Fantasy Football: 2,000 College Rushers in the NFL

What can we learn from history when it comes to projecting Melvin Gordon and Tevin Coleman's rookie NFL season, after each rushed for 2,000+ yards in college last season.

INDIANAPOLIS --- Two running backs rushed for more than 2,000 yards in college last season, making for intriguing NFL rookie options in fantasy football - Chargers RB Melvin Gordon (Wisconsin) and Falcons RB Tevin Coleman (Indiana). What does history tell us about their production at the next level?

Since 1956, there have been 24 instances of a tailback eclipsing the 2,000-yard mark in college. For the purposes of this article, we'll focus on the 16 cases since 1990.

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1994 - Rashaan Salaam, Colorado, 2055 yards

NFL Rookie Season (1st round) - 173 standard points (RB16), 180 PPR points

296 carries, 1074 yards (3.6 ypc), 10 TD; 7 receptions, 56 yards

1996 - Troy Davis, Iowa State, 2185 yards (also 2010 yards in 1995)

NFL Rookie Season (3rd round pick) - 36 standard points (RB76), 49 PPR points

75 carries, 271 yards (3.6 ypc), 13 receptions, 85 yards

*Note - Davis was 3rd in line, behind a Ray Zellers and Mario Bates committee

1996 - Byron Hanspard, Texas Tech, 2000 yards

NFL Rookie Season (2nd round pick) - 44 standard points, 40 PPR points

53 carries, 335 yards (6.3 ypc); 6 receptions, 53 yards, TD

*Note - Jamal Anderson was the featured running back in Atlanta in 1997

1998 - Ricky Williams, Texas, 2124 yards

NFL Rookie Season (1st round pick) - 118 standard points (RB27), 146 PPR points

253 carries, 884 yards (3.5 ypc), 2 TD; 28 receptions, 172 yards

1999 - Ron Dayne, Wisconsin, 2034 yards (also 2109 yards in 1996)

NFL Rookie Season (1st round pick) - 108 standard points (RB29), 111 PPR points

228 carries, 770 yards (3.4 ypc), 5 TD; 3 receptions, 11 yards

2000 - LaDainian Tomlinson, TCU, 2158 yards

NFL Rookie Season (1st round pick) -  220 standard points (RB7), 279 PPR points

339 carries, 1236 yards (3.6 ypc), 10 TD; 59 rec, 367 yards

2000 - Damien Anderson, Northwestern, 2063 yards

NFL Rookie Season (undrafted) - 10 standard points (RB103), 13 PPR points

24 carries, 65 yards (2.7 ypc); 3 rec, 36 yards

2002 - Larry Johnson, Penn State, 2087 yards

NFL Rookie Season (1st round pick) - 15 fantasy points (RB104), 16 PPR points

20 carries, 85 yards (4.3 ypc), 1 TD; 1 rec, 2 yards

*Note - Johnson was behind RB Priest Holmes, who led all of fantasy football in 2003.

2004 - J.J. Arrington, California, 2018 yards

NFL Rookie Season (2nd round pick) - 63 fantasy points (RB56), 88 PPR points

112 carries, 370 yards (3.3 ypc), 2 TD; 25 receptions, 139 yards

*Note - Arrington in a committee with Marcel Shipp

2007 - Kevin Smith, Central Florida, 2567 yards

NFL Rookie Season (3rd round pick) - 174 standard points (RB18),  213 PPR points

238 carries, 976 yards (4.1 ypc), 8 TD; 39 receptions, 286 yards

2007 - Ray Rice, Rutgers, 2012 yards

NFL Rookie Season (2nd round pick) - 73 standard points (RB53); 106 PPR points

107 carries, 454 yards (4.2 ypc); 33 receptions, 273 yards

*Note - Rice was third in line, behind a Le'Ron McClain & Willis McGahee committee

2007 - Matt Forte, Tulane, 2127 yards

NFL Rookies Season (2nd round pick) - 244 standard points (RB4), 307 PPR points

316 carries, 1238 yards (3.9 ypc), 8 TD; 63 receptions, 477 yards, 4 TD

2008 - Donald Brown, Connecticut, 2083 yards

NFL Rookie Season (1st round pick) - 63 standard points (RB54), 74 PPR points

78 carries, 281 yards (3.6 ypc), 3 TD; 11 receptions, 169 yards

*Note - Joseph Addai was the lead RB in 2009 with 270 touches

2013 - Andre Williams, Boston College, 2177 yards

NFL Rookie Season (4th round pick) - 115 standard points (RB21), 145 PPR points

217 carries, 721 yards (3.3 ypc), 7 TD; 18 receptions, 130 yards

2014 - Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin, 2587 yards

NFL Rookie Season (1st round pick) - ???

2014 - Tevin Coleman, Indiana, 2036 yards

NFL Rookie Season (3rd round pick) - ???

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Conclusions

You have to immediately throw out cases where the 2,000 yard rusher in college was the back-up or worse in his rookie NFL season, as we are trying to project what Gordon and Coleman might do with a full workload in 2015. That leaves us with 7 cases: Salaam, Ricky Williams, Dayne, Tomlinson, Smith, Forte, and Andre Williams.

Fantasy Rank Among RBs in Rookie Year

Salaam - RB16

R. Williams - RB27

Dayne - RB29

Tomlinson - RB7

Smith - RB18

Forte - RB4

A. Williams - RB21 (Rashad Jennings started 9 Gs)

The most efficient of any of those 7 rookie NFL seasons coming off 2000 yards in college was Kevin Smith, at a less than thrilling 4.1 yards per carry. Even Tomlinson and Forte's top-10 fantasy RB rookie seasons saw production under 4.0 yards per carry. It seems like we're looking for volume from Melvin Gordon and Tevin Coleman.

Touches (Carries & Receptions) in Rookie Year
Salaam - 303
R. Williams - 281
Dayne - 231
Tomlinson - 398
Smith - 277
Forte - 379
A. Williams - 235

Based on this history, 300 touches would surely generate at least solid RB2 production from Melvin Gordon and Tevin Coleman in 2015, with upside for RB1 production. Andre Williams was on his way, if he started more than 7 games, as he finished at RB21 despite only 235 touches. That makes it even more important to monitor Coleman's competition with Devonta Freeman in the preseason. If he doesn't win it outright, you may not want to reach for Coleman in drafts.

Smith was the only back on this list to crack the top-20 fantasy RBs with less than 300 touches, thanks to 8 touchdowns and almost 300 extra receiving yards. If Gordon and Coleman can illustrate pass-catching reliability in the preseason, their fantasy prospects only rise.

Ricky Williams had more touches than Smith but only 2 touchdowns on a Saints team that had terrible QB play (16 TD, 30 INT). That shouldn't be an issue for Gordon or Coleman with Philip Rivers and Matt Ryan, respectively.

Four of these backs were first round picks (Salaam, Ricky Williams, Dayne, Tomlinson). That sounds good for Gordon, but the real factor is workload. Smith, Forte, and Andre Williams all produced as later round picks. It doesn't matter what round Gordon and Coleman were drafted in. It matters how much their team will feed them the rock. Remember: none of these previous backs rushed for more than 4.1 yards per carry. They were fantasy relevant based on volume.

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Projections

Melvin Gordon - 285 carries, 1111 yards (3.9 ypc), 6 TD; 25 receptions, 175 yards

164 standard points, 189 PPR points

Explanation: 164 standard points would have landed Gordon as the 12th-ranked RB in standard scoring last season. The Chargers offense saw a stark contrast under Mike McCoy from 2013 to 2014. San Diego was 7th in the NFL running the ball 47.2% of the time in 2013. That number dropped all the way down to 41% in 2014. The biggest reason was Ryan Mathews missing 10 games due to injury and Danny Woodhead only playing 3 games. Brandon Oliver and Donald Brown had to pick up the pieces.

Under ideal circumstances in 2013 though, McCoy's offense saw Mathews and Woodhead split the workload, with Mathews receiving 63% of the touches between them for a total of 311. Woodhead did get 106 carries and 76 receptions, but there was plenty left for Mathews. That's how I see this playing out with Gordon. He takes over the lead back workload that Mathews received in 2013, which should generate enough volume to get over the 300 touch benchmark we've established, even with Danny Woodhead around.

Tevin Coleman - Scenario A: 280 carries, 1065 yards (3.8 ypc), 7 TD; 15 rec, 90 yards

157 standard points, 172 PPR points

Scenario B: 230 carries, 874 yards (3.8 ypc), 6 TD; 12 rec, 72 yards

130 standard points, 142 PPR points

Explanation: Scenario A is if Coleman wins the competition outright from Devonta Freeman, and Scenario B is if he's in a 50-50 timeshare. I don't see him getting less volume than that with a new coaching staff in Atlanta that used a 3rd round pick on him, but it's difficult to project what a rookie running back will do for a team that has a new coaching staff, specifically offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who utilized a feature back in Washington with Alfred Morris and a timeshare in Cleveland last year between Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell.

We can start here: Cleveland and Atlanta averaged roughly 64 plays per game over the past two seasons. That's within a play of what Seattle averaged as well, where Falcons head coach Dan Quinn comes over from in 2015. It's also within a play of what Washington averaged in 2013 and 2012, when Shanahan ran the offense there.

What about the run-pass ratio? Cleveland ran it 48.7% of the time under Shanahan last year, but the Browns didn't have a quarterback like Matt Ryan. In 2012, Shanahan ran it 43% of the time during Washington's 10-6 season. For the sake of argument, let's say the Falcons will run it 45% of the time in 2015. They still have great weapons in the passing game, but 45% would have been enough to put them in the top-10 in the NFL in run% last year.

In scenario A, Coleman gets about 60% of the carries, with the Falcons running it 45% of the time at 64 plays per game. Over the course of a season, that comes out to 280 carries.

In scenario B, Coleman only gets about 50% of the carries, with the Falcons running it 45% of the time at 64 plays per game. Over the course of a season, that drops him to 230 carries.

It's a big difference for fantasy. In scenario A, Coleman would have been the 14th-ranked RB in standard scoring last year. In scenario B, he drops to RB19, and those are only if he hits his TD projections, which are even harder to project than carries and yards. Also, if Coleman is in a timeshare with Freeman, his week-to-week reliability becomes extremely difficult for fantasy owners.

It's unlikely I would draft Tevin Coleman in one-year leagues for 2015 if he does not win the starting job outright in Atlanta. However, I'm very comfortable drafting Melvin Gordon. His floor is much higher for 2015, based on the history of 2,000 yard college rushers and where he landed for his rookie season.

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