Analysis  

 

Kareem Hunt, Joe Mixon own styles best suited for long haul

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Rookie running backs have taken the league by storm during the 2017 NFL season. Former All-Pro running back Maurice Jones-Drew looks at eight first-year rushers, analyzing their running styles and potential for long-term success, to rank them based on who he'd want for the long haul.

1
Kareem Hunt
RB
Chiefs

2017: 106 carries | 630 rush yds | 5.9 avg | 4 rush TDs | 21 rec | 255 rush yds | 2 rec TDs

Like I said before the draft, Hunt has short-area quickness and good leg drive on contact. He has really good hands (e.g. this Week 1 play). I was unsure about his speed (ran a 4.62-second 40-yard dash at the combine), but he's shown through the fist six weeks that he can run away from cats. He's better than a system player, but he ended up on a great team with creative coaches and weapons around him.

I want Hunt for the long haul not because he's leading the league in rushing yards and scrimmage yards, but because he's shown he can handle a lot of touches and rarely takes head-on hits. His style of play gives him the ability to have a longer career than most.

2
Joe Mixon
RB
Bengals

2017: 67 carries | 187 rush yds | 2.8 avg | 1 rush TDs | 11 rec | 78 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

Mixon is versatile, accelerates through contact and has great patience. I would've liked to  have seen him start sooner, but he's still fighting to win the RB battle. Mixon has shown great ability to create mismatches on the field when he's used in the passing game, which hasn't been as much as I'd prefer. But Cincy's Le'Veon Bell-like back is able to turn a negative into a positive in the run game and will be successful as long as he's in an offense that isn't built around him.

3
Leonard Fournette
RB
Jaguars

2017: 130 carries | 596 rush yds | 4.6 avg | 6 rush TDs | 15 rec | 136 rec yds | 1 rec TDs

He's lived up to everything we thought he was going to be coming out of the draft. Fournette, who's actually faster than I initially thought, is an explosive, downhill power runner who accelerates through contact and is dangerous in the open field. He's getting a lot of carries right now, averaging nearly 22 per game. Combine that with his physical running style, and I'm hoping he stays healthier than he did in college.

4
Dalvin Cook
RB
Vikings

2017: 74 carries | 354 rush yds | 4.8 avg | 2 rush TDs | 11 rec | 90 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

Coming out of a pro-style offense at Florida State, Cook flashed early with the Vikings showing he's capable of being a three-down back. Before losing him to a  torn his ACL in Week 4, the Vikings used him in the exact way FSU did, featuring him in both the run and pass games. I thought he did a good job in pass protection, which only builds on his value. I'd label Cook as a slasher, someone who sees an opening and accelerates through the hole. A slasher uses a combination of vision, to find the hole, and speed, to get from point A to point B.

If Cook was still playing, he'd probably be second behind Hunt. But now, he's got to come back from a major injury and not everyone is Adrian Peterson.

5
Aaron Jones
RB
Packers

2017: 45 carries | 215 rush yds | 4.8 avg | 2 rush TDs | 2 rec | 10 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

Take a look at my scouting report of Jones from back in March. I absolutely hit the nail on the head with this guy. He's a well-rounded back who is good at everything, but not great at one thing. That's exactly what we've seen from Jones since he got his opportunity in Week 4. He's tough to tackle, has decent speed, runs good routes and moves well in the open field. 

6
Alvin Kamara
RB
Saints

2017: 25 carries | 158 rush yds | 6.3 avg | 1 rush TDs | 24 rec | 159 rec yds | 1 rec TDs

Kamara is Reggie Bush 2.0. Head coach Sean Payton is utilizing Kamara's ability out of the backfield to win matchups against linebackers and safeties. When Karama's asked to run the ball, he's shown an increased comfort and effectiveness running between the tackles. He's elusive but comes in at No. 6 on my list because to be considered a feature back, he eventually will have to run the ball consistently. (Strange concept, I know.) If he can't do that, he's going to be tagged as a third-down back.

7
Christian McCaffrey
RB
Panthers

2017: 38 carries | 104 rush yds | 2.7 avg | 0 rush TDs | 37 rec | 293 rec yds | 2 rec TDs

I'm disappointed with what I've seen so far from McCaffrey. The eighth overall pick in the 2017 draft hasn't been used much in the Panthers' run game. And when he has taken a handoff from Cam Newton, he hasn't had much success running between the tackles. McCaffrey's been used as more of a receiver -- like Kamara with the Saints -- and is excelling in that aspect. We haven't seen that home-run ability McCaffrey showed off in college, and after seeing him through the first six weeks, I just think he's in a situation where they're still trying to figure out how best to use him.

8
Tarik Cohen
RB
Bears

2017: 50 carries | 226 rush yds | 4.5 avg | 0 rush TDs | 26 rec | 158 rec yds | 1 rec TDs

Cohen is a jitterbug. He's tough to tackle in space because of his footwork, but as has been a common theme with the two backs ahead of him, Cohen hasn't had consistent success running inside. The North Carolina A&T product has done well adjusting to the competition, but he's learning that he can't outrun everyone at the pro level. Cohen is a third-down, change-of-pace back and a special teams player. He's talented, but that's what he'll primarily be in his career.

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