Fantasy football rookie preview: Running backs

Fantasy football rookie preview: Running backs

Rookie Analysis

Fantasy football rookie preview: Running backs

(Jeremy Brevard, USA TODAY Sports)

Now that we have had some time to digest the NFL draft and its aftermath, us fantasy footballers are excitedly waiting to add some of the rookies to our fake teams. Deciding which players have fantasy worth in 2017 comes down to assessing the likelihood of playing time. The following players are ranked in order of anticipated opportunity and corresponding value.

Rookie previews: QB | WR | TE

Leonard Fournette | Jacksonville Jaguars | 6-foot, 240 | LSU | Pick 1:04

YEAR
TEAM
ATT
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
REC
YDS
AVG
TD
2014
LSU
187
1034
5.5
89
10
7
127
18.1
0
2015
LSU
300
1953
6.5
87
22
19
253
13.3
1
2016
LSU
129
843
6.5
78
8
15
146
9.7
0

In theory, the Jags improved their offensive line, specifically at tackle. The passing game has plenty of weapons and potential, but needing a stronger running game was evident last year. There’s obviously immense upside with Fournette, and fantasy owners may be eager to pounce after the season Ezekiel Elliott turned in as a rookie. Expecting anything as spectacular is unfair to Fournette and borders on blind optimism. Expect a pretty good No. 3 fantasy back from Day 1, yet he should share touches, likely on third down, with T.J. Yeldon. Chris Ivory probably sticks around as insurance. Fournette is midrange RB2 in best-case scenario since most of his value will come via yardage and touchdowns.

Christian McCaffrey | Carolina Panthers | 5-11, 202 | Stanford | Pick 1:08

YEAR
TEAM
ATT
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
REC
YDS
AVG
TD
2014
STAN
42
300
7.1
37
0
17
251
14.8
2
2015
STAN
337
2019
6.0
70
8
45
645
14.3
5
2016
STAN
253
1603
6.3
90
13
37
310
8.4
3

As you can see by the stats table, McCaffrey can do it all. He’s entering an offense desperate for an explosive playmaker. Look for designed plays to get the ball into his hands in the open field. He will pair with Jonathan Stewart, whose propensity for injury is just another reason to be fond of McCaffrey. Consider the Stanford product a strong No. 3 in PPR leagues with RB2 potential. He realistically could catch 75 balls this year and is worth drafting ahead of Leonard Fournette in reception-rewarding scoring formats.

D’Onta Foreman | Houston Texans | 6-foot, 233 | Texas | Pick 3:25

YEAR
TEAM
ATT
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
REC
YDS
AVG
TD
2014
TEX
15
73
4.9
34
0
1
7
7.0
0
2015
TEX
95
681
7.2
93
5
5
64
12.8
0
2016
TEX
323
2028
6.3
74
15
7
75
10.7
0

Foreman is a big-bodied back but doesn’t always run that way. He offers practically nothing in the passing game and will come off the field in those situations. On the positive side: The idea the more electric Lamar Miller shifts into a quasi third-down, change-of-pace role is not unfounded. With a good camp, Foreman has a prime opportunity for a healthy workload and a defined job in the red zone. He’s a handcuff to Miller, at a minimum, and a fourth back in his own right. There is potential for weekly flex consideration from this rook.

Dalvin Cook | Minnesota Vikings | 5-10, 210 | Florida State | Pick 2:09

YEAR
TEAM
ATT
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
REC
YDS
AVG
TD
2014
FSU
170
1008
5.9
44
8
22
203
9.2
0
2015
FSU
229
1691
7.4
94
19
24
244
10.2
1
2016
FSU
288
1765
6.1
75
19
33
488
14.8
1

Few people probably saw Cook joining the Vikes after Latavius Murray was added during free agency. Jerick McKinnon remains in reserve, and he’ll battle Cook for work. There is little reason to think Cook loses that contest. Minnesota’s offensive line was a joke in 2016, but additions of Mike Remmers, Riley Reiff and Pat Elflein can only improve the blocking. Cook is a versatile weapon whose best contributions this year will be found in PPR leagues, where he offers far more than Murray. The rookie is a handcuff and an upside RB3 with a quality camp.

Jamaal Williams | Green Bay Packers | 6-foot, 212 | BYU | Pick 4:28

YEAR
TEAM
ATT
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
REC
YDS
AVG
TD
2012
BYU
166
775
4.7
49
12
27
315
11.7
1
2013
BYU
217
1233
5.7
70
7
18
125
6.9
0
2014
BYU
109
518
4.8
31
4
8
47
5.9
0
2016
BYU
234
1375
5.9
62
12
7
80
11.4
0

The primary back will be Ty Montgomery, but Williams’ odds of contributing greatly increased with the release of rushers Christine Michael and Don Jackson hours after the NFL draft. Green Bay beefed up the interior line with free-agent signing Jahri Evans. Aaron Rodgers’ arm opens rushing lanes, as well. Williams is considerably different than the do-all Montgomery. The fourth-round rookie has to fend off fellow draft picks in Aaron Jones (Round 5) and Devante Mays (Round 7) for touches. Chances are Williams will be given every opportunity to seize the 1b spot behind Montgomery’s 1a.

Joe Mixon | Cincinnati Bengals | 6-1, 226 | Oklahoma | Pick 2:16

YEAR
TEAM
ATT
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
REC
YDS
AVG
TD
2015
OKLA
113
753
6.7
66
7
28
356
12.7
4
2016
OKLA
187
1274
6.8
79
10
37
538
14.5
5

This move drew criticism from all angles, although it makes sense from a football perspective and may translate into immediate fantasy utility. The Bengals have Giovani Bernard locked up for several more seasons, but he’s coming back from a from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. The power back, Jeremy Hill, is set to become a free agent after this year and offers little past second down. Mixon is much cheaper and profiles as a poor man’s Le’Veon Bell — someone who has frustrated the Bengals for years. Mixon offers Cincy a chance to let Bernard heal without rushing him back. The rookie is an intriguing player in PPR drafts as a strong fourth.

Samaje Perine | Washington Redskins | 5-11, 233 | Oklahoma | Pick 4:07

YEAR
TEAM
ATT
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
REC
YDS
AVG
TD
2014
OKLA
263
1713
6.5
66
21
15
108
7.2
0
2015
OKLA
226
1349
6.0
72
16
15
107
7.1
1
2016
OKLA
196
1060
5.4
66
12
10
106
10.6
1

Reports surfaced about the Redskins trying to deal Matt Jones, which should come as no surprise. He stayed put but is a non-factor in the workload division. The touch splits should boil down to Rob Kelley and Perine, whose body of work in college illustrates his potential as well as limitations. Don’t expect to receive contributions from Perine. Kelley isn’t much of a receiver, either. Catching passes is Chris Thompson’s job. Perine is risky for fantasy purposes. If Kelley rolls along, Perine — a similar back — won’t see much involvement. Should Fat Rob struggle to distinguish himself, Perine, a fourth-rounder, will be tossed into the fire. He’s a late-round handcuff and a No. 5 flier in standard-scoring formats. Perine could be an asset in TD-heavy leagues.

David Dorey’s top-12 rookies

Marlon Mack | Indianapolis Colts | 5-11, 213 | South Florida | Pick 4:37

YEAR
TEAM
ATT
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
REC
YDS
AVG
TD
2014
USF
202
1041
5.2
75
9
21
160
7.6
0
2015
USF
210
1381
6.6
59
8
16
111
6.9
1
2016
USF
174
1187
6.8
85
15
28
227
8.1
0

Mack is in a wonderful situation for fantasy owners. He comes into the NFL with low mileage and may not even be known by some gamers in casual circles. He isn’t a great receiver but has proven competent. The Colts cannot continue to pound Frank Gore and expect strong results. Mack should vie for committee work and could emerge as a sound gamble in the late rounds of standard leagues.

Alvin Kamara | New Orleans Saints | 5-10, 214 | Tennessee | Pick 3:03

YEAR
TEAM
ATT
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
REC
YDS
AVG
TD
2015
TENN
107
698
6.5
63
7
34
291
8.6
3
2016
TENN
103
596
5.8
39
9
40
392
9.8
4

Kamara is a well-rounded back who enters a cloudy situation in The Big Easy. Mark Ingram was joined shortly before the draft by Adrian Peterson, which made fantasy owners snicker. The addition of Kamara means this could become a three-headed monster in a hurry. Sean Payton likes to compartmentalize players’ roles. Kamara’s probably will be the third-down guy with occasional spell, as long as he proves capable of blocking for Drew Brees. Ingram is a sound receiver and a capable pass protector. Peterson makes sense as a two-down guy given his below-average hands and limited blocking skills. Kamara’s 2017 role makes him a liability in fantasy. Draft him as PPR depth — a fourth or fifth back — with the mindset he may not contribute anything meaningful during the year.

Joe Williams | San Francisco 49ers | 5-10, 209 | Utah | Pick 4:15

YEAR
TEAM
ATT
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
REC
YDS
AVG
TD
2015
UTAH
104
477
4.6
64
3
11
84
7.6
0
2016
UTAH
210
1407
6.7
82
10
9
107
11.9
0

San Fran released Mike Davis to put Williams one step closer to finding a purpose in the backfield. Carlos Hyde remains the lead dog, but Kyle Shanahan loves to create roles and split the backfield chores. Tim Hightower will be the primary competition for Williams. The journeyman has better hands and is a stronger blocker, so Williams figures to be a spell rather than a change of pace. He’s no more than a late-round roll of the dice.

Kareem Hunt | Kansas City Chiefs | 5-10, 216 | Toledo | Pick 3:22

YEAR
TEAM
ATT
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
REC
YDS
AVG
TD
2013
TOL
137
866
6.3
52
6
12
68
5.7
0
2014
TOL
205
1631
8.0
91
16
9
39
4.3
0
2015
TOL
178
973
5.5
41
12
11
45
4.1
0
2016
TOL
262
1475
5.6
47
10
41
403
9.8
1

Hunt could be a fantasy producer this season, but he’ll need to get past Charcandrick West to split the load with Spencer Ware. C.J. Spiller is on the roster and has drawn praise, for whatever that is worth these days. Hunt isn’t terribly different from Ware. The rookie could make a huge dent in Ware’s role with a strong camp, but coming from Toledo, he faces a learning curve in a complex offense. Keep an eye on this situation well into the preseason.

Wayne Gallman | New York Giants | 6-foot, 215 | Clemson | Pick 4:34

YEAR
TEAM
ATT
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
REC
YDS
AVG
TD
2014
CLEM
161
769
4.8
34
4
24
108
4.5
1
2015
CLEM
283
1527
5.4
66
13
21
213
10.1
1
2016
CLEM
232
1133
4.9
59
17
20
152
7.6
0

The difference of a round in an NFL draft doesn’t mean too much, especially year over year, but Gallman was a fourth-round pick and his top competition in New York was a 2016 fifth-rounder. Just sayin’. Pass-catching back Shane Vereen, when healthy, has a clearly defined place in this backfield. Current starting running back Paul Perkins has potential but isn’t exactly a world beater. Gallman can provide a little bit of everything and brings more size to the backfield. This is another backfield to monitor throughout the offseason before assigning fantasy worth.

Tarik Cohen | Chicago Bears | 5-6, 179 pounds | North Carolina A&T |  Pick 4:13

YEAR
TEAM
ATT
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
REC
YDS
AVG
TD
2014
NCAT
195
1148
5.9
8
11
152
13.8
1
2015
NCAT
197
1340
6.8
15
25
237
9.5
1
2016
NCAT
264
1543
5.8
15
25
217
8.7
0

Cohen is a gadget player who is a lot like Darren Sproles. We have seen scores of this type of running back enter the NFL only to sputter. Cohen is buried on the depth chart behind Jordan Howard, Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey. He should see a niche role with designed plays, but special teams is where he may make the biggest impact in his rookie season. Avoid him in conventional fantasy setups.

James Conner | Pittsburgh Steelers | 6-1, 233 | Pittsburgh | Pick 3:41

YEAR
TEAM
ATT
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
REC
YDS
AVG
TD
2013
PITT
146
799
5.5
45
8
3
33
11.0
0
2014
PITT
298
1765
5.9
75
26
5
70
14.0
0
2015
PITT
8
77
9.6
40
2
1
7
7.0
0
2016
PITT
216
1092
5.1
40
16
21
302
14.4
4

Conner has defeated cancer and successfully returned to the gridiron. He has the makeup of a Steeler — gritty and unafraid of a challenge. Largely, Conner is one-dimensional. He has little standing between him and occasionally spelling Le’Veon Bell. The Steelers have not re-signed DeAngelo Williams, instead drafting Conner to compete with Knile Davis and Fitzgerald Toussaint. Handcuff Conner to No. 26 and expect little without a situation that removes Bell from the field for extended time.

Donnel Pumphrey | Philadelphia Eagles | 5-8, 176 | San Diego State | Pick 4:26

YEAR
TEAM
ATT
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
REC
YDS
AVG
TD
2013
SDSU
125
752
6.0
72
8
22
234
10.6
2
2014
SDSU
276
1867
6.8
93
20
23
160
7.0
0
2015
SDSU
309
1653
5.4
72
17
28
416
14.9
3
2016
SDSU
349
2133
6.1
79
17
27
231
8.6
0

Pumphrey was insanely productive in college and also heavily utilized. His diminutive frame will limit his role in the NFL to change-of-pace and third-down duties on offense. As long as Darren Sproles remains effective, Pumphrey may be relegated to the pine for all intents and purposes. Fear not, as Ryan Mathews is fragile and really doesn’t fit this system. The coaches will find creative ways to give Pumphrey touches. Even still, he is a fringe flier in most setups.

Aaron Jones | Green Bay Packers | 5-9, 208 | Texas-El Paso | Pick 5:39

YEAR
TEAM
ATT
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
REC
YDS
AVG
TD
2013
UTEP
155
811
5.2
81
4
4
14
3.5
0
2014
UTEP
242
1321
5.5
73
11
30
293
9.8
3
2015
UTEP
32
209
6.5
91
1
9
106
11.8
1
2016
UTEP
229
1773
7.7
83
17
28
233
8.3
3

Jones was a fifth-round choice and presumably stands third on the depth chart behind fourth-round rookie Jamaal Williams and last year’s wide receiver convert, Ty Montgomery. Jones is a sound receiver and a big-play weapon on the ground. He adds more electricity than Williams and plausibly even Montgomery. Watch the offseason battle between the rooks before deciding whether to invest in Jones. With a promising showing, he’s a RB5 flier.

Elijah McGuire | New York Jets | 5-10, 214 | Louisiana-Lafayette | Pick 6:04

YEAR
TEAM
ATT
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
REC
YDS
AVG
TD
2013
ULL
103
863
8.4
70
8
22
384
17.5
3
2014
ULL
166
1264
7.6
75
14
45
468
10.4
2
2015
ULL
210
1058
5.0
88
13
33
293
8.9
3
2016
ULL
232
1127
4.9
68
7
29
238
8.2
2

McGuire gets a hat tip for entering a backfield behind prolific veteran Matt Forte (age-32 season) and the overachieving Bilal Powell and still having a glimmer of fantasy worth. Forte’s age breeds durability concerns, and Powell … let’s just say there is a reason why he didn’t show his best work until his sixth NFL season. McGuire is an all-around talent with ample size. Coming from a small school may be a drawback, but all it takes is a chance to shine. He’s a wild gamble in the deepest of leagues.

Jeremy McNichols | Tampa Bay Buccaneers | 5-9, 214 | Boise State | Pick 5:18

YEAR
TEAM
ATT
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
REC
YDS
AVG
TD
2014
BSU
17
159
9.4
28
1
15
155
10.3
1
2015
BSU
240
1337
5.6
88
20
51
460
9.0
6
2016
BSU
314
1709
5.4
80
23
37
474
12.8
4

The likelihood of McNichols having a notable role in 2017 is admittedly low. However, it warrants mentioning the uncertainty ahead of him in an injury-prone Doug Martin, a one-dimensional Charles Sims, and a change-of-pacer in Jacquizz Rodgers. McNichols comes from a running back-friendly system, but he could surprise if given an earnest assignment.

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