In 2014 rookie wide receivers dominated fantasy headlines, while a small handful of first-year running backs showed promise. Most notably, the Cincinnati Bengals' Jeremy Hill, the Giants' Andre Williams, and the Rams' Tre Mason made the most waves.
Each benefited from circumstance in their inaugural pro seasons, and this year three other young backs could do the same. In Hill’s case, he was able to split carries with Giovani Bernard, which kept him fresh, and Hill exploded late in the season with three straight 100-yard games. Hill also benefited from quarterback Andy Dalton’s turnover woes and from receiver A.J. Green getting healthier as the season wore on.
Williams also came on late in the season, picking up 241 of his 721 total yards in two of the Giants last four games, and from Week 4 on he was a consistent red zone threat. Just like Hill, Williams also benefited from receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s play late in the season to cap a fine rookie season.
Mason, despite a poor offensive line and two backs ahead of him on the depth chart, eventually took over the starting role once veteran Zac Stacy wilted through the first five games. Mason put up 765 total yards and four touchdowns, and his 4.3 yards per carry is a sign of perhaps greater things to come.
The theme amongst all three of those players is opportunity and the personnel around them. And this season should be no different for the rookie running back class.
Here are three rookie rushers fantasy owners should consider picking in the late rounds in this year’s drafts.
T.J. Yeldon, Jacksonville Jaguars
The former Alabama star was the third running back drafted, and fantasy owners should avoid the same oversight made by NFL GMs. Yeldon’s a powerfully built back who can already take hits at the pro level, and the Jaguars running back rotation doesn’t seem too difficult for Yeldon to overcome. Denard Robinson and Toby Gerhart were each injured last season, and Yeldon’s so strong he can take hits early and often.
Not to mention Jags quarterback Blake Bortles will get his first run with tight end Julius Thomas, a fact that will open up chances for Jacksonville’s No. 21 rushing offense. The Jags also added offensive tackle Jermey Parnell from the Cowboys top rated line. Yeldon's already been impressive during OTAs, and he's staying humble.
By the end of the season Yeldon could be an RB2 or even RB1 for owners, but at this point he’s a pick in the late teen rounds.
Ameer Abdullah, Detroit Lions
Joique Bell and Theo Riddick are already ahead of Abdullah, but by midseason that could all change. Racking up three-straight 1,000 yards seasons and 36 rushing scores at Nebraska, Abullah’s a straight power back who can also pull down some receptions in PPR leagues. He put up 6.1 yards per carry in his senior season.
Riddick couldn’t muster more than 2.6 yards a carry last season and did most of his damage as a pass-catching back with 34 receptions for four touchdowns. Bell’s 3.9 yards per carry were a bit underwhelming even though he got more touches with Reggie Bush battling injuries.
With Bush now gone, Abdullah could usurp either role as the Lions again go with two rushers out of the backfield, and eventually the starting nod. He’s another late round sleeper that will probably go undrafted, so owners can snag him off the waiver wire during the first quarter of the season.
Jeremy Langford, Chicago Bears
Another north-south power back, Langford figures to make his impact as the 2015 season wears on. Obviously the Bears already have Matt Forte, who’s entering a contract year, but veteran Jacquizz Rodgers and second-year rusher Ka’Deem Carey can be beat for the No. 2 role.
In the mold of fellow Michigan State Spartan Le'Veon Bell, Langford barreled over opponents for 1,522 yards and 22 touchdowns at 5.5 yards per carry last season.
Chicago’s carefully monitored Forte’s carries for the last three years, with his highest being 289. The veteran was most effective catching passes out of the backfield with 102 receptions for 808 yards. As the season goes on Langford could get the carries while Forte drops under for short passes and big chunks of yards.
Unless owners are in very deep leagues, Langford's a waiver pick up or a free agent signing after the draft.