NFL Draft Primer: Running Backs

by Mike Tagliere | @MikeTagliereNFL | Featured Writer
Apr 19, 2017

The 2017 draft class of running backs is one of the deepest we’ve ever seen, led by LSU’s Leonard Fournette.

We started a series yesterday in order to help those who’ve taken some time away from football, only to return for the NFL Draft. You may not be aware who your favorite team will take (hint: no one really does), but you at least want to be informed if they’ve made a bad pick, or if your team just landed a future fantasy stud. We’re going through each position, giving you a heads up on what to expect in the NFL Draft that begins April 27th.

We went through the quarterbacks yesterday (read here), which means it’s time to get into what means the most to fantasy players, the running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends. Today we’re going to focus on the running back position, as it’s one of the deepest classes in a long time. If you’d like to read more in-depth on the players, you’ll find links to their scouting reports at the end of this article.

Overview

Just one year after Ezekiel Elliott was taken with a top-five draft pick, there are rumors swirling about two running backs being taken inside of the top-10 of this draft. The first being LSU’s Leonard Fournette, who was always going to be considered a high first round pick, while the other, Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, is someone who has been climbing draft boards post-NFL Combine. Fournette is the old-school bruiser who can run through you, around you, and over you, but doesn’t offer much in the passing game, while McCaffrey is the new-school receiver out of the backfield who can also do work on first and second down.

Most will include Florida State’s Dalvin Cook in that conversation because of his college production, though it seems that his destination will likely be in the late teens or early 20’s. He had a poor showing at the NFL Combine, has some off-the-field issues, and doesn’t possess any one skill that stands out like Fournette and McCaffrey. Speaking of off-the-field issues, Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon would likely be a first-round pick, if not for his much-publicized incident in college. There are some teams that have removed Mixon from their boards altogether, while others appear ready to take him within the first two rounds.

Once you get outside of that tier, the rest of the class is up for debate. Tennessee’s Alvin Kamara looks to be an elusive back that can help contribute right away, but he’s never had more than 18 times in one game. Texas’ D’Onta Foreman is a running back who lacks third down skills, but does have game-breaking potential despite his larger frame. Even Oklahoma’s second running back Samaje Perine is being given Day Two consideration, as he looks to be able to handle a large workload and is a goal-line monster.

Those who you should expect to give fantasy production right away, regardless of landing spot include Fournette, McCaffrey, and Cook. When a team invests a first-round pick on a running back, they’re likely going to use him quite a bit. There will be others who’ll contribute, though their value hinges on which team drafts them. While most overvalue wide receivers and tight ends at a young age, you actually want running backs as young as possible in today’s NFL. In 2016, two rookies held the top two spots for rushing yards (Elliott and Jordan Howard).

Sleepers

There are always a few guys who are taken later in the draft that some wonder why they were continually passed over. Even looking at last year, the Bears landed Jordan Howard in the fifth-round, and he went on to total the second-most rushing yards in the league. Looking at the 2017 draft class, there are a few running backs that can make a big impact, despite not being considered in the first few rounds.

One of my favorite Day Three running backs is BYU’s Jamaal Williams, someone who had a lot of question marks surrounding his situation, as he was suspended and forced to leave school for a year, before returning his senior year to break school records. He possesses a three-down skill-set and should be able to contribute right away if there’s an injury in front of him.

Another running back being somewhat underrated is Clemson’s Wayne Gallman, who may not be flashy, but he’s an intelligent runner who can stay on the field at all times. His pass-blocking can use some finessing, but if Gallman lands on a RB-needy team, he could produce RB2 numbers if given the keys to an offense.

If you’re looking for a really late draft pick, Pitt’s James Connor is someone who can surprise people despite going later in the draft. He’s a tackle breaking machine who lacks elite speed, but can be compared to a lite-version of Marshawn Lynch. He also just beat cancer, and if you know anyone who’s gone through that, you know that they can overcome anything. He may never be Le’Veon Bell, but he can most definitely produce near the goal-line to offer fantasy upside.

Pre-Draft Rankings

  1. Leonard Fournette, LSU (View Scouting Report)
  2. Joe Mixon, Oklahoma (View Scouting Report)
  3. Christian McCaffrey, Stanford (View Scouting Report)
  4. Dalvin Cook, Florida State (View Scouting Report)
  5. Alvin Kamara, Tennessee (View Scouting Report)
  6. D’Onta Foreman, Texas (View Scouting Report)
  7. Jamaal Williams, BYU (View Scouting Report)
  8. Wayne Gallman, Clemson (View Scouting Report)
  9. Samaje Perine, Oklahoma (View Scouting Report)
  10. Marlon Mack, South Florida
  11. Kareem Hunt, Toledo (View Scouting Report)
  12. Jeremy McNichols, Boise State
  13. Corey Clement, Wisconsin
  14. James Connor, Pitt
  15. Brian Hill, Wyoming
  16. Matt Dayes, N.C. State
  17. Tarik Cohen, North Carolina A&T
  18. Joe Williams, Utah
  19. Joseph Yearby, Miami
  20. Elijah Hood, North Carolina


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Mike Tagliere is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @MikeTagliereNFL.

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