As is the case every season, there is value with rookies and there are overpriced rookies. It is easy to assume that because a player is a high NFL Draft Pick that he is going be an instant fantasy star. If only it were that easy to transition to the NFL. Ezekiel Elliot was the exception to the rule, and let’s if we can find this years’ exception.
It’s all based on where the player fits into the scheme of his particular team. For example, a veteran like Carlos has hidden value playing for San Francisco has a very run-oriented offense. With that in mind, by attrition Hyde is going to get more attempts. On top of that, he catches passes out of the backfield. So, let’s look at how the top five RB’s drafted might rank.
6. Kareem Hunt
He may well be the one rookie that provides a great ROI very quickly. Kansas City cutting Jamal Charles leaves the door wide open for him to have 20+ touches per game, and he’s a GREAT pass-catcher, meaning that he should be on the field most every down. He fits in well with what the Chiefs like to do, so the only question will be how quickly he can adapt from playing in the MAC to playing in the NFL. To his credit, he had four full years at Toledo, which also might give him a leg up on some of the early-entries.
5. Joe Mixon
He is in the ideal situation, aside from the fact that Cincinnati hasn’t been the Mecca for well-behaved players over the years. Jeremy Hill had the ACL injury that ended his season, so Mixon will get every chance to be on the field more often than not. The Bengals have always been a run-first team, but couldn’t, and Mixon could change that. At Oklahoma Mixon was tremendous out of the backfield, finding the end zone nine times in two years, and averaging over 13 yards per catch. Just as it was drafting him, the upside here is huge. Playing against faster and bigger team in the Big-12 should give him a leg-up in the transition, provided his head is in the right place. In College he (as most do) was able to rely on sheer athletic ability, which won’t work in the NFL.
4. Dalvin Cook
Clearly without Adrian Peterson one would think that makes Cook the next “Fantasy AP.” One caveat here is that Minnesota signed Latavius Murray in Free Agency, so assuming the Cook will get the bulk of the work might be short-sighted. One thing in Cook’s favor is that he has stayed healthy, but the downside might be that many rookie RB’s aren’t on the field in third down situations simply because they struggle picking up the blitz. The upside is that the Vikings threw the ball a lot more in 2016 than many other years, but that’s a byproduct of being behind and not being ABLE to run the ball. Cook will catch passes out of the backfield, and with Minnesota being very thin at WR, if your league puts more emphasis on yards, he could be your guy.
3. Christian McCaffrey
On paper he has it all. He’s obviously a great target out of the backfield and carrying the ball 25 times per game is something he’s used to. However, the downside is clearly Jonathon Stewart. He’s coming off a career year in terms of touchdowns, but the yards per carry were way down. The key for McCaffrey will be how the Panthers use him, and as a what should be an every down back he will get his chances. I’d put him at the top off the list simply because the Panthers have always been a run-first team and don’t really have the deep threat WR, which should give a Panther RB plenty first-and-goal situations.
2. Alvin Kamara
Playing in the SEC give anyone an advantage early in their NFL career, simply because most teams have pro-style offenses and the defenses are just that much quicker, so the leap to the speed of the NFL game isn’t quite as much as playing in a smaller conference. However, is Kamara’s case it’s not his talent that will be the issue. It’s his propensity for getting in trouble off the field (and New Orleans DOES have its temptations) and the fact that he’s going to share time with Mark Ingram. When we add in that the Saints are not a ground-and-pound team, Kamara might be someone to stay far away from.
1. Leonard Fournette
Obviously he has the talent to play in the NFL, but as a fantasy stud that may be a reach. Remember, he missed a large part of his final year at LSU with an injury, so that is a big question. He was not targeted out of the backfield, so his options for points might be limited to being a two-down back. He will probably share time with Yeldon, at least initially, but more importantly is that Jacksonville has a rough offensive line and has been forced to throw far more than they’d like to. To complicate matters, the Jaguars don’t have much talent on the outside, so although they’ve got a new face-of-the-franchise, there’s a quantum leap from expectations to fantasy points.