Jeff Lewis/Associated Press
Winners: Carlos Hyde, San Francisco 49ers (14 votes); Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons (seven votes)
Not long ago, it was normal to see a couple of running backs drafted in the first round. Often, those running backs would be handed the keys to the ground game immediately.
In each of the past two seasons, however, no running backs were drafted in the first round. When the 2014 season gets underway, there will be a grand total of zero rookies serving as the lead back for their teams.
Still, as we saw with Zac Stacy of the St. Louis Rams last year, just because a first-year back doesn't start the season atop the depth chart doesn't mean he can't make a big impact.
Our experts went with a pair of youngsters who are playing behind aging veterans as their All-Rookie selections in the backfield.
For Devonta Freeman of the Atlanta Falcons, only an injury to starter Steven Jackson stands between Freeman and significant carries.
This is the same Steven Jackson who was banged up most of last year and missed much of training camp and the preseason.
According to Rana Cash of Sporting News, the situation is a bit different in San Francisco:
(Frank) Gore rushed for 1,128 yards last season, with only eight other backs gaining more. The 49ers are hardly panicked with such a solid No. 1 who hasn't yet shown signs of deterioration. But looking long term, they’d be wise to groom Hyde to take over.
However, Gore is 31, and running backs coach Tom Rathman admitted to Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle that it's important to manage Gore's workload this year:
“We need to manage him,” Rathman said. “We need to keep him (fresh) from Week 1 to the Super Bowl. So that’s going to be the biggest challenge. He’s ready to go, and he’s right where he needs to be.”
That could mean more than a little work for Hyde even if Gore stays healthy, behind one of the NFL's best offensive lines.
Others receiving votes: Bishop Sankey, Tennessee Titans (five votes); Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati Bengals (three votes); Terrance West, Cleveland Browns (one vote); Andre Williams, New York Giants (one vote)