Top 20 rookie fantasy RBs of the last decade: Nos. 1-10

Where does Ezekiel Elliott's 2016 rank in the top rookie RB performances in the last decade? Mike Castiglione reveals the top 10.

| 3 weeks ago
(Jason Miller/Getty Images)

(Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Top 20 rookie fantasy RBs of the last decade: Nos. 1-10


We’re always looking ahead here at PFF, trying to keep you ahead of the curve when it comes to emerging fantasy trends and player valuations. But on occasion, it’s also prudent to look back and put things in context when there is a sufficient data sample.

Since we now have 10 seasons of continuous PFF data available, I’ve taken on the task of compiling the top rookie fantasy seasons of the last decade for each position. We began last week with the top-20 rookie wide receivers, and are now onto the top-20 rookie running backs (if you missed Nos. 11-20, you can catch up here). Today we resume the countdown by revealing the top-10 fantasy seasons for a rookie RB in the last decade.

Here is a quick refresher of the unique PFF terms and acronyms found below.

GLOSSARY
Season Rank: where each player ranked among all RBs in PPR scoring during his rookie season
Draft: where each player was selected. Ex. Sterling Shepard: 2.40 = Round 2, Overall pick 40
FPPG: fantasy scoring per-game average
FPPO: fantasy points per opportunity, defined as carries plus pass routes
Elusive Rating: breaks down a runner’s success beyond help from blockers
YAC: yards after contact per attempt
MT rate: touches / missed tackles forced (the lower the better)

10. Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans (2008)

251 rush, 1,228 yards (4.89), 9 TD / 43 rec. 260 yds, 1 TD

Season Rank Draft G GS Fantasy Points FPPG FPPO Elusive Rating YAC MT Rate
11 1.24 15 14 248 16.53 0.47 39.4 3.11 7.9

A first-round draft pick out of East Carolina, Chris Johnson hit the ground running as a rookie with the Titans in 2008, earning some instant fantasy cred in the process. His average of 3.11 yards after contact is topped by only two other rookies on this top-20 list. In fact, the speedster’s NFL combine-record 4.24 40-yard dash stood until just this past week when Washington wide receiver John Ross turned in a 4.22. By his second pro season, Johnson had earned the “CJ2K” nickname as he broke Marshall Faulk’s record with 2,509 yards from scrimmage. During his six years in Tennessee, Johnson eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards each season and was a perennial RB1 in fantasy. Now approaching his 32nd birthday in September and coming off three subpar seasons in New York and Arizona, Johnson’s name has not generated much buzz in the free-agent market.

9. Trent Richardson, Cleveland Browns (2012)

267 rush, 950 yards (3.56), 11 TD / 51 rec. 367 yds, 1 TD

Season Rank Draft G GS Fantasy Points FPPG FPPO Elusive Rating YAC MT Rate
8 1.3 15 15 253 16.87 0.43 38.8 2.09 5.4

Trent Richardson, remember him? Frankly, I was surprised when his name made the list, let alone the top 10. Although it was only five years ago that Richardson entered the league, it’s easy to forget that he was actually a top-10 fantasy running back as a rookie. Of course, it’s also been three seasons since he last played a down. Some fantasy owners will recall the 12 TDs and 51 catches from that 2012 season, although most will recall his 3.3 YPC career average. But perhaps the writing was on the wall all along, as only one other player on this list averaged fewer yards after contact as a rookie. Despite their first-round investment, the Browns moved on from Richardson just two weeks into his second season, and he’s since been released by three other teams. Running backs drafted from Alabama have carried something of a stigma since Richardson, and it’s perhaps no coincidence that not a single RB was selected in the first round of the subsequent two drafts.

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Mike is a member of the FSWA and a staff writer for PFF Fantasy who focuses on both redraft and dynasty content, having spent several years covering FBS for a number of publications.

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