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Fantasy Football Rookie Report: Running backs

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  • By NFL Fantasy Staff
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Corey Clement, Wisconsin
Height: 5-foot-10 | Weight: 220
40 time: 4.68
2016 college stats: 314 att, 1,375 yds, 15 TDs, 12 rec, 132 yds
Analysis: At times, Clement flashes impressive strength and tackle-breaking abilities, but routinely struggled to create for himself if there wasn't a gaping hole to run through. He also seemed to avoid contact on runs despite his intimidating physical frame, and scouts have questioned his football character. With 29 career receptions to his name, Clement doesn't offer much in the passing game either, further limiting his chances of early NFL and fantasy contributions. Clement will likely be a late Day 3 draft pick who won't merit much fantasy consideration from such a deep, talented running back class.

D'Onta Foreman, Texas
Height: 6-foot | Weight: 234 pounds
40 time: 4.45
2016 college stats: 323 att, 2,028 yds, 15 TDs, 7 rec, 75 yds

Analysis: Foreman toted the rock 20-plus times in 10 of 11 games last year for the Longhorns, and crossed the 100-yard mark in every single game. He possesses nimble feet and excellent balance for a bigger back, but could stand to play with more physicality given his size. Too often he'll run out of bounds pre-contact instead of fighting for more yards. His balance and size allow him to rip through arm tackles with ease, but ball security is a concern as he had seven fumbles (six lost) in 2016 alone. Foreman is a short yardage stud and rarely gets taken down behind the line of scrimmage. His fantasy value will ultimately be determined by his landing spot, though, as pass-protection issues could keep him on the bench early in his career.

Tarik Cohen, North Carolina A&T
Height: 5-foot-6 | Weight: 179 pounds
40 time: 4.42
2016 college stats: 1,588 rush yds, 18 TDs, 339 rec yds, 1 TD

Overview: The positives with Cohen are readily obvious. His 4.42 speed are the cherry on top of a sundae featuring a dizzying array of quick cuts and ankle-breaking jukes. Add his ability to catch passes and it would seem that Cohen is the type of back every team yearns for. But the negatives can be summed up in one word: small. Cohen is small in stature and played at a small school. Neither of those circumstances is insurmountable, but it will affect how NFL teams see him. If his skills can translate at the professional level, Cohen could have some fantasy deep sleeper value.

James Conner, Pittsburgh
Height: 6-foot-1 | Weight: 233
40 time: 4.65
2016 college stats: 216 att, 1,092 yds, 16 TDs, 21 rec, 302 yds, 4 TDs

Analysis: What Conner might lack in quickness, speed, and burst he more than makes up for in power, strength and determination. For those who don't know, Conner battled back from a diagnosis of Hodgkin's lymphoma and returned to the gridiron. On the field, he's a downhill battering ram runner with a stiff-arm so good it's disrespectful to the defenders attempting to tackle him. Conner's lead-back upside is minimal, but he could be relevant in a Matt Asiata-type role, where he's the goal-line hammer who can also move the chains and catch a pass here and there. He's not a talent worth chasing in fantasy drafts, but is certainly one to root for who could find a niche.

Dalvin Cook, Florida State


Height: 5-foot-10 | Weight: 210 pounds
40 time: 4.49
2016 college stats: 1,765 rush yds, 19 TDs, 488 rec yds, 1 TD

Overview: Cook will likely be one of the top three running backs selected in the NFL Draft and has the skillset to be a contributor immediately. But it's also fair to note that Cook isn't likely to be a team's primary back in his first season despite being a good receiver with elusiveness and excellent quickness. He's not afraid to initiate contact but doesn't frequently "win" and plays smaller than he is. The more believable outcome is that he is a third-down/pass-catching back in the vein of Tevin Coleman.

Matt Dayes, North Carolina State
Height: 5-foot-9 | Weight: 205 pounds
40 time: N/A
2016 college stats: 1,166 rush yds, 10 TDs, 267 rec yds, 0 TD

Overview: Dayes is good at many things but great at very few. A lack of long speed and not many yards after contact were two major knocks against him heading into the combine. With an incomplete and generally uninspiring performance in Indianapolis, there's little hope of him being drafted as more than a reserve back. That offers even less hope of Dayes finding his way onto many (if any) fantasy rosters.

Leonard Fournette, LSU


Height: 6-foot-0 | Weight: 240 pounds
40 time: 4.51
2016 college stats: 843 rush yds, 8 TDs, 146 rec yds, 0 TD

Overview: There's no timeline in which Fournette is not a first-round pick. While opinions on how tranformational he can be still vary, he's going to be an extremely popular pick in all formats. Fournette is the definition of a downhill runner with good speed and extremely physical who is a nightmare to tackle with a head of steam. His skill as a pass-catcher will be a knock on him, though he wasn't asked to do it very much at LSU. Whether he's a first-round fantasy redraft pick (a la Ezekiel Elliot in 2016) depends on which NFL team drafts him. But there's no doubt that he will be a top 3 pick in all dynasty rookie drafts.

Wayne Gallman, Clemson
Height: 6-foot-0 | Weight: 215 pounds
40 time: 4.60
2016 college stats: 1,133 rush yds, 17 TDs, 152 rec yds, 0 TD

Overview: Gallman doesn't immediately pop on film but after watching him long enough, you start to see the traits that make him an interesting prospect. His 40-time belies the agility that helps him pick his way through the first level of the defense. Gallman can frequently make people miss even if he's not frequently running away from them. As a taller back, it's a little disconcerting to see him run so upright despite (or maybe because of) how hard he runs. Overall, the deck is stacked against Gallman earning a big role in an NFL backfield right away and probably won't spur much interest in redraft leagues.

De'Angelo Henderson, Coastal Carolina
Height: 5-foot-7 | Weight: 208
40 time: 4.48
2016 college stats: 183 att, 1,156 yds, 16 TDs, 20 rec, 190 yds, 2 TDs

Analysis: Running back is a position where good players can come in small packages, and that's the case with Henderson. Not only did he hail from a small school/conference, but his stature would seem to indicate he's not built to withstand the NFL grind at his position. That couldn't be farther from the truth, as Henderson possesses excellent balance and power through his lower body and takes on would-be tacklers with vigor. He has excellent speed, too, and proved that at the combine. Has a bit of a propensity to freestyle and not follow his blocks, which will likely slow his ascent to an NFL backfield and draw the ire of coaches. For those with bench space in dynasty looking for a nice developmental pick, Henderson fits the bill. He could also be a name we call on waivers mid-season, depending on the depth of his future backfield.

Brian Hill, Wyoming
Height: 6-foot-1 | Weight: 219 pounds
40 time: 4.54
2016 college stats: 1,860 rush yds, 22 TDs, 67 rec yds, 0 TDs

Analysis: Power is the defining characteristic of Hill's game. He's a tough between-the-tackles runner who doesn't go down easily. The problem is that Hill rates average at best in nearly every other category. With just eight catches in 2016, he has the look of a one-dimensional back. Hill could find his way onto the field as a short-yardage or goal line option in plenty of offenses, but his role isn't likely to expand much beyond that in the immediate future. He's likely to be down the depth chart for a team and won't offer much fantasy value outside of injury in 2017.

Kareem Hunt, Toledo
Height: 5-foot-10 | Weight: 216 pounds
40 time: 4.62
2016 college stats: 1,475 rush yds, 10 TDs, 403 rec yds, 1 TD

Analysis: Has everything you'd want from a back; power, balance, agility and just enough speed to be dangerous anytime he touches the ball. On tape, he shows good patience, an anticipation for where the hole will be and is an effective pass-catcher with 41 receptions in 2016. Hunt isn't the flashiest back in the draft, but he's so solid at everything that any team who takes him will be rewarded. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Hunt compete for a starting gig -- or at least significant snaps -- wherever he lands and is certain to be on plenty of fantasy radars regardless of format this season.

Aaron Jones, UTEP
Height: 5-foot-9 | Weight: 208
40 time: 4.56
2016 college stats: 229 att, 1,773 yds, 17 TDs, 28 rec, 233 yds, 3 TDs

Analysis: Jones fits the "small school, big production" prototype that typically gets #drafttwitter all abuzz. Hailing from Conference USA, Jones ran for 200-plus yards four times in 2016, but defensive stalwarts like New Mexico State, Houston Baptist, Florida Atlantic and North Texas. Nevertheless, Jones' athletic profile is eye-catching, as he earned the second-highest SPARQ score at the position, per Zach Whitman's analysis at Three Sigma Athlete. In addition, while Jones played a lower level of competition, the technique and vision he displayed can translate to the next level. All told, he has the look of a Day 3 steal for a running back needy team with three-down upside, and is worth a second or third-round dynasty rookie pick.

Alvin Kamara, Tennessee


Height: 5-foot-10 | Weight: 214 pounds
40 time: 4.56
2016 college stats: 596 rush yds, 9 TDs, 392 rec yds, 4 TDs

Analysis: Playing in his second and final season in Knoxville, Kamara had a career-high 143 touches in 2016. He was tied for second on the team in receptions (40) and total touchdowns (13) while being Tennessee's third-leading rusher. Did a little bit of everything as the Vols' third down/pass-catching back but his tape didn't show him to be great at any one thing. His combine work was a different story, where he dominated the on-field drills and earned raves with his interviews. The Alvin Kamara hype machine is running at full capacity, but it seems difficult to project a player who's never had 20 carrries in a game or 150 touches in a season to play a role as anything more than a reserve player. He will be one of the more difficult players in this class to peg.

T.J. Logan, UNC


Height: 5-foot-9 | Weight: 196
40 time: 4.37
2016 college stats: 120 att, 650 yds, 7 TDs, 29 rec, 244 yds, 3 TDs

Analysis: Often times in this process we find guys who are better football players than fantasy prospects, and that's what Logan looks like. A speedy runner with great short-area agility, Logan can get to the edge and rip off a back-breaking run with the best of them. He also offers solid hands out of the backfield and his ability in space translates well to the return game (32.9 yards per kickoff return, 2 TDs in 2016). Unfortunately, Logan's size and between-the-tackles running will likely limit him to a specified role in the NFL. He'll be talented and likely perform well in said role, but predicting his fantasy utility will be hard to do unless he falls into a situation where he can see regular targets in the passing game on a weekly basis.

Marlon Mack, South Florida
Height: 5-foot-11 | Weight: 213 pounds
40 time: 4.50
2016 college stats: 1,166 rush yds, 10 TDs, 267 rec yds, 0 TD

Overview: Mack runs as hard as any back in this draft. It doesn't take him long to get up to his top speed, though his 40 time (4.50) suggests that his top speed is pretty average. He has good burst and fluid hips which make him hard to bring down. But his fumble rate will be a red flag for just about everyone. Mack is likely to be drafted in Day 3 and probably won't draw a lot of fantasy interest.

Christian McCaffrey, Stanford


Height: 5-foot-11 | Weight: 202 pounds
40 time: 4.48
2016 college stats: 1,603 rush yds, 13 TDs, 310 rec yds, 3 TD

Overview: McCaffrey was an electrifying player for the Cardinal and watching his workouts makes it easy to envision the same outcome on the NFL level. He was asked to do nearly everything in the Stanford offense thanks to his ability to catch the ball easily and make people miss in space. McCaffrey is willing to lower his shoulder to pick up extra yards but wasn't overly successful in short yardage. He also showed good kick return skills while playing for the Cardinals. Questions about overuse (672 offensive touches the past two seasons) will be there, but shouldn't be a major red flag. In the short term, he'll find his mark as a multi-dimensional player who works as a running back and occasional slot WR. That should be enough to earn him plenty of fantasy interest. If he can work into a larger role, that interest will rise.

Jeremy McNichol, Boise State
Height: 5-foot-9 | Weight: 214
40 time: 4.49
2016 college stats: 314 att, 1,709 yds, 23 TDs, 37 rec, 474 yds, 4 TDs

Analysis: A complete back, McNichols displays good agility and wiggle to avoid tackles near the line of scrimmage. He'll keep his legs churning, but isn't a real powerful back and that might cost him against bigger, stronger competition in the NFL. His pass-catching ability and quickness should get him on the field early, though, and he'll be a name to watch in training camp and preseason if he pushes for significant touches. He's a solid dynasty pick and should be on fantasy radars when the NFL draft hits.

Joe Mixon, Oklahoma
Height: 6-foot-1 | Weight: 226 pounds
40 time: N/A
2016 college stats: 1,274 rush yds, 10 TDs, 538 rec yds, 5 TDs

Analysis: Mixon is arguably the most polarizing prospect in the entire draft. He ws suspended multiple times during his Oklahoma career but the most notable instance was after Mixon was charged with assault for punching a woman in the face. That offense earned him a season-long suspension from the Sooner football team. On the field, Mixon might be the most complete running back in this class. He presents a balanced package of speed and power with the ability to be a threat in the passing game. Were it not for the off-field concerns, there's little doubt that Mixon would be a strong candidate to be the first running back drafted. As it stands, he'll have to wait awhile to hear his name called. For fantasy managers, Mixon's name will be a popular one in plenty of formats, including as a first-round option in dynasty rookie drafts.

Samaje Perine, Oklahoma
Height: 5-foot-11 | Weight: 233 pounds
40 time: 4.65
2016 college stats: 234 att, 1,375 yds, 12 TDs, 7 rec, 80 yds

Analysis: Big, brusing power back who can grind with the best of them but won't "wow" you with a ton of game-breaking highlight plays (though he put enough on tape). Good balance into the second level to bounce off of hits and drag arm tacklers for extra yards, but lacks the quick cuts and wiggle that push backs into another tier. Showed soft hands at the Combine and limited receiving opportunities at Oklahoma (40 carreer receptions in three seasons). His longest rushing touchdown in 2016 was nine yards, but had five of 20-plus in 2015. Long speed and agility scores will likely push him to Day 3 in the NFL Draft, but he could bee the type of late-round value who finds early success in the NFL, akin to Jordan Howard and Alfred Morris.

Donnel Pumphrey, San Diego State
Height: 5-foot-8 | Weight: 176 pounds
40 time: 4.48
2016 college stats: 2,133 rush yds, 17 TDs, 231 rec yds, 0 TD

Overview: The two things most people will talk about with Pumphrey are his big numbers and his small frame. That 4.48 speed and plus agility helped him set the all-time NCAA FBS rushing record. The concern is that Pumphrey is not physically built to be a three-down back in the NFL -- an assertion supported by his poor bench press numbers at the combine. Fortunately, the league's era of specialization means he can certainly find a role with an offense looking to use him in a more unconventional way. Pumphrey looks comfortable catching passes even if he wasn't asked to do it very often at SDSU (he had just 27 catches in 2016 and 99 in four seasons). His success at the next level could rely on him being a change-of-pace back or as a pass-cathing back. Pumphrey will hold some intrigue for fantasy next season, but for now it appears speculative.

Rushel Shell, West Virginia
Height: 5-foot-10 | Weight: 227
40 time: 4.74
2016 college stats: 113 att, 514 yds, 5 TDs, 12 rec, 100 yds

Analysis: With his compact, sturdy frame, Shell is a solid between-the-tackles grinder who excels at lowering his shoulder and fighting for extra yards. Unfortunately, other athletic limitations hold him back from creating much more on his own. He has an effective one-cut style that could find success at the NFL, but 4.74 speed and a lack of college production will likely bury him on an NFL depth chart to start his career, diminishing even his dynasty league value.

De'Veon Smith, Michigan
Height: 5-foot-11 | Weight: 223 pounds
40 time: 4.56
2016 college stats: 181 att, 846 yds, 10 TDs, 16 rec, 66 yds

Analysis: Smith is a big-bodied back who runs right through arm tackles and shows good vision to extend plays at the second level. He's slow to get through the line, though, and seems to lack a top gear to pull away from even Big Ten-level talent. That combination prevents him from getting more than what is blocked, which will limit any fantasy upside he'd have as a rookie. He looks like a backup to start and should be left on the waivers in dynasty rookie drafts.

Jamaal Williams, BYU
Height: 6-foot | Weight: 212 pounds
40 time: 4.59
2016 college stats: 234 att, 1,375 yds, 12 TDs, 7 rec, 80 yds

Analysis: A decisive, downhill runner, Williams is likely to have plenty of fans heading into the draft. A subpar combine likely guarantees he'll see his name called on Day 3, but we've seen effective runners come from that range in the past. Williams' running style will require the right offense, likely a zone-blocking team, for him to find fantasy value. He's great at picking up what's blocked and fighting for extra yards after contact, but struggles to create on his own with agility/quickness and too often seems to seek out contact at the second level. Williams will be worth a late-round pick in dynasty rookie drafts, but not much else to start his career unless the stars align for his fantasy outlook.

Joe Williams, Utah
Height: 5-foot-10 | Weight: 210
40 time: 4.41
2016 college stats: 210 att, 1,407 yds, 10 TDs, 9 rec, 107 yds

Analysis: Williams might be one of the most intriguing prospects in this draft. His story is a strange one (including being kicked off a team for theft and briefly "retiring" as he dealt with personal grief), but once he returned to football in 2016 he left it all on the field, amassing over 1,300 yards and 10 touchdowns in seven games. Desptie a smaller frame, Williams fights through contact, keeps his leg churning, and possesses excellent balance to pick up yards after contact. He's also an impressive athlete with breakaway speed and quick feet that allow him to create on his own. His draft slotting could come down to how teams view his red flags, though, as he in addition to the concerns listed above he lost six fumbles on 289 attempts at Utah and struggles in the passing game. If he falls deeper into the draft and lands on a good team, Williams could have immediate fantasy value, even in redraft leagues.

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