2017 Fantasy Rooks: Running Back Edition

The 2017 NFL rookie class might have been the best ever when it comes to fantasy football.

Originally, I was going to have this list include rookies at all positions, but this year’s Running Back class was just too stacked (four rookies in the top 10!!!) so it’ll be a two-parter.

With that being said, here’s a look back at the rookie Running Backs of note from 2017, as well as a look ahead to 2018. All fantasy stats are based on PPR scoring.

Alvin Kamara

I’d be remised if I didn’t start this list with the four running backs who cracked the top 10.

To say Kamara made a big splash in 2017 would be an understatement. The Tennessee product was the dream dual threat for the Saints and fantasy owners alike.

His 13 total touchdowns were 2nd best in the league, and his 1,554 total scrimmage yards ranked 6th. He also hauled in 81 passes, which led all rookies and was good for 13th in the NFL.

Kamara finished at RB3 on the year, averaging a whopping 20.0 points per game.

With the numbers Kamara put up this year, he’s without question in top-5 pick consideration for 2018. Sure, there’s the worry about the sophomore slump (cough cough, Todd Gurley) but there’s a reason why I’m confident in Kamara to have another big year, and oddly enough that reason is Mark Ingram.

Since Ingram wasn’t named a first-team All Pro, he’s under contract for 2018. For almost any other Running Back in fantasy I’d say this is bad news, but not for Kamara.

Kamara isn’t an every down back (season high in touches was 19), and he’s not the bruising runner that Ingram is either. Kamara and Ingram feed off of one another. Ingram wears the defense down, while Kamara spreads them out and keeps them on their toes with his big play ability. 

A good amount of Kamara’s damage even was done WITH Ingram on the field as well.

With the thunder to his lightning back for 2018, I love Kamara as a top-5 guy next year.

Kareem Hunt

Hunt had more hype than Kamara did coming into the year, and he certainly lived up to it.

He got off to an ABSURD start to the year with his 43.1 point debut game in New England, and followed that up with two 24-point performances.

After averaging 23.9 fantasy points through his first five games, Hunt’s numbers saw a major decrease, but that wasn’t exactly his fault.

Through those five games, the Chiefs were 5-0, and looking like one of the best teams in football. Hunt was averaging 22.6 touches per game.

In the next seven games, Hunt saw that touch number dip to 17. The Chiefs went 1-6 in that span, and he averaged just 9.1 fantasy points.

In the final three games Hunt played in fully, his touches per game shot up to 30.6. The Chiefs went 3-0.

It only took Andy Reid seven games to figure out that when Hunt was fed the ball at a high volume, the Chiefs had a MUCH better chance at winning.

Oh, and in those final three games Hunt averaged 25.3 fantasy points.

It was an up and down season, but one that still saw Hunt finish at RB4 on the year despite that rough stretch.

The 2017 numbers definitely put Hunt in first-round pick consideration, but there are certainly some factors that may make me just a bit hesitant to pull the trigger on him with my first pick.

First off, Matt Nagy is now the head coach of the Chicago Bears, and he was the one calling the plays during that stretch of three games in which Hunt averaged North of 30 touches.

Second, Patrick Mahomes may be under center next year. It’d be an interesting move considering the year Alex Smith just had, but Saturday’s loss to Tennessee may have sealed Smith’s fate.

The bottom line is this. Regardless of the situation next year, the more touches Hunt gets, the better chance the Chiefs have of winning. Hopefully the coaching staff will realize that in week one and not week 14.

With that said, Hunt is too talented to not turn high volume into good production. He’s still a first rounder in all likelihood.

*side-note*: Hunt had 14 touches in the loss against Tennessee.

Leonard Fournette

Fournette was a workhorse for Jacksonville all year.

His 268 carries were 7th-most in the NFL, and that was in 13 games. He also had 36 receptions on the year, giving him a total of 304 touches.

That average of 23.4 touches per game is bound to yield high fantasy production, and it did as Fournette finished the year at RB9.

Not really much to say about Fournette going into next year.

The offense will look the same with Blake Bortles under center, and Fournette will more than likely see the same high number of touches in 2018.

In fantasy football volume is king, and that’s exactly what you’ll be getting with Fournette. If he’s available after the 5th pick, grab him.

Christian McCaffrey

Despite rushing for just 435 yards and two touchdowns on a mediocre 3.7 yards per carry, McCaffrey still finished the year at RB10. Why? Because he caught 80 passes for 651 yards and 5 touchdowns.

The lack of rushing didn’t come as that much of a surprise. At 5’11 and 205 pounds, McCaffery doesn’t really have the size necessary to be that workhorse type back like Fournette.

What he does have though, are great hands (0 drops on 113 targets) and great elusiveness in the open field.

The Panthers will have a new offensive coordinator in 2018, but given their lack of Wide Receiver depth I’d expect CMC’s involvement in the passing game to remain just about the same.

His low rushing output limits his effectiveness in standard leagues, but he’s a PPR goldmine. If you have a late second or early third rounder, he should definitely be on your radar.

Joe Mixon

Mixon was certainly notable in 2017, but not for the right reasons.

He came into this year as one of the more hyped up rookies, and ended up finishing at RB34. In comparison, fellow back Gio Bernard finished at RB27 despite receiving no more than 7 carries in weeks 1-12.

Other than his 25.5 point outburst in week 12, Mixon really left a lot to be desired, and it may not get that much better in 2018.

Bernard will be back in Cincy for the 2018 season. He’s clearly the better pass catching option of the two, and after averaging 4.4 yards per carry to Mixon’s 3.5, it’s not crazy to think that he’ll be seeing more carries in 2018 as well.

Does Mixon have the talent to one day be a solid fantasy back? Absolutely. But I wouldn’t risk too much to have him on my team. Make sure you have a few other solid options before taking a chance on him.

Dalvin Cook

Cook was one of the numerous stars decimated by the season-ending injury plague in 2017, and yes, he is a star.

Cook was well on his way to being the 5th rookie Running Back in the top 10 for fantasy in 2017 until a torn ACL in week four ended his season.

In those four games Cook put up 354 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 4.8 yards per carry, and added 11 catches for 90 yards.

In the weeks after Cook’s injury, Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon were able to put up solid numbers in their own right, but nothing close to what Cook would have done.

Both failed to average four yards per carry. McKinnon managed to catch 51 passes, but Murray caught only 15. Just four more than Cook.

McKinnon will be a free agent this offseason, and with Cook coming back the Vikings have no reason to re-sign him.

Murray will still be there, but there’s no question who will be the number one back in 2018: Cook.

Coming off of the ACL tear, I can certainly see why there would be hesitation to take him, but a healthy Cook is giving you RB1 production without question. He’s certainly worth the risk of a first or early second-round pick.

Matt Breida and Marlon Mack

I’m putting these two together because they were in very similar situations in 2017.

Both showed they had talent.

Breida rushed for 405 yards on 4.4 yards per carry, and also caught 21 passes while being in on just 28% of the team’s plays.

Mack rushed for 358 yards, and showed what he could do as a receiver catching 21 passes and averaging 10.7 yards per catch while getting just 30% of snaps.

It’s worth noting for Mack that while the yards per cary number may be low, he was playing in an offense quarterbacked by Jacoby Brissett, so teams could consistently load the box.

Numbers aside, what’s more important for these two is the contract situation of the guys ahead of them.

Ahead of Breida in 2017 was Carlos Hyde, who averaged just 3.9 yards per carry and will be 28 next year, which is pretty old in running back years.

Ahead of Mack was Frank Gore, who somehow survived 261 rushing attempts at age 34, but also put up a measly 3.7 yards per carry. 

Both Hyde and Gore are now free agents. The 49ers may let Hyde and his high price walk, while Gore will probably retire.

Lastly, and most importantly, both Running Back’s offenses will be vastly improved in 2018. We saw what Jimmy Garoppolo could do in San Francisco, and Andrew Luck should be back healthy in Indy.

In 2017, both of these rookies showed they have the talent to be solid running backs. In 2018 we could be talking about them as two of the biggest late-round steals of fantasy drafts.

Aaron Jones

It was a disappointing, injury filled 2017 for the Green Bay Packers.

Of course their biggest loss was Aaron Rodgers in week six, but the injury bug also affected their Running Backs as well.

Because of injuries to both Jones as well as Ty Montgomery, the Packers backfield was in flux all season. Green Bay was rotating between those two, as well as Jamaal Williams, and it seemed like the starter was different in each game.

Of the three, the one who was most impressive was Jones. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry while Montgomery averaged just 3.8, and Williams 3.6.

On 81 carries, Jones had six rushes of 20+ yards. Williams and Montgomery combined for two on 224 carries. Jones also had four touchdowns on those 81 carries, the same amount that Williams did with almost double the work.

2017 was certainly disappointing for Green Bay, but they may have at least found their back of the future in Jones.

Now, there are a few things to consider here. First and foremost, Jones will have to win the starting job in training camp.

Second, Aaron Rodgers will be back. Now while this does mean the offense will be much more pass happy than they were under Brett Hundley, it also means that it will be one of the best in the league.

It’ll also be an offense who’s starting Running Back you will want to own, and it wouldn’t surprise me if, in 2018, that Running Back is Jones.

Hear the latest on Kamara, Fournette and the rest of the action on tap for the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs in the latest podcast from the Loaded Box!

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