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Rookie Roulette: Which First-Year RB Is the Best Value?  

When it comes to drafting rookies, many fantasy owners know the potential risks that come with drafting an unproven player in terms of NFL experience. No matter how prolific a player may have been in college, the NFL is a whole different animal and adjustment periods vary depending by player.

For 2020, an impressive slate of rookies (who are offensive skill players) will look to carve out a valuable role for themselves on their respective offenses. Nevertheless, as with many rookies, entering the season atop the depth chart is less than likely when teams already have proven players.

RB is an integral position for fantasy and there are quite a few rookie RBs who could make an impact for their team this season. The question is whether any of those new guys can consistently produce good numbers for owners. With many new RBs likely having to compete for a bigger role with other backs, which one has the best chance to shine and should be drafted off the board first?

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers received 13 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association including Baseball Writer of the Year, Football Writers of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year and many more! Be sure to follow their analysis, rankings and advice all year long, and win big with RotoBaller! Read More!


Optimal 2020 Situation

The choice is obvious for me, and it's Clyde Edwards-Helaire of the Kansas City Chiefs. He may be a rookie, but he is slated to be the RB1 on a prolific offense with many talented players. Plus, his team just won the Super Bowl. Edwards-Helaire was the first RB drafted in the 2020 NFL draft and is now slated to be the featured back on KC after the other top back, Damien Williams, opted-out of the 2020 season. This is the best scenario for any rookie RB in the NFL because the others must compete for the lead role rather than simply being primed for it before the season even starts.

Now, this 21-year-old rookie is entering his first NFL season with much of the workhorse duties about to be put on him. Can he live up to the hype and optimal situation? Let’s break down his competition and college career further.


College Recap

At 5’7” and 210 lbs, Edwards-Helaire has a solid build and he did gradually get better throughout his three-season tenure playing for the LSU Tigers. The RB had a less than impressive freshman season in 2017 (31 total rush yards and 46 total receiving yards in 10 games), but his junior year in 2019 was where he shined and skyrocketed his NFL draft value.

Last season, the Louisiana native amassed 215 rushes, 1,414 rush yards, 6.6 yards per rush, 16 rush touchdowns, 55 receptions, 453 receiving yards, and one receiving touchdown in 15 games as LSU rode its way to the playoffs and National Championship victory. He had a total of 1,867 yards from scrimmage.

Per Bleacher Report, the LSU product is a strong runner who is difficult to tackle and can pick up his speed to run and breakaway for big plays. He also brings championship pedigree as he was a vital part of the National Championship team last year alongside QB Joe Burrow. Edwards-Helaire was compared to Packers RB Aaron Jones.


The (Lack of) Competition

Damien Williams was the lead back on the Chiefs last year. With him not playing in 2020, Edwards-Helaire should see no serious threats to his RB1 role at all. In fact, his competition will be rather unproven backs such as DeAndre Washington, Darrel Williams, and Darwin Thompson.

2016 pick Deandre Washington played the last four seasons with the Raiders but was rather unimpressive. Last season was one of his better years overall, as he compiled 387 rush yards, 3.6 yards per rush, three rush touchdowns, 36 receptions, and 292 receiving yards. However, he never eclipsed more than 487 rushing yards and 292 receiving yards in any season.

Now in his third year with the Chiefs, 25-year-old Darrel Williams has not proved he is capable of a larger role. In 12 games last year, the back only had 41 rush attempts, 141 rushing yards, 3.4 yards per rush, three rush touchdowns, 15 receptions, 167 receiving yards, and one receiving touchdown.

Finally, there’s Darwin Thompson, who was just drafted last year out of Utah State. The 23-year-old’s rookie season was far from impressive, as he only mustered 37 rush attempts, 128 rush yards, 3.5 yards per rush, one rush touchdown, nine receptions, and 43 receiving yards in 12 games.

Though these other backs will likely get some touches, it seems it won’t cut into Edwards-Helaire’s production much if the rookie performs well each week. This is because none of the other KC RBs are prolific based on their NFL stats (Thompson and Williams still don’t have much NFL experience either), so that bodes well for Edwards-Helaire holding onto the bell-cow back role for 2020. Even Hall-of-Fame running back Terrell Davis was impressed with this rookie and his abilities. Because he is primed for a huge role in arguably the best NFL offense, Edwards-Helaire merits top-10 fantasy value among RBs for redraft.


Why CEH Stands Out Among Rookie RBs

Clyde Edwards-Helaire has landed in an optimal situation as the clear RB1 on the Chiefs; the same cannot be said for his fellow rookie RBs like Jonathan Taylor, J.K. Dobbins, D'Andre Swift, and Cam Akers. Despite these backs having ADPs ranging anywhere from 35-91 in standard leagues and the fact that they could potentially provide decent flex or sleeper value at one point this upcoming season, their discounted rate does not match up to the value of CEH if he is taken with a high pick.

This can simply be attributed to the stiffer competition these other backs will have to endure for the elusive RB1 role. When looking at Jonathan Taylor or D'Andre Swift, two rookie backs who could be in contention for the RB1 role on the Colts and Lions respectively, their competition is certainly more formidable than the ragtag group of backs that will try to cut into CEH's carries.

The Colts have Marlon Mack, who is coming off a season with 247 carries, 1,091 rush yards, eight rush touchdowns, and 77.9 rush yards per game. Coach Frank Reich has made it known that Mack will be the starter heading into the season and that Taylor will not automatically be the RB1 despite his college success. He will have to earn it.

Meanwhile, the Lions also have Kerryon Johnson, who was only drafted in 2018 and still looking to prove himself. This means D'Andre Swift will face more sturdy competition as well because Johnson does have 1,044 rush yards, six rush touchdowns, 4.5 rush yards per attempt, and 58 rush yards per game in his two NFL seasons.

The same can be said for Dobbins and Akers on the Ravens and Rams, respectively. They will have to compete with backs who have decent NFL experience compared to those in the Chiefs' backup roles. Because of this, CEH is more worthy of a high pick because of his essentially guaranteed large role in a very explosive offense. The other rookie backs could be drafted later in drafts, but there is added risk with them because of the uncertainty regarding the size of their roles and just how much of a factor they will play for their respective teams, especially at the beginning of the season.

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