The depth pool for 2017 Fantasy Football Rookie Running Backs seems particularly shallow this year.
After David Johnson, Ezekiel Elliott, and LeVeon Bell are off the board, there are plenty of question marks at the position. You’re rolling the dice on Melvin Gordon and Jordan Howard repeating what they did last year, and the depth is so shallow that Spencer Ware is now a third-round pick. Meanwhile, backups like Tevin Coleman and Derrick Henry are off the board by Round 6.
When you combine the seeming lack of options and the expectations Elliott created for future backs, some Fantasy players will feel more comfortable relying on rookies than ever before.
However, that doesn’t mean each back will be worth drafting, especially if you have to rely on them consistently. Some rookie running backs were clear winners because the situation they are entering, while one veteran will actually benefit from a fresh pair of legs entering the system.
Today, I wanted to focus on the four backfields with rookies that will be targeted the most in 2017 Fantasy Football leagues.
Rookie Running Backs
Winner: Leonard Fournette
Losers: T.J. Yeldon, Chris Ivory & Corey Grant
Fournette should be the starter in Week 1 barring injuries, and this is great news for Fantasy players. If the Jaguars didn’t add a running back in the 2017 NFL Draft, this would have been a frustrating backfield. The mix of Yeldon, Ivory, and Grant would have given their owners headaches each week.
Yeldon hasn’t lived up to expectations as a second-round draft pick. He has just three rushing touchdowns in the past two seasons, and Ivory scored just three rushing touchdowns in his first year with Jacksonville. Grant jumped onto Fantasy radars because of a big performance to close out the 2016 NFL season. The 25-year old back rushed for 122 yards and scored a rushing touchdown in Week 17. However, prior to that performance, he had just 20 carries since 2015.
It would have been a lot of mixing and matching for the Jaguars throughout the season to find a committee approach that worked. It’s possible Yeldon needs more time to develop, but the first-round selection of Fournette shows little faith in the former second-round pick. In terms of a football move, I love the aggressiveness of Jacksonville. Cut the losses and move on.
If Yeldon shows he’s an effective backup and Fournette is a capable lead back, he could be traded for a favorable draft pick. In terms of a handcuff for this year, I would still draft Yeldon. He’s more versatile than Ivory, as he’s hauled in 86 catches over the past two seasons.
Losers: Dalvin Cook, Latavius Murray & Jerick McKinnon
This will be a committee unless Cook or Murray establish themselves as an every-down back.
Each back is risky, but for separate reasons. Cook had three shoulder surgeries in college and has had issues securing the football. According to RotoWorld.com, he had six fumbles in 2016.
Murray is an interesting case, as the brass in Oakland never seemed to fully trust him. This also seems to be the case in Minnesota. Despite signing him in March, the organization still felt the need to trade up in the 2017 NFL Draft for a running back. Also, Murray is still recovering from ankle surgery.
McKinnon is also a loser with the addition of Cook. If it was just Murray on the team and Murray underperformed, McKinnon could have carved out a relevant Fantasy role.
The Vikings may find some sort of committee that works, but it won’t produce consistent results for your Fantasy team.
Winner: Joe Mixon
Losers: Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard
The Bengals have tried to use Hill as a workhorse and Bernard as a pass-catching specialist, but that formula needs to change. Hill recorded a 3.8 YPC average in 2016, and Bernard was only able to play in 10 games last season.
Now through Mixon, the Bengals have a back who can do it all and should be durable.
In his 2016 college season, the 20-year old rookie rushed for 1,274 yards and posted a 37-538-5 stat line as a receiver. So without the need for two backs, the Bengals should be much more effective in the rushing attack and much less predictable.
For those drafting Mixon, the safest move to make would be to add Hill and Bernard to your roster. I did something similar last season with Ezekiel Elliott, drafting Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris for maximum insurance.
Right now, Mixon and Hill are being drafted in Round 7, so that’s not plausible. However, by the start of August, I could envision Mixon being drafted in Round 4 or 5 and Hill falling to Round 10. That would be the best scenario possible if you wanted insurance for Mixon.
And if you wanted even more protection, you may be able to draft Bernard in Round 12 or 13.
Winner: Frank Gore
Losers: Robert Turbin & Marlon Mack
It seems like for the last five years, analysts have been predicting the demise of Gore. And for the last five seasons, he’s defied the odds.
He isn’t producing eye-popping Fantasy stats, but he did rush for over 1,000 yards last season as a 33-year old back. And his consistency is staggering. Since entering the league in 2005, he’s rushed for 1,000 yards each season and he’s played a full 16-game season, except for 2015.
Now, it’s reasonable to question how much longer he can keep playing. He turned 34 this May, and the offensive line needs to stay healthy and improve. Ranking 25th last season, it’s a necessity the Colts open up running lanes for the veteran back.
But there’s a reason why I’m more bullish than bearish on Gore: Marlon Mack.
What Fantasy players are accustomed to is a younger back coming in and edging the veteran out of a role. With Mack, this could be different. If you watch tape from last year, you see that Gore has a few stutter steps and then runs in a straight line like a small truck, carrying defenders who try and stop him.
In comparison, Mack is a slippery runner and six of his 15 touchdowns were from 43-yard plays or longer. The ideal formula would be for Gore to get a breather, let the rookie have a few carries and hopefully churn out one or two big runs. Then let the veteran grind his way into the end zone. Mack is only a Fantasy loser in the sense that he will be stuck in a committee with Gore or Robert Turbin if Gore is injured.
For Gore, he’s a clear Fantasy winner.
While you’re doing research for 2017 Fantasy Football running backs, also make sure to check out our other rookie articles.
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