Every dynasty league owner has the same goal; to win a championship. To do so, they have to build the best possible team. Most owners look to improve their team through the rookie draft, hoping to find the next big star. 2017 was one of the best seasons for rookie running backs. Four rookies finished in the top 10 for running backs in PPR leagues. Besides those four, another two were on their way to having good years as well.
The four that finished as RB1s last year were; Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt, Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffery. The next two running backs with the potential to be a top running back are Joe Mixon and Dalvin Cook. All six of these players have been taken in the first two rounds of dynasty startup drafts lately. They have put up impressive numbers or were on their way to until they got hurt.
Right now, I would like to break down each of these players and our opinion on their future outlook.
Alvin Kamara, New Orleans
When I think of a Sean Payton offense, I don’t think of a high scoring running back. In 2017 however, they had two; Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram. Alvin Kamara started the year behind not only Ingram but future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson as well. After the second week of the season, the Saints decided to trade the ineffective Peterson away to Arizona, giving Kamara a chance to carry his share of the load. By season’s end, he carried the ball 120 times to get 728 yards and eight scores. Through the air, he added 81 catches for 826 yards and five more touchdowns. With these stats, he finished as the third-best running back in 2017.
2018 Fantasy Outlook: As Drew Brees gets older, the Saints are going to look to run the ball more. The fact that Mark Ingram is possibly suspended for the first four games of the season should not affect Kamara’s value. New Orleans won’t want to increase Kamara’s workload for those four games only to burn him out down the stretch. Side note, Ingram is challenging the current suspension by the NFL. Regardless of the result of that appeal, Kamara should be a first-round pick in most startup dynasty drafts. As long as he can continue his production from last year, his fantasy hype should be on par of Le’Veon Bell.
Kareem Hunt, Kansas City
The Chiefs believe they found a running back of the future in the 2017 NFL draft by drafting Kareem Hunt. An injury to Spencer Ware in the preseason cleared the path for Hunt to be the day one starter in Kansas City. Hunt finished his rookie campaign with 272 yards rushing for 1327 yards and eight scores. He also added 53 receptions for 455 yards and three more touchdowns. Hunt had two games last year where he scored at least 35 points. Week one he had a monster game totaling 148 rushing yards, five receptions with 98 yards receiving and three scores. However, scored 15 points or fewer eight times during the 2017 season. Andy Reid has had a knack for getting the most out of his running backs out of the past, and Kareem Hunt seems to be no exception.
2018 Fantasy Outlook: It seemed like the Chiefs couldn’t trade Alex Smith soon enough after the season was over. Now the Chiefs have second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes under center. Mahomes has a better arm than Smith and has been building chemistry with newly signed Sammy Watkins, along with Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce. Because of this, Hunt should be facing some defenses that need to protect the pass and Hunt could have another great season as the Chiefs are going to want to slowly bring Mahomes along. The only thing I could see standing in Kareem Hunt’s way this season is possibly losing some carries to Spencer Ware.
Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville
Fournette proved himself worthy of the fourth overall selection of the 2017 NFL draft. He rushed for 1040 yards and nine touchdowns on 268 carries. He also added 36 catches for 302 yards and a score receiving. Fournette missed two games last year due to a nagging ankle injury, and another because of a team suspension. When in the line-up he averaged 17.7 points per game last year.
2018 Fantasy Outlook: While Fournette’s ankle is a concern; I would be willing to gamble on him for another year. Fournette is the featured running back on a team more setup to run the ball. Fournette amassed over 1300 total years with shaky quarterback play from Blake Bortles and should see stacked boxes again this year. Jacksonville has a very good defense and will rely on Fournette to keep the clock moving on offense. He should still be taken with one of the top 16 picks of a startup dynasty draft and a solid contributor for many years.
Christian McCaffery, Carolina
Normally when you hear that a running back has 435 yards and only two touchdowns rushing you would move on to the next player. With McCaffery however, he is a great receiver out of the backfield. Last year he caught 80 passes to get 651 yards and five scores. Last year, McCaffery had nine games where he scored under 12 points. The Panthers brought CJ Anderson in to fill the power back role, so McCaffery’s rushing totals might not increase this year as some have hoped.
2018 Fantasy Outlook: In the 2018 NFL Draft, the Panthers added competition for targets by drafting DJ Moore in the first round. Moore could eat into some of McCaffery’s targets. CJ Anderson will handle more of the power back role, with Cam Newton stealing some goal-line carries. I’m not saying to try to trade McCaffery away right now, but his value could be at the highest it will get.
Dalvin Cook, Minnesota
Dalvin Cook was arguably the top fantasy rookie pick last year. He injured his ACL during a week four contest against the Detroit Lions. In four weeks had 74 rushing attempts for 354 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught 11 passes for 90 yards. There are multiple opinions and feeling about Cook. Some think he will be better than ever this season. Some fantasy players don’t feel comfortable taking a chance on a player recovering from an ACL injury.
2018 Fantasy Outlook: McKinnon benefited the most from Dalvin Cook getting hurt last year, by signing a contract with San Francisco. Leaving on Latavius Murray as his only competition for reps in the Vikings backfield. Cook should pick right up where he left off from 2017. He saw around five targets per game in the passing game and had around 18 carries a game. Newly acquired quarterback Kirk Cousins should target Cook often and use him to keep defenses honest against the pass. He is going around 14thoverall in startup drafts right now and has been drafted as high as 10thoverall.
Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals
Joe Mixon was considered a top-four pick in most rookie drafts last year. Many draft experts thought of Mixon being a three-down back because of his pass catching ability and receiving skills. His draft stock was crushed before the draft when a video of Mixon assaulting a female student was released. The Bengals took a chance on him in the second round. Running behind an offensive line that lost two of its key members in the offseason proved costly as he finished the season with 178 carries for 626 yards with four scores and caught 30 balls for 287 yards.
2018 Fantasy Outlook: The Bengals team as a whole was terrible in 2017. After losing Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler in free agency, they had issues run blocking and pass protecting. Before the 2018 draft, they traded back with the Buffalo Bills to acquire Cordy Glenn in the process. With the pick that they received from the Bills they then drafted Billy Price from (The) Ohio State. Mixon, who is just 21 years old, still has the upside to be a good dynasty startup pick. However, Giovani Bernard will cap his receiving upside while he is still in Cincinnati.
Thank you for reading part 1 of our sophomore running back series. In part 2, Joshua Stock will be covering Tarik Cohen and some other sophomore running backs to consider adding to your team.