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Rookie running backs with upside their first NFL season

UNC teammates Javonte Williams and Michael Carter are expected to contribute immediately in their rookie seasons.

Michael Carter #32 of the New York Jets works out during a morning practice at Atlantic Health Jets Training Center on July 29, 2021 in Florham Park, New Jersey.
Michael Carter of the New York Jets works out during a morning practice at Atlantic Health Jets Training Center on July 29, 2021 in Florham Park, New Jersey.
Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Running backs are always hard to project due to injuries, contract situations and team philosophies. Some teams use three to four running backs consistently in games, while others rarely go with more than two. Rookie running backs are a huge asset in fantasy football as they usually get drafted in later rounds but can eventually be starters by the time the playoffs roll around. Here are the running backs from the rookie class with the most fantasy football upside this year.

Michael Carter, New York Jets

Carter is the lesser known North Carolina running back, but he’s currently at the top of New York’s depth chart. It’s not a great offense to be a part of, but it’s still a starting running back position. The Jets have a new coaching staff and system in place. Carter should get plenty of opportunities from the jump, given the relative lack of competition for the gig.

Javonte Williams, Denver Broncos

Williams immediately comes in as the second running back after the departure of Phillip Lindsay, but he may be Denver’s running back of the future as well. Melvin Gordon’s contract is up after this season and the Broncos may want to get Williams as many reps as possible this year before turning him completely loose in 2022-23. He could even take over the starting role late in the year if the Broncos are out of playoff contention.

Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers

When you take a running back in the first round, chances are he’s going to get playing time right away. Harris is expected to boost a floundering running game for Pittsburgh while taking pressure off Ben Roethlisberger. The Alabama product is the best running back of the class and has a lot of hype surrounding him, but he can deliver a big fantasy season this year.

Rhamondre Stevenson, New England Patriots

Stevenson had a big preseason opener, going for 127 yards on 10 carries and scoring two touchdowns. Damien Harris does appear to be the lead guy for now, but this is the Patriots backfield where things constantly change. Remember Jonas Gray?

If Stevenson continues to produce in preseason, he’s going to be on the roster. While Cam Newton may also take away some carries, there’s a chance the Patriots give Stevenson some run as a change-of-pace back. If Harris gets hurt or slows down, Stevenson could be in line for the starting role. The opportunity is always present in this backfield.