Every fantasy owner dreams of drafting an instant impact rookie. A rookie who will immediately step into a starter role and elevate the play of both his team but also your fantasy team.
Rookie running backs tend to be sleepers by nature. It seems like most of the big names are getting bumps in pre-draft value, maybe too big of a bump? It was only last season that many fantasy owners resisted drafted a running back simply because the NFL is currently a passing league. Every fantasy enthusiast was overwhelmed with articles explaining and justifying the Zero RB Strategy.
This is a loaded rookie running back class who fantasy owners will treat like shiny new toys. Finding the right rookie or the sleeper running back is the best way to win your league.
There is no silver bullet to winning your fantasy title, but the conversion back to a RB-heavy draft philosophy will lead owners to look at the major influx of rookie running backs. Which rookie running back should you draft and when? Let’s find that out and more.
If you want to see where the rookie running backs are being selected or if you want to work through different strategies, please check out the Fantasy Pros Draft Wizard.
2017 Rookie Running Backs Tiers
|Kareem Hunt||Kansas City Chiefs||Overall#: 81
|Leonard Fournette||Jacksonville Jaguars||Overall#: 21
|Christian McCaffrey||Carolina Panthers||Overall#: 28
|Dalvin Cook||Minnesota Vikings||Overall#: 35
|Joe Mixon||Cincinnati Bengals||Overall#: 36
|Alvin Kamara||New Orleans Saints||Overall#: 191
|Jamaal Williams||Green Bay Packers||Overall#: 132
|Samaje Perine||Washington Redskins||Overall#: 107
|Chris Carson||Seattle Seahawks||Overall#: 216
|Joe Williams||San Francisco 49ers||Overall#: 161
|Marlon Mack||Indianapolis Colts||Overall#: 183
|D’Onta Foreman||Houston Texans||Overall#: 182
|Tarik Cohen||Chicago Bears||Overall#: 226
|Matt Breida||San Francisco 49ers||Overall#: N/A
|DeAngelo Henderson||Denver Broncos||Overall#: 224
|Wayne Gallman||New York Giants||Overall#: 344
|Aaron Jones||Green Bay Packers||Overall#: 294
|Donnell Pumphrey||Philadelphia Eagles||Overall#: 265
|`James Connor||Pittsburgh Steelers||Overall#: 194
|Jeremy McNichols||Tampa Bay Bucaneers||Overall#: 241
|Matt Dayes||Cleveland Browns||Overall#: N/A
Tier One: Stud rookies. Owners will need to grab them early.
Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs traded three draft picks to move up to draft Kareem Hunt in the third round. With the recent news that Spencer Ware is done for the season, that will obviously vault Hunt up the rankings. Hunt has good size for an NFL running back and runs with power. Additionally, he has elite agility and short-area quickness.
He will land a starting gig on an offense that finished first in rushing DVOA two years ago and possesses one of the league’s better offensive lines. Hunt also possesses a great set of hands. This is essential since he could see a lot of passes thrown his way. Alex Smith is the check down king.
Kareem Hunt is now a rock solid No.2 with a ceiling that verges RB1 territory.
Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars
The most obvious running back target for Fantasy owners this season is Leonard Fournette, who was taken fourth overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars. He has the safest floor in terms of touches. The highly touted Fournette is a big, strong, physical running back, who will be a meager two-down back. One of the knocks on Fournette is that he not much of a pass-catcher. He caught just 41 passes and one score in 32 career college games. Therefore, his PPR upside is capped.
Another knock on his fantasy potential is the Jaguars’ offensive line. Their offensive line was 23rd in Pro Football Focus’s run blocking grades last season. They did try to improve their offensive line, but it is difficult to take another season of a gifted player being broken by the Jaguars.
The negative game script will also be an issue for the fantasy production of the former LSU Tiger. Jaguars will likely be trailing in many games this season as evidenced by the Jags finishing fourth in passing attempts last season. Blake Bortles was just named quarterback for the 2017 season. He will need to step forward or Fournette will be hard-pressed to produce on a consistent basis.
Leonard Fournette is a near lock to average 15-20 carries per game as the Jaguars try to grind out wins. Fournette could be gone as early as round two. There is too much risk and the reward must be substantial to justify this selection. Currently, he is too expensive on draft day. Ideally, you would take him in round four or five.
Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers
Christian McCaffrey was drafted eighth overall to the Carolina Panthers. He is easily the best pass-catcher of this rookie running back class. In fact, when he was drafted, he was announced as a wide receiver, not as a running back.
McCaffrey could easily be the best rookie offensive player due to his ability to produce as a runner and a pass-catcher. He is such a versatile player, who can create big plays on his own, and should be a major target through the air for Cam Newton.
A possible concern is that presents possible scheme complications. Since Cam Newton was drafted in 2011, no team in the league has thrown fewer passes to its running backs than the Panthers. Furthermore, Newton was dead last in completion percentage (55.3%) at five yards downfield or less last season.
Durability concerns will keep McCaffrey from being the No.1 back. At 5’11”, 202 lbs, he is fast and elusive with great hands and deadly in open space. The ceiling is very high for McCaffrey. McCaffery should be the first rookie running back drafted in PPR leagues. especially with Fournette making little impact catching passes. He should give you solid FLEX or possibly even RB2 production in PPR leagues. He is sure to see a strong volume of touches with many being targets which are more valuable than carries in PPR leagues.
Christian McCaffrey will dominate on passing downs and is expected to see 12-15 touches per game against a schedule that initially appears soft. He will provide immediate value and should be drafted in the late third round or early fourth in, PPR leagues. In a standard league, his value is up in the air, but he should be drafted right after the fourth round.
Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings
Cook will likely get the majority of snaps in Week 1 despite the health of Latavius Murray. However, there are concerns with Cooks’ fantasy potential based upon the poor Vikings’ offensive line and Murray’s potential to steal goal-line carries.
To remedy the offensive line issue, no team in the NFL underwent more of an offensive line overhaul than the Vikings this past offseason. There is a chance that the Vikings will have four new starters up front.
The Minnesota Vikings traded up seven spots in the second round to take running back Dalvin Cook at no. 41 overall. Cook was arguably the best running back in college football this past season at Florida State.
He ran a sub 4.5 40-yard dash at the combine and graded out as the most elusive back in college football last season. However, his disappointing effort with the athletic measurables at the combine caused him to drop out of the first round.
Additionally, Murray is an overrated back who lost a lot of snaps to Jalen Richard/DeAndre Washington last season with the Raiders and averaged just 4.04 yrc., despite running behind one of the league’s top offensive lines.
The Vikings finished 23rd in scoring last season, but they should be better. Quarterback Sam Bradford has a full offseason to master the offense and work on timing with his receivers. Cook’s receiving ability fits well with Bradford’s love of checking down.
Cook is a dual-threat back who is quick, physical and has tremendous breakaway speed. He will have a huge impact in the Vikings’ offense and will see a great volume.
Dalvin Cook is falling as far as the sixth round in some mock drafts, a tremendous value pick compared to Fournette in the second round.
Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals
Many NFL teams removed Joe Mixon off their draft boards in preparation for the 2017 NFL Draft. The Bengals have a history of drafting and securing players with character risks and troubled pasts.
Joe Mixon has a rare combination of size, speed, and agility. He is a dynamic player with immense talent who has all of the ingredients to make an all-purpose back. He is built like a workhorse and in college, he produced like one. Mixon will get a second chance to prove himself with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Unfortunately, Mixon is worse off than the above-mentioned rookie running backs. Jeremy Hill is technically the starter, but in the two seasons since his rookie breakout, Hill has failed to reach 4.0 yards per carry. Basically, surviving on volume and goal-line opportunities. He has had only two games will 100 yards rushing over the past two seasons, AND they both came against the miserable Browns. Luckily for Bengals’ fans, Hill is entering the last year of his contract.
Giovani Bernard is a fantastic receiver, but he is coming off an ACL tear that may limit him in the beginning of the season. He is a subpar runner and more of a complementary back.
Additionally, Mixon will have to deal with huge question marks with the Bengals’ offensive line. They lost two starting linemen which will lead to concerns about how the running game will fare with this new group of linemen.
Joe Mixon should have at least a complementary role to start the season and his talent should permit him to eventually pass Hill and Bernard on the depth chart. He should have instant value, especially in PPR leagues. He warrants a 5th to 7th round pick in your fantasy drafts.
Tier Two: Rookies who shined in the preseason
Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
Alvin Kamara has looked phenomenal so far this preseason. He has made big play after big play and has looked explosive.
Kamara is fast and terrifying with the ball in his hands. He will be in the third down role with Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson handling the early downs and goal-line carries. No team throws more to their running backs than do the Saints. Kamara seems perfect for the “joker’ role made popular by Darren Sproles and Reggie Bush.
I can not wait to see how Sean Payton utilizes Kamara and is someone all PPR league owners should target late in their drafts.
Jamaal Williams, Green Bay Packers
Jamaal Williams has a fantastic opportunity to earn the lead running back role with the Packers. The Packers’ running back depth chart consists of converted wide receiver Ty Montgomery and group of rookies. He is not far away from starting on one of the best offenses in the league.
Montgomery is not a true every-down back and Williams has a good chance to supplant him as the starter. He is at least a must-have handcuff to Montgomery. The fourth round pick is a good two-down back with good power but unfortunately, has little to no pass catching ability.
Jamaal Williams is being drafted in the mid-to-late rounds. He is a high-upside backup/potential starter on a good offense. Fantasy owners could do worse late in fantasy drafts.
Samaje Perine, Washington Redskins
Incumbent starter Rob Kelley entered the league as a undrafted free agent and was the starter by default. In his nine starts, he averaged only 66.8 yards per game. Although Kelley was relatively solid last season, he definitely does not have a stranglehold on the position. In fact, Rob Kelley is probably the worst starting running back in the NFL right now.
The powerful Samaje Perine is more explosive than Kelley and landed in the perfect opportunity for him to shine. Perine never averaged less than 100 yards and a touchdown per game in any college season. He should get an opportunity to be the lead back on a team last season that was 12th in the league with 24.8 points a game.
Perine has no or little PPR value with Chris Thompson handling the receiving back duties. Given the Redskins’ healthy 4.5 yards per carry as a team last season, Perine could have weekly upside and probably end up as the best value pick among the rookie running backs. If you draft Rob Kelley as your RB2, it is imperative that you handcuff Perine.
Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks
Drafted by the Seahawks in the seventh round, Carson has seen plenty of time on the field this summer due to injuries to the other Seahawks’ running backs.
Carson appears a lock for the roster after strong performances the first two weeks, both running the ball and on special teams. He forced a fumble on a kickoff against the Vikings. Most importantly, he has been the most impressive running back this preseason. He is averaging 4.4 yards per carry and 16.0 yards per catch while scoring two touchdowns. He has out snapped Eddie Lacy with the first team offense in the third exhibition game. The rookie has earned himself some playing time and a part of the game-day rotation.
He is the best and healthiest running back on the roster and a wild card in the running back rotation. Fantasy owners should take a shot with Carson late in their fantasy drafts.
Tier Three: Rookies who have an opportunity to unseat the starter
Joe Williams, San Francisco 49ers
Joe Williams was handpicked by Head Coach Kyle Shanahan in the NFL Draft. He is a one-dimensional back. He is not much of a pass catcher. Williams might get opportunities and early reports indicate that he will be in a timeshare with fellow rookie Matt Breida and starter Carlos Hyde.
Joe Williams should be drafted with one of your last rounds picks as a flier. A must draft pick for Carlos Hyde owners.
Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts
Everyone keeps doubting Frank Gore but he continues to produce 1000-plus yards every season. Some day he will slow down. It seems quite obvious that he can no longer create for himself and only gets what is blocked.
The fourth round pick is speedy and has big-play upside who looks to fit nicely with Andrew Luck and the Colts’ fast track. Although he has to battle Robert Turbin, who has been an underperformer his entire career for playing time, Mack can beat out Turbin and at least carve out a pass-catching role.
Mack should definitely be drafted as a handcuff for Gore owners. He is a sneaky late-round flier.
D’Onta Freeman, Houston Texans
D’Onta Freeman won the Doak Walker award last season as the nation’s best running back. He is a big bruiser-type running back who can complement starter Lamar Miller quite nicely. He will be a solid third on the Texans’ depth chart behind veterans Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue. Miller has a checkered injury history and Blue has never really looked like a true RB1.
Freeman is a promising handcuff to Miller, who should see plenty of red zone carries. He will be the short yardage specialist and TD dependent in terms of fantasy. He is worthy of a late-round pick but only for those Lamar Miller owners.
Tarik Cohen, Chicago Bears
The diminutive 5-foot-6, 181 pounder is making a major argument for being the team’s No.2 running back. He showed fantastic quickness and burst in his cuts and unquestionably has the speed to reach the corner on a consistent basis.
Cohen is settling in for the change-of-pace role and will open the season as the handcuff to starter Jordan Howard. Those Jordan Howard owners should be sure to take Cohen as one of their last round picks.
Tier Four: Rookies part of crowded backfields but should contribute
Matt Breida, San Francisco 49ers
Matt Breida is an undrafted rookie, but it appears to have earned not just a 53-man roster spot, but a significant role in the offense.
In Sunday night’s third preseason game, Breida was the second running back to get on the field after starter Carlos Hyde, and Breida led the team with seven carries for 29 yards.
Breida may have taken over Joe Williams for the handcuff role to Carlos Hyde. Breida is a deep sleeper, who definitely should be drafted by Hyde owners.
DeAngelo Henderson, Denver Broncos
Henderson (5-7, 208 pounds) was selected by the team in the sixth round of this year’s draft out of Coastal Carolina. He’s seemingly a lock to make the 53-man roster after impressing in preseason. He has shined so far this preseason, including a 41-yard TD run and several impact plays as a receiver.
He is a stash candidate who likely won’t have a big role to start the season, but could grow into one sooner than later. His skill set and fantasy buzz are real.
Wayne Gallman, New York Giants
Wayne Gallman will start the season as third on the Giants’ RB depth chart. Paul Perkins is the starter and has shown to be ineffective with his opportunities. Veteran Shane Vereen will also be ahead of Gallman but he is so brittle and will only serve as the pass-catching back.
Gallman probably won’t be drafted but he is someone to monitor. The lack of quality in front of him should pave the way for Gallman to take advantage of the opportunity and possibly take over.
Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers
Aaron Jones was one of three running backs drafted by the Packers this year. The Packers used converted wide receiver Ty Montgomery as the main ball carrier at the end of the season.
Jones and Jamaal Williams are both looking to gain playing time in the Packers’ backfield. Jones is a big-play threat who will be someone for fantasy owners to monitor but should be undrafted.
Donnel Pumphrey, Philadelphia Eagles
Pumphrey finished as the FBS’ all-time leader in rushing yards. He is an elusive 5-foot-9, 176-pound running back who is listed as fourth on the Eagles’ running back depth chart.
Pumphrey looks to be a Darren Sproles clone and with Sproles retiring after this season, he can learn from Sproles and possibly take over the pass-catching back in 2018. He should go undrafted in upcoming redraft leagues.
Tier Five: In case of emergency (Bell is injured)
James Connor, Pittsburgh Steelers
James Connor only has possible fantasy appeal because he is LeVeon Bell’s backup. Bell has been injured several times during his career, and if you were to miss any action, Connor would instantly become fantasy relevant. He should only be drafted by Bell’s owners as his handcuff.
Tier Six: The longest of long shots
Jeremy McNichols, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
He landed in one of the league’s most crowded backfields. He has three quality running backs to compete for work. Someone not worth drafting in redraft leagues.
Matt Dayes, Cleveland Browns
|2017 Fantasy Football Position Previews|
|Quarterbacks||Running Backs||Wide Receivers||Tight Ends|
For more F6P preseason coverage please visit our 2017 Draft Kit section.
Source: NFL News