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Rookie running back projections

Let’s predict the 2017 stat-lines for this year’s crop of rookie running backs.

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars-Training Camp Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Whoever said “the age of the running back is over” clearly didn’t know what they were talking about.

The age of running backs will likely never die in fantasy football and in real football we’ve seen a resurgence at the position, with teams investing high draft picks into the position. Last year we had Ezekiel Elliott go in the top 5 while this year we saw two running backs go in the first round. Both in the top 10 no less. Plus, another two in the second round.

We all knew heading into this year’s draft that there would be a large class of rookie running backs entering the NFL, each with a fair amount of hype and fantasy potential surrounding them. In fact, I wrote a long time back about the best rookie classes of fantasy running backs and how many total points this year’s class would have to score to be considered the best. Spoiler alert: it’s a lot.

Being that it’s RB Week here at Fake Teams and that there’s a large group of rookie running backs, I thought now would be the perfect time to project how these rookies could perform in fantasy this year. I won’t pretend like I’ve done days and days of research and scoured all the numbers to accurately translate their college stats to the NFL. I’m not a genius. What I have done is looked over each team’s running habits from last year (i.e: total carries, how those carries are distributed, offensive lines, red zone carries, etc) and used that to see what a realistic stat line could look for each incoming rookie—and by “each incoming rookie” I mean the four guys taken in the first two rounds.

Note: This is all standard scoring (ESPN).

Leonard Fournette

2017 projection: 265 ATT / 1,080 YDS / 10 TD / 25 REC / 225 YDS / 1 TD
Fantasy points: 196.5 total points / 12.3 FPPG

Leading up to the whole draft process I had slightly loftier expectations for Fournette in his rookie season (was thinking a little more around the lines of Jordan Howard). However, my aspirations for Fournette took a hit when I looked deeper into the Jaguars’ offensive line last year. The stats say Jacksonville averaged 4.2 yards per attempt on the ground however if you remove Blake Bortles’ 6.2 YPA and wide receiver Marqise Lee’s 5.8 YPA, that number drops to 3.8 YPA which would’ve ranked them in the bottom 10 last year. They also just lost would-be starting left tackle Branden Albert to a rather impromptu retirement. As such, I’ve tempered my expectations when it comes to Fournette’s yardage output. I do think his power will shine in the red zone, especially from 10-yards out, where the Jaguars were pretty balanced in pass/run play calling. I project that’ll be where more of Fournette’s fantasy damage comes from.

Christian McCaffrey

2017 projection: 128 ATT / 613 YDS / 3 TD / 53 REC / 510 YDS / 5 TD
Fantasy points: 166.3 total points / 10.4 FPPG

While some are thinking that McCaffrey is going to replace Jonathan Stewart sooner rather than later as Carolina’s lead back, I don’t think that’s going to happen quite yet, especially in the red zone. Stewart will still receive the most carries on the team and in the red zone, McCaffrey will have to not only deal with Stewart—who accounted for 53% of the Panthers red zone rushes last year—but also Cam Newton’s goal-line ability (23% of rushes). However, McCaffrey offers pass catching ability that Stewart utterly lacks, look no further than his 38 catch percentage last year. I see him becoming a reliable part of the Panthers’ passing attack given there are plenty of targets up for grabs with Ted Ginn Jr in New Orleans currently (90 targets last season). I also threw in a kick/punt return touchdown in McCaffrey’s total fantasy points for good measure. The guy can juke out Luke Kuechly so I’m feeling pretty confident he’ll take one to the house.

Dalvin Cook

2017 projection: 202 ATT / 841 YDS / 5 TD / 33 REC / 296 YDS / 1 TD
Fantasy points: 149.7 total points / 9.4 FPPG

Once Adrian Peterson got injured last year, the Vikings stopped caring about running the football. They were the worst team in the league last year in terms of total yards (1,205), average yards per carry (3.2) and tied for 7th worst in total attempts (380). Their offensive line also didn’t help matters, finishing 24th in yards before contact. But that was not the norm for the Vikings offense (well, maybe the poor offensive line play was). Obviously with Peterson healthy, they loved to run the ball and used him as a workhorse to set up their passing attack. Now Cook is no AP, let’s start right there. However, he is a very talented running back and with Latavius Murray out currently with an injury, the starting role is all Cook’s for the taking. I do think that Murray will vulture more touchdowns from Cook then we care to mention. Remember, last year Murray scored 12 total rushing touchdowns, 11 coming from within the red zone. I could see Cook losing the goal-line back role to Murray more than fantasy owners would like.

Joe Mixon

2017 projection: 215 ATT / 1,032 YDS / 9 TD / 24 REC / 204 YDS / 0 TD
Fantasy points: 177.6 total points / 11.1 FPPG

Of all these rookies who could pull off the Jordan Howard seemingly out of nowhere acent to fantasy greatness, my money is on Mixon. He’s possibly the most talent running back of the group and is playing behind the least worst offensive line (though that O-line did take a big hit in free agency). Jeremy Hill has been wildly inconsistent year to year since coming into the league and Giovani Bernard is coming off of knee surgery. This opens the door for Mixon to walk effortlessly into the starting role and make it his. Sure, Gio will still get his targets in the passing game but that’s not where Mixon does his damage. I’m also not worried about Hill vulturing much from Mixon especially if Mixon comes out with a bang to start the season.

Poll

Which rookie do you think will have the better fantasy season?

This poll is closed

  • 32%
    Leonard Fournette
    (48 votes)
  • 21%
    Christian McCaffrey
    (32 votes)
  • 13%
    Dalvin Cook
    (20 votes)
  • 31%
    Joe Mixon
    (46 votes)
146 votes total Vote Now