2016 Rookie Runningbacks

Ezekiel Elliot, RB, Ohio State University - 35 games played
RUSHING: 592 attempts, 3961 yards, 6.7 yards per carry (ypc), 43TD
RECEIVING: 58 receptions, 449 yards, 7.7 yards per reception, 1TD.
Fumble rate: In 650 total offensive touches, Elliot has fumbled 4 times

Without a doubt, Ezekiel Elliot is the most complete back in the 2016 NFL draft.  At 6'0", 225lbs and massive 10 1/4" mits, he's an impressive physical specimen.  He can take all the handoffs, catch all the passes, block all the blitzes, and be the bellcow back the Cowboys so desperately need.  He's big enough to get downhill with a great initial burst, but his feet are quick enough to be a shifty scatback who's tough to bring down.  He'll fit well into the Cowboys' offensive scheme and certainly gives Romo a quality option out of the backfield.  With McFadden on the mend, as usual, draft Elliot as a top-10 back, given his explosive running ability and the monster offensive line he'll be running behind.  With a lack of offensive options and the need to propect Romo, the backs in Dallas will be heavily leaned upon and could combine for 3000 total yards from scrimmage and 16+ scores.

**UPDATE** Ezekiel Elliot tweaked his hamstring in camp, but has returned and should be ready to go for week 1. 

Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama - 39 games played
RUSHING: 602 attempts, 3591 yards, 6.0 yards per carry, 43TD
RECEIVING: 17 Receptions, 285 yards, 16.8 yards per reception, 3TD.
Fumble rate: In 619 total offensive touches, Henry has fumbled 4 times

At 6'3, 247lbs, this battering ram is a load to bring down.  Henry is a one-cut downhill runner who has shown patience, but also hits the hole hard. He can also catch the ball out of the backfield making him a dynamic threat.  This big bruiser is bound to become the bellcow back on a team that's had a revolving door at the position for the past few seasons.  Henry fits nicely into Mike Mularkey's "exotic smashmouth" system and could see short-yardage and goal line work, making him a potential touchdown vulture.  Yes, his height could lead to some struggles because smaller guys can get below the pads or and rip the ball out, but it'll take more than one player to stop him, let alone make him drop the rock.  As long as he can churn his legs & keep the pile moving, he'll pile up plenty of valuable YAC (Yards After Contact).  Henry is currently listed behind DeMarco Murray on the depth chart, but could move up if things don't pan out.  Draft him as early as rounds 6-7 in 12-team leagues.

Devontae Booker, RB, Utah - 21 games played
RUSHING: 560 attempts, 2773 yards, 5.0 yards per carry, 21TD
RECEIVING: 80 Receptions, 622 yards, 7.8 yards per reception, 2TD
Fumble rate: In 640 total offensive touches, Booker has fumbled 9 times

He's stocky at 5'11", 219lbs, but this savvy scatback is deceptively quick.  He has patience, great vision, and can get out of any situation using his feet.  He has incredible body control and can change direction on a dime.  He can also catch the ball out of the backfield making him a versatile addition to any roster.  Booker adds breakaway speed to this illusive combination making him a great change-of-pace back at the very least.  The Broncos stole him in the 4th round.  He's often been compared to Arian Foster and will fit perfectly into Kubiak's zone-based scheme.  From a fantasy perspective, grab Booker if he's still on the board late in the draft. He'll fit as a flex late in the season and he'll be a steal if you can get him for $1 in auction drafts.  The big question is: will the Broncos start the Anderson/Hillman tandem out of obligation to Anderson's big contract?  Or will they start a far better football player than either of them, the Arian Foster reincarnate aka Devontae Booker?  Stash Booker if you can.  Hillman has always had ball security issues and Booker is more talented than Anderson.  He could work his way up the depth chart and supplant the RBC to be the bellcow.

Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas - 38 games played
RUSHING: 665 attempts, 3703 yards, 5.6 yards per carry, 36TD
RECEIVING: 27 Receptions, 167 yards, 6.2 yards per reception, 0TD.
Fumble rate: In 640 total offensive touches, Booker  has fumbled 9 times

If you need 22 seconds of who Alex Collins is, flashback to November 7, 2015, when the unranked Razorbacks shocked #18 Ole Miss in a 53-52 overtime victory.  Alex Collins is arguably the mvp of that game.  It's 4th & 25 on Ole Miss' 40.  Collins makes 2 key blocks allowing his qb to pass to an outside receiver.  The wideout then laterals the ball backwards toward the middle of the field.  The ball bounces & is picked up off the ground by Collins who runs it for the 1st down and much  more, setting up the Hogs inside the redzone.

This tenacity and the will to win illustrates Collins' running style.  Powerful yet quick on his feet, Collins has a great 2nd step and acceleration.  He can get to his top speed quickly, then stop on a dime and stutter step or jump cut to make his defender miss.  Then he's off to the races.  He's also tough to bring down, netting valuable yards after contact (YAC).  At 5'11" and 216lbs, he enters a crowded Seahawks backfield where he'll likely battle for a spot behind Christine Michael and Thomas Rawls, along with rookie CJ Procise.  He also has ball security issues and plays in a defensively tough division.  Buyer beware, Collins does have ball security issues, dropping the rock more times than any other back in this article.

CJ Prosise, RB, University of Notre Dame - 32 games played
RUSHING: 167 attempts, 1155 yards, 6.9 yards per carry, 12TD
RECEIVING: 62 Receptions, 896 yards, 14.5 yards per reception, 3TD.
Fumble rate: In 229 career touches, Prosise has fumbled 5 times

If you want versatility, look no further.  Prosise was recruited as a safety, plugged in at slot receiver, then given the rock to run just this past year.  He was also a special teams returner.  At 6'0", 220lbs, this elusive back makes defenders miss with his speed and quick feet.  He has good speed and runs with loose hips, keeping his shoulders squared forward and maintaining his balance and center of gravity.  His agility allows him to tiptoe down the sidelines and shed whatever light contact he takes.  He doesn't need power when he can shred defenses with speed.  He can be a bigger, Tavon Austin-type playmaker.

Unfortunately, Prosise tends to carry the ball farther away from the body than normal, making it easier for defenders to strip the ball.  This is illustrated in his fumble rate of 45.6.  In other words, he has put the ball on the ground once every 45.6 times he gets the ball.  At the NFL level, that means he'd drop the ball once every 2 games if he was the featured back.  The only back who has fumbled more on this list is Alex Collins.  He also makes defenders miss, meaning he may not like contact so much.  This could be a drawback, especially in a very physical NFC West division.

Kenneth Dixon, RB, Louisiana Tech - 47 games played
RUSHING: 802 attempts, 4483 yards, 5.6 yards per carry, 72TD
RECEIVING: 87 Receptions, 969 yards, 11.1 yards per reception, 15TD.
Fumble rate: In 889 total offensive touches, Dixon has fumbled 14 times

The 5'10", 215lbs do-it-all back has combined for over 3200 total yards and 54 total scores in his last 2 seasons at Louisiana Tech.  His 889 total touches during his 4 year career put him in an almost elite production level when you look at other players on this list.  Tape of this guy isn't hard to find since he was featured so often.  This explosive back is a treat to watch, and should fit perfectly into Marc Trestman's offense.  I had flashbacks of a young Matt Forte as I saw Dixon catch countless passes, juke defenders with jump cuts and fancy footwork, and maintain his balance while breaking tackles and using his breakaway speed.  At the moment, he joins a crowded Ravens backfield with Justin Forsett, and Javorius "Buck" Allen (Trent Richardson placed on PUP - hamstring and knee).  If Dixon can hold on to the rock and protect Joe Flacco during passing plays, he'll be a solid contributor to the offense.  With Forsett turning 31 and Buck Allen yet to show real promise, there could be a real battle to be the bellcow in the Ravens' backfield.  If you have room on your roster to stash, Dixon is worth a spot.  Continue monitoring training camp developments to see where Dixon ends up.

Keith Marshall, RB, University of Georgia -33 games played
RUSHING: 23 attempts, 1379 yards, 5.5 yards per carry, 12TD
RECEIVING: 24 Receptions, 225 yards, 9.4 yards per reception, 3TD.
Fumble rate: In 889 total offensive touches, Dixon has fumbled 14 times

The Bulldogs' 2-headed monster known as "Gurshall" was made up of 2 backs: Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall.  Marshall has all the physical attributes of a potentially prolific back.  He's 5'11", 219lbs, and averaged a 4.3-40 at the 2016 Combine.  He has a case of happy feet, and can dance his way out of any situation.  He uses a great initial burst to get through the smallest crease and is tough to catch in the open field.  Anyone who's watched film of this guy knows he's a home run threat every time he's on the field. 

So, there's the caveat: in fantasy football, ability is as important as availability.  Marshall can only be effective when he's on the field.  It's tough to tell just how much his injuries have damaged his career, but more importantly his confidence.  He doesn't look like the same aggressive, speedy runner he was before he tore his ACL.  Football is a contact sport and Marshall doesn't seem to like contact at the moment.  With the 242nd pick, the Redskins took Marshall in the final round.  He joins a timeshare currently held by Matt Jones and Chris Thompson.  However, he could work his way up the rotation if he can prove he can go the distance.  His biggest hurdle to overcome will be the one in his mind. Marshall should only be drafted in leagues of 14 teams or more as a highly speculative flier.  Matt Jones dropped the ball a lot last year, literally, and Chris Thompson is no bellcow.  Marshall's chances could come sooner than later, but his play count could be limited due to the fragile nature of his body.

**UPDATE** Redskins' starter Matt Jones will miss the rest of the preseason due to a shoulder injury (AC joint).  Alfred Morris is gone and Chris Thompson has not proven himself as an every-down back.  If Jones misses extended time, look for Marshall to possibly step in as a starter.

**UPDATE 2** Keith Marshall exited Friday night's preseason game against the Bills with an elbow injury.  He's currently scheduled for an MRI.  No timetable given for Marshall's return.

Kenyan Drake, RB, Alabama - 31 games played
RUSHING: 233 attempts, 1495 yards, 6.4 yards per carry, 18TD
RECEIVING: 46 Receptions, 570 yards, 12.4 yards per reception, 4TD.
Fumble rate: In 889 total offensive touches, Dixon has fumbled 14 times

After losing Lamar Miller, the Dolphins drafted Drake to add depth.  With Derrick Henry getting all of the press, the back who took a backseat at Alabama might be the steal of your fantasy draft this year.  His meager totals might make him underrated, but his averages are on par.  Drake is a quick back with great burst.  At 6'1", 210lbs, he certainly has room to grow, but he's already tough to bring down.  As a well-balanced runner who never stops moving his feet, he runs with a natural forward lean and fights hard for every last yard.  He's not afraid of contact and will run into opponents, often shaking them with a spin move. 

Drake has also shown versatility as a receiver and a special teams player, taking on return duties during his senior year and returning a kickoff for a score in the BCS Championship vs. Clemsen.  This gives him an additional edge in leagues that reward special teams scores.  Although he may have some injury concerns (broken & dislocated ankle, cracked rib, sprained ankle, concussion, quad contusion, broken right arm) and ball security issues, he's an extremely tough kid who's able to bounce back from severe injuries and will fit well into the Dolphins scheme.  He came back his senior year and saw limited use in all 13 games.  Due to lack of depth, his chances could come sooner than later and he could enter a timeshare with Ajayi.  Draft Drake in later rounds as a potential flex flier that you can stash.  In leagues of 12 teams or more, draft him in rounds 8 or 9.  He's been as brittle as Darren McFadden, but has been compared to Reggie Bush.

Jordan Howard, RB,
University of Alabama-Birmingham (FR, SO) - 23 games played
University of Indiana (JR) - 9 games played
University of Alabama-Birmingham: 451 attempts, 2468 yards, 5.47 yards per carry (ypc), 15TD
University of Indiana: 196 attempts, 1213 yards, 6.2 yards per carry (ypc), 9TD
University of Alabama-Birmingham: 13 receptions, 155 yards, 11.92 yards per reception, 2TD.
University of Indiana: 11 receptions, 106 yards, 9.6 yards per reception, 1TD
Fumble rate: In 650 total offensive touches, Howard has fumbled 6 times

With Forte gone, the Bears needed to find a starter or at least add depth to their backfield Enter Jordan Howard.  At 6'0", 230lbs, the Bears get a bruising, big-bodied basher like Derrick Henry who can get downhill, drop his shoulder, run defenders over and fight for those precious yards after contact.  While he is 3 inches shorter than tue 6'3" Henry, true football fans know that height can hinder, not help, once a player gets over a certain height.  Howard can also run routes, catch passes out of the backfield, pick up blitzes and protect Cutler like Ezekiel Elliot.  This can be a major factor, considering the Bears may look to incorporate more of the passing game, & Howard can help protect Cutler.  So, he's a decent mix of the top 2 backs in the draft, and he has one of the lowest fumble rates of all backs in the draft.  So, what's not to like?

The Chicago Bears may have gotten the best value pick in the NFL draft, taking Jordan Howard in the 5th round.  I say "may," because there are some things to be worried about.  In his football career, he's suffered multiple injuries including a fractured pelvis, a torn meniscus, and multiple knee and ankle injuries, which Chicago sports fans are all too familiar with #drose.  His running style draws a lot of contact, and probably won't help prevent injuries.  While Howard is a great player, he needs to be on the field to produce real and fantasy stats.  From a fantasy perspective, his snap count may also be limited by a crowded backfield with Carey and Langford, and Howard could be in danger of entering a timeshare, since no Chicago Bears back has shown starting potential.  We could see a backfield situation similar to the 2015 Lions and Titans.  With that said, Howard is a high-risk, high-reward player if he can stay on the field and stand out from the crowd.  Draft him as a flier in leagues of 12 teams or more.

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