If you’re anything like me when I play fantasy football, then you like to do all your homework in order to gain the edge on your opponents. One of my favorite strategies is to always draft at least one or two rookies in the later rounds whom I believe will have a bigger impact than most believe. A lot of people don’t agree with this method as they would much rather go with a seasoned veteran in the same round over an unproven commodity. That train of thought is justifiable, but I’d much rather take a risk on a player with potential third round talent in the tenth over a tenth round talent in the same round.

In that spirit, I decided to dish out my thoughts on the top rookie running backs whom I believe will be the most fantasy relevant in 2017. Lists for Tight Ends, Wide Receivers, and Quarterbacks will follow in the near future, so stay tuned for that!

In the comments below, tell me who you guys think is too low, too high, or missing altogether. Hit me up on Twitter at @ChargersLAtely or drop a line in the comments section below.

Let’s get into it.

1.) Christian McCaffrey – Carolina Panthers

I know this may come as a surprise, but I believe McCafferey has the highest ceiling in the draft class as well as the highest floor. The presence of Jonathan Stewart should not scare you away pulling the trigger on him earlier than most. The Panthers’ staff will realize very quickly that Caff is too good of a player to keep off the field. With versatility as his middle name, McCafferey looks to be a match-up nightmare from Day 1 and will look to be used in a variety of ways within the Panther offense. I believe he will flirt with solid RB2 numbers throughout the season and may break out for more than one big game by season’s end.

2.) Leonard Fournette – Jacksonville Jaguars Although Fournette has been the consensus pick to be the top fantasy rookie everywhere else on the internet, I am not completely sold. Don’t get me wrong, I believe he will have a good season compared to the majority of running backs in their first professional season. However, the idea that he will wrestle a large enough amount of carries away from T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory to accumulate RB1 numbers doesn’t seem that realistic. At this point I believe Yeldon is the best third-down back on the roster and Ivory has earned his chance to fight for his job. In the end, I don’t think the front office holds Fournette back too much after using the fourth overall pick on him. Based off his style of running, Fournette will get his yards but they certainly won’t come cheap with the Jags pedestrian offensive line. Maybe he surprises everyone with new catching abilities? Time will tell.

3.) Dalvin Cook – Minnesota Vikings

At one point, Cook was a consensus 1st round pick. Now, he finds himself as a second round selection of the Minnesota Vikings who are devoid of a starting-caliber running back for the first time in over a decade. Cook’s fantasy stock looks solid. I believe the starting gig is his to lose, but it all comes down to how fast he can get up to speed as a professional. Latavius Murray figures to get the first-team reps to begin camp, but I expect Cook to be the starter no later than the halfway way mark of the season. Cook was one of the most complete backs in the draft and he offers upside that Murray has yet to exhibit in his career. The additions of Riley Reiff and Pat Elflein should do nothing but raise expectations for the run game in 2017.

4.) Joe Mixon – Cincinnati Bengals All none-football reasons aside, Mixon is a good football player and I wouldn’t be surprised if he wins the lion’s share of carries coming out of camp. He is a complete back who possesses comparable size to Jeremy Hill (225 pounds) and the pass-catching abilities to give Giovanni Bernard a run for his money. The Bengals may have actually found themselves a back to kill their RBBC once and for all. Add in the presence of A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, John Ross, and Tyler Eifert, and the run game should find itself plenty of room to work with. The Bengals better hope free agency didn’t take too much out of their offensive line, or Andy Dalton won’t even have enough time to feed all the hungry mouths on their roster. 5.) Samaje Perine – Washington Redskins One of the few backs I believe to open the season as the unquestioned starter in the backfield. Samaje Perine is a hoss and a half and should be able to take the ‘Skins run game to a whole new level. Perine plays faster than his 40 time and he should catch a lot of defenses off guard with his ability to pinball off of defenders with incredible ease. He can hold his own in pass protection and possesses soft enough hands to stay on the field for all three downs. Thompson will still likely retain passing down duties due to his productivity in those situations this past season, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him lose some of those snaps further into the season. 6.) Marlon Mack – Indianapolis Colts While Frank Gore has been a picture of consistency over his entire career, he is toeing the line of his twilight years and doesn’t possess the fresh legs Mack would provide on the ground. Mack’s explosive play potential is something the Colts’ have been missing for some time now as well. If Gore shows real signs of regression to begin the season, don’t expect the Colts to wait long on pulling the trigger for Mack to run the show. With Luck struggling the last 2 seasons, he needs his running backs to carry a bigger load as he inches closer to being 100% healthy.

7.) D’Onta Foreman – Houston Texans

One of my favorite backs to watch during the pre-draft process, Foreman has found himself in a favorable situation; especially after Bill O’Brien rcently admitted the Texans have been relying on Lamar Miller a tad too much. Doubts were abundant on Foreman’s talents transitioning well to the NFL after he avoided testing while in Indianapolis. Alas, the guy absolutely balled out at his Pro Day by running a 4.45 40 yard dash (twice) and catching every single pass thrown his way during drills. Foreman may find himself one of the leaders in points among rookies due to his potential as a goal-line opportunist as well.

8.) Kareem Hunt – Kansas City Chiefs Hunt is listed at 215 pounds, but I find him running through defenses like a much bigger back. However, Spencer Ware is no slouch himself as he was one of the most consistent backs in fantasy football this past season; whether it was through the air or on the ground. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Hunt beat out Charandrick West from the get-go for back-up duties, but taking the belt from Ware will be a much tougher task. Hunt will be a priority handcuff as he could see his usage skyrocket if anything unfortunate were to happen to Ware.

9.) Alvin Kamara – New Orleans Saints

I don’t think Kamara could have landed with a better team fit in the draft. The Saints have carved out a spot for a pass-catching back in their offense with the likes of Travaris Cadet and Tim Hightower in years past, and I believe Kamara will slide right into this role come training camp. I’m not too worried with Adrian Peterson and Mark Ingram being in the rotation as the lead back has never overshadowed the third-down back to the point of irrelevance in the fantasy world. Kamara may not be the most consistent fantasy option from week to week, but he will have the opportunity to win you a game or two if used in the right match-ups.

10.) Jeremy McNichols – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A touchdown machine during his time at Boise State University, McNichols finds himself behind up-and-down incumbent Doug Martin and Jacquizz Rodgers, who was productive in his own right in 2016 as injuries carved out a decent role for him in that backfield. Looking ahead, unless the injury bug rears his head once again, McNichols may find himself with the hardest path to fantasy relevancy compared to the rest of this list. Depth chart position aside, McNichols is a talented, dual-threat back who can score in a multitude of ways. He isn’t someone I would initially draft, but I will definitely place him on my watch-list soon after. Right now, he is a better option for dynasty leagues.

Photo credit – Thomson20192 via Flickr

About The Author Michael Peterson

Michael Peterson is an irrational Chargers fan from the heart of the Midwest who is numb to laughter he often receives for admitting that. He spent a year playing tight end and punter at FCS Drake University, before finishing out at the University of Iowa this past December. After hanging up the cleats, Michael has used fantasy football and writing as a means to focus his undying love of the sport.