Ezekiel Elliott’s production last year was reasonably predictable. He was a massive running back (6-foot, 228 pounds) with good hands, picked in the first round, coming from a high-profile program (Ohio State) and playing behind a Cowboys offensive line that was among the best in the league.
Then there’s Jordan Howard. He was a fifth-round pick who went to a school (Indiana) much more regarded for hoops than football. He was buried on the depth chart, behind Ka’Deem Carey even, and never left the bench in the Bears’ season opener.
And while Elliott’s rookie-year numbers were off the charts (1,994 scrimmage yards, 16 TDs), Howard’s weren’t bad, either (1,611 total yards, seven TDs).
Which brings us to this year.
Four rookie running backs open the season as fantasy starters, and a fifth is borderline. The most fortunate is Kansas City’s Kareem Hunt, who entered Thursday night’s game as the Chiefs starter after Spencer Ware’s injury. Dalvin Cook is the one Eagles fans wanted in the second round before Minnesota scooped him up. Leonard Fournette will be the No. 1 guy in Jacksonville, and Joe Mixon is poised to take over in Cincinnati. He’s the borderline guy.
But Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey is the most interesting.
McCaffrey set the NCAA record for scrimmage yards as a junior at Stanford and was selected by the Panthers with the eighth pick in April. He has all the tools and is part of an offense that has multiple weapons. If there’s one drawback from a fantasy standpoint, it’s that fellow running back Jonathan Stewart could eat into McCaffrey’s workload.
“We didn’t draft him as high as we did to grow up in this offense,”quarterback Cam Newton asserted. “We need him ready to go. … We’re expecting big things from him.”
There has never been a season in which four rookies have run for at least 1,000 yards, so history is not on their side. But we also haven’t identified the Jordan Howard of this class, the guy who could go from fourth-string bench-warmer to fantasy gem.
You know, like Corey Clement. Get those drop/add buttons warmed up.
“It’s finally here,” said McCaffrey, whose opener at San Francisco is 10 miles from Stanford. “It’ll be a pretty cool little homecoming.”
A look at the years in which three rookies have rushed for at least 1,000 yards in a season:
1993: Jerome Bettis, Reggie Brooks, Ronald Moore
1995: Terrell Davis, Curtis Martin, Rashaan Salaam
2001: Dominic Rhodes, Anthony Thomas, LaDainian Tomlinson
2008: Matt Forte, Chris Johnson, Steve Slaton
LeSean McCoy set the Eagles rookie rushing record when he ran for 637 yards in 2009. In 1957, Billy Ray Barnes (529) and Clarence Peaks (495) combined for 1,024 yards as rookies. The Eagles also drafted Tommy McDonald and Sonny Jurgensen in ’57.
Mike Hogan (561 yards) might have made a run at 1,000 in 1976, but he missed six games with a dislocated shoulder.
Win a shirt
The opening contest of the week will center on how many receiving yards Alshon Jeffery will rack up Sunday at Washington.
Send guesses to FantasyFootball@phillynews.com by noon Sunday. The three closest to Jeffery’s total will win a Fantasy Football t-shirt valued at well over five dollars. In case of a tie, winners will be selected at random. Jeffery must appear in at least one snap for the contest to be valid.
Winners will be notified next week. Be sure to include your name and hometown.
Those who run leagues through CBSSports.com might need to have a little patience this weekend. The offices for the website are in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., which likely will be hit by Hurricane Irma.
A spokesperson for CBS declined to comment on whether it was anticipating interruption of service, but if fantasy scoring updates aren’t loading properly, please note that workers are probably dealing with more pressing problems.
Quarterbacks: Ben Roethlisberger is 21-2 against the Browns, but he has thrown just 35 touchdowns in those 23 games. A win Sunday would be his 11th in Cleveland and would be more than any Browns starting quarterback has won at home since the franchise restarted in 1999. Currently, Roethlisberger and Derek Anderson are tied at 10 each. … Aaron Rodgers is 450 yards away from passing Donovan McNabb (37,276) for 22nd place all-time. Rodgers will host Seattle’s Legion of Boom secondary this week and visit Atlanta next week.
Running backs: As it relates to Frank Gore, the Colts are playing at the Rams this week and holdout star defensive tackle Aaron Donald won’t play. … PPR sleeper alert for Baltimore’s Danny Woodhead. The Ravens are going against a Bengals defense missing its top two players because of suspensions (Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones). … Lamar Miller’s early workload last season was way too heavy. In the first two weeks, he had 28 and 25 carries and then averaged a little less than 20 in the other full games he played. The upshot is the Texans won’t run him into the ground. Like rookie D’Onta Foreman more than Alfred Blue as Miller’s backup.
Odell Beckham Jr. injured his ankle on this tackle by Cleveland Browns safety Briean Boddy-Calhoun in a preseason game nearly three weeks ago. His status for this week is unclear.Wide receivers: We dropped Odell Beckham Jr. from fourth to 10th in the weekly rankings after he missed practice again Thursday. Even if he plays, he won’t be 100 percent, so move Brandon Marshall up to a mid-WR2 this week. Sterling Shepard already is a nice play as a WR3. … Chicago is really rolling the dice on Kevin White as its No. 1 receiver. White has played just four games in the two years since the Bears drafted him No. 7 overall. He’s worth stashing in fantasy.
“I’ve got my hands full trying to follow up his great performance.”
Cam Newton after his younger brother Caylin led Howard to a stunning victory over UNLV. The win by the Bison (45-point underdogs) is the biggest upset in college football history in terms of point spread.
WEEK 1 RANKINGS
- Ben Roethlisberger, Pit. at Cle.
- Tom Brady, NE (Thurs.) vs. KC
- Matt Ryan, Atl. at Chi.
- Drew Brees, NO at Min.
- Aaron Rodgers, GB vs. Sea.
- Russell Wilson, Sea. at GB
- Kirk Cousins, Was. vs. Eagles
- Cam Newton, Car. at SF
- Carson Palmer, Ari at Det.
- Sam Bradford, Min. vs. NO
- Marcus Mariota, Ten. vs. Oak.
- Derek Carr, Oak. at Ten.
- Carson Wentz, Eagles at Was.
- Andy Dalton, Cin. vs. Bal.
- Dak Prescott, Dal. vs. NYG
- Ezekiel Elliott, Dal. vs. NYG
- LeSean McCoy, Buf. vs. NYJ
- Le’Veon Bell, Pit. at Cle.
- David Johnson, Ari. at Det.
- Melvin Gordon, LAC at Den.
- DeMarco Murray, Ten. vs. Oak.
- Jordan Howard, Chi. vs. Atl.
- Devonta Freeman, Atl. at Chi.
- Todd Gurley, LAR vs. Ind.
- Dalvin Cook, Min. vs. NO
- Lamar Miller, Hou. vs. Jac.
- Christian McCaffrey, Car. at SF
- Kareem Hunt, KC (Thurs.) at NE
- Leonard Fournette, Jac. at Hou.
- Carlos Hyde, SF vs. Car.
- Mark Ingram, NO at Min.
- C.J. Anderson, Den. vs. LAC
- Ty Montgomery, GB vs. Sea.
- Mike Gillislee, NE (Thurs.) vs. KC
- Joe Mixon, Cin. vs. Bal.
- Rob Kelley, Was. vs. Eagles
- Darren Sproles, Eagles at Was.
- Thomas Rawls, Sea. at GB
- Danny Woodhead, Bal. at Cin.
- Frank Gore, Ind. at LAR
- Antonio Brown, Pit. at Cle.
- Julio Jones, Atl. at Chi.
- A.J. Green, Cin. vs. Bal.
- Michael Thomas, NO at Min.
- Jordy Nelson, GB vs. Sea.
- Jamison Crowder, Was. vs. Eagles
- Doug Baldwin, Sea. at GB
- Amari Cooper, Oak. at Ten.
- Dez Bryant, Dal. vs. NYG
- Odell Beckham, NYG at Dal.
- Alshon Jeffery, Eagles at Was.
- Stefon Diggs, Min. vs. NO
- Demaryius Thomas, Den. vs. LAC
- Martavis Bryant, Pit. at Cle.
- Keenan Allen, LAC at Den.
- Davante Adams, GB vs. Sea.
- Tyreek Hill, KC (Thurs.) at NE
- Michael Crabtree, Oak. at Ten.
- Kelvin Benjamin, Car. at SF
- Brandin Cooks, NE (Thurs.) vs. KC
- Terrelle Pryor, Was. vs. Eagles
- Larry Fitzgerald, Ari. at Det.
- Adam Thielen, Min. vs. NO
- T.Y. Hilton, Ind. at LAR
- Emmanuel Sanders, Den. vs. LAC
- Rob Gronkowski, NE (Thurs.) vs. KC
- Jimmy Graham, Sea. at GB
- Greg Olsen, Car. at SF
- Jordan Reed, Was. vs. Eagles
- Travis Kelce, KC (Thurs.) at NE
- Zach Ertz, Eagles at Was.
- Tyler Eifert, Cin. vs. Bal.
- Delanie Walker, Ten. vs. Oak.
- Coby Fleener, NO at Min.
- Kyle Rudolph, Min. vs. NO
- Martellus Bennett, GB vs. Sea.
- Evan Engram, NYG at Dal.