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Determining the best rookie class of fantasy running backs

Which class of running backs scored the most collective fantasy points their rookie season?

NFL: 2016 NFL Draft Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Leading up to this year’s NFL draft, I’ve been writing—and will be continuing to write—fantasy profiles of the top rookies coming into the league this year. Last week I covered running backs, profiling Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, and Christian McCaffrey. All three have the potential to be fantasy studs their rookie season and that got me wondering: Has there ever been a running back class with as much fantasy potential as the one this year?

So naturally, I investigated.

I looked back over the past 10 years at every running back drafted in the first two rounds—I’m assuming the three backs this year will be drafted in the top two rounds, probably even all in the first—and combined the fantasy points they scored their rookie season. The goal is to see a) what the most collective points scored by an incoming batch of rookie running backs is and b) how high the is bar set for the guys coming in this year.

Let’s get it.

The Bad

2011: 323.8 fantasy points

Shane Vereen (11.7), Montario Hardesty (37.8), Daniel Thomas (69.3), Mark Ingram (81.0), Ben Tate (124.0)

2014: 324.2 fantasy points
Carlos Hyde (62.1), Bishop Sankey (78.2), Jeremy Hill (183.9)

2010: 355.4 fantasy points
C.J. Spiller (45.0), Toby Gerhart (51.9), Ryan Mathews (119.3), Jahvid Best (139.2)

There’s a lot here to unpack. Firstly, Ben Tate was the best rookie fantasy back taken in the first two rounds in 2011. Let that sink in. I always enjoy exercises like this because you look back over the annals of history and see players you and NFL teams were so hyped on only to realize how wrong you both were. Also pour some out for Jahvid Best who had to retire early from the NFL due to concussions.

The Better

2016: 386.1 fantasy points
Derrick Henry (92.7), Ezekiel Elliott (293.4)

2015: 474.6 fantasy points
Melvin Gordon (75.3), Ameer Abdullah (92.0), T.J. Yeldon (119.9), Todd Gurley (187.4)

2009: 478.1 fantasy points
Donald Brown (62.0), LeSean McCoy (118.5), Beanie Wells (131.6), Knowshon Moreno (166.0)

I didn’t expect 2016 to be this low in total fantasy points, though it clearly makes sense when only two backs were taken in the first two rounds. Good old Zeke did his best to carry the team, but even his 293.4 points weren’t enough to warrant a higher ranking. I also find it hilarious that Beanie Wells (remember him!?) scored more points his rookie year than LeSean McCoy. Shady has more than made up for his slow start.

The Challengers

2007: 534.6 fantasy points
Chris Henry (29.2), Brandon Jackson (45.7), Brian Leonard (48.6), Marshawn Lynch (176.2), Adrian Peterson (234.9)

2013: 642.6 fantasy points
Christine Michael (7.9), Montee Ball (88.4), Giovani Bernard (166.9), Le'Veon Bell (171.9), Eddie Lacy (207.5)

2012: 719.9 fantasy points
Isaiah Pead (5.0), LaMichael James (15.4), Ryan Williams (16.8), David Wilson (67.2), Mikel Leshoure (149.2), Trent Richardson (203.7), Doug Martin (262.6)

This class of years is all about greatness in numbers. Each year had at least five running backs going in the first two rounds and at least two each year scoring triple digit fantasy points. Eddie Lacy’s rookie year is the reason people still hope that he can get back on track in Seattle. He was a dominate back and fantasy option and people, myself definitely included, are clinging to that last fading hope that he’ll return. Also, I know I mentioned this in my Fournette preview, but Trent Richardson was the 9th best fantasy back his rookie year. Have you let that sink in yet?

The Bar

2008: 820.8 fantasy points
Rashard Mendenhall (7.5), Felix Jones (45.6), Ray Rice (71.7), Darren McFadden (99.4), Jonathan Stewart (146.3), Chris Johnson (207.8), Matt Forte (242.5)

On the onset of this investigation, if you had asked me which year I think would be the top in terms of total fantasy points, I probably would have guessed 2007 or maybe 2013. The class of 2008 does not get the attention it deserves, especially when it comes to running backs. Though, I could see that lack of attention stemming from the fact that McFadden was the first running back drafted overall at pick number 4. Forte was a second round pick and so was Rice.

So there you have it. Fournette, Cook and McCaffrey, since I know you’re reading this right now, there is the bar you guys have to beat. If the three of them land in the right situations and stay healthy, I think this could be overtaken. I would not be surprised to see all three finish in triple digits at the end of their rookie seasons. We shall see.