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Can you depend on a rookie running back?

Ryan Mathews has the tools and the opportunity to be a No.1 fantasy starter.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - They come in with a lot of hype and press clippings, but what can you really expect when you select a rookie running back like Ryan Mathews or Jahvid Best in the first few rounds of your fantasy draft?

To better answer the question, let's take a historic look at rookie running backs.

Last year, there were two highly thought of rookies who were both drafted by the end of the fifth round - Knowshon Moreno from Georgia (2009 ADP 43.6) and Chris "Beanie" Wells out of Ohio State (2009 ADP 52.5).

Moreno was solid, though unspectacular, in rushing for 947 yards and seven scores. He never posted a 100-yard game, but he consistently put up between 80-95 yards. He was the 24th running back chosen and his final position rank was No.17.

Wells, got off to a slow start in Arizona, but in the second half of the season became the Cardinals' primary runner. He finished with 793 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. He was the 28th running back off the board and finished his first fantasy season ranked No.31.

The year before that, 2008, was a better year for rookie running backs. There were four high choices (Darren McFadden, Jonathan Stewart, Kevin Smith, Matt Forte) and three of the four outperformed their ADP. Only McFadden disappointed fantasy owners and Forte owners were particularly happy after their sixth-round choice (ADP 69.9) finished as the fourth-best running back in the league.

And in 2007, two rookies came out of college with high accolades and both performed above expectations. Marshawn Lynch (ADP 40.4) finished as the No.12 fantasy back that season while Adrian Peterson finished at No.3 after being selected in the fourth round (ADP 43.2).

All told over the past three seasons, of the eight top rookie running backs evaluated, six have outperformed their fantasy expectations.

Which brings us to 2010.

Based on the latest RapidDraft ADP Rankings, there are just two rookie running backs being selected in the first five rounds - Mathews and Best.

Mathews has the tools and the opportunity to be a No.1 fantasy starter, but can he live up to his RapidDraft ADP of 27.1 in his first season? Mathews has the size, 220 lbs, and the speed, 4.37 40. He has already been installed as the San Diego Chargers' No.1 running back and coach Norv Turner has claimed he wants to give his rookie at least 250 carries. He is the 12th running back off the board. The No.12 running back in 2009 was Jamaal Charles, who posted 1,120 yards and seven touchdowns. Those should be easily reachable numbers for Mathews, therefore you should not be afraid to select him in the third round.

Best has a RapidDraft ADP of 54.5 - a fifth-round selection. With last year's starter Kevin Smith likely still sidelined due to an ACL injury, Best has a chance to start in the Lions' backfield in Week 1. But there are some red flags which concern me. At California, Best showed a big-play ability when he was on the field, but that wasn't as often as fantasy owners would like because he was frequently injured. He suffered hip, shoulder, elbow and concussion injuries throughout his years at Cal. He will also be running behind a sub-par Detroit offensive line which gained just 101 yards-per-game on the ground last season. I would not draft Best this early, but if you can get him around the seventh round he might be worth the gamble.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Steve Schwarz at sschwarz@sportsnetwork.com.

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