defenders and yet his outstanding change-of-direction
skills make him difficult to tackle. He has an uncanny
ability to keep his momentum through cuts and jukes
(see: Clinton Portis).
drawback to Smith is his lack of power running ability.
He's not the type of back who will push a pile forward
for three or four yards and may lack confidence early
in the season if he gets tackled behind the line on
a regular basis (see: William Green). However, once
he jukes those first few NFL linebackers out of their
jocks, Smith can blossom into an every-down homerun
FANTASY VERDICT: Only slightly behind Johnson, Smith
will be a great 7th-round pickup who could raise
eyebrows in the second half of next season.
Chris Brown, Colorado Very similar to
Larry Johnson, Brown is a big kid (6-2 1/2, 220)
who runs a little upright and drags or runs over
defenders in his way. In fact, Brown finished only
three spots behind Johnson on the rushing list last
year with 1,840 yards and 19 touchdowns. Brown has
excellent body control and balance and can change
direction much more effectively than Larry Johnson.
He's very good at deciding when to deliver the first
blow to an oncoming tackler and when to move quickly
out of the way. For his size, Brown is very fast
in the open field (4.55 40), but he doesn't have
the acceleration of the better outside runners. Since
scouts heavily disparage a lack of "burst through
the hole", they often cite it as Brown's biggest
FANTASY VERDICT: Brown is talented enough to be successful
in the NFL, but just because he's in the top five
in this year's class doesn't necessarily make him
worthy of anything earlier than a 9th-round pick.
Take a flyer on him if he lands in a good situation.
Tony Kornheiser would say, "That's the list!".
Make sure to pay attention to the rookies' individual
workouts since many players who didn't run at the combine
will do so at their own workouts.