2017’s draft class is loaded with talent and versatility at the running back position. They may have more talent than any other position in this year’s draft, and with running backs gaining prominence in NFL offenses again, we could see the most running backs taken in the first round since 2012. The talent falls out of the first round and could offer real playmakers well into the fourth round.
5. Joe Mixon, Oklahoma: Mixon has first round talent and is one of the most versatile backs in the draft, but because of an arrest in 2014 for assaulting a woman, there are obvious off field concerns that will have teams spending a long time thinking over their decision. The NFL chose not to invite Mixon to the Combine, so teams will have to wait for his Pro Day to get a chance to conduct interviews. Mixon took over as the lead back from Samaje Perine, but the two still split carries with Perine doing more short field work and power running. Mixon still managed to rack up to rush for 1,183 yards while adding another 450 yards and 5 touchdowns as a receiver. Mixon is a speedster out of the backfield who beats defenses by ripping of long runs, and has enough to power to fight for extra yards and convert short yardage situations when necessary. Even if Mixon doesn’t start off in a feature role whatever team that has him will be able to utilize him in third down situations. He is an elite receiver out of the backfield and has proven to be viable deep threat, a skill that is coveted in high passing offenses. Mixon has the potential to be an every down back, but he must prove to teams that he is not the same person he was in 2014.
4. D’Onta Foreman, Texas: Foreman had a monster season in 2016 and led a Longhorns offense that looked unstoppable throughout most of the season. He proved that he can handle a heavy workload and be extremely effective, averaging 6.3 yards per carry. He plays physical and punishes teams for fourth quarters, at times looking like Marshawn Lynch. He isn’t much of a receiver, but he doesn’t go down on first contact, is automatic within 5 yards, and has enough speed to break away for long runs. Foreman can be a legitimate number one back for a team, and if his hands can improve, he could be a key feature on a playoff level teams. Foreman shouldn’t fall too far into the second round, and he could even sneak into the first if a team like Green Bay decides they can’t risk waiting till the end of the second to find an every down back they’ve been missing.
3. Christian McCaffrey, Stanford: McCaffrey had a record-setting season in 2015 and finished second in Heisman voting. In 2016, he played for a Stanford offense that was near void of talent outside of himself, which led to less success. But, he still displayed his ability to change a game at any moment. McCaffrey is the most versatile back in the draft and racks up all purpose yards like no one else. McCaffrey will be able to shine early as a return man who is a consistent threat to break one for a touchdown, almost always giving his offense good starting position. McCaffrey is just as talented in the backfield as he is a returner, and will be able to impact an offense multiple ways. He can handle a heavy workload, run in multiple schemes and feature as a workhorse back carrying an offense. As a receiver though, McCaffrey is truly at his deadliest. He can come out of the backfield as a check down, make big plays on screens and wheels, and split out wide much like Le’veon Bell serving as a red zone target. McCaffrey will be used all over the field once he enters the league and could have one of the more impressive rookie seasons.
2. Dalvin Cook, Florida State: In my opinion, Dalvin Cook is the most exciting back to watch in this class and is a top-10 talent. He was hindered by injuries at times this season, but still managed to score an impressive 20 times this season. Cook possess elite speed for the next level and at his best in the open field. He accelerates through holes and into the second level faster than any prospect this year, weaves around defenders in the open field, and can separate from most defenders to break off long scores. While at Florida State, he didn’t play a huge role in the passing game, but has shown that he has the skills and hands to be an effective NFL receiver. There will be some concerns over ball security, which has been his only real issue at Florida State over the past three seasons. Cook is the second best back in the draft and should be taken top 20. He’s an every down player that will can be the biggest threat to score on most offenses. His speed is impressive even by NFL standards and will change game plans for both offenses and defenses.
1. Leonard Fournette, LSU: If Fournette didn’t have any injury concerns, he would be a better prospect than Ezekiel Elliott was. This past season, Fournette dealt with an ankle injury that limited his action and sidelined him for a little. That injury will be looked at extensively during the draft process, but if it heals properly and he stays healthy, then we’re looking at a player that has generational talent. While at LSU, he played in an offense with quarterbacks that at best could be called inept, receivers that were consistently underwhelming, and playcalling that would’ve made Jeff Fisher look like offensive savant. Despite having literally nothing to maximize talent, Fournette was an absolute beast that consistently piled up the yards against 8-man fronts and heavy blitzes. Every game he played in for the Tigers, defenses only focused on stopping him, but only Alabama can say the shutdown a healthy Fournette. He can run through, around, or by most defenders, has one of the best stiff arms the world has ever seen, and star in power, zone, and spread run schemes. Fournette is a top-10 pick with the talent to be the star of an offense and he’s my early favorite for Rookie of the Year. If he can get behind a semi-decent line his rookie year, he’ll instantly be recognized among the league’s elite runners. I don’t think he can replicate Elliott’s numbers because of the Cowboys’ line ,but Fournette can have a very similar impact to his team during year 1.