Fantasy managers often make the mistake of assuming that a running back selected in the early rounds of the NFL draft automatically vaults to the top of the team's depth chart and, thus, becomes statistically relevant. While there is generally an expectation of immediate volume for the highest of the first-round selections -- and we have seen this in recent seasons with Saquon Barkley, Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey -- after that, anything goes. Teams simply do what they desire, often with little reasoning, and fantasy managers waste their draft picks.
Just last season, after the Raiders' Josh Jacobs and Eagles' Miles Sanders provided ample fantasy value as the lone running backs chosen in the first two rounds, the third round included five others. Look at the difference in opportunity and performance from this varied assemblage: the Bears' David Montgomery and Bills' Devin Singletary had some moments, but clearly not enough; the Vikings' Alexander Mattison did his job but was mostly a backup, so not enough for fantasy managers; the Rams' Darrell Henderson Jr. and Patriots' Damien Harris never got a legit chance.
There was nary a running back off the board in the first round of the 2020 NFL draft until the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs secured dynamic Clyde Edwards-Helaire with the final pick, and then a whopping nine running backs went in Rounds 2 and 3. Fantasy managers love dreaming about immediate impact for the rookie running backs, and they should to some degree, since so many NFL organizations seem to view the position as mostly interchangeable parts and loathe investing major money into their choices.
Then again, just like in fantasy, teams do not care which round players come from once they join the organization. That is when the real competition begins. So how should we decide which rookie running backs make the cut for our rankings and teams? Well, study the players, their potential fit in the NFL organization and offense, who else matters in said organization and offense, and then just hope for the best. Just remember that most rookie running backs do not pan out right away, so it is a gamble to load up on them.
For this exercise, here is one man's opinion on the rookie running backs worth rostering for re-draft purposes this season, assuming a standard ESPN (10 teams, PPR) draft. It hardly means someone shocking from the later rounds cannot emerge, or an undrafted Phillip Lindsay type cannot push his way into relevancy, but in a general sense, we know which newcomers should matter. Or do we?