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Attack of the Rookie Backs

First-year RBs will have major fantasy and real impact

Posted: Thursday May 19, 2005 1:20PM; Updated: Wednesday May 25, 2005 5:43PM
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Cedric Benson ran for 1,834 yards and 19 TDs his senior season at Texas.
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1,000-Yard Rookie Rushers
Year Player Team Yards Avg. TDs
2004 Kevin Jones Detroit 1,133 4.7 5
2003 Domanick Davis Houston 1,031 4.3 8
2002 Clinton Portis Denver 1,508 5.5 15
2001 LaDainian Tomlinson San Diego 1,236 3.6 10
2001 Anthony Thomas Chicago 1,183 4.3 7
2001 Dominic Rhodes Indianapolis 1,104 4.7 9
2000 Mike Anderson Denver 1,487 5.0 15
2000 Jamal Lewis Baltimore 1,364 4.4 6
1999 Edgerrin James Indianapolis 1,553 4.2 13
1999 Olandis Gary Denver 1,159 4.2 7
1998 Fred Taylor Jacksonville 1,223 4.6 14
1998 Robert Edwards New England 1,115 3.8 9
1997 Corey Dillon Cincinnati 1,129 4.8 10
1996 Eddie George Houston 1,368 4.1 8
1996 Karim Abdul-Jabbar Miami 1,116 3.6 11
1995 Curtis Martin New England 1,487 4.0 14
1995 Terrell Davis Denver 1,117 4.7 7
1995 Rashaan Salaam Chicago 1,074 3.6 10
1994 Marshall Faulk Indianapolis 1,282 4.1 11
1994 Errict Rhett Tampa Bay 1,011 3.6 7
1993 Jerome Bettis L.A Rams 1,429 4.9 8
1993 Reggie Brooks Washington 1,063 4.8 3
1993 Ron Moore Phoenix 1,018 3.9 9
1989 Barry Sanders Detroit 1,470 5.3 14
1989 Bobby Humphrey Denver 1,151 3.9 7
1988 John Stephens New England 1,168 3.9 4
1988 Ickey Woods Cincinnati 1,066 5.3 15
1986 Rueben Mayes New Orleans 1,353 4.7 8
1984 Greg Bell Buffalo 1,100 4.2 7
1983 Eric Dickerson L.A Rams 1,808 5.6 14
1983 Curt Warner Seattle 1,449 4.3 13
1981 George Rogers New Orleans 1,674 4.4 13
1981 Joe Delaney Kansas City 1,121 4.8 3
1980 Billy Sims Detroit 1,303 4.2 13
1980 Joe Cribbs Buffalo 1,185 3.9 11
1979 Ottis Anderson St. Louis 1,605 4.8 8
1979 William Andrews Atlanta 1,023 4.3 3
1978 Earl Campbell Houston 1,450 4.8 13
1978 Terry Miller Buffalo 1,060 4.5 7
1977 Tony Dorsett Dallas 1,007 4.8 12
1974 Don Woods San Diego 1,162 5.1 7
1972 Franco Harris Pittsburgh 1,055 5.6 10
1971 John Brockington Green Bay 1,105 5.1 4
1968 Paul Robinson Cincinnati 1,023 4.3 8
1934 Beattie Feathers Chicago 1,004 8.4 8

Thanks to the five-yard-chuck rule, 2004 was the year of the quarterback. This season, the running backs strike back. A rag-tag bunch of Wookiee ... er, rookie rebels will lead the revolution.

One way to make sure the force is with you a few months from now at your fantasy football draft is to keep a close eye on these rookie rushers. Running back is the only position in which first-year players typically make a statistical impact. Only 14 rookies have ever surpassed 1,000 yards receiving (including Tampa Bay WR Michael Clayton last year), and first-year QBs, with the exception of Ben Roethlisberger and Peyton Manning, are nothing but cannon fodder for pass rushers.

This year's group of first-year backs has a chance to be the best ever. No rookie class has ever produced more than three 1,000-yard RBs, but that could change in '05. Not that 1,000 rushing yards means that much anymore. Nowadays, all a running back needs is a pair of shoulder pads and directions to the stadium and he can reach 1,000.

With three backs picked in the top 10 for the first time since 1989 and several talented RBs chosen in later rounds, this year's class could produce four or five 1,000-yard rushers. In today's NFL, receiving yards are also crucial for a RB -- and of course scoring is key for fantasy -- but for convenience let's focus on the rushing total and examine which backs can reach the 1,000-yard plateau.

Ronnie Brown, Miami Dolphins, First Round (No. 2 overall): Although he won't be running in the same offense that allowed Ricky Williams to gain so many yards in, Brown will have every opportunity carry the ball and should be the biggest layup on this list to reach 1,000. New Dolphins offensive coordinator Scott Linehan is known as a passing guy, but he can't possibly have A.J. Feeley or Gus Frerotte hurl the ball downfield 40 times a game and ignore a player many consider the most talented in this year's draft. The dangers here are the a suspect offensive line, a surprise return by Williams or the possibility Miami will struggle again and be too far behind to run the ball. But the Fins actually played well at the end of last season, Ricky's still out of the picture, Miami's defense was solid in 2004 (No. 8 overall) and it has a promising new coach in Nick Saban.
Projected Yardage: 1,400

Cedric Benson, Chicago Bears, First Round (No. 4 overall): Coach Lovie Smith said Thomas Jones is still the starter and Benson will complement him. Don't count on that being the case by the fifth game. Jones had his moments last year, but he's never been able to stay healthy for a whole season, and Chicago's offense was terrible even when he had decent games in '04. The Bears are obviously excited about Benson -- they selected the former Texas star over Carnell Williams and said they would have taken him over Brown if the latter was still available. There are different views on Benson's prolific production with the Longhorns. Some experts think he's already taken too much wear-and-tear, while others believe he's proven his durability. At 5-10, 222 pounds, Benson's bulk should work in his favor here and make him the short- and long-term solution at RB in Chicago.
Projected Yardage: 1,200

Carnell Williams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, First Round (No. 5 overall): The yards might not be as easy to come by for Williams as his former Auburn running mate Brown. Jon Gruden's complex gameplan isn't designed to rack up huge numbers for the tailback, and Williams still has to get used to the Bucs' offensive scheme. He'll also have veteran Michael Pittman to compete with for carries. Pittman ran for 926 yards and 10 TDs in 13 games last season, although he does have a penchant for costly fumbles. Tampa Bay also has problems on the offensive line, which will affect both the running and passing games. But Gruden is a fan of Williams and will do anything he can to help him succeed. Williams has the speed and moves to thrive if he is one of the primary weapons in Gruden's attack.
Projected Yardage: 1,100