The Good, The Bad, and the Boring: Rookie Running Backs Edition

By Alex McCarthy
Alex McCarthy Every fantasy football prospect has their proponents and their detractors. If you want to hear exactly how and why a given player will become the next dominant force at their position, odds are you can find an analyst to tell you. Conversely, in most cases you can find an equally credible and fervent detractor telling you why that very same player is the next Bishop Sankey or Nelson Agholor. The truth, of course, is usually more boring- most highly touted prospects don’t flame out entirely, but a relatively small number become elite at their position.

Rather than give you one side of the story, I provide all three. “The Good” focuses on the strengths of a prospect and outlines how a best-case scenario could result in fantasy football dominance. “The Bad” does just the opposite, focusing on a prospect’s flaws and outlining a worst-case scenario that could result in fantasy football mediocrity (or worse, irrelevance). “The Boring” ignores the hype and analyzes the prospect exclusively in terms of historical trends and comparisons. Finally, the “Verdict” section gives my personal take on whether I think the player in question will be Good, Bad, or Boring.

Without further ado, these are my top five running back prospects coming out of the 2017 draft.

Leonard Fournette
Fournette is an dominant power runner who is a throwback to an older era of RBs (so it is somewhat fitting that he looks like he’s in his mid-30s). He has been in the conversation for the top pick in dynasty rookie drafts since he was in high school, and though there have been a few bumps in the road it has not been enough to dampen the enthusiasm of his many fans.

The Good

1. Has the speed of a receiver in the body of an inside linebacker, with an adjusted speed score in the 96th percentile of drafted running backs.
2. Runs angrily through defenders in the grand tradition of Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch and requires perfect form tackling to bring down.
3. Was drafted in the top 10 picks in the NFL draft, which is one of the strongest predictors of fantasy football success.
4. Was drafted by a team that immediately demonstrated commitment to him, not only by drafting him so early but also by selecting an offensive tackle in the second round.
5. Was the only offensive option in college and was still dominant; defenses won’t be able to key on him quite as much in Jacksonville, which should work to his benefit.

Owners can expect low-end RB1 production immediately with the potential for perennial top-4 production at the position.

The Bad

1. Doesn’t see running lates particularly well or have the agility to make defenders miss very often, so he either wins through speed and power or not at all.
2. Takes a lot of punishment as the result of his running style, which could render him injury-prone and limit his career longevity.
3. Is decent but not great in the passing game, which may limit his ceiling by keeping him off the field on third down.
4. Was drafted by a team whose offensive line ranked in the bottom third of the league last season, which will limit the number of open lanes that Fournette already sometimes struggles to find.

Owners can expect RB2 numbers based on volume, but should worry about injuries how long Fournette’s career can last.

The Boring

1. Is being projected in the top-4 ADP.
2. According to a previous study (http://www.footballdiehards.com/fantasy-football-columns/html/fantasy-football-dynasty-101-rookie-draft-and-player-development.cfm), running backs drafted in that range became consistent RB2 (top-24) producers 43% of the time and consistent RB1 (top-12) producers 14% of the time.

Owners can expect probable RB2 numbers with possible but unlikely RB1 upside.

The Verdict

Though Fournette’s style of play is anything but Boring, I’m afraid that’s the narrative I think will be closest to the truth. Fournette is all but guaranteed to experience at least high-end RB2 success, but I think the limited scope of his game and his less-than-ideal supporting cast will probably prevent him from reaching the elite RB1 heights that owners are envisioning.

Christian McCaffrey
The fantasy stock of Christian McCaffrey has been rising consistently over the past few months and culminated with his selection by the Carolina Panthers with the eighth pick. The prospect of a Newton/McCaffrey backfield has Mike Shula drooling and defensive coordinators in the division throwing up their hands in despair.

The Good

1. Routinely makes defenders miss using elite agility (97th percentile among drafted RBs) and sharp, explosive cuts that showcase his quick feet.
2. Anticipates play development extremely well and has excellent vision for finding small running lanes, which allows him to run it successfully between the tackles (an underrated skill in his arsenal).
3. Is incredibly versatile- can line up almost anywhere on the field as a running back or a wide receiver, and is also a force to be reckoned with on special teams.
4. Plays running back but has the hands of a wide receiver, making him even more valuable in PPR formats.
5. Was drafted in the top-10 picks of the NFL draft, which is one of the strongest predictors of fantasy football success.
6. Was drafted by a team where he should see plenty of usage- he will see a lot of dump-off passes as Newton adjusts his playing style to avoid contact, and his own playing style is a perfect complement to current aging RB1 Jonathon Stewart.
7. Was drafted by a team with an already potent offense, which means he will likely have a lot of opportunities at the end zone.

Owners can expect immediate high-end RB2/low-end RB1 production with perennial midrange RB1 potential moving forward (especially in PPR formats).

The Bad

1. Does not have the size one would like for a feature back who will see a lot of contact from a lot of large, angry linebackers.
2. May have some of his looks taken by the Panthers second round pick Curtis Samuel, who is a relatively similar player in terms of style and versatility.
3. Has uninspiring power and strength and is taken down relatively easily once solid contact is made.
4. Could turn out to be more of a gadget player than the three-down back that buyers are hoping for.

Owners can expect inconsistent midrange RB2 production broken up by bouts of injury once he starts getting hit by the likes of Jadaveon Clowney, etc.

The Boring

1. Is being projected in the top-4 ADP.
2. According to a previous study (http://www.footballdiehards.com/fantasy-football-columns/html/fantasy-football-dynasty-101-rookie-draft-and-player-development.cfm), running backs drafted in that range became consistent RB2 (top-24) producers 43% of the time and consistent RB1 (top-12) producers 14% of the time.

Owners can expect probable RB2 numbers with possible but unlikely RB1 upside.

The Verdict

The more I think about McCaffrey on the Panthers, the more I like it. I am of the opinion that a back with his vision and agility could have succeeded anywhere, but on a Panthers team that forces defenses to respect Cam Newton he will wreak havoc. This one looks Good to me.

Joe Mixon
Though he is best known for his right hook, Joe Mixon also plays football- in fact, he’s pretty good at it. So good, actually, that the Bengals managed to overlook his amateur boxing history and draft him in the second round as the presumed replacement to Jeremy Hill. Mixon won’t likely see the volume of a feature back right away due to the presence of Gio Bernard, but his talent and the potency of the Cincinnati offense make him a tantalizing prospect nonetheless.

The Good

1. Has prototypical height/weight/speed for a feature back, with an adjusted speed score in the 91st percentile for drafted running backs.
2. Is extremely well-rounded as a runner- has shown the ability to win through finesse and elusiveness or through sheer power.
3. Has excellent receiving ability to make him a dual threat out of the backfield.
4. Was drafted to a team that has a powerful offense and will likely hand him the ball on the goal-line, providing a lot of opportunity for TDs.

Owners can expect RB2 production immediately with RB1 upside.

The Bad

1. Lacks the vision and football IQ to always take full advantage of his physical abilities.
2. A dependence on physical ability doesn’t usually translate well to the NFL, where virtually everyone is a physical freak.
3. Will have some of his ceiling as a three-down back mitigated by the presence of Giovani Bernard, who just signed a new contract.
4. Has obvious character concerns that will have the league watching his every move closely and could result in suspensions.

Owners can expect a consistently low-end RB2.

The Boring

1. Has a projected ADP between 5-12.
2. According to a previous study (http://www.footballdiehards.com/fantasy-football-columns/html/fantasy-football-dynasty-101-rookie-draft-and-player-development.cfm), running backs drafted in that range became consistent RB2 (top-24) producers 24% of the time and consistent RB1 (top-12) producers 18% of the time.

Owners can expect possible RB2 or RB1 performance but shouldn’t count on it.

The Verdict

Like Fournette, I find Mixon to to be an exciting player but I think his narrative is probably closest to Boring. His lack of creativity and vision worries me, as I am not entirely convinced he will be able to win consistently at the NFL level based on physical ability alone. However, he is too talented a football player for me to dismiss completely, so I feel expectations don’t need to be lowered too much, just kept reasonable.

Dalvin Cook
Dalvin Cook was a pre-draft darling and was the top prospect on many big boards- and then came draft day. Concerns about his character may have led to him dropping to the Minnesota Vikings on day two, a result with which I imagine neither he nor his owners were entirely happy. Still, Cook is an explosive talent who people will probably be thrilled to get in the mid-1st.

The Good

1. Is extremely versatile in terms of scheme- he excelled in running both zone and power while in college.
2. Has excellent speed and vision on the perimeter that allows him to break to the outside the second he sees the opening and break off big chunks of yardage.
3. Is dangerous as a pass-catcher out of the backfield, which particularly increases his value in fantasy football PPR leagues.
4. Makes efficient use of hesitation moves to open up space for himself in the second level.
5. Has a nose for the big play and for the endzone that will serve him well in the pros.

Owners can expect midrange RB2 production with perennial RB1 upside as the Vikings offense improves.

The Bad

1. Was drafted by a team that still lacks a true left tackle and has yet to solidify their offensive line starters, giving me little confidence in their ability to run the ball.
2. Has extremely uninspiring measurables in terms of agility and burst, which raises questions about his game translating to the next level.
3. Is a little too eager to break to the outside, which will become much more difficult when playing against NFL speed.
4. Was drafted by a team that just committed a lot of money to an RB who will probably see most of the goal-line touches, limiting Cook’s fantasy football opportunity.
5. Has a history of off-the-field issues that could suggest poor judgment and the possibility of looming suspensions.

Owners can expect low-end RB2 performance as he struggles along with the Vikings offense.

The Boring

1. Has a projected ADP between 5-12.
2. According to a previous study (link), running backs drafted in that range became consistent RB2 (top-24) producers 24% of the time and consistent RB1 (top-12) producers 18% of the time.

Owners can expect possible RB2 or RB1 performance but shouldn’t count on it.

The Verdict

Apparently running backs just bore me, because again I feel that the most likely narrative here is The Boring one. While Minnesota has clearly committed to improving their run game, we have yet to see the new product on the field. Between that and the presence of Murray at least temporarily limiting the upside of Cook, I wouldn’t be averse to drafting him but would temper my expectations.

Player I’m High On


Kareem Hunt
Kareem Hunt is one of the second tier of running backs that follow my top four, and in my opinion he is the most promising. A shot at the starting RB role for Andy Reid is nothing to sneeze at, and if he is able to seize that job he immediately becomes a valuable fantasy football commodity.

The Good

1. Was hand-picked by running back guru Andy Reid, who felt strongly enough about him to trade up in the draft to select him.
2. Will be playing for a coach who has consistently identified and worked with running backs who dominate from a fantasy football perspective- from Brian Westbrook to LeSean McCoy to Jamaal Charles.
3. Only has Spencer Ware, a converted fullback who is the definition of a JAG (Just A Guy), to compete with for the starting role.
4. Was drafted by a team with a solid offensive line built around my former high school teammate and now-stud-NFL-center Mitch Morse.
5. Is an excellent receiver out of the backfield, which should help him get on the field right away in Kansas City.

Owners can expect low-end RB2 production at first, followed by high-end RB2 production with possible RB1 upside once he firmly takes the feature role from Spencer Ware.

The Bad

1. Has relatively unimpressive speed and agility, so will have to learn to better use his size and could have trouble breaking off longer runs.
2. Sometimes struggles to find running lanes when running the ball inside.
3. Played against second-tier competition in college so may have trouble adjusting to the next-level athletes in the NFL.

Owners can expect his lack of measurable athleticism to prevent him from overtaking Ware or becoming relevant in fantasy football terms.

The Boring

1. Has a projected ADP between 12-24.
2. According to a previous study (http://www.footballdiehards.com/fantasy-football-columns/html/fantasy-football-dynasty-101-rookie-draft-and-player-development.cfm), running backs drafted in that range became consistent RB2 (top-24) producers 15% of the time and consistent RB1 (top-12) producers 10% of the time.

Owners should not necessarily expect anything, but have an unlikely chance at RB2 or RB1 production.

The Verdict

Predictably, I think that the Player I’m High On is going to be pretty good. As I mentioned in my breakdown of Cook, situation is more important to the running back position than to any other, and I love Hunt’s situation. I think he will become the guy for the Chiefs, and Andy Reid’s fondness for the run game will make him a draft day steal based on volume alone. Things look Good for Kareem Hunt.

And that’s it for now! Tune in soon as I continue my draft coverage and break down my top five tight ends and quarterbacks.