Seven running backs were selected in the first two rounds of the 2008 NFL
Draft. Some have already made their debut as starters, while others are trying
to get on their coach's radar for more reps. Some are already prominently
showing off their talent and versatility, while others are trying to climb up
the depth chart or even help their teams as a return specialist.
Here are the players, in the order they were selected, and a look at how they
are faring so far in the NFL.
Round 1 (4th overall)
Rushing numbers: 44-252-1
McFadden has been thrown right into the mix in Oakland. Averaging 5.7 yards
per carry, he's carried the ball 44 times so far for an average of 14.7 per
game, placing him in the middle of this pack of seven rookies. He enjoyed his
best game to date in Week 2 against the Chiefs, running the ball 21 times for
164 yards, including a 50-yard sprint for a touchdown.
McFadden's been a minor player in the passing game, catches five passes in
three games, but three of those catches were made just last week against the
Bills, so the Raiders may be trying to get him more active in the passing game
as the season progresses. He's fumbled twice, but only one was recovered by the
After three weeks of action, an interesting trend to watch is his 3.0 yards
per carry average in the first half versus 8.5 yards per carry in the second
half — even though he's had 22 carries in both halves.
Is he No. 1?
Among the top seven drafted rookie running backs, McFadden is currently
fourth in carries per game (14.7), second in average yards per carry (5.7),
third in yards per game (84.0), tied for fourth in rushing touchdowns (1),
fourth in the percent of runs that result in a first down (22.7) and first in
runs of 20-plus yards (4).
Round 1 (13th overall)
Rushing numbers: 31-145-3
The rookie out of Oregon has only been getting a modest number of carries,
averaging about ten per game. But he was making the most of them up until Week 3
when the Vikings stymied him on seven carries, holding him to 15 yards (2.1
yards per carry). During the first two weeks, he averaged better than five
yards per carry, and he's scored three rushing touchdowns already.
Stewart's scored a touchdown on three of his four red zone attempts.
Quarterback Jake Delhomme hasn't connected with the rookie yet through the air, but
the Stewart has contributed as a kickoff returner, running ten kickoffs back for
a solid 24.8-yard average.
Is he No. 2?
So far, Stewart ranks sixth amongst this elite group of seven running backs
in attempts per game (10.3) and fourth in rushing average per attempt with 4.7
yards per carry. His 48.3 rushing yards per game is only sixth-best, but he leads the
group in rushing touchdowns (3). The Carolina running back's ability to convert 29.0 percent of
his runs into first downs is second-best, while he's tied for third in runs of
20-plus yards (1).
Round 1 (22nd overall)
Rushing numbers: 18-148-2
Jones hasn't started a game at running back yet since he's working behind Marion Barber in
Dallas. As a result, his rushing and receiving opportunities have been lean, a mere six
chances per game running that ball, while catching just one short pass. But that
could change after head coach Wade Phillips watched his first-round rookie rip
off a 60-yard run from scrimmage for a touchdown last week against the Packers.
In the early going, the "other" running back from Arkansas has
really been more noticeable as a kickoff return specialist, averaging 35.1 yards
per return. During Week 2 action against the Eagles, Jones wowed the hometown
fans and a national television audience on Monday Night Football with a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
Is he No. 3?
Based on his limited number of rushing opportunities, Jones' numbers are a
bit hard to judge. He's sixth among this group in attempts per game (6.0), but
first in rushing average at 8.2 yards per carry — thanks to that 60-yard effort
for a score. He's fourth in yards per game with 49.3, and he's tied for second in
rushing touchdowns (2). Out of his 18 carries, 33.3 percent have resulted in a
first down — tops among this group of rookies — and his two runs for 20-plus
yards puts him in a tie for second-best.
Round 1, (23rd overall)
Rushing numbers: 10-28-0
The 5-foot-10, 225-pound rookie out of Illinois has only had the chance to
run the ball from scrimmage a total of 10 times after three games, and has caught
one pass. While it had appeared that he wouldn't get many opportunities to improve his 2.8 yards-per-carry rushing average in the near future, primarily because of the strong start by Willie Parker, the veteran's sprained knee will keep him out of Monday night's game giving the rookie a chance to show what he's got.
So far, Mendenhall's contribution to the kickoff returns unit has been
rookie-like, averaging 19.2 yards per carry on six returns. So out of the seven
rookies, you could easily argue that he's off to the slowest start.
Is he No. 4?
Mendenhall is last among this group in attempts per game (3.3), average yards
per rush attempt (2.8), and percent of runs resulting in a first down (10.0).
He's tied for last in rushing touchdowns (0) and runs of 20-plus yards (0).
Round 1, (24th overall)
Rushing numbers: 50-276-0
After three weeks that included two starts, Johnson hasn't been held to less
than 74 yards rushing in a game. He topped the 100-yard mark in Week 2 with 109
yards, and has averaged a healthy 5.5 yards per rush so far.
The Titans have completed seven passes to the rookie out of East Carolina,
including one for a touchdown, marginally making him the second-most frequent
pass-catcher of this group.
One early trend for Johnson is that he's doing the bulk of his damage during the
first half of play, averaging 7.4 yards per carry during the first 30 minutes
versus 3.9 yards per carry the rest of the way.
Is he No. 5?
Johnson's 16.7 rush attempts per game is the second-highest out of the seven
running backs, and his 5.5 yards per carry is third-best. He's tied for last in
rushing touchdowns (0), but is third in the percentage of runs that moved the
chains (26.0). Johnson's one run for 20-plus yards puts him in a tie for
fourth place. And in addition to his second-best average of 92 yards rushing per
game, Johnson's averaging 17 more through the air, making his total offensive
contribution 109 yards per game.
Round 2, (44th overall)
Rushing numbers: 73-304-1
Forte has been a workhorse for Chicago, stepping in as their featured back
since the start of the season. The former Tulane star is carrying the ball an
average of 24.3 times per game — almost eight more per game than any of the
other backs in this group. His 4.2 yards per carry average is fifth-best,
but very respectable for a rookie, especially when you look at the fact that
three of the backs aren't even carrying the ball half as often for their
Out of these seven rookies, Forte's been the running back who has been the
most active in his team's passing game, catching 13 passes for 105 yards,
including one touchdown.
Is he No. 6?
Forte's 101.3 yards per game rushing and his 24.3 carries per game are tops
among the seven rookie backs. His one rushing touchdown puts him in a tie
for fourth-place in that area. With just 15.1 percent of his runs securing a new set of downs
for his team, Forte ranks sixth in that category. And his one run for 20-plus
yards — a 50-yard touchdown run — places him in a tie for fourth.
Round 2, (55th overall)
Rushing numbers: 27-85-0
The 5-foot-8, 205-pound runner out of Rutgers has only played in two games
due to the fact that the Ravens' Week 2 game against the Texans was postponed due to the
hurricane weather conditions.
In the season opener, with starter Willis McGahee
sidelined due to a knee injury, Rice saw plenty of action. He carried the ball
22 times working in tandem with Le'Ron McClain, but with McGahee back in the mix
for Week 3, he touched the ball just five times.
Rice fumbled the ball away once in the opener, but he also showed some
versatility, getting involved in the passing game a bit, catching three balls
for 19 yards.
Is he No. 7?
With McGahee and McClain ahead of him on the depth chart, Rice will likely
be one of the low men on the totem pole out of this talented group of seven
rookie backs until he can
work himself into a position where he commands more playing time. Although he's
currently fourth in attempts per game with 13.5, he'll lose ground quickly if he
doesn't get more carries than he did in Week 3. His 3.1 yards-per-carry average
and his 42.5 yards per game place him sixth in those
categories. He hasn't scored a rushing touchdown yet or broken a run for 20-plus
yards, so he's tied for last in those areas. And with 18.5 percent of his runs
resulting in first downs, he places fifth among these peers.
Where they stand right now
It's still way too early to tell which of these seven talented players will
pan out over the long haul, but based on what I've seen so far, here's how I
would rank them based on their current results only, not their potential:
1. Matt Forte: When it comes to running the football, he is
indisputably "the man" in Chicago, a heady experience for any NFL
rookie. But Forte is showing the maturity to pull it off. In three starts, no
team has been able to hold him to less than 89 yards by the end of the game. And
he's established himself as a player who has to be accounted for in the passing
game with 13 catches already. No rookie running back is carrying the ball more
often for his team than Forte, and he's getting good results despite a
lackluster Bears passing attack that is doing little to take pressure off the running game.
2. Chris Johnson: Like Forte, he's quickly gotten involved in both
the running and passing game. And he's also brought a quiet maturity to a team
that has been unsteady at the running back position. A powerful and fast runner,
Johnson has been asked to carry the ball at least 15 times in each of his three
games, and he has posted no less than 74 yards per game. That's a nice start for
a rookie who is sharing reps.
3. Darren McFadden: He's showing flashes of being the kind of threat that
Adrian Peterson has become for the Vikings, but three weeks into his NFL career,
McFadden isn't showing the consistent presence and results that Forte and
Johnson have achieved. While he rolled over the Chiefs for 164 yards, showcasing
his big-game potential at this level, McFadden fell short of 50 yards rushing in
two of his three outings, including his most recent game while Justin Fargas was
sidelined with an injury. He's fumbled twice, losing possession once, and on
three of his five catches, he averaged just two yards per catch. He's got the
raw talent and the right tools to be the best of this class, but after three
weeks he hasn't proven it yet.
4. Jonathan Stewart: With the exception of his most recent performance
against the Vikings, averaging just 2.1 yards per carry on seven chances,
Stewart has looked sharp, averaging better than five yards per carry the during
two weeks. But he hasn't caught a pass yet, and he's averaging less than 50
yards of rushing per game. He's adding value as a kickoff return specialist, and
I do think you'll see him post better overall results if the Panthers let him
touch the ball more than 10 to 14 times a game.
5. Felix Jones: The Cowboys have a really good problem on their
hands. They have a terrific runner in Marion Barber, but they have seen that
Jones has big-play written all over him — on kickoff returns or
after taking a handoff. Jones is showing good vision, burst and quickness that
is already turning heads. Sp Dallas needs to find a way to get the ball in hands
more often. Had he been drafted by a club that didn't have such a strong feature
back, Jones would already be carrying the
ball no less than 50 percent of the time.
6. Ray Rice: He gets a slight nod here over Mendenhall, but
only because he's shown some versatility. Even if his yards per carry and
overall performance have been a bit unremarkable, he's shown that he can take a
banging and hand out some punishment while running. Given time, he should be
capable of being a tandem-back, but it would surprise me to see him become a
featured back, especially inside his first three years in the league.
7. Rashard Mendenhall: He has to be ranked last, simply because it's
really hard to tell what the Steelers have in Mendenhall after just ten rushes
from scrimmage and six kickoff returns. With just average kickoff return numbers and sub-par rushing results (2.8 yards per carry) the few times the
rookie has had the ball, it would be hard to place him above any of the other
six at this early stage. Mendenhall is another runner that looks as though he'll
need some time before it'll be readily apparent if he'll become a prominent
rusher in this league. But he'll have a chance on Monday night to take a step in the right direction.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America, Ed Thompson's player interviews and NFL features
are published across the Scout.com network and at FOXSports.com. You can contact him by email
through this link.