1. Leonard Fournette, Jac
Drafted: 1st round, 4th overall
Scouting Report: Let’s just get this out of the way: Fournette’s size/speed combo, at least in conjunction with tape that clearly backed up his workout metrics, is going to be unmatched in this class. He’s big, powerful, and speedy. He’ll be compared to Derrick Henry, but on tape, we think Fournette used his size far better than Henry, despite Henry having very impressive metrics in his own right. Fournette, more so than Henry, had immediate speed, while Henry’s speed was more of a build up. In a very restricted LSU offense, Fournette at times just completely took over games, at least before his injury-plagued 2016 season (turn on his 2015 Auburn game for dominance personified). Fournette missed five games in 2016 with a lingering left ankle injury, and he opted to sit out LSU’s bowl game to get healthy, and fortunately it looks like he’ll be completely ready to make an impact for his new NFL team. Fournette scored 41 TDs at LSU in just 32 career games, running for 3830 yards and 6.2 YPC. While he wasn’t asked to catch the ball much in college (just 41 receptions), he showed an aptitude in this area that suggests he won’t be a zero on third downs at the next level, especially since he was pretty solid in pass protection as well. Fournette is an excellent interior and outside runner, though he struggled out of shotgun, perhaps a sign of how limiting LSU’s offense was. And given LSU’s passing game has struggled for ages, Fournette consistently saw boxes of eight or more defenders, but was successful as a runner anyway. In 2015, when he wasn’t as limited by his bad ankle, he showed more lateral agility than in 2016, though that isn’t his game anyway. The concern with Fournette – and why we had him ranked lower than Christian McCaffrey pre-draft – is that he needs a specific fit and role to reach his potential. While we don’t think Fournette will be useless on third downs, his struggles in the shotgun in college must be accounted for. But there’s no doubt he has the natural ability to one day lead the NFL in rushing, and that’s going to make him very appealing for dynasty players.
Fantasy Analysis: The Jaguars completely showed their hand in the 2017 NFL Draft, spending the #4 overall pick on Fournette, while using their early second-round pick on Alabama G/T Cam Robinson. They’re going to run the hell out of the ball. New team president Tom Coughlin and head coach Doug Marrone (a former offensive lineman) had their fingerprints all over this draft. The Jaguars continued to build up their defense through free agency this off-season, and their plan is obviously to run the ball, win low-scoring games, and hide Blake Bortles. With Robinson and Branden Albert added to the line, they’re hoping for at least some improvement up front. And make no mistake, the Jaguars didn’t draft Fournette to make him a rotational player. While there are concerns about Fournette’s ability to play out of shotgun and contribute on third downs, he has a slam-dunk role on early downs (we’re going to guess that Coughlin won’t be fond of Chris Ivory’s 6 fumbles on 137 touches). In other words, we wouldn’t be shocked if Fournette returns top-12 value in 2017, much like a Jordan Howard did last year. There should still be a role here for T.J. Yeldon on passing downs, but the Jaguars drafted Fournette to be their centerpiece, much like the Cowboys did with Ezekiel Elliott a season ago. Fournette’s situation isn’t nearly as good as that, but he still makes sense as a 2nd-round type of fantasy pick in all formats. If he’s healthy, 250 carries are a near lock. Compare his situation to that of Todd Gurley: whom would you rather have?
2. Christian McCaffrey, Car
Drafted: 1st round, 8th overall
Scouting Report: McCaffrey has been one of the best players in college football the last two years, and he probably should have won the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore in 2015, when he posted 2664 yards from scrimmage, and added 1200 yards and 2 TDs as a return man. With his 3864 all-purpose yards, he absolutely shattered Barry Sanders’ previous record of 3250. McCaffrey’s junior season wasn’t as good, as the Stanford team around him was appreciably worse, and on top of that he had minor injury issues – he missed one game with an undisclosed injury, and then chose to sit out Stanford’s bowl game to avoid risking his health prior to the Draft (a move we support). But in looking back on McCaffrey’s college career, we see a total-package player who could be an instant-impact fantasy option. The son of former Broncos star WR Ed McCaffrey, Christian doesn’t have ideal size, but he has everything else you look for in a potential star running back. Despite relatively small hands (9”), he had just three fumbles in college. He has the ability to run a full route tree either out of the backfield and split out, and he has the skills to not just torch linebackers and safeties, but occasionally corners as well. McCaffrey’s exceptional agility was on display at the combine, with his stellar 6.57-second three-cone drill and 11.03-second 60-yard shuttle, and above-average scores in the vertical and broad jumps indicate more lower-body power than you might have expected. On film, McCaffrey also excelled as an interior runner, and gave more than enough effort as a pass protector, though he can stand to improve in that area (like most college RBs can, to be fair). In all, McCaffrey fits multiple blocking schemes, with the QB under center or in the shotgun, and can contribute immediately on third downs and special teams. Our favorite comp for him was one proposed by our guy Fran Duffy of PhiladelphiaEagles.com – Brian Westbrook. You can also see some Ray Rice or Tiki Barber in his game. While those guys weren’t big and weren’t going to run people over like Jerome Bettis, they all certainly had major fantasy value as three-down backs.
Fantasy Analysis: The only reason we have McCaffrey lower than Leonard Fournette in 2017 (he’s still our #1 dynasty back) is simply because we feel Fournette has a bigger guaranteed role – the Panthers extended Jonathan Stewart, and we’d anticipate the vet will still have some work. Additionally, Cam Newton has never really had this type of player before, and we’re wondering if a less aggressive approach to his passing game will take some learning. That said, Panther OC Mike Shula is one of the NFL’s most creative run-game coordinators, and McCaffrey’s versatility is a wonderful fit for that attack. But again, there still must be a philosophical change to the Panthers’ offense to get the most out of McCaffrey – their entire backfield combined for just 44 receptions in 2016, and that number for McCaffrey alone would be disappointingly low. We’d feel pretty good about McCaffrey’s ability to translate to the slot as well, but the Panthers’ second-round pick of Ohio State’s Curtis Samuel ostensibly fills that role. What we have now is a player we love, in a theoretical good fit, but there remain plenty of questions. As we stand now, McCaffrey is likely a 4th-round pick in redraft leagues, and spending that kind of capital on him does take a bit of a leap of faith. Fortunately, Shula is a creative offensive coach.
3. Joe Mixon, Cin
Drafted: 2nd round, 48th overall
Scouting Report: Nothing we say here about Mixon will be surprising, considering he’s been one of the most discussed and debated prospects in the entire class. In 2014, Mixon was suspended for the entire year at Oklahoma following a misdemeanor assault involving a woman at a local café in July of that year. Mixon was captured on tape punching the woman, and the woman eventually needed surgery for a broken jaw. He entered an Alford plea in court and received a one-year deferred sentence, then settled with his victim and apologized publicly shortly before the draft. Whether teams believe this is an isolated incident or not (and Mixon did have a later incident involving intimidating parking attendant, though he didn’t strike the attendant), many were not willing to take the PR hit drafting Mixon would entail, especially since the incident was captured on video (like Ray Rice). But all it takes is one team, and the Bengals likely saw Mixon’s electrifying tape and measurables and consider him the best RB in this draft class, which on field, he may well be. Big and explosive, Mixon has economy of movement in the short area plus excellent patience and vision. He isn’t as otherworldly patient as a Le’Veon Bell, but he has the subtle movement of an Arian Foster in his prime, with far more burst. He has a subtle understanding of how runs are supposed to work, and sets up his blocks well. Mixon is an excellent blocker and receiver, which gives him instant third-down value in the NFL. Of Mixon’s few on-field weaknesses, one may be a Chris Johnson-like tendency to look to bust a big play instead of using his natural size and power to grind out a few extra yards, ending up with a negative run. Other than that, Mixon really has no discernible serious downside on his game film. In many ways, he was the lightning to Samaje Perine’s thunder, and on film, is the better prospect. Mixon wasn’t invited to the NFL Combine because of the incident, so a lot of teams needed to do homework on their own time when interviewing Mixon. The Bengals were obviously comfortable, but according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, they were one of just four teams with Mixon on their board.
Fantasy Analysis: The Bengals currently appear deep at RB, but if you want to boil it down to the simplest possible terms, Jeremy Hill stinks and Giovani Bernard is coming off an ACL tear. Since averaging 5.1 YPC as a rookie in 2014, Hill has averaged 3.7 YPC on 445 carries in the two years since. The Bengals clearly drafted Mixon because they believe he can be their lead back almost immediately. At bare minimum, he can contribute as a receiver in the early going, but he also is a more gifted runner than either Hill or Bernard. The Bengals’ in-flux offensive line is a concern, and Mixon will occasionally have the tendency to be patient to the point of fault, but overall, he’s as big as Hill and plays like Bernard. That’s a massive combination when it comes to fantasy. Of course, those considering taking him with a rookie pick – or re-draft pick – must consider Mixon’s history. We would imagine the Bengals (and if not them, the NFL overall) will have zero tolerance for any bad behavior from Mixon, especially as it relates to his treatment of women. On the field, we’d expect Mixon to be the Bengals’ lead back sooner rather than later, and he has the skills to play on third downs. That total package gives him the upside to be the #1 scorer among this rookie class, but his competition, his line, and his history give us some pause.
4. Dalvin Cook, Min
Drafted: 2nd round, 41st overall
Scouting Report: We were completely prepared to rank Cook #1 among RBs pre-draft, given his complete game on film and consistent production at Florida State. In three years are a starter with the Seminoles, Cook posted 5399 yards from scrimmage and 48 TDs in 38 games. He ran for over 1000 yards in each of his three years in Tallahassee, and that includes 1691 and 1765 the last two years, respectively. But a shockingly poor performance at the NFL Combine has to give us at least a little pause. Though Cook’s 4.49-second 40-yard dash was strong and not surprising, he was horrific in the shuttle and three-cone drills, posting terrible scores for any RB, let alone one his size. That simply didn’t line up with the player we saw on film, but Cook opted to not repeat the drills in his March pro day, suggesting he was concerned with confirming his struggles there. His combine was a shock to just about everyone who watched Cook in college, who saw a complete back who performed behind a bad offensive line in a variety of run schemes (both under center and in the shotgun). Cook, on film, both ran away from defenders and made them miss in a phone booth. He was occasionally too patient, but often showed how to set up blocks and burst through the hole. Though not a great receiver, he was quick enough to beat linebackers and safeties in coverage, and on a few occasions ran vertical routes when split out wide. He has decent hands, though he had 12 fumbles in college, and that must be cleaned up. Everything about Cook’s tape suggests he’s a future fantasy star and complete NFL back. Most everything about his Combine suggests we’re missing something. Our guess is NFL teams weighed the tape more so than the metrics, but the metrics, combined with injury and off-field concerns, knocked Cook out of the first round. Cook has had shoulder problems in the recent past, including two surgeries on his right shoulder at Florida State, and one on his left shoulder in high school. Moreover, Cook was placed on trial – and later fully acquitted after a quick deliberation – for an alleged misdemeanor battery involving a woman outside a bar in 2014. In 2015, Cook was also cited for animal cruelty, mostly for tying up some young puppies too tightly. He also had a couple minor transgressions while in high school. Fair or not, Cook’s poor combine placed a bigger spotlight on some of his negatives, though we still believe the player’s tape is impressive enough that he should succeed in the NFL.
Fantasy Analysis: We really are not thrilled with Cook’s post-draft landing spot. The Vikings had one of the NFL’s most ineffective run games last year, which is surely why they made it a point to trade up and acquire Cook during the draft, even after signing Latavius Murray during the off-season. After all, Vikings players combined for 3.2 YPC on 380 carries last season, which is absolutely horrific. However, did the Vikings truly nip the major issue – the offensive line – in the bud? Their new tackle additions, Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers, aren’t terribly impressive, though we do like third-round center Pat Elflein. Cook has plenty of experience running behind a bad offensive line (as Graham Barfield notes in his Yards Created profile), but going to the NFL is a huge change. Combine that with Murray ostensibly filling third-down/goal-line work and Jerick McKinnon still working in somewhere, and we have the biggest question about Cook’s immediate value of all the backs selected in the first two rounds. Keep in mind, also, that off-field and injury concerns played into Cook’s slide, though his off-field issues weren’t as publicly debated as much as Joe Mixon’s. We believe in Cook the player and would lay the biggest wager on him to lead this backfield in carries, but there’s an uphill climb to major fantasy relevance. His summer ADP will be fascinating to watch.
5. Alvin Kamara, NO
Drafted: 3rd round, 67th overall
Scouting Report: Kamara spent only two seasons at Tennessee after playing at a JUCO for his freshman year, after he spent a suspension-riddled redshirt season at Alabama (he was arrested once for driving with a suspended license, among other charges). At Tennessee, Kamara had just 284 touches in 24 games (11.8 per game), but he showed explosive third-down type ability while splitting carries with other backs (notably Jalen Hurd). More importantly, Kamara dedicated himself to his craft and cleaned up his behavior, and was even a captain as a junior. Kamara has shown no traits of a true feature back, especially with his indecisiveness running inside and Tennessee’s almost exclusively shotgun attack, but he could be an immediate impact player in a rotation or in a certain type of offense. An impressive Combine will just push him up boards. Though Kamara didn’t do the agility drills (which was a common theme among RBs in this Combine), he showed fantastic explosion with an elite 131” broad jump and 39.5” vertical jump. And that explosion shows up on tape, when Kamara gets to the perimeter or is given a bunch of open space as a return man, even though there isn’t much wiggle to him at all. Kamara was often separated from the formation as a receiver or put into motion on jet sweeps, and he has enough short-area burst to bounce off arm tackles. His blocking technique is merely OK, but more importantly, he’s willing to stick his nose in there. On the downside, we’ve already mentioned his previous off-field issues and lack of a true workload, and he missed three games with a recurring knee problem in 2016. That all being said, we can’t forget that Kenyan Drake was the third RB taken in last year’s NFL Draft despite a similar type of skill set, and the usage of a player like Tevin Coleman in Atlanta shows there is going to be a market for someone of Kamara’s versatile skillset and elite lower-body explosion.
Fantasy Analysis: The Saint backfield will continue to be a massive fantasy headache, assuming they don’t move Mark Ingram, after drafting Kamara and signing Adrian Peterson. But at the least, Sean Payton has experience getting production out of this role. The assumption, based on his college role and skill set, is that Kamara will play the Reggie Bush/Darren Sproles role in the Saint offense. And while Kamara doesn’t figure to get more than 10-12 touches per game in that role, keep in mind that between 2007 and 2013, that role produced four top-12 PPR FPG seasons (two each for Bush and Sproles). We don’t expect Peterson to siphon much work from Kamara, since they’re completely different players, so the big concerns here for Kamara are the more balanced Ingram and Payton’s favorite vultures, Travaris Cadet and John Kuhn. Kamara is worth a middle-round redraft pick for upside alone in PPR formats, and is a very interesting late-1st-round rookie pick.
6. Samaje Perine, Was
Drafted: 4th round, 114th overall
Scouting Report: Perine is a big boy. At 5’11” and 233 pounds, he was the thunder to Joe Mixon’s lightning at Oklahoma, and was an expert in wearing down defenders, as he showed early on in his college career. As a freshman against Kansas, Perine carried 34 times for 427 yards and 6 TDs, setting the FBS single-game rushing record (which Melvin Gordon had set just the week before). In all, Perine ran for 4122 yards and 49 TD in college, with his rushing totals decreasing every year (mostly because Mixon was suspended in 2014 but returned in the final two years of Perine’s career). But nothing on Perine’s film suggests he’s a different player than he was as a freshman. Big and mean, Perine downright bounces off defenders, and arm-tackling him is just not an option. There’s not a lot of nuance to Perine’s game, but he has softer feet than you might think for a guy his size, and Perine did pretty well in Oklahoma’s zone-blocking schemes (you’d figure his skillset would fit better in gap schemes). Not surprisingly, Perine’s timed agility drills at the Combine were subpar, but agility isn’t his game anyway. Combined with his natural power and lower-body strength, however, Perine has more than enough wiggle to miss tacklers. A willing blocker with decent hands (and he got better at both throughout his career), Perine should be able to play in third-and-short instances, though he wasn’t asked to catch the ball a lot for the Sooners. There are much better prospects in this class, but Perine fits Washington well.
Fantasy Analysis: Talk about a no-brainer fit. As a low-to-the-ground bruiser, Perine fits exactly what Washington has looked for in its lead back under Jay Gruden, starting with the drafting of Matt Jones two years ago and the emergence of UDFA Rob Kelley last year. Not to take away from a pretty impressive rookie season for Kelley, but Perine is just a much better athlete and producer than Kelley, and our money is on Perine usurping him as Washington’s lead back as early as Week 1 (also, this likely spells doom for Jones, who lost significant trust with his ball-security issues). Chris Thompson will still be around to take the majority of the passing-down work, and it obviously must be said that he was barely useful for fantasy despite leading this backfield in snaps in 2016. We think Perine has the ability to be an adequate receiver, but will he get that opportunity? Nonetheless, should he blow past Kelley at some point, he should get plenty of TD opportunities on what should still be an effective offense behind one of the NFL’s best offensive lines.
7. Kareem Hunt, KC
Drafted: 3rd round, 86th overall
Scouting Report: On film, we have a hard time finding a lot of backs we like more than Hunt. He handled a true three-down workload at Toledo, posting 5500 yards from scrimmage and 45 TDs in his four years with the Rockets. Hunt took a huge step forward as a senior, especially in the passing game, when he added 41 receptions to his 262 carries, meaning he averaged 23.3 touches per game in his final year on campus. Hunt has exceptional balance, phenomenal power, and just an innate toughness to his game that is hard to replicate. He’s a willing blocker, a competent receiver, and an all-around competitor. And we were prepared to rank him very aggressively… until a poor showing at the NFL Combine. Now, it’s worth noting the only thing “poor” about Hunt’s Combine was the fact that his 40 time was 4.62. He had a very good 36.5” vertical, and a solid 119” broad jump. He’s not Alvin Kamara in the lower-body explosion department, but those numbers will do. However, he didn’t run the agility drills, and it left us wondering “why?” Perhaps Hunt’s size has something to do with it. Toledo listed him at 225, he played that big on film, but weighed in at just 209 at the Senior Bowl, where he dominated. Then, he weighed in at 216 just a couple weeks later at the Combine. Teams need to figure out what Hunt’s ideal playing weight is, and if his measurables were affected by his changing weight. For what it’s worth, Hunt improved his 40 time into the 4.5s several weeks later at his Pro Day, suggesting he was getting more comfortable with his weight. In college, Hunt also had a couple of issues. He was suspended two games for a violation of team rules in 2015, and also missed time with ankle and hamstring injuries. However, he stayed out of trouble and on the field stayed healthy, and was a truly dominant player as a senior.
Fantasy Analysis: We love this spot for Hunt, who was clearly viewed as highly by the Chiefs as we viewed him – a third-round pick is early for a running back in this day and age. Spencer Ware (4.3 YPC) was the only Chief RB to average more than 3.3 YPC last year, though Tyreek Hill helped offset some of that. Ware was certainly effective enough, especially as a receiver, but he really started to wear down in his first year as a full-time runner, and surprisingly scored just 5 total TDs. We expect Ware to enter the season as the Chiefs’ top back, since he wasn’t bad by any stretch last year, but Hunt will have a chance to emerge here, for sure. Charcandrick West was not good in 2016, and Hunt will at least have an excellent shot to pass him for #2 duties. In Hunt, we saw an elusive, competitive football player who can contribute on third downs as a blocker and receiver. He may not play a lot right away, but we do believe he could have the Chiefs’ lead back role as early as mid-season.
8. Jamaal Williams, GB
Drafted: 4th round, 134th overall
Scouting Report: Williams was one of those players we really wanted to like more given his production at BYU (4468 yards from scrimmage and 36 TDs in 43 career games), but we really did not enjoy his tape as much as the numbers would suggest. A straight-line banger who didn’t break as many tackles as you’d like to see, Williams also didn’t exhibit the vision we’d want to see from a zone scheme back. He’s tall and runs high, so he presents a big frame for defenders to take on, though we would certainly say Williams played with adequate toughness. What we saw was a pure short-yardage gap-scheme grinder, which really limits his potential landing spots in the NFL. Additionally, he missed action in each of the last two years with knee and ankle injuries, and he served a suspension as a junior as well. However, Williams exhibited solid ball security, good blocking form, and the ability to catch the ball, which makes him an intriguing fit with the Packers. In ways, he’s a Latavius Murray type, but without Murray’s insane open-field burst. Williams’ Combine tests showed just about zero lateral agility, and the tape backs that up. He just never exhibited the athleticism a feature back ideally will have.
Fantasy Analysis: Williams gets this spot in our initial post-draft rankings, but it could change very quickly, as the Packers drafted two other backs in Aaron Jones and Devante Mays. Since Williams was the top choice of those three, ostensibly he’s the guy the Packers like best, and he does provide the biggest contrast from WR-turned-RB Ty Montgomery in the backfield. Because he’s a short-yardage specialist who can block, he’ll also fit what the Packers do. We just don’t think he’s a particularly special runner, and both backs taken after him may have more natural ability. It’s going to take well into the season for Williams’ role to shake out, and training camp will be incredibly important for his ADP. If he does win the #2 job, we could see 6-8 rushing TDs here, however.
9. D’Onta Foreman, Hou
Drafted: 3rd round, 89th overall
Scouting Report: When turning Foreman’s tape on, we were… bored for lack of a better term. That’s hard to justify considering he’s a 230-pound back who ran for 2028 yards and 15 TD in his junior season, his first as a full-time player. But Texas’ offensive line opened massive holes for Foreman, and we very rarely saw him against heavy boxes, like Leonard Fournette and even Christian McCaffrey consistently saw this year. In many ways, we didn’t think Foreman used his size well, and he exhibited just about no wiggle in the open field. Of course, we went back and watched Foreman again after reports of a blazing 4.45-second 40-yard dash at his late March pro day. No doubt, Foreman’s timed speed is impressive, but we still didn’t feel as if he was particularly impressive on film. He didn’t run as tough as a guy like Samaje Perine, nor did he have any other areas of his game that impressed us. He was horrendous in pass protection, didn’t do anything as a receiver, and lost six fumbles (to be fair, he did have a hand injury). So really, we saw a back who did one thing pretty damn well – run in a straight line (and in short yardage). That doesn’t mean Foreman can’t fit with a team that can put him in a position to succeed, but what is his fantasy upside if he’s going to be a zero on third downs?
Fantasy Analysis: We weren’t huge fans of Foreman, but we actually really like the spot for him. Over the past three seasons, the Texans have given backup RB Alfred Blue 452 carries, to the tune of 3.6 YPC. And though starter Lamar Miller had an overall solid 2016 campaign, there was just something missing on his tape, and he doesn’t feel like a true “lead” back who gets better as the game wears on. It’s worth noting that our guy Greg Cosell feels we didn’t give enough credit to Foreman’s open field smoothness, where he isn’t flashy but has light feet. We expect to see the Texans run the ball quite a bit to support rookie QB Deshaun Watson, and 8-10 carries per game for Foreman behind Miller is not out of the question. At the very least, he’s instantly the best back behind Miller, and will be a priority handcuff in redraft leagues. Just don’t expect much as a receiver, which will ultimately limit his fantasy upside.
10. Joe Williams, SF
Drafted: 4th round, 121st overall
Scouting Report: Williams is an enigma in more ways than one. The first question he certainly had to answer in interviews with NFL teams will surround his bizarre “retirement” early in the 2016 season. All the information suggests that Williams was unhappy with his role on the Utah football team, and chose to quit rather than compete for touches, though Williams attributes it to bumps and bruises he had accumulated through the years in junior college (notably back and knee pain). But the team asked Williams back when several other RBs got hurt, and Williams proceeded to run for 1407 yards and 10 TD in just nine games for the Utes. On film, Williams showed a good body for running inside, as a player who can make defenders miss and run them over. The problem was Williams knows he’s a better athlete than most defenders, and he would occasionally look to bounce runs and not process what he was seeing clearly. He fumbled way too often, and he was a complete zero as both a receiver and blocker, which really limits him at the next level. The positives? Wheew, it’s that athletic profile. Williams has legitimate NFL speed, and at the very least you would think he could make it as a rotational player and return man. But the Niners had to deduce how committed he is to the game, considering he’s admitted he lost his love for it under a year ago, before returning to Utah’s program. His lack of third-down skills and questionable vision don’t help matters, either.
Fantasy Analysis: This is an interesting pick, considering 49er GM John Lynch admitted he took Williams off his board for commitment issues, before head coach Kyle Shanahan pleaded Lynch to put him back on. Our assumption is Shanahan sees a lot of Tevin Coleman in Williams, though Williams was just awful as a receiver in college. The 49er backfield is crowded as we stand now, as they have Carlos Hyde, Kapri Bibbs, Kyle Juszczyk, among others, so Williams would have to make an impact in camp to earn a role. But there’s plenty of evidence here that the 49ers aren’t in love with Hyde, so expect the talented Williams to get a chance. He’s a very interesting late flyer, mostly because of that explosive athletic profile, but keep in mind he’s an old rookie (24 in September).
11. Jeremy McNichols, TB
Drafted: 5th round, 162nd overall
Scouting Report: McNichols was an absolute workout warrior in Indianapolis at the NFL Combine, and was incredibly productive at Boise State as well. A full-time starter for the Broncos each of the last two seasons (following the departure of Dolphin star Jay Ajayi), McNichols finishes his college career with 4294 yards from scrimmage and 55 TD in just 34 games. A former high-school WR, McNichols took to RB well, and should interest NFL teams looking for an explosive rotational type of back. At the Combine, McNichols ran a strong 40 (4.49), posted good lower-body explosion jumps (35.5” vertical, 121” broad jump), and ran a strong three-cone drill (6.93 seconds). He also had huge hands (10”) and solid arm length (31.5”), suggesting he should be able to fit the role as a receiver at the next level. As a former WR, he has an understanding of the route tree, and was often used separated from the formation to run vertical routes, both in the slot and out wide. He also exhibited good balance, an area where his box-like stature helps him, and showed a willingness to block effectively. On the downside, McNichols looked to bounce way too many runs outside, and had some serious ball-security problems these last two seasons as a starter. He also exhibited very little lateral agility, which is something you’d prefer a back of his size to possess. We don’t think McNichols fought through contact well enough to be a true three-down player at the next level, and he really needs to improve on some of the finer details of his position if he’s going to play on third downs early and often. Additionally, he may lose critical summer reps as he recovers from off-season shoulder surgery. But there is something to work with here, for sure.
Fantasy Analysis: The Buc backfield is crowded on first glance, but is it really? Doug Martin had a disastrous year last year and is suspended for the first three games of the 2017 season. Charles Sims has been injured for much of his NFL career, and was ineffective last season. Jacquizz Rodgers had an impressive 2016 and earned a new contract, but is he a one-year wonder? Then there’s early-down grinder Peyton Barber. On film, McNichols seems to most resemble Sims, and if we were Sims, we’d be concerned about the injuries and ineffective play. Of course, McNichols has to get himself healthy after off-season shoulder surgery, as it’s apparently one reason he fell to the fifth round. We could see a wide range of outcomes for him as a rookie, including leading this backfield in fantasy points, as well as barely playing. For now, he’s worth a second-round rookie pick, and a late flyer in redraft/best-ball leagues.
12. Aaron Jones, GB
Drafted: 5th round, 182nd overall
Scouting Report: He may not have been one of the bigger names in this class, but Jones put himself on the radar when he posted excellent scores at the NFL Combine, especially in the area of lower-body burst (much like Alvin Kamara, who is listed as a comp). At UTEP, Jones actually played four years, but was granted an extra year of eligibility after tearing ligaments in his ankle two games into his 2015 campaign. He chose to leave after his 2016 “junior” season, when he posted a whopping 2006 yards from scrimmage and 20 TDs, averaging 7.8 yards per touch. On film, Jones is a low-to-the-ground runner who seems to slip his way through thin cracks. Our Greg Cosell has said that stylistically he’s a similar runner to Frank Gore, which is of course not to say Jones is destined for Canton, but rather that he’s a good interior runner despite his frame. He shows solid open-field wiggle and soft hands, so in theory he could play on all three downs. He’s an underrated back who could find quite a bit of success at the next level.
Fantasy Analysis: Jones was selected after Jamaal Williams (fourth-round pick), but upon taking a closer look at his film, we actually preferred Jones’ skill set. There is a lot of production left up for grabs in this Green Bay backfield, as the Packers are missing 207 vacated touches from last year’s mishmash RB corps. Ty Montgomery may still be the “lead” back, but he’ll never be a between-the-tackles banger, and while Williams’ size may be better for that role, Jones showed a Frank Gore-ish ability to slip tacklers at the point of attack. We’re ranking him lower at this stage based mainly on draft capital, but with a strong summer, Jones could blow past Williams.
13. Marlon Mack, Ind
Drafted: 4th round, 143rd overall
Scouting Report: Mack was undoubtedly one of the most maddening backs we can remember watching on college film. His lower-body explosiveness was absolutely apparent on film, and he confirmed that at the Combine with strong scores in the 40 (4.50 seconds), vertical jump (35.5”), and broad jump (125”). But we came away viewing Mack as a pure athlete who had absolutely no feel for his position whatsoever. Mack played three healthy seasons at USF, tallying over 1200 yards from scrimmage in each, and he scored 33 collegiate TDs. But keep in mind that USF coaches forced him into a timeshare with D’Ernest Flowers in his final season with the Bulls, suggesting they didn’t necessarily view him as a workhorse. You can see why on film. Mack has no feel whatsoever for running inside, and he would bounce almost everything – there were a stunning number of negative plays for Mack on film. When he gets into the open field, he can run away from defenders, but he has to be schemed there. Mack showed ability as a receiver separated from the formation, but he also lacked quality pass-protection skills, which could limit his ability to get on the field early in his NFL career. Pre-draft he was a completely landing-spot dependent player, and though he found a good one, he really has to clean up as a blocker to have a significant role for the Colts. Given Mack’s total lack of vision and patience running inside, we’d be shocked if he tops out as more than a rotational piece.
Fantasy Analysis: We like this fit better than most other teams for Mack, because we simply did not see a lead back on film. He’s one of the single-worst interior runners we’ve ever charted, but the Colts have two good ones in Frank Gore and Robert Turbin. The Colts would be best served deploying Mack as a perimeter player, perhaps even scheming him into the slot or into motion to exploit matchups against linebackers. However, his third-down fit is curious, because both Gore and Turbin are good protectors, and we didn’t see that from Mack on film. Gore is now 34, and Turbin isn’t special, so it’s possible to see a window for Mack to have relevance here, especially with Andrew Luck at QB. But he needs a lot of refinement if he’s ever going to handle more than 5-7 touches per game.
14. James Conner, Pit
Drafted: 3rd round, 105th overall
Scouting Report: Conner doesn’t have elite athleticism, but he’s a back who uses his size very well and will make his coaches absolutely fall in love with him. On the field, Conner has outstanding vision for running inside. He’s big, strong, and rarely will go down on first contact. Conner scored 56 TDs in 39 career games, and was the heart and soul of Pitt’s team on and off the field. A respected team captain, Conner tore his MCL just one game into the 2015 season, and was soon after diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. By the next May, Conner declared he was cancer-free, and he returned to play a full season in 2016, rushing for 1092 yards and 16 TDs. Conner’s work in short yardage and high character got him drafted, and he deserved to be. However, for a guy his size he isn’t a particularly good blocker, and he’s not necessarily a very good receiver either. Those are two things he must improve if he wants to be anything more than a role player at the next level. But one thing for sure is that Conner is going to work like crazy to get better.
Fantasy Analysis: With DeAngelo Williams still a free agent, it appears for now that Conner is the top backup for Le’Veon Bell. While Bell typically plays upwards of 90% of the Steelers’ offensive snaps, rendering his backup pretty much useless, he also gets hurt a bunch, and is a suspension risk. In theory, that makes hometown boy Conner an extremely valuable handcuff. However, we would have really liked to see Conner catch the ball better, and we doubt he’d be a slam-dunk RB1 like De’Angelo has been these last few years if Bell is ever out. That said, behind one of the NFL’s best offensive lines, Conner should be able to produce if he ever had to operate as the lead back, and we’d imagine would be a solid TD guy in that instance. Just don’t expect him to have much of a role independent of Bell.
15. Wayne Gallman, NYG
Drafted: 4th round, 140th overall
Scouting Report: We bet several NFL coaches – including the Giants’ coaches – absolutely fell in love with Gallman’s game, and he will play early and often in the league. The starting RB for Clemson’s 2015 NCAA runner-up team and the 2016 NCAA champion, Gallman posted 3902 yards from scrimmage and 36 TDs in his three years with the Tigers. While Gallman’s 5.1 YPC won’t stand out compared to other backs in this class, his toughness will. Gallman doesn’t have sudden athleticism, but he rarely goes down on first contact. He’s capable as a receiver, and he absolutely never gives up on a play – no back in this class is more willing to extend plays as a blocker than Gallman. He doesn’t have the contact balance of a Kareem Hunt, but Gallman will fall forward with his tall frame, which allows him to pick up the crucial extra few inches in short-yardage situations. On the downside, he isn’t likely to make defenders miss in the short area, and he has an obnoxious tendency to “tell” when an interior run is coming by leaning forward before the snap. He fits the model of an NFL gap-scheme back who can excel in third-down situations immediately. He’s just a nasty, competitive football player, and at this position, that goes a long way. In many ways, Gallman was the easiest RB in this class for us to scout. What he’s good at shows up immediately.
Fantasy Analysis: We have always viewed Gallman as a rotational type of back above all, and if the Giants want any sort of physicality from their backfield, they’re going to have to get it from Gallman. Following the NFL Draft, Giant coach Ben McAdoo called Paul Perkins the club’s starting RB, but Perkins just isn’t the type of back who is going to move a pile. Gallman’s skills fit the Giants best in third downs and in short yardage, where he can block, catch, and convert short-yardage opportunities. One of the most competitive backs in this year’s class, we think Gallman can have a long NFL career, but he may never be more than a fill-in fantasy type, or a hated vulture (think Robert Turbin).
16. Tarik Cohen, Chi
Drafted: 4th round, 119th overall
Scouting Report: Cohen has a lot of similarities to another player in this rookie class, Donnel Pumphrey. With 5619 rushing yards, he is the all-time leader in the FCS MEAC conference. He was durable and tough in college. But… he is just so small. At 5’6” and 179 pounds, it’d be a shock if Cohen ever handles more than 8-10 touches per game at the NFL level. But he can make explosive plays that can help any team in a rotational role. An excellent receiver, Cohen offset some of his frame concerns with huge hands – 10.25” hands are considered excellent for any back, let alone one his size. He took care of the ball in college, and rarely dropped passes. He has experience splitting out wide and beating LBs in coverage, and also has return experience. He may not be a fantasy stud at the next level, but he can contribute to a winning team in multiple ways.
Fantasy Analysis: Cohen lands in a backfield that clearly wants to replace “third-down back” Jeremy Langford, and there should be an opportunity for touches here. However, Jordan Howard is the clear lead back, and veteran Benny Cunningham should be the early favorite to spell him given his work in pass protection. Cohen may be more of a bit player as a rookie, which could ultimately make him more of a fantasy nuisance than a real contributor.
17. T.J. Logan, Ari
Drafted: 5th round, 179th overall
Scouting Report: Logan is a specific type of player, but he certainly was an appealing one for a team looking for that type, like Arizona. A rotational back at UNC who split time with the more ballyhooed Elijah Hood, when all is said and done Logan may well be the better NFL prospect given his rare explosion and versatility. In four years with the Tar Heels, Logan never gained more than 894 yards from scrimmage, which he did as a senior (also scoring a career-high 10 offensive TDs). But he was a solid receiver, catching 76 passes in four seasons, and he very rarely dropped the ball. Additionally, Logan was an accomplished return man in Chapel Hill, tallying 5 kickoff return TDs in four seasons (he has no punt-return experience). All in all, Logan has the versatility and explosive speed to get himself a roster spot as a rotational back, but he has to clean up his ball security, as he fumbled too often at UNC.
Fantasy Analysis: If the Cardinals are serious about moving Andre Ellington to WR, then Logan is their new Ellington behind star David Johnson. However, that’s not a particularly appealing role for fantasy, as Ellington touched the ball just 46 times and played 13% of the Cardinals’ offensive snaps in 2016, despite playing in every game. We like Logan the player, but we’d be stunned if he plays much at all, barring an injury to Johnson. Even then, he might not have the size to be a true “handcuff” in the traditional sense.
18. Donnel Pumphrey, Phi
Drafted: 4th round, 132nd overall
Scouting Report: With 6290 rushing yards in his four years at San Diego State, Pumphrey is the all-time leader in Division I FBS history. Pumphrey was remarkably durable with the Aztecs, playing 54 games in four seasons. He also timed well at the Combine, running the 40-yard dash in 4.48 seconds. This all sounds awesome, right? There’s just one small problem – Pumphrey himself. At just 5’8” and 176 pounds, Pumphrey is beyond tiny for NFL standards. Make no mistake, Pumphrey is tough as nails, as anyone would have to be to handle 1158 touches in college. He just doesn’t have the lower-body thickness to bust through tackles on a consistent basis. Fortunately, Pumphrey is quick in and out of cuts, so he has enough lateral elusiveness to make it work in a rotational role. Pumphrey was productive as a receiver at SDSU, catching 99 passes, and he shows a good feel for route running, though he doesn’t have natural hands. That, unfortunately, has to be contrasted with his size, and how realistically he can handle pass protection in the NFL. Moreover, Pumphrey has minimal experience as a return man, with just 5 kickoff returns to his name in college. Pumphrey likely needed to convince teams he can be a productive special-teamer in the NFL, but overall, he’s a damn good football player who just wasn’t gifted with NFL size.
Fantasy Analysis: Pumphrey was one of our favorite players to watch on film in this entire class, but because of his size, we were actually surprised he was drafted as early as he was. But the Eagles traded up to get him, suggesting they knew he was a highly coveted player (reports were that division rival Dallas was about to select him). It’s easy to say Pumphrey is a built-in Darren Sproles replacement for 2018, but keep in mind that Sproles has a much more powerful lower body. Instead, we’d expect the Eagles to utilize Pumphrey more as a movable chess piece, who also has the toughness and vision to carry it inside a few times per game. It’ll also be interesting to see if they try to get him on the field as a returner. You don’t spend a fourth-round pick on a running back if you don’t have a plan for him, but as we stand now, it’s hard to envision a big enough role for fantasy production.
19. Corey Clement, Phi
Drafted: Undrafted free agent
Scouting Report: Clement was the anointed successor to Melvin Gordon at Wisconsin, but that planned transfer of power didn’t go very smoothly. Despite running for 949 yards and 9 TD in 2014 behind Gordon, in 2015, Clement played just four games as he battled a sports hernia. Additionally, there were reports Clement had a lack of dedication to the game of football, which frustrated coaches. Clement assuaged concerns with a massive 2016 season in which he posted 314/1375/15 rushing, and he also had a major performance at the Senior Bowl. Unfortunately, Clement tested terribly at the NFL Combine in April, posting horrendous scores in the 40, vertical jump, and broad jump (he didn’t run the agility drills). Clement’s tape shows more athletic ability than his scores, however. He showed good one-cut ability on zone runs, but the problem is he was inconsistent on those types of runs because of decision-making. We’ve seen players of his athletic profile succeed in the NFL, but it typically comes with good vision and patience (think Alfred Morris). We are concerned Clement doesn’t have those traits. Clement can make defenders miss in a hole, which means he plays quicker than he tested, but he will have to answer a number of questions as he transitions to the next level.
Fantasy Analysis: Clement makes this list because he has something no other Eagle backs have – size. Unless the Eagles add a vet, he may honestly be their best option for grind-it-out yardage (their other backs are Wendell Smallwood, Darren Sproles, and Donnel Pumphrey). Clement isn’t special at all, but as we saw last year with someone like Rob Kelley, all it takes is opportunity to become fantasy relevant. However, it may all become moot, since we’d be shocked if the Eagles didn’t add someone to this backfield.
20. Elijah McGuire, NYJ
Drafted: 6th round, 188th overall
Scouting Report: Productive and overall durable during his four years at Louisiana-Lafayette, McGuire had over 1200 yards from scrimmage in each of his seasons with the Ragin’ Cajuns, and scored 52 career TDs. However, McGuire’s efficiency really took a hit in 2016, reportedly because he was playing through a foot injury. Looking at his earlier film, we see a player who can fit a rotational role in the NFL. McGuire had quality timed speed, and on film, he got to that timed speed very quickly, so he has a burst to him. He’s solidly built, but didn’t often run through contact, which gives us some major pause about his ability to be more than a rotational player. On the positive, McGuire took care of the ball well, and shows a phenomenal feel for running routes when separated from the formation. One of the big issues for McGuire as he transitions to the NFL will be his measured agility – he posted poor scores across the board in the shuttles and three-cone drill. That will have to be taken into consideration in a big way, considering how McGuire projects to be used in the NFL. But on film, we saw a pretty good player, and he has experience on special teams as well.
Fantasy Analysis: Based on style of play, we saw McGuire being deployed as kind of a Bilal Powell type of player in the NFL, so it’s interesting that he landed with the Jets. As of now, he’s buried behind Powell and Matt Forte on the depth chart, but given how awful the Jets are likely to be, we wouldn’t be shocked if they decide to go with a youth movement late in the year to do some self-scouting. Could the Jets bench or move Forte? If so, McGuire could see some action.
RB Dynasty/Keeper Rankings
- Christian McCaffrey (Car, 21) – Teaming with Cam and veteran OC Shula should work out fairly well at worst and we love the player and the multiple threats he poses.
- Leonard Fournette (Jac, 22) – Has more upside than McCaffrey if he's used in passing game and he can catch it pretty well, otherwise size/power combo is impressive.
- Joe Mixon (Cin, 21) – Explosive, well-rounded talent, but you have to imagine both team and league will have zero tolerance towards further off-field incidents.
- Dalvin Cook (Min, 22) – A complete back, but you have to wonder if he will struggle in deep backfield behind a shaky offensive line at the beginning of his career.
- Kareem Hunt (KC, 22) – One of our favorite rookie RBs to watch on tape, Hunt is complete and competitive, and could beat out Spencer Ware by mid-season.
- Alvin Kamara (NO, 22) – In theory he’s an excellent fit in the Reggie Bush role in the Saints’ offense, but how many touches will he get per game?
- Samaje Perine (Was, 22) – Downhill bruiser has more lateral juice than you might think and is instantly Washington’s best RB.
- D’Onta Foreman (Hou, 21) – Highly productive runner in college is already Houston’s top back behind Miller and we could see him handling 8-10 carries per game as a rookie, with upside for more later.
- Jeremy McNichols (TB, 21) – The Buc backfield is currently deep, but with Martin suspended and Sims’ injury issues, McNichols could be playing sooner than you might think.
- Joe Williams (SF, 24) – Explosive runner is reportedly a favorite of new coach Shanahan but commitment issues plus lack of third-down ability a concern.
- Marlon Mack (Ind, 21) – There’s a role for the explosive Mack in this Indy backfield as a rotational player, but he needs to learn to not bounce literally every run outside.
- Wayne Gallman (NYG, 22) – Competitive player should have an immediate role on third downs as receiver and blocker, but he just doesn’t have high-level athletic traits.
- James Conner (Pit, 22) – Purely as a runner, he profiles closely to a LeGarrette Blount type, and should be the top backup behind the oft-injured Le’Veon Bell as a rookie.
- Donnel Pumphrey (Phi, 22) – There should be carries available in Philly for Pumphrey, but given he weighs 180 pounds soaking wet, there’s a huge question about his role at the next level.
- Jamaal Williams (GB, 22) – No-frills grinder could be the thunder to Montgomery’s lightning, but also has to compete with two other rookies here.
- Aaron Jones (GB, 22) – Was drafted after fellow rookie Jamaal Williams, but is arguably the better talent of the two so don’t be shocked if he has a bigger role.
- T.J. Logan (Ari, 23) – Scatback type should replace Andre Ellington in this offense if Ellington is moving to WR.
- Elijah McGuire (NYJ, 23) – McGuire profiles as a lower-case Bilal Powell type of runner, so it makes sense that the Jets brought him on board.
- Tarik Cohen (Chi, 22) – Small-school RB with a small body, Cohen was drafted to usurp the Bears’ passing-down work from the disappointing Jeremy Langford.
- Brian Hill (Atl, 21) – A grind-it-out type of runner, Hill is currently buried behind Freeman and Coleman in Atlanta.
- Devante Mays (GB, 22) – Patient and powerful, Mays would have been a higher draft pick if he didn’t miss most of his final season in college with an ankle injury.
- De’Angelo Henderson (Den, 24) – Henderson has some similarities to CJ Anderson, but is currently buried on the Broncos’ depth chart after Charles signing.
- Elijah Hood (Oak, 21) – We weren’t terribly fond of this no-frills downhill runner on tape, and he’s at best #4 on Oakland’s current depth chart.
- Matthew Dayes (Cle, 22) – The Browns appear to have their two top backs locked in, but Dayes will have a shot to earn a roster spot behind them.
- Chris Carson (Sea, 23) – Carson is a big body who tested extremely well at the Combine, but is currently among one of the NFL’s most crowded RB depth charts.
- Khalfani Muhammad (Ten, 23) – Small of stature and in a crowded backfield, Muhammad nonetheless has some serious juice to contribute on special teams.