Rookie Running Back Risers Based on Landing Spot

by Taylor Smith ·

Nothing moves the needle like the NFL Draft. Fantasy analysts spend months grinding film and running their models on the next crop of NFL rookies. These countless hours of dedication spit out player rankings and generate hot takes on who the best fantasy assets will be. Then the draft comes along and destroys everything. Once draft capital and landing spots come into play, rookies shoot up and down the rankings. This season, the draft certainly threw in some curveballs and some intriguing prospects found themselves in great situations. Here are the four biggest rookie running back risers in our Lifetime Value metric following the NFL Draft.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire

Clyde Edwards-Helaire won the lottery. His skillset already made him the perfect weapon for any offense. Not only was Edwards-Helaire a target magnet with a 10.2-percent (76th-percentile among qualified running backs) College Target Share, but he had suction cups for hands, catching 55 of his 58 looks. He’s also incredibly elusive with the ball in his hands, wiggling past defenders with his 128.7 (89th-percentile) Burst Score. With his 32.4 (89th-percentile) Body Mass Index, he’ll double as a stout workhorse on the ground. CEH handled 270 touches last season, indicating he can stand up to the rigors of an NFL workload.

Check out Clyde Edwards-Helaire on PlayerProfiler’s Updated Rookie Rankings:

Now Edwards-Helaire will be tethered to Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes for the next five seasons. The Chiefs hand-picked him in the first round as the first running back off the board. Clearly they think highly of him and plan to deploy him immediately. This landing spot vaulted him up to No. 2 in our dynasty rookie rankings. His +62.54 increase in Lifetime Value was easily the highest among rookie running backs. He’ll be a coveted dynasty building block for years.

Ke’Shawn Vaughn

The second-best possible landing spot for a running back was with Bruce Arians and Tom Brady in Tampa Bay. Ronald Jones has simply shown nothing in his first two seasons, particularly on third downs. Many mock drafters expected them to grab a premium back in the first or second round, but they stayed put and nabbed Ke’Shawn Vaughn in the third.

Vaughn was a hidden gem for the Buccaneers. He has feature back size at 5-10, 214-pounds and was a tank at the college level. He posted a 40.4 percent (90th-percentile) College Dominator Rating at Illinois and Vanderbilt with two seasons of 1,000 rushing yards and double-digit scores. More importantly, he saw a 10 percent (74th-percentile) College Target Share as a senior and is better than Jones in every single way.

Vaughn will immediately capture passing game work, which should be fruitful given Brady’s affinity for check-downs to James White over the last few seasons. If he can capture some early-down work, he’ll be set up for 200-plus touches as a rookie. Vaughn vaulted into top five rookie consideration and may be a league-winner as soon as this season.

Anthony McFarland

One quiet riser in the rookie ranks was Anthony McFarland. The Pittsburgh Steelers grabbed the speedster out of Maryland as a nice insurance policy for James Conner. Given Conner’s lengthy Medical History Report, McFarland may pay off for them as soon as 2020.

Anthony McFarland Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile w/ College Stats

Despite a great landing spot, McFarland is still an unknown prospect. He has a frame similar to Clyde Edwards-Helaire with a beefy 31.6 (80th-percentile) BMI at 5-8, but he is more of a home-run hitter with his 4.44 (92nd-percentile) 40-yard dash time. That narrative held true throughout his career, with three of his six career 100-yard rushing performances coming on 11 or fewer carries. The issue is he wasn’t ever trusted with a full workload in his two seasons at Maryland, failing to top 131 rushes in either season.

This is likely an indictment of the coaching staff, though. McFarland was their best offensive piece. When they fed him the ball, he was outstanding. In fact, in the three games where he saw at least 20 carries, he averaged an absurd 213 rushing yards per game. One of those games was 298 yards against Ohio State in 2018, so he clearly has talent. He also proved to be a capable pass-catcher with a 7.6 percent (54th-percentile) College Target Share. His touches will be limited as a rookie, but he has the skills to deliver splash plays and should earn more work. Despite seeing the third-highest jump in Lifetime Value among rookie running backs, he’s still a project in dynasty leagues.

J.K. Dobbins

One player that isn’t a project is J.K. Dobbins, one of the most NFL-ready rookie backs in this class after accruing 4,459 rushing yards in his three seasons at Ohio State. He’s also a talented receiver out of the backfield, with 22-plus receptions in every collegiate season. All these positives made him a great prospect before the NFL Draft, so his landing spot didn’t bump him up like his classmates, but he is certainly in a position to succeed.

The Baltimore Ravens scooped up Dobbins in the second round, indicating that he’ll be an instant impact player for this offense. While Mark Ingram looks like an entrenched starter, the Ravens can easily get out of his contract. According to Sportrac, the 30-year-old can be released after June 1, saving the Ravens $3.5 million against the cap this season.

Worst case-scenario is Ingram sticks around for another year and is cut in 2021, costing zero against the cap. He only accounted for 13.4 rushes per game in 2019, whereas the Ravens averaged 37.2 (No. 1) Team Rush Attempts Per Game. Dobbins will absorb Gus Edwards’ 8.3 carries per game and then some. This offensive line afforded top-10 Run Blocking Efficiency throughout 2019, so a player of his talents should smash expectations even on limited touches. While he may have volatile rookie production, Dobbins is a clear top three dynasty running back.