2017's NFL rookie running back class was extremely deep and could make or break a fantasy team this year. Don't miss out on the rookie running backs who may break out like Ezekiel Elliot did last year:
Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Leonard Fournette is the most NFL ready back of the 2017 draft class. He's been NFL ready since his freshman year at LSU where he rushed for over 1,000 yards in a tough SEC environment. The New Orleans, LA born RB, which played up the road in Baton Rouge, LA won't be too far from home. What won't be familiar; is the polar opposite environment Jacksonville, FL is from Death Valley in Baton Rouge. The Jacksonville Jaguars haven't made the playoffs since 2007. They need help. Help fast. Fournette doesn't have too tough of competition to win the starting job throughout training camp. Ahead of him are T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory which were used sparingly last year in a pass-heavy offense which saw Blake Bortles continuously turn over the ball in a disappointing sophomore season as Quarterback. The Jags should use Fournette early and often to take some pressure off of Bortles. It will be interesting to see if Fournette is injury-prone in the NFL as a player who doesn't mind contact. He'll get touches; the only hesitancy is the amount they'll keep Yeldon and Ivory involved. Expect some late RB2 fantasy production out of him.
Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings
Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings have parted ways. It will be odd seeing Peterson in Saints colors and it will be even more obscure seeing other running backs in the backfield in purple for the Vikings. Dalvin Cook may see the most action behind center out of any of the rookie running backs. The all-time leading rusher for the Florida State Seminoles had the clearest shot to a starting job in my opinion. Latavius Murray who is ahead of Cook on the depth chart is currently on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. Additionally, quarterback isn't a strength of the Vikings who will surely want to take pressure off of Sam Bradford. Dalvin Cook's speed and pass-catching ability gives him a strength as a 3-down back and has the potential to be the breakout rookie RB.
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers
Christian McCaffrey has huge upside coming into a good situation this year. Carolina is hoping for a bounce back after a disappointing season this past year. The Panther's style suits McCaffrey very well and it is something they have been lacking since Cam Newton took the reins. McCaffrey's speed along with his catching ability should get him significant time in Carolina's backfield. Jonathan Stewart is now 30 years old, and averaged 3.8 YPC last season (2016) compared to 4.1 (2015) and 4.6 (2014) the last two seasons. This gives McCaffrey some serious opportunity in a play-calling scheme that suits his talents. As a son of the once great Denver Broncos WR Ed McCaffrey, he understands what it takes to become an NFL great. McCaffrey is a smaller player, so it should be interesting to see how he takes to NFL hits throughout the preseason. Expect some RB2 fantasy production with some upside.
Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
Joe Mixon is surely the most controversial back on this list - everyone has seen and or heard of his video. The Bengals are familiar with troubled situations - I won't run through the list for the sake of everyone. The Bengals are deep at running back so Joe Mixon's contributions this year is something to keep an eye on. Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard will get the majority of touches in Cincinnati. The Bengals will be committed to the run though, that is for sure. Joe Mixon seems to be a good mix of both backs - bigger than Gio and faster than Jeremy Hill. I wouldn't expect too much from Joe Mixon unless he breaks out in his seldom touches. I would expect him to be the go-to back late in the 2017 or going into the 2018 season, especially if the Bengals disappoint again this upcoming year.
Wayne Gallman, RB, New York Giants
I've always stated the New York football Giants would be one of the best teams in the NFL every year if they committed to and stuck with the run. A combination of bad-play calling, suspect offensive lineman, and a pass-heavy offense has stifled this. The G-Men haven't had a solid running back in quite some time and usually use some form of running back by committee. They chose the athletic speedster Wayne Gallman in an attempt to adapt their running game with the current NFL culture - a receiving back! I would not be any bit surprised to see Gallman take on the starting role by mid-season and be an effective back. Definitely worth a late round pick, and by that, I mean a last round sleeper.
Marlon Mack, RB, Indianapolis Colts
Marlon Mack is an injury away from a break out as a rookie back. An older Frank Gore and veteran Robert Turbin are ahead of him currently. He broke University of South Florida's all-time leading rushing record along with most rushing yards by a freshman during his freshman year. Training camp should indicate if he will be utilized or not by the Colts. It will be worth keeping an eye on Mack throughout the season - he could become a vital waiver-wire pickup if he becomes utilized behind Andrew Luck.
James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
James Conner could surprise some people this year, but it won't surprise anyone in Pittsburgh. He is currently leading the NFL in jersey sales, surpassing Tom Brady. The fan favorite was lucky enough to be drafted by the team with the great football team - the Pittsburgh Steelers. His career at the University of Pittsburgh was historic and remarkable - who wouldn't want a kid on their team who battled cancer and showed tremendous resiliency on and off of the field. As Le'Veon Bell has shown, he could sit out some games due to injury and or suspension. James Conner will be filling in for those games if needed. I wouldn't expect much production out of Conner if Bell is healthy and the Steelers need him, as they don't spell Bell very much, other than some third down and pass-blocking situations. Conner's workload in his final season at Pitt was a bit less than his remarkable sophomore season, but there shouldn't be too huge of a workload for him with Bell healthy. In deep leagues, he may be worth a late draft pick.
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