When it comes to fantasy football, rookies are very often overlooked. Why? Because the typical indicators that your average fantasy player uses to gauge whether or not they will draft a certain player are absent. Projections, if there even are any, might as well be pulled out of a hat.
The learning curve as a player moves from college ball to the NFL is very steep. The stats that a rookie put up in their final year or years of college play, while a general indicator of who should be putting up big numbers, does not necessarily translate and become reality in the NFL.
For example, Kevin Smith produced 2,567 yards on 450 carries, a 5.7 yards-per-carry average and had 29 touchdowns for the UCF Knights in 2007. This was tops in the NCAA last year (largely due to the amount of carries).
However, Smith finds himself as a Tier-three rookie running back in 2008. So far in his 2008 campaign, Smith has rushed for 256 yards on 52 attempts for a 4.9 yard-per-carry average and three scores.
Who is the standout, then? Chicago’s Matt Forte is clearly having the best season so far of all the rookie running backs. Rushing 147 times for 515 yards with four scores, as well as having 223 receiving yards and two touchdowns through the air, Forte has produced the most fantasy points and thus benefited the most fantasy owners.
A telling statistic, however, is his yards-per-carry average, which at 3.5, is second lowest of all the active rookie running backs.
This goes to show that a player’s ability may not necessarily determine their success as they make the move from college to the NFL. It appears that the more important factor to look at is the team they will be playing for, and where they fit into the overall playbook.
Forte, for example, has benefited by being the No. 1 running back in Chicago, whereas other players like Felix Jones, Jamaal Charles, and Steve Slaton all have to split time with senior backs.
Rookies who are currently lower-tier backs are not there because of a lack in ability, they are there because they just aren’t receiving the necessary touches to make them a dominant force.
This can be seen when you take a look at the yards-per-carry averages of all the running backs. The notables being Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, who have 5.1 and 8.9 averages, respectively.
So when draft time comes around next year, don’t be afraid of rookies. As has happened this year, they can have a huge impact on many fantasy teams. You will likely spend a late-round pick on them, and the reward of them being successful far outweighs the risk of them being a bust. Just ask the owners of Matt Forte or Steve Slaton.