With the NFL Draft in the books, it is time for prospective fantasy players to begin formulating their initial draft boards to put themselves in the best position to end the season as champions. With a running back class being hailed as “historic” in terms of its talent level entering the league, correctly evaluating these NFL newbies is of paramount importance to victory.
In my years studying the draft, I have not come across a prospect quite like Fournette. Think back to Andrew Luck. Universally acclaimed, Luck was considered not only a sure-fire Top 10 pick, but also near guaranteed to develop into an NFL Star. Take those feelings and apply them to a running back, and you have Leonard Fournette. Bowling over the competition at Baton Rouge, only injuries slowed Fournette from reaching the Heisman heights that his talent level was destined for. Notwithstanding his all-word size/speed combination, Fournette possesses the little things that truly separate the good from the great, including incredible vision and blocking skills that will get him on the field early and often. Playing for a Jaguars team looking to take pressure off of the erratic Blake Bortles, ballparking Fournette for RB1 production from day one is not only plausible, it’s likely. Take him in the 2nd round at the latest…this beast won’t last much longer.
I’m going to put this bluntly: much of the (unwarranted) criticism surrounding McCaffrey centres around the colour of his skin. As a white running back, McCaffrey bucks the trend of “unorthodox” predecessors (such as Peyton Hillis) through outstanding elusiveness and versatility rather than brute force. McCaffrey was THE all-purpose weapon at Stanford, with Coach David Shaw utilizing his swiss-army knife not only as an every down back, but additionally as both a slot and outside receiver (not to mention as a returner). McCaffrey was drafted with the intent to take pressure off of Cam Newton, which he should be able to do on the real-world football field. However, the running back room in Carolina is crowded with lead back Jonathan Stewart still present. Don’t expect consistent RB ½ production, but McCaffrey should be able to make up for it through his tantalizing receiving production.
A surprise faller, Cook fell out of the first round due to a poor combine performance. However, one needs only to watch Cook’s final game at Florida State to understand the level of talent he possesses. Cook has been compared to Jamaal Charles, but I personally see a lot of Le’Veon Bell in his game given his outstanding vision and open-field decision making. Regardless of his talent, Cook should have an opportunity to play early in Minnesota despite the presence of Latavius Murray. The Vikings did not have a first round pick, and had other needs to address in the 2nd round such as along the offensive line. Yet, they took Cook, indicating that they see him as a potential lead back. With Murray in the fold, I expect Cook to be phased into the offense gradually, but by the end of the season, we will be talking about him as the clear lead back for the run-heavy Minnesota Vikings, a position formerly occupied by one of the greatest fantasy players of his generation; Adrian Peterson.
What Mixon did prior to being taken by the Bengals was heinous, there really is no way around it. However, from a pure football perspective, Mixon possesses the talent to start early for the Bengals. Therein lies the tricky part. Mixon joins a running back room that already includes Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, two talented players in their own rights. Therefore, despite his outstanding running and receiving ability, Mixon can be ignored until the later rounds where fantasy players can take a chance on a talented, albeit controversial player.
Jamaal Williams and Kareem Hunt
Williams and Hunt enter into situations where they can play quite early despite their draft position, specifically Williams. For Hunt, playing in a run-heavy Kansas City offense behind injury prone Spencer Ware could open up the opportunity for the Toledo back to get a healthy amount of carries, but Williams is the one who is really intriguing. The only thing standing between Williams and a heavy workload is a slew of (less talented) rookie running backs on the Packer roster as well as Ty Montgomery, a player still in the process of transitioning from receiver to full time running back. Williams had the production at BYU to warrant consideration much earlier on in the draft, but similarly to Jordan Howard last year, fell partially due to the perceived talent level of the rest of the class. All thing considered, both Williams and Hunt are intriguing sleepers at the running back position.
The strength and depth of this class is outstanding. Potential lead backs litter all 7 rounds, with those highlighted being merely the tip of the iceberg. Expect rookie running backs to dominate the fantasy storyline this year…you better wrap one up for yourself during your draft or else risk missing out.