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For my rookie running backs rankings, I want to focus on players who will have immediate impact for you 2015 Fantasy Football team.

Similar to my rookie wide receiver rankings, I ranked the players who would provide Fantasy owners with immediate value, and not those who will take time to develop. You need running backs who are going to put points on the board in year one.

I have to throw out my standard warning that you don’t want to rely too heavily on any rookie for your 2015 Fantasy Football team, but you can find backs from my rookie running backs rankings who could potentially serve as a RB2 or flex option.

This set of rookie running backs rankings is for standard scoring leagues, so keep in mind that some backs will be more valuable in PPR leagues than they are in standard leagues.

Let’s get to it!

Top Five Rookie Running Back Rankings

1. Melvin Gordon, San Diego Chargers

In 2014, Branden Oliver, Ryan Mathews and Donald Brown combined for a total of 319 rushing yards. That means there is plenty of opportunity for Gordon to step in on Day 1 and be the go-to-guy for the Chargers’ rushing attack. I am concerned that Gordon isn’t much of a pass-catching back, as he only hauled in 22 receptions in his college career. Alfred Morris is virtually the only remaining running back who doesn’t catch passes, but he still has recorded three straight seasons of 1,000 or more rushing yards while also averaging 9.3 touchdowns per season, so this indicates Gordon can still have Fantasy success. I think Gordon’s lack of pass catching boosts the value of Danny Woodhead, so keep your eye on him for PPR leagues. 

Gordon has the benefit of entering a good offense, has almost no competition and  is one of the best backs out of any draft in recent memory. Gordon’s ADP on FantasyFootballCalculator.com is sky rocketing by the day, and he will most likely be a third or fourth-round pick by the time most drafts start. Compared to some of the other backs available in Round 3, I like Gordon, but I still think it’s a little early to draft him. I would like him better in Round 5 or Round 6. Still, I think he is easily a Top 20 back in 2015.

2. Ameer Abdullah, Detroit Lions

While Todd Gurley may be an amazing talent, he might not even see the field until Week 6 or beyond, as coach Jeff Fisher said that the team would be conservative with Gurley’s return. With Abdullah, he is a player who has value in Week 1. Joique Bell has the ability to blind Fantasy owners with 25-point performances, but I think his days are numbered in Detroit. The 28, soon to be 29-year old back is recovering from a knee cleanup, and this is the last year on his contract. Primarily used as a rusher, Abdullah has the ability to turn short passes into big gains, as was evidenced by his 22 receptions for 269 receiving yards last season. This eliminates the need for Theo Riddick.

I spoke with fellow contributor Travis Pastore about Abdullah on the 2015 NFL Draft Edition of the SCFE podcast, and we each agreed that the 21-year old back is a playmaker. With Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate and Eric Ebron opening things up down the field, that will leave plenty of room for Abdullah to find an open lane and just fly. It may take a few games for Abdullah to find a rhythm, but I expect him to be a major contributor for the Lions this season. He is currently available in Round 10 on FantasyFootballCalculator.com.

3. Jay Ajayi, Miami Dolphins

There was a fair amount of risk in drafting Ajayi, as teams seemed scared to death of his knee injury from 2011. This made him fall to Round 5, but that could also end up as the steal of the year for the Miami Dolphins. Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor found that limiting Lamar Miller’s total touches helped to keep him healthy, which allowed the 24-year old running back to finish as a Top 10 back in 2014.

Miller, however, is in the final year of his contract. With defensives now having to contain Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker, Greg Jennings and Jordan Cameron, this is literally the definition of things opening up for the running game. The Dolphins have always seemed to want to make things work with a running back committee, but never seemed to get the timing right. Ajayi will initially split time with Miller, but he has the skill to earn a major role in the offense.

4. T.J. Yeldon, Jacksonville Jaguars

As evidenced by Toby Gerhart and Bishop Sankey last season, just because you are basically the only running back on a team, it doesn’t mean you’re an automatic start in Fantasy Football.

Yeldon is credited for being a creative runner who can make the most of open lanes and has quick feet. He’s knocked for having mediocre power for his size, and analysts believe he will produce his best value in a committee approach. The Jaguars already have several options at running back with Gerhart, Denard Robinson, Storm Johnson and Bernard Pierce, so it will be interesting to see how this backfield plays out. If anything, the main backs should include a rotation of Yeldon, Gerhart and Robinson.

My main concern is how this rotation will work and if the Jaguars will place too much pressure on Yeldon to carry the team. I would like him as a pick in Round 10, but he’s currently going in Round 8 on FantasyFootballCalculator.com. The best case scenario is that he exceeds expectations and can become a RB2 and the worst case scenario is that you wasted an eighth-round pick and are forced to find another back on the waiver wire.

5. Todd Gurley, St. Louis Rams

Gurley is ridiculous. His speed, strength and vision make him almost impossible to bring down, and I’m very excited to see what he can do in the NFL. You’ll see a ton of lists rankings Gurley as either the best rookie running back or the second best, but there’s a reason I have him as the fifth-best back on my rookie running backs rankings.

Let’s say Gurley returns in Week 6, which means there are 11 games that you can start him in for most Fantasy Football leagues. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like the fact that a rookie player is entering a new system with only 11 games to provide Fantasy value. Let’s give Gurley an extreme benefit of the doubt, and say he averages 15 Fantasy points per game, which is a huge benefit of the doubt. In 2014, that would have placed Gurley just behind C.J. Anderson, who was the 11th-highest scoring back in Fantasy Football. That’s with 15 points. What if he averages something a little more reasonable, like 10 Fantasy points per game? That would have put Gurley one point behind Tre Mason, who finished as the 22nd-highest scoring running back.

Not only do you not know when Gurley will return, but you also don’t know what his workload will look like with Mason and Benny Cunningham leading the rushing attack in Gurley’s absence. What if the St. Louis Rams’ season goes down in flames, and they decide to completely hold back Gurley? If you do plan to draft him, you just need to limit your expectations. If he’s your third running back, what happens if your starters become injured and it’s Week 3?

He could end up as a secret weapon on your bench that helps you make the playoffs, but I think there are better options to pursue.

Best of luck in your 2015 Fantasy Football drafts — especially if you pick up someone from among our top five rookie running backs rankings!

 

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