by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
The 2016 NFL Draft is barely in our rearview mirror, but that’s not going to stop anyone from looking ahead to 2017 is it? The running back draft class has the chance to be historic, with one lock for the first round and a few others who could join him. Obviously a lot can happen between now and then (injuries, players opting to stay in school, off the field issues, etc.), but let’s kick off our rankings (which will be updated consistently throughout the year):
1) Leonard Fournette – LSU
After an impressive freshman year (187 carries for 1,034 yards and 10 TD), Fournette was fully unleashed in his sophomore campaign and made a statement:
- Rushing – 300 carries for 1,953 yards (6.5 YPC) and 22 TD
- Receiving – 19 catches for 253 yards and 1 TD
Listed at 6’1″ and 230 lbs., he certainly backed up the hype bestowed upon him when he initially signed at LSU. If Ezekiel Elliot was selected fourth overall, it’s not unthinkable that Fournette is selected even earlier than that. He’s been compared to Adrian Peterson and could conceivably be the premier talent in the upcoming draft class.
2) Dalvin Cook – Florida State
With the departure of Jameis Winston it was Cook who took on a greater role in the offense, posting his second consecutive 1,000+ yard season (1,691, averaging 7.4 YPC) and 20+ reception year (24 receptions for 244 yards and 1 TD). Those numbers tell us that he could be utilized as a three down back in the NFL, though he could be lifted in goal line/short yardage situations. That’s hardly a knock, in the time of committees, however.
3) Christian McCaffrey – Stanford
You can argue that he’s a bit undersized, at 6’1″ and 200 lbs., and while he didn’t find the end zone very often (13 total TD, 8 rushing and 5 receiving) he showed an ability to both run the football (2,019 yards on 300 carries) and catch it (45 receptions for 645 yards). Of course he was explosive in the return game (he returned both a punt and a kickoff for a TD), showing that he’s a threat to score every time the ball is in his hands. The runner-up for the Heisman Trophy last season, his size could be what keeps him in the second round. The explosiveness could turn him into the second best prospect of the class, but for now he’ll come in at #3.
4) Nick Chubb – Georgia
His sophomore season was ended due to a knee injury, so he’s going to somewhat have to “prove it” this season (and a sub par showing could easily lead to him returning to school). That said there is no questioning the potential, and the 5’10”, 220 lbs. back could easily be the second best of the group. He was averaging 8.1 YPC prior to the injury (92 carries for 747 yards and 7 TD), after rushing for 1,547 yards and 14 TD his freshman season. He’s certainly a name to watch.
5) Jalen Hurd – Tennessee
There are quite a few players who could earn this spot on the rankings, but for now we are going to give Hurd the spot (though this is subject to change). It’s hard to miss him on the field (6’4″. 240 lbs.), yet he’s shown an ability to both run (1,288 yards, 12 TD) and catch the football (57 catches over his first two seasons). That’s a scary combination, for a player his size, and will certainly allow him to carve out a role at the next level.
Others to watch:
- Royce Freeman – Oregon
- Samaje Perine – Oklahoma
- Wayne Gallman – Clemson
Make sure to check out all of our Team Top 10 Prospect Lists: