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5 best rookie running backs in NFL history

Detroit Lions v Dallas Cowboys
Detroit Lions v Dallas Cowboys
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Matthew Wear

The running back position in the NFL is one of the most talked-about positions among fans and analysts alike. Some argue that you don't need to draft one high as the running game is built around the offensive line. While this may be true, you can't deny the Tennessee Titans would be the same team if they had any running backs in their team instead of Derrick Henry.

Plenty of running backs have come out of the NFL Draft and not lived up to expectations, such as Ki-Jana Carter and Trent Richardson. Some others have hit the ground running as soon as they reach the pros. Here are five of the best rookie running backs in NFL history.

NFL's best rookie RBs of all-time

#5 - Alvin Kamara

New Orleans Saints v Tampa Bay Buccaneers
New Orleans Saints v Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The New Orleans Saints didn't draft Alvin Kamara until the third round of the 2017 draft. But he would immediately impact the league alongside veteran Mark Ingram. Kamara was a specialist in the return game and instantly became one of the best receiving backs in the NFL.

He took home the Offensive Rookie of the Year award in 2017, beating NFL rushing leader Kareem Hunt. Kamara finished the year with 1,554 yards from scrimmage to go along with 13 touchdowns, averaging an impressive 6.1 yards per carry and 7.7 yards per touch.

@AdamSchefter Alvin Kamara was the highest-graded RB in the NFL in 2017 (90.4) - as a rookie https://t.co/8hRvo7M1kS

#4 - Earl Campbell

Earl Campbell with the Houston Oilers
Earl Campbell with the Houston Oilers

Earl Campbell was taken first overall by the Houston Oilers in the 1978 draft and immediately impacted both his team and the league as a whole. Campbell led the league in rushing yards with 1,450 and rushing for 13 touchdowns.

He took home NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors and won the NFL Offensive Player of the Year award, a rarity for a rookie. Campbell would continue to light up the NFL, playing eight seasons in the league. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1991.

#3 - Ezekiel Elliott

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Dallas Cowboys
Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Dallas Cowboys

A year before Alvin Kamara came out of college, Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys was taking the league by storm alongside fellow rookie quarterback Dak Prescott.

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Elliott had high expectations attached to him after being picked fourth-overall in the 2016 draft, but he fully lived up to the hype rushing for 1,631 yards, which led the league, as well as rushing for 15 touchdowns. He also added 363 yards reaching and an extra score. The former Ohio State man was named All-Pro and was voted to the Pro Bowl.

Most first downs gained on runs by rookie RBs since 2006: 1. Ezekiel Elliott, 2016 - 922. Alfred Morris, 2012 - 853. Jordan Howard, 2016 - 714. Jonathan Taylor, 2020 - 69 https://t.co/cwmPMDXiUE

#2 - Saquon Barkley

Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants
Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants

In 2018, Saquon Barkley was taken second-overall by the New York Giants. Initially, it looked like the gamble to take a running back that high had paid off. Barkley was an instant hero in New York, rushing for 1,307 and receiving a further 721 yards for 15 total touchdowns.

His scrimmage yardage total of 2,028 meant he became the focal point of the Giants offense almost immediately. Unfortunately, since his rookie year, Barkley has struggled with injuries, and his struggles coincide with the Giants’ struggles in recent times.

Saquon Barkley rookie season:261 rushes 1307 yds. 11 TDs91 catches 721 yds. 4 TDsOne of the greatest rookie seasons by a Running Back πŸ‘.@Saquon | @Giants https://t.co/OMVSeY9oil

#1 - Eric Dickerson

Eric Dickerson with the Los Angeles Rams
Eric Dickerson with the Los Angeles Rams

Eric Dickerson’s rookie year for the Los Angeles Rams in 1983 isn’t only one of the best rookie running back performances of all-time, but would rival that of any running back to ever play in the NFL.

Dickerson took home Offensive Rookie of the Year honors that year. He led the league with 390 carries, 1,808 rushing yards, 2,212 scrimmage yards, and 20 touchdowns.

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Coming straight out of college and putting up those numbers in the pros is unlikely to ever be repeated again. But Dickerson himself would better his rookie rushing total the next year, rushing for 2,105 yards, a record that stands to this day.

Edited by Piyush Bisht
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