With all 32 back in camp, much attention will be paid to the rookie class of 2012 and their ability to contribute this year. One position where rookies can immediately step in and make an impact is the RB spot. While rookies tend to get worked in slowly at many positions – QB, WR, LB to name a few – rookie RB’s are often thrust into starting spots or given big part-time roles. Here are the top 25 all time heaviest workloads by percentage of their team’s rushing offense for rookie RB’s:
Since 1970, 54 RB’s have had 50% or more of their team’s rushing attempts, though only 4 (Edgerrin James, LaDanian Tomlinson, Curtis Martin and Eric Dickerson) had more than 75%.
Perhaps a sign of the weakness of the 2011 crop of rookies, or the league-wide shift to RB rotations, only 9 2011 rookies had more than 10% of their team’s total rushing attmepts:
Chances are, 2012 rookie Trent Richardson will easily surpass 2011 rookie leader DeMarco Murray’s 40.2% of Dallas’ rushes. The other early picks, Doug Martin, David Wilson, Isaiah Pead and LaMichael James all figure to be in rotational or situational roles and none are good bets to top the 50% mark barring injury to their team’s other RB’s.
(Originally posted by me at Mocking The Draft)
The success of recent 2nd round picks Matt Forte, LeSean McCoy, Maurice Jones-Drew and Ray Rice combined with the devaluation of RB’s league-wide has led a lot of draft observers to conclude that the 2nd round is the “sweet spot” for finding a RB. You get a good player, without using a 1st round pick on a position which is less valuable (in many minds) than it used to be and has a short shelf life. The 2012 draft is fairly weak in terms of early RB talent, especially once you get beyond sure-fire top 10 pick Trent Richardson and likely 1st rounder Lamar Miller(assuming he declares). But there are still a few decent prospects who should hear their name called in the 2nd round. What’s the likelihood that 2012 will produce the next Forte, McCoy, Jones-Drew or Rice?
It’s too early to judge the 2011 crop of 1st and 2nd round RB’s (Mark Ingram, Ryan Williams, Shane Vereen, Mikel LeShoure, Daniel Thomas), but the previous 10 (2001-2010) drafts give us plenty of data from which to draw some conclusions. First, here’s the overall production:
Not so surprisingly, the 1st round RB’s put up significantly more yardage than their 2nd round peers. In fact, the difference between a 2nd and 3rd round RB has been nearly half that of the difference between a 1st and 2nd round RB. One thing that stands out here is that the production difference comes mostly from rushing, and not receiving. In other words, either 1st round RB’s tend to be bad receivers or successful 2nd/3rd round backs tend to be especially good receivers.
Another way to look at the production of these RB’s is by their per-game rushing & receiving yards. Take a look at the number of RB’s, by round, to average 70+ total yards from scrimmage per game:
As you can see, more than half of 1st rounders and less than a third of 2nd round RB’s drafted between 2001-2010 have put up 70+ YPG. Other than the 4 aforementioned 2nd rounders, only Clinton Portis, Travis Henry and Ben Tate have achieved this milestone. In the same time period, there have been 12 2nd rounders and 5 1st rounders who have averaged less than 50 YPG.
And while the success of 2nd round RB’s has been greater in the last 5 years, finding a quality RB in the 2nd is still a 50/50 (or worse) proposition. Check out the 2nd round RB’s from 2006-2010:
People focus on the top 4 guys but seem to forget all about the 6 (7 if you include the perpetually hurt Hardesty) duds.
As far as the 2012 draft goes, here are 3 guys who, if they declare, I expect to see go between picks #33 and #64:
David Wilson (Virginia Tech) – Unlike most of the successful 2nd round backs of the last 10 years, Wilson doesn’t have much experience as a receiver. However, he does have an attractive skillset which is sure to get his name called fairly early in next April’s draft. Wilson is likely to be the fastest RB at the combine, with the speed and explosiveness to be a big play threat every time he touches the ball. He’ll draw some comparisons to both Jahvid Best and Chris Johnson, but his running style reminds me most of Ahmad Bradshaw. He has some untapped potential as a pass-catcher and should be able to help out immediately on kick-returns
Chris Polk (Washington) – While Wilson is flashy and will generate plenty of buzz at the scouting combine and pro days, Chris Polk will likely fly under the radar a bit. He’s a well-rounded back who doesn’t really catch your eye in any one area. He’s got good size but isn’t the prototypical power-back. His speed is adequate, but some scouts and draft experts will consider him to be lacking the needed burst to succeed in the NFL. His lateral agility is pretty good for a bigger guy but he’ll never remind anyone of Barry Sanders. His hands are solid but his lack of explosiveness and poor route-running make him an underwhelming option as a receiver. That said, Polk is a productive back who could make an excellent #2 option in a 2 back scheme. He does enough things “pretty well” to have a good shot at NFL success and while he doesn’t have the best physical tools, he’s got good awareness and instincts which allow him to get through holes quickly and break the occasional long run.
LaMichael James (Oregon) – Most people are familiar with the diminutive James by this point. Listed at 5’9 185, James will get dismissed as too small to withstand the rigors of the NFL. Which is probably accurate. While Jones-Drew and Rice are also small backs, James lacks the frame to put on weight and his lower body isn’t nearly as thick as theirs. It’s very unlikely that James ever becomes an every-down back, or even the primary guy in a multi-back scheme. He’s a true change-of-pace guy in the Darren Sproles mold. If he can stay healthy, James should find success in the NFL as a receiver, returner and occasional runner.
Wes Welker isn’t the only player on a torrid pace to start the season. The Bears’ Matt Forte has averaged 157 yards from scrimmage (receiving + rushing) through 5 games. That puts him on pace for 2512 total yards by season’s end, which would be slightly better than Chris Johnson’s 2509 yards in 2009. What makes Forte’s season so interesting thus far is that he is putting up big numbers in both aspects of the game, 440 yards rushing and 345 yards receiving. How does Forte’s great start compare to the best starts in history?
You’ll notice that 2009 Chris Johnson doesn’t appear on this list, he actually got off to a “slow” start putting up only 594 yards (118.8 per game) to start his record-setting season. Forte will need 2359 total yards per game to edge out Barry Sanders (2358 yards in 1997) in the top 5 seasons of all time. In order to hit that mark, he’ll need to average about 143 yards per game for the rest of the season.