With the 2017 NFL season on the horizon, a number of talented guys are still playing under rookie contracts. Now is the time to make some future loot! With that in mind, NFL Network analysts Ike Taylor, Willie McGinest, LaDainian Tomlinson, David Carr and Nate Burleson scoured the positions they respectively manned during their playing days (CB, LB, RB, QB and WR) to identify youngsters poised for a breakout campaign.
Today's list: Hall of Fame Class of 2017 inductee LaDainian Tomlinson's list of young running backs to watch in 2017.
Ty Montgomery, Green Bay Packers
2017 projection: 1,000 rushing yards, 500-600 receiving yards and 15 total touchdowns.
Drafted as a wide receiver in 2015, Montgomery was forced to take carries out of the backfield last season for the Packers, who were in need of help on the ground due to injuries and a lack of RB depth. Montgomery's still learning the position, but he proved that he's fully capable of handling the run game a year ago. Although Green Bay drafted three running backs this year (Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones and Devante Mays), Montgomery will be the guy. Aaron Rodgers loves that No. 88 can catch the ball -- expect him to be very involved in the Packers' offensive plans. He's a matchup problem out of the backfield for linebackers and safeties. He's going to have a huge season.
Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans
2017 projection: 150 carries for 800-plus rushing yards and 7-8 touchdowns.
We knew what the former Heisman Trophy winner was bringing into the league -- and he delivered in 2016, albeit in a limited role. Although the rookie took a backseat to DeMarco Murray, Henry still managed to rack up 110 carries for 490 yards (4.5 yards per carry). Henry's five touchdowns came in the red zone, an area where Tennessee led the league in scoring last season. His physical presence (6-foot-3, 247 pounds) embodies how the Titans want to play; their smashmouth approach fits Henry's bruising style. As a running back in Year 2, he's going to feel more comfortable with the rhythm of the run game and be more in sync with his offensive line. In doing so, Henry will take carries away from Murray and evolve his game.
Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals
2017 projection: 1,000 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.
I know the Bengals have a crowded backfield, but I keep going back to Joe Mixon. His talent is undeniable. Giovani Bernard is coming off an ACL injury, so there's the question of how he'll return. Jeremy Hill is in a contract year, and Cincinnati drafted Mixon for a reason. The Bengals believe Mixon is a mix between the other two. It's like Marvin Lewis said about his rookie running back in July: "He's off the charts talent-wise. Big, fast, catch, run, see, smart -- and he's a 20-year-old kid. He's as smart as a whip." Mixon's about to take the league by storm.
Carlos Hyde, San Francisco 49ers
2017 projection: 1,300 rushing yards and 10-plus touchdowns.
Hyde has slowly improved, production-wise, in the last three seasons (83 carries for 333 yards in 2014, 115 for 470 in 2015 and 217 for 988 yards in 2016). But since coming into the league in 2014, Hyde has battled injury after injury, most recently suffering an MCL tear in Week 16 last season. If he's able to take care of his body and stay on the field, he's going to do wonders for a 49ers offense that has ranked 31st overall in each of the last two seasons. The talent is there for Hyde to have a huge year.
C.J. Prosise, Seattle Seahawks
2017 projection: 1,000 yards from scrimmage and 10 total touchdowns.
Prosise showed flashes of greatness as a rookie (when he played just six games due to injuries), and he's a guy who can take the next step, despite a crowded backfield in Seattle. Thomas Rawls didn't get the nickname "Baby Beast Mode" for no reason, but he's struggled to stay healthy. And though Eddie Lacy seems to be getting in better shape, he won't be able to demand 200-plus carries. If Prosise can stay healthy, he'll be a dual-threat weapon for the offense. He's a legit home-run hitter and can do things the other two backs can't. He's dynamic on the edge and can catch out of the backfield. Prosise is an electric talent who'll get plenty of touches and touchdowns in Year 2.