Top Rookie Running Backs....Matt Forte, Chris Johnson, Steve Slaton Lead Group

Jeff KalafaAnalyst IIIDecember 12, 2008

2008 has produced its share of outstanding NFL rookie running backs.  Three of them: Matt Forte of the Bears, Chris Johnson of the Titans and Steve Slaton of the Texans are on the verge of All-Pro seasons.


No. 1  Matt Forte   Chicago Bears

Matt Forte ranks eight in the league in rushing yards.  He has done it the tough way-averaging 4 yds/carry while amassing 1115 yards.  Forte has seven rushing touchdowns this season.

Forte has been an excellent receiver for the Bears.  He has caught 58 passes for 424 yards and has scored on four of those receptions.

Forte was passed over in the first round of the NFL draft.  Some teams might have been reluctant to pick him early because he played for Tulane, a non-BCS team with a weak schedule.

The Bears drafted him in the second round and Forte may end up battling QB Matt Ryan of Atlanta for rookie of the year.

No. 1A  Chris Johnson    Tennessee Titans

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

The Titans expected good things form Chris Johnson when they made him their first round pick and 24th over all.  He hasn't disappointed.

Johnson is the league's sixth leading rushing.  He has rushed for 1159 yards and averaged 4.9 yds/carry.  He has rushed for eight touchdowns.

Johnson has good skill as a receiver.  He has caught 41 passes for 259 yards.

Johnson played his college ball at East Carolina University.

No. 1B   Steve Slaton   Houston Texans

Steve Slaton is having a rookie year just as dynamic as Matt Forte and  Chris Johnson.   He is the seventh leading rusher in the league with 1124 yards.  He has averaged 4.9 yds/carry and has rushed for eight touchdowns.

Slaton can also catch the ball.  He's caught 40 passes for 305 yards.

Drafted out of West Virginia in the third round, Slaton has been a pleasant surprise for the Texans.  There was a question of whether his thin frame could hold up against NFL punishment.

No. 4   Jonathan Stewart     Carolina Panthers

Stewart has 751 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns while averaging 4.8 yds/carry.  Unlike the top three rookies, he has caught only seven short passes for 19 yards.

While Stewart hasn't shown the receiving skills of Forte, Johnson or Slaton, he has run back 15 kicks for 349 yards—23.3 yds/kick return.

Stewart was drafted with the 13th overall pick in the draft from the University of Oregon.

No. 4A  Kevin Smith    Detroit Lions

Smith has gained 773 yards on the ground.  He has six rushing touchdowns and has averaged 4.2 yds/carry.  Smith has 36 receptions for 279 yards.

Coming from the University of Central Florida where he led the nation in total yards, there were some questions about his speed and wasn't drafted until the third round.

No. 6  Ray Rice    Baltimore Ravens

Ray Rice, the little man, has gained 454 yards on the ground while averaging 4.2 yds/carry.  Though he hasn't seen the end zone yet, Rice has been a triple threat player and has contributed to Baltimore's winning season.

Rice has played mostly as a third down back and has 33 receptions for 273 yards.  He also has returned seven kicks for 161 yards--23 yds/kick return.

Rice was drafted in the second round out of Rutgers.