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The Impressive Start of the 2017 RB Class

As the owner of a rebuilding team in one of my leagues, I spent much of last season salivating over the potential of the 2017 RB draft class and acquiring as many 1st round picks as I could. Its taken what felt like an eternity, but the 2017 RB class has officially arrived.

The biggest name, Leonard Fournette, has been the definition of a workhorse back for Jacksonville. With 57 carries and 8 receptions through the first 3 games of the season, Jacksonville is showing that they are willing to build their offense around Fournette. While Fournette is only averaging 3.5 yards per carry, the willingness of Jacksonville to feed him the ball in both the running and passing game is encouraging. Usage is a great indicator of future success at the RB position, and Fournette’s physicality has been apparent. As Jacksonville continues to build its offense (and hopefully find an upgrade at quarterback), Fournette’s numbers should only improve.

Fournette’s counterpart in Minnesota, meanwhile, has been even more involved in his offense. At this time last year, I preferred Dalvin Cook to Fournette. After a disappointing combine and some off field concerns, I moved Cook down my draft board a few spots. So far we’ve seen nothing to indicate those concerns were warranted. The Vikings are enamored with Cook, and its easy to see why. Through three games he has 61 carries for 288 yards (4.7 YPC) and 10 catches for 82 yards.

Anybody who’s watched him play has noticed his elusiveness, speed, and involvement in the Vikings offense so it’s unlikely you’ll be able to buy low on him. But with only one TD to go with his 370 total yards – now might be your last chance to acquire him at a reasonable price. Currently, I have Cook comfortably within my top 10 dynasty running backs and back ahead of Fournette.

And then there’s Kareem Hunt. Hunt currently leads the NFL in rushing yards (401), TDs (4), and YPC (8.5) for Kansas City. On top of all that, Hunt has tacked on another 137 yards and 2 more touchdowns receiving, to make him the NFL leader in yards from scrimmage.

Hunt didn’t have the fanfare that Fournette, Cook, and some of the other rookies had, but at this point he’s impossible to ignore. I prefer him to any other rookie running back in all formats. While its dangerous to overreact to a three game sample, and Hunt is almost guaranteed to slow his pace the rest of the way, the upside here is immense. An Andy Reid RB is valuable basically by default. Find one as talented and young as Hunt is and you could have a top shelf dynasty asset for a long time.

Outside of the established elite backs, Hunt is as valuable as it gets at RB right now. Having said that, his value seems to be sky-high on the trade market at the moment. I wouldn’t go out of my way to move him by any stretch, but if another owner is willing to part with a top-tier asset (Odell Beckham or David Johnson for example), don’t be afraid to pull the trigger before some natural regression brings value back down to earth.

Those are the three big success stories at running back this year, but that’s not all this class has to offer.

Christian McCaffrey hasn’t seen the same success between the tackles as his fellow top-10 pick Fournette, but he has been a dangerous weapon in Carolina’s passing game. McCaffrey may never end up as a successful runner (though its far too early to say definitively), but his skills as a receiver ensure he should have a successful career in the NFL.

Meanwhile, in Cincinnati, my personal favorite back of the class is just getting going. We all know about Joe Mixon’s off field issues and why he slid all they way to the 2nd round of the NFL draft in May. I wouldn’t judge anybody who refuses to own him as a result of his past actions. That having been said, Mixon is really talented. He has the prototypical size and speed for a running back, is an excellent receiver out of the backfield, and has been compared to LeVeon Bell for his patience and vision as a runner.

Cincinnati is a hot mess right now thanks to horrid offensive line and quarterback play, and Mixon has struggled to get going, but things seem to be trending upward. New Offensive Coordinator Bill Lazor had Mixon much more involved in week three than he was in the first two weeks, and if you watch him play his talent is apparent. Mixon’s patience is Bell-esque, and he has a rare ability to make defenders miss for his size. As long as Mixon continues to gain relevance in the Bengals offense I have no problem considering him a top-10 dynasty RB with the upside to be a truly elite asset.

Finally, Tarik Cohen in Chicago has defied all odds to get off to a hot start to his career. At his size Cohen is still unlikely to ever be lead back or carry the bulk of the workload. But, through four games (Cohen’s Bears played on Thursday night), Cohen has displayed many of the same traits that caught my attention in preseason. He’s slippery and avoids the big hits and is an excellent receiver out of the backfield. Jordan Howard isn’t going anywhere, but Cohen has been a solid fantasy producer in PPR leagues and should continue to be as long as he can stay healthy.

Of course, this doesn’t account for every running back in the class. I spent last year salivating over these backs for good reason.

  • Chris Carson (another of my waiver wire sleepers from the preseason) has taken over the lead back duties in Seattle.
  • Jamal Williams and Aaron Jones may have an opportunity to break onto the scene in Green Bay thanks to Ty Montgomery’s rib injury.
  • Alvin Kamara has looked good in New Orleans and appears to be a nice fit in their passing offense.
  • Samaje Perine has struggled in Washington so far, but remains in a good situation if he can beat out unimpressive starter Rob Kelley for touches.

And there are even more rookie running backs scattered across the league brimming with potential. Flyers on players like D’onta Foreman, Matt Breida, Marlon Mack, and Elijah McGuire may yield excellent returns.

Draft classes like this are rare, especially with so much of the talent being focused on one position (2014’s wide receiver class comes to mind), but the 2017 running back draft class appears to have lived up to the hype. As the season wears on, I suggest holding onto any of these young stars if you own them. If you don’t – while prices for this years running backs will skyrocket, you may be better served turning your sights to next years equally hyped RB class. Saquon Barkley, Derrius Guice, Royce Freeman, and plenty of others will be here soon. You don’t want to miss out on the new wave of young running backs for the second year in a row.

 

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Eric Braun
I grew up a die hard Washington Redskins and Penn State football fan and began playing fantasy football in 2007. I've been addicted and learning as much as I can about my favorite hobby ever since.

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