There’s something special about this rookie running back class. Not only is there a plethora of backs that are extremely talented and NFL ready, but a bunch of them have been drafted into favorable situations. And by favorable situations I mean that they will have the opportunity to be fantasy relevant. Don’t be surprised if at the end of the season we are comparing this class of running backs to the wide receiver class of 2014 that included standouts like OBJ, Mike Evans, Brandin Cooks, Allen Robinson, Jarvis Landry, and many more.
Thus far, there has been nothing but good news being said about Dalvin Cook. The Florida State product has been operating as the Vikings RB1 since the start of training camp and hasn’t disappointed. Coaches and teammates alike have praised the rookie’s ability to integrate and excel in an NFL offense. Probably the most encouraging news about Cook came from Vikings OC Pat Shurmur who lauded Cook’s pass protection. The possibility of Cook being a three down back this season is trending upward. In fact, former Vikings reporter Matt Versel believes that Cook could be in line for 300 carries this year. If Cook becomes the Vikings workhorse back this season, that would make him a steal at his ADP in the fifth round.
You don’t risk your public image drafting a controversial player who you don’t intend to play. Especially in the second round. Despite his off-field issues, Mixon is an incredible talent with the ability to succeed as a runner and pass catcher in the NFL. Head coach Marvin Jones has raved about Mixon, saying he’s “off the charts talent-wise.” Moreover, Bengals reporter Geoff Hobson speculated that Mixon could receive upwards of 20 touches in Week 1. However, the Bengals still have Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill to crowd up the backfield. Bernard has been a staple in the Bengals offense for years both as a runner and a pass catcher and will, at the very least, threaten Mixon’s third down work. Although Jeremy Hill has been a dud since his rookie season, he has excelled in short yardage situations and could vulture touchdowns from Mixon. If the opportunity is there, I think Mixon’s talent will make him a great fantasy weapon this season, but I’m skeptical to take him at his ADP in the third round.
With an aging Jonathan Stewart and uninspiring Fozzy Whittaker and Cameron Artis-Payne, McCaffrey is clearly the bright spot in the Panthers ground game. Ron Rivera recently stated that they are actively finding different ways to get the Stanford product involved in the offense. Practice reports show that Panthers have been peppering McCaffrey with short passes and screens. Makes sense when considering that the Panthers will probably be using more short passes this season to keep Cam Newton out of pressure. It’s clear that the Panthers have a set plan for their first round draft pick. McCaffery has a lot of fantasy upside this season with an added boost in PPR leagues.
For me, Fournette is the rookie to own in fantasy football this season. I don’t care if he is listed as a co-starter on the Jaguars depth chart, you don’t draft a player fourth overall to have him split carriers with a fading Chris Ivory and an underwhelming TJ Yeldon. Considering their much improved defense and QB struggles with Blake Bortles, it makes sense as to why Doug Marrone has emphasized that the Jaguars offense will be run first this year. Moreover, the Jaguars schedule this season is projected to be the 5th easiest for running backs. If Fournette receives 20 touches a game, which I believe he will, he should be in store for a big season.
The Redskins’ decision to draft a running back in the fourth round, coupled with Rob Kelley’s struggle during the final games of 2016, led people to believe that Perine would have a good shot to become the Skins lead back. However, early reports from training camp have heavily favored Kelley over Perine, saying that Kelley looks bigger and stronger while Perine has struggled to adapt to the NFL game. Washington Post’s Master Tesfatsion said that it is clear that Kelley will be the Redskins RB1 to start the year. But the key words there: to start the year. Jay Gruden has a track record of having no tolerance for fumbles. That’s what allowed Rob Kelley to succeed Matt Jones. If Kelley were to underperform or go down with an injury, Perine would jump into the spotlight with, of course, Chris Thompson handling passing down duties. For me, Perine is a late round flyer/handcuff to Rob Kelley.
Eventually, Frank Gore will have to retire, right? Who knows at this point, but I believe the Colts were prepping for that day by drafting Marlon Mack. At 34 years old, Gore is again expected to be the Colts workhorse back this season. Could this be the year that Gore declines or succumbs to an injury? Regardless of age, Gore is a steal at his ADP in the 7th round. If Gore is a target on your draft board, then you should also be handcuffing him. Although Robert Turbin is technically Gore’s backup, I believe that Mack is the handcuff to own. If the Colts drafted Mack to be their guy after Gore, then they would use any chance possible to start breaking him into that role.
Since the start of training camp, things have been trending upward for Kareem Hunt. Andy Reid praised Hunt for being a quick study and in turn has gifted Hunt with more and more first team reps. Spencer Ware’s inauspicious ending to 2016 has subsequently opened a running back battle between him, Hunt, and to a lesser extent Charcandrick West. This is the running back competition to watch over the course of the preseason and don’t be surprised if Kareem Hunt comes out on top. Andy Reid’s offense is especially friendly for running backs, making Hunt a good pick at his ADP in the 8th round.
So let me get this straight, Mike McCarthy says that Ty Montgomery will be the Packers feature back this season and then goes on to draft three running backs? Something doesn’t add up there. As effective as Montgomery was last season, I have my doubts that he can shoulder a full RB workload over the course of a season. Out of the three rookies drafted, I would target Jamaal Williams. Reports have stated that Williams has excelled at pass protection, an area where Ty Montgomery has struggled. As a result, the BYU product has been actively receiving first team reps. Packers reporter Rob Demovsky has gone as far as to say that Williams is pushing Montgomery for starting duties, making him a solid flyer in the later rounds.
Joe Williams chances to usurp Carlos Hyde have gone down the drain based on recent practice reports. Williams has struggled adapting to the 49ers system and has been plagued with fumbling problems. Meanwhile, Carlos Hyde seems to look better than ever, making him a great option for a post hype sleeper. In order for Williams to become the 49ers top dog, he would have to get past Tim Hightower, who was very effective the past two years with New Orleans, and then Carlos Hyde. For me, Williams is not even worth drafting at this point.
Starting camp behind Alfred Blue and Lamar Miller, Foreman doesn’t offer much value as of right now. Especially when you consider that Blue has proven to be a good back up throughout his career. Even if Miller were to struggle or go down with an injury, Blue would almost definitely be the Texans go-to back. Unless we hear otherwise, keep Foreman off your draft board.
Not just a great story, James Conner is a very talented back who the Steelers are very excited about. Unfortunately for Conner, he’ll start his career playing behind one of the league’s most elite backs, Le’Veon Bell. Despite missing nine days with an AC joint injury, Conner returned to practice still solidified as the Steelers RB2. Conner should be targeted by any owners who draft Le’Veon Bell. Assuming Bell went down, Conner would immediately take over as the Steelers workhorse. Considering how great DeAngelo Williams performed as the Steelers RB1 when Bell was out, Conner would immediately become a top 10 back if anything happened to Bell.