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The 2014 rookie running back class wasn't as exciting as the quarterback class, nor did it hold a candle to the surge of young receivers. In fact, only a handful of second year halfbacks are expected to start for their teams in week 1 of the 2015 season. In 2014, only one rookie running back (Jeremy Hill) was in the top 20 for standard fantasy scoring and only five rookies found themselves in the top 30.

It's not all their fault. It takes time to develop into an NFL starter for any position.  The halfback position is much more forgiving, with most stars at the position taking at least a few years to develop into their true form.

Let's take a look and speculate who will be able to find success in their sophomore campaigns.

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The Starters

1) Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati Bengals

This one is kind of a no brainer. Not only was Hill the only generally successful RB of the 2014 rookie class, but also he found himself in the top 10 of all running backs in standard scoring last year. His 1124 yards gained were almost 500 more than any other rookie and his 5.1 yards per rush were tops among all rookie backs with over 100 snaps. Perhaps most importantly, his 9 TDs lead all rookies. Hill's breakout campaign came as somewhat of a surprise due to the similarly impressive rookie campaign of Giovanni Bernard the season prior. Hopefully, Hill does not follow in Bernard's footsteps and decline drastically in his second year. We know that this kid's got a big ego and he knows how to run the ball, so that seems doubtful. However, he must cut down on his league-leading four fumbles from last year if he wants to continue receiving the bulk of the carries in Cincinnati.

2) Carlos Hyde, San Francisco 49ers

Carlos Hyde has finally found himself a starting role in San Francisco after the departure of long-time starter Frank Gore. It's difficult to say what you're going to get with Hyde, who only saw 83 carries all of last year. Here's what we do know - his 2.8 average YAC (yards after contact) was top among all qualified rookie backs, he can be a goal line, three-down presence, and he can make defenders miss. His 25 offensive missed tackles look very dominant when compared to the 28 of Jeremy Hill, who received 140 more carries than Hyde. No rookie recorded more than 30. Hyde will still have to compete with newcomer Reggie Bush in the backfield. Still, one should expect big things out of the sophomore bruiser in the years to come.

3) Tre Mason, St. Louis Rams

As expected, the former Auburn standout rose quickly through the depth chart to find himself in a starting role for the St. Louis Rams by week 6. The problem is, he still wasn't particularly good. His 4.3 YPA (yards per attempt) were good for 20th in the NFL, while his 2.2 YAC were tied for 29th. Still, among the rookies in 2014, Mason was third in standard fantasy scoring and third in attempts. At the end of the day, a back receiving more carries trumps a back with more talent. Unfortunately for Mason, there's a new young phenom in town. Mason will be challenged in 2015 by rookie Todd Gurley, who will likely take over once healthy.

4) Bishop Sankey, Tennessee Titans

Sankey was pretty disappointing for the Titans in 2014. As the starting running back from day 1, Sankey only managed to accumulate 575 yards on the year and was a contributing factor to Tennessee's dismal offensive season. There is one bright spot - Sankey's 29 missed tackles were good for first among all rookie backs. This is a solid indicator that Sankey still has room for improvement in 2015. Luckily, and surprisingly, the Titans did not find much backfield help during the offseason. Looks like Sankey will get another crack at the starting role next year, with the lowly Shonn Greene and rookie David Cobb on his heels.


The Maybes and The Hopefullys

5) Andre Williams, New York Giants

Among all 2014 rookie RBs, Williams was second in attempts, third in yards, and second in TDs. Most importantly, he was second in standard fantasy points. Following that logic, he should find himself much higher up on this list. The problem is, the sophomore will find himself third on the depth chart heading into the 2015 season behind a healthy Rashad Jennings and new acquisition Shane Vereen. Generally, running backs don't hold much fantasy value beyond the #2 spot. Also, his 3.3 YPA (good for ninth among rookie backs) will not help his argument to garner more playing time. There is hope, however. namely, Jennings has proven an inability to remain healthy over the course of a 16-game season and Vereen, coming from the crowded backfield in New England, is plenty used to sharing carries. Look for Williams to be a quality sleeper pick heading into the draft.

6) Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons

Freeman should actually find himself in the top portion of this list, considering the reports that he will be given the starting nod at RB over talented rookie Tevin Coleman. The reason he isn't is because he's just not that good. He didn't impress many as Steven Jackson's backup last season, as he never surpassed 40 yards in a game. Plus, the Falcons are such a passing-based organization, it is not likely that will change with the departure of Jackson. However, the passing game is one area where Freeman actually shows some upside. His 225 receiving yards were good for second among all rookie RBs last year. If you are heading into a PPR draft, Freeman could hold some late-round value.

7/8) Isaiah Crowell/Terrance West, Cleveland Browns

This one is tough. One of these guys is going to hold value in 2015, but it's impossible to tell which one. Thankfully, the Browns rid themselves of a 'toxic' backfield situation by releasing Ben Tate. Now, with the addition of Duke Johnson, there will be a three man battle for carries heading into the season. Either that will result in a committee approach or one man will eventually win the job. Now let's take a peek at the numbers. Crowell's 8 TDs were second among all rookies. As we all know, touchdowns are where the points are. However, his 1.9 YAC and 9 missed tackles were both last among all qualified rookies. West accumulated more yards (673) than Crowell during their 2014 split and is a tougher runner than his counterpart. Who knows. Maybe Johnson will beat them both out for the job. My money is on West receiving the bulk of the carries in 2015.


The Longshots

9) Branden Oliver, San Diego Chargers

According the PFF, Oliver was the top overall rookie back of 2014, with a 6.2 overall score. Jeremy Hill was second with a score of 1.4. It's true - Oliver did prove himself to be a worthy injury replacement for the Chargers in 2014. He lead all rookie backs in receiving yardage (271), which makes up the bulk of his high rating on PFF. Yet, as a pure RB, there's not much to see here. He averaged 3.7 YPA, notched 4 total TDs and averaged a middling 2.2 YAC. I would give Oliver much more credit for the surprising season he put forth in 2014 if it weren't for his position in the depth chart for the upcoming season. He's a third-stringer behind proven back Donald Brown and will have to battle with collegiate star Melvin Gordon. If the situation holds, it's unlikely Oliver will hold much value. But, Brown is infamous for his injury-ridden past and there's no telling what Gordon will or will not be capable of in his rookie campaign. A stroke of luck could put Oliver in the spotlight at a moment's notice.

10) Alfred Blue, Houston Texans

I would be remiss if I didn't add Blue somewhere on this list. Blue had a nice year in 2014, racking up 523 yards with 2 TD in only 3 starts. As a backup to perennial superstar Arian Foster, it's doubtful the Blue will be taking the reigns in Houston any time soon. Still, Blue really, really wants to play. Check out the insane workout regimen he's been doing this offseason. Listen, this kid wasn't anything spectacular last year and probably shouldn't be drafted in most drafts this year. Remember - Foster isn't exactly known for his stellar health record. It's probable that Blue will receive at least a handful of starts this year, making him one to keep an eye on for waiver wire claims. It's also possible that Foster could miss a considerable amount of time, making Blue a must-own in the Texans run-heavy offense.


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