Rookies transitioning to the NFL level are met with a daunting task. They face the biggest, fastest, and strongest defensive players that professional sports have to offer while having to learn complicated playbooks and the new language of the offenses.
The 2017 class of NFL rookie running backs made their presence known for fantasy football owners. Statistically, it was one of the more impressive rookie-class outings for fantasy purposes.
Fantasy Football Evaluation: Rookie Running Backs
Let’s take a look at the 2017 rookie class of running backs and evaluate their fantasy performances.
1. Kareem Hunt – Kansas City Chiefs
Kareem Hunt was the beneficiary of an injury to imminent starter Spencer Ware. Hunt was favorably drafted after Ware went down with a leg injury prior to the season opener. He promptly fumbled on his first NFL carry, for the only fumble he recorded throughout the season. Undeterred, he went on to put up 148 yards and one touchdown on just 17 carries and 98 yards receiving with two more touchdowns through the air.
Hunt continued a path of pure dominance through the first six weeks, posting at least 100 yards from scrimmage with three more touchdowns. He showed solid talent as a rusher and as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. His numbers finally came back down to match most mortals and fantasy owners watched as he seemed to be scripted out of a few games. However, when given the touches and targets, Hunt excelled with them.
It was an impressive outing for the rookie rusher, who finished by not only leading all rookies but the NFL in rushing with 1,327 yards. Even with Ware returning next season, it’s difficult to imagine Hunt being scripted out of the game plan. His ability not only as a rusher but as a pretty darn good receiver warrant a high ADP for next season.
2. Leonard Fournette – Jacksonville Jaguars
Leonard Fournette was one of the rookies that many fantasy owners were targeting in their drafts. Dynasty and redraft leagues were attracted by the LSU star’s power and speed. Fournette came out with a bang, posting a 100-yard rushing performance in his first game as a pro. He finished with five games over the 100-yard mark and nine rushing touchdowns. Fournette excels at taking care of the football as well and only had two fumbles on the season. He finished eighth in total yards for all running backs, and second for rookies with 1,040 yards.
Fournette showed that he can succeed at the NFL level. He is a great power-style back with decent hands. He snagged 36 passes for 302 yards and one touchdown. Expect Fournette to have a high ADP for the 2018 season.
3. Alvin Kamara – New Orleans Saints
Alvin Kamara was the epitome of a player going to the perfect team to match his skill-set. He is the third player on this list and the third player who eclipsed 1,000 yards from scrimmage. Early on, Kamara showed his excellent ability to catch passes out of the backfield. However, it wasn’t until the Saints traded Adrian Peterson that Kamara got his chance to showcase his talents. From that point forward, Kamara was a key component to the Saints offensive game-plan. Kamara finished the season with 120 rushing attempts for 728 yards and 81 receptions for 826 yards and a total of 13 touchdowns.
Kamara made a case for himself as the offensive rookie of the year. With exceptional hands and good rushing ability, Kamara is a fantastic player for fantasy teams in PPR formats. Due to his involvement in the passing game, Kamara is very rarely going to see a negative game script. Kamara is one of two rookies that finished with over 100 rushing attempts and over 100 targets. The last time a rookie showed that kind of dual-threat talent was Reggie Bush in 2006.
4. Christian McCaffrey – Carolina Panthers
Christian McCaffrey had a lot of hype surrounding him entering the 2017 fantasy season. With talks of the Panthers changing their game-plan to heavily involve the young scat-back, expectations were very high. It took a few weeks for plans to materialize, but when they did, McCaffrey showed why he belongs in the NFL. He didn’t score his first rushing touchdown until week nine. By then, he’d already caught two through the air. He finished as the fourth and final rookie on this list that finished with over 1,000 yards from scrimmage.
McCaffrey is not built to be a lead-rusher type of back. However, that should not stop him from being extremely fantasy relevant, especially in PPR formats. He finished the season with over 100 targets and over 100 rushing attempts, placing in the game-script-proof conversation.
5. Joe Mixon – Cincinnati Bengals
Joe Mixon was surrounded by a lot of hype. Many experts considered him among the top of this rookie class in pure talent at the position. Some off-the-field issues made him a risky pick in the draft. The three-headed beast of a running back situation in Cincinnati made it difficult to put much faith into Mixon’s fantasy value. Many owners were angry, confused, and just downright befuddled by the usage of Mixon early on. When he finally got the call, he failed to impress. The rookie finished with 626 yards on 178 carries for a disappointing 3.52 yards-per-carry.
Fantasy Impact: Mixon may come into the 2018 season as the lead back for the Bengals. He’ll be worth a look if his ADP doesn’t climb to high. Analysts are concerned about a high draft pick followed by another disappointing season. Mixon finished with the fourth-highest total rushing yards (626) among all rookies.
While that rounds out the top-five rookies, there are a few other names worth mentioning. Dalvin Cook looked well on his way to being among the top-five rookies before an injury cut his season short in week four. Until that point, he was averaging 111 scrimmage yards each week. Had he remained healthy, Cook would have probably landed among the top-12 running backs for the season.
Tarik Cohen was plain and simply fun to watch in 2017. The little scat-back showed that he could very literally do it all. Cohen had some very questionable coaching that took him out of games, but that could possibly change with Matt Nagy running the show in Chicago now. Cohen may remain a better real-life option than a fantasy option, but he’s certainly a fun player to watch.
D’Onta Foreman also went down with a season-ending injury. Foreman seemed like another player that seemed to be placed on the right team, despite being behind Lamar Miller on the depth chart. Many experts are expecting that to change in 2018.
Last but not least, Aaron Jones got his chance to shine when both Ty Montgomery and Jamaal Williams sustained injuries in the same week. The rookie showed explosiveness and big-play ability. He may end up as part of a committee backfield in 2018.