Dynasty Diaries: Most Talented Rookie Running Back Class Ever

With Ray Rice and Tim Hightower announcing their presence with authority this weekend, we are continuing to witness easily the best draft class of running backs in NFL history. No class even comes remotely close to this one, should even half of the guys continue to make good on the potential we've seen through just a half season.

You know what that means in fantasy football ... lots of possible horses to lock up for their entire career on your keeper league team. You know there are people out there who drafted LaDanian Tomlinson his rookie year and have enjoyed every single season of his production since. Does this year's draft class sport one of those?

Below, we'll list of the relevant running backs selected in the NFL draft this past off-season. They are listed in order of draft position, and I'll throw in a little (round- overall pick) just for fun next to the names, and we'll analyze what we've seen and what we can expect moving forward, so you can keep this in mind as you enter the busiest trading season in keeper leagues -- as owners falling out of the race deal good players for next year's draft picks.

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Each player will be given a KR (keeper rating), which is a scale of 1-10. If I give a guy a one, don't bother to even think about keeping him this off-season. If I give a 10, you must keep him for next year -- this is what Adrian Peterson would have scored last year.

Darren McFadden (1-4) - He had a monster game earlier in the season, so we saw the potential. Of course, that was against the Chiefs pathetic excuse for a defense and McFadden's been hampered by futility and injuries ever since. So we really haven't gotten a firm grasp on what he can be in this league. We do know he sports enormous talent and potential, overshadowed by only Peterson in those terms when it comes to young runners. The main problem is that we have to trust the Raiders team and specifically offense to become at least somewhat productive down the road, or McFadden runs the risk of being wasted. KR: 7

Jonathan Stewart (1-13) - We've seen spurts of fantasy stardom, but not many because he's only getting a limited number of touches. DeAngelo Williams has been taking the lion's share of touches recently in the backfield, while Stewart is relegated to short-yardage situations. He's a valuable back both in reality and fantasy, because touchdowns matter. On the other hand, two back systems are quite popular in the league right now, and Williams isn't exactly old. I believe the Panthers stick with this platoon for the foreseeable future, and that puts a definite ceiling on Stewart's value. KR: 5

Felix Jones (1-22) - Felix hasn't seen a ton of touches in the games where he's been healthy enough to play, but he's certainly made the most of them ... garnering over 10 fantasy points three times. That's huge for being so limited. When he comes back healthy, you have to believe the Cowboys would like to curb some of that punishment Marion Barber takes -- which is much less than he dishes out, but still, he's only human -- by giving more carries to the talented rookie. In the future, as Barber ages and wears down due to his running style, Jones becomes more and more relevant to fantasy. KR: 8

Rashard Mendenhall (1-23) - The Steelers aren't the type of team to hold onto a guy for dear life, unless he's a quarterback, so conventional wisdom when they drafted Mendy was that they'd just let Willie Parker walk after his contract expired (after next season) and hand the job to the young bruiser from Illinois. Of course, we never got any sample of work from Mendenhall this year on which to judge, and he's out for the season due to injury. Unless you keep upwards of four or five RBs each year in your league, you can ignore for now ... but drafting him next year would be advisable. KR: 1

Chris Johnson (1-24) - He's a star, on the verge of becoming a superstar already. The Titans are going to remain a ball control and defense team for a long time with the pieces they have in place, including Head Coach Jeff Fisher. The presence of LenDale White in the same backfield could scare some, but it actually helps keep the wiry Johnson fresh and healthy. He won't have to deal with the inside pounding, yet still sometimes gets goal-line touches. He's on pace for 1430 yards and 10 touchdowns this year, and averages nearly five yards a carry. You're crazy if you don't hang onto him like Matt Jones does his secret stash. KR: 10

Matt Forte (2-44) - The Bears offense has been a work in progress the entire year. The line is somewhat patched together, and they are counting on a first round pick to bolster it in the future. Kyle Orton was developing the passing attack into a strength before his injury. All the while, Forte was piling up respectable or great fantasy numbers from week to week. He's never dipped below ten points, being a bastion of consistency. Don't expect things to change. Chicago loves its running game, and he'll grow with the offensive line. KR: 9

Ray Rice (2-55) - Brian Westbrook and Tiki Barber were once thought to be to small to survive being an every down back. Still, more times than not the little guy just can't make it as a feature back. Westbrook still is banged up quite often. This past weekend, for the first time, Rice was asked to carry the full running load. He succeeded admirably, chalking up 154 yards on 21 carries. He did lose goal-line touches, though, and it looks like he'd face that same platoon with the 23 year-old 260 pound LeRon McClain in the future ... and that's only if the Ravens decide to end the Willis McGahee era. KR: 2

Kevin Smith (3-64) - It's hard to get excited about anything Lions-related right now -- except MegaTron, of course -- but let's remember the albatross that was Matt Millen is gone. It will take some time to right the ship, especially with three teams in the division who appear headed in the right direction, but Smith has shown some good qualities. He's posted servicable fantasy numbers thus far, and it looks like he'll end up in the 800 yard and eight TD range. That's not bad at all on this team as a rookie. He'll be the featured back moving forward under the new administration. KR: 5

Jamaal Charles (3-73) - He's averaging 5.7 yards per carry this season, and is coming off his first career 100 yard rushing game. It came against the run-stringy Bucs, no less. When Larry Johnson returns to the field, he'll lose the majority, if not all, of his touches. The thing is, the Chiefs franchise is in such bad shape right now, it makes sense for them to start over at season's end. I don't see any way they retain the services of Johnson. Now that we've seen a flash of brief, but bright, potential, I bet the Chiefs head into next season with Charles as their running back. KR: 4

Steve Slaton (3-89) - The Texans offense has a really bright future, but until the defense gets fixed they are going to be throwing the football more often than not. Still, the diminutive speedster has shown he has what it takes to carry the load in a legitimate NFL offense, and he's been rather durable thus far. My only concern would be the Texans bringing in a short-yardage back to limit the pounding he takes between the tackles. KR: 6

Ryan Torain (5-139) - Even if I'd expressed that he has a chance to break through in the second half last week, which I did, and that this week it appears the path to his being the featured back in Denver is completely clear ... why in God's name would you keep a Denver back anymore? The Terrell Davis days are over. KR: 1

Tim Hightower (5-149) - The way this offense is built, it's going to be a machine for years to come. The only question comes when Kurt Warner gets too old to run it: Will Matt Leinart be mature enough to step in, or can they replace Warner with someone else? Regardless, heading into next year, Hightower will have shown his pedigree over a half season and will be much more comfortable with his teammates and the offense. He'll also have the job all to himself. You could do much worse. My only concern at this point is that the one game in which he carried the load came against an awful run defense. Let's see him against someone tough before we get too crazy. KR: 6

Dynasty Diaries: Most Talented Rookie Running Back Class Ever originally appeared on NFL FanHouse on Tue, 04 Nov 2008 17:00:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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