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These 7 NFL rookie running backs are flying under the radar but won't be for long

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This year's draft was loaded with talented running backs who could play their way into big roles as rookies.

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Alabama vs Clemson Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

At first glance, this year's rookie running back class doesn't look like a deep one. Only two players went in the first two rounds: Ezekiel Elliott (Ohio State) and Derrick Henry (Alabama). It's not a terribly big surprise. First-round running backs haven't fared well in recent years and teams are more content to wait until the middle rounds to address the position.

However, the lack of high draft picks doesn't mean this is a weak class. Elliott is an all-around stud and Henry beasted his way to the Heisman Trophy. Both players should have huge roles in their rookie years. But there are plenty of other rookie running backs who stand to make an impact in 2016, and not all of them are household names yet.

There's a good chance we'll be talking more about these seven players after this season.

Kenyan Drake, Miami Dolphins

Drake is no stranger to being overlooked on the depth chart -- in his four years at Alabama, he played second fiddle to Eddie Lacy, T.J. Yeldon and Henry. However, Drake produced well in limited opportunities -- over 223 college carries, he had 1,495 yards for 18 touchdowns -- and was a great kick returner, most famously sealing the College Football Playoff Championship with this 95-yard kickoff return.

Drake is the early favorite to be Miami's return man, but he should also see plenty of work behind Jay Ajayi, who is mostly an unknown heading into his second year. Even if Drake doesn't steal the starting RB job, he has the game-breaking talent to be a regular on highlight reels before the season is done.

Devontae Booker, Denver Broncos

C.J. Anderson remains the starter, and the Broncos were committed enough to match Miami's restricted free agent tender. However, Anderson struggles for consistency from week to week and has yet to put a complete season together. Ronnie Hillman actually led the Broncos in rushing yards last year, but he faded down the stretch and was a non-factor in the playoffs.

A fourth-round pick out of Utah, Booker has the body of a three-down runner with a one-cut style that perfectly fits Gary Kubiak's offense. Denver wants somebody to step up and grab the starting job, and that leaves the door open for Booker.

DeAndre Washington, Oakland Raiders

Latavius Murray is the Raiders' lead back, but the team has been open about wanting to add more talent to the backfield this offseason.

General manager Reggie McKenzie told CSN Bay Area in March, "The way this league is with the pounding you’re taking, you can’t just have one guy getting beat up all year with no help. We’ll get some help. We’ll get healthy. We’ll see how it goes. It’s March, so we have some time."

The Raiders found their help in the draft, taking Washington out of Texas Tech in the fifth round. Undersized at 5'8, 208 pounds, he makes up for it with a tough running style and good speed in the open field. Washington can also contribute in the passing game and is a big threat on screen passes. Although he likely won't supplant Murray as the starting back, look for Washington to see plenty of passing-down snaps in his first year.

Paul Perkins, New York Giants

The Giants' running game was middling at best last season, and things don't look much different this year. Rashad Jennings returns as the starter, although he's 31 years old and constantly injured these days. Shane Vereen is a fine change-of-pace back, but that's all he is at this point in his career. Andre Williams is arguably the worst running back in football. On paper, this isn't a terribly inspiring group of talent.

That leaves the door open for the one new running back New York added -- fifth-round pick Paul Perkins, who was a true three-down runner at UCLA. Like Washington, Perkins has concerns about his size (5'10, 208 pounds) and he doesn't have elite speed (4.54 40 time at the Combine) but his one-cut running style should at least give the Giants a different wrinkle in their offense. Perkins has to climb the depth chart a little bit, but if the players above him continue to underwhelm, it won't be long before he gets a real shot.

Wendell Smallwood, Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles did a lot to clear up their backfield logjam by trading away DeMarco Murray, but things are still unsettled behind Ryan Mathews (who has recurring injury issues). Darren Sproles is an eternal scatback who turns 33 later in June, while Kenjon Barner has done little to impress in his three-year NFL career.

So the Eagles needed some new blood in the draft, and they found it with West Virginia's Smallwood, who led the Big 12 in rushing yards in his junior year. He has workhorse credentials, carrying the ball 425 times in 2015, and has impressive burst, blasting into the open field at the first sign of a hole.

Jordan Howard, Chicago Bears

Out of all the players listed here, Howard might be in the best position to earn real playing time right out of the gate. Incumbent Jeremy Langford will likely get the first crack, and had impressive stretches filling in for Matt Forte last season, but his final numbers left something to be desired. He averaged just 3.6 yards per attempt on 148 carries, finishing with 537 rushing yards and seven total touchdowns. Langford also had eight drops, leading all running backs in the league.

Howard has prototypical running back size at 6'0, 230 pounds, and his physical running style should make him an asset on early downs. Look for Howard to get the bulk of short-yardage work in his first year, but don't be surprised if he supplants Langford at some point.

C.J. Prosise, Seattle Seahawks

Marshawn Lynch's retirement was not unexpected, and the Seahawks seemingly had Thomas Rawls ready to step right into his shoes. Rawls looked like both the future and the present in 2015, rushing for 830 yards on just 147 carries, averaging a stellar 5.6 yards per carry. Unfortunately, Rawls suffered a serious broken ankle late in the season, and it's still a question as to whether he will be ready for Week 1.

It's not surprising that the Seahawks used a third-round pick on a running back. Prosise has versatility to spare, having played wide receiver early in his college career at Notre Dame. With his receiving skills, Prosise should have an immediate role on passing downs. With Rawls' recovery timeline still a mystery, he could play more snaps than expected early in the season. Either way, the Seahawks will find a way to use Prosise.