Can you believe it? The NFL season is officially here! With the anticipation of kickoffs and watching four quarters of all our favorite stars, also comes the excitement of fantasy football rosters. This year gives us quite the variety of running backs, and in that cluster of rookies is a big question mark on who will be the next big hit. There are five big names that people are throwing around, and despite all five of them have immense talent to bring towards the future, we can’t expect all of them will be the next Ezekiel Elliot. Here are the top five (in order) of most likely to have break out years for your fantasy football team:
#5 – Joe Mixon
This Oklahoma running back may have the most talent out of all the rookies this year, despite having a shady past. Mixon has already dealt with his suspension with the Sooners, but still dropped a little lower in the draft because of his actions. Looking forward, Mixon should eventually become a starting RB for Cincinnati — but it may not be this year. The Bengals have already announced that Jeremy Hill is their official starting RB, and Giovanni Bernard did not lose his spot as the #2 back on the roster. Might be a good move for Cincinnati to allow Mixon to learn the offense and pace of the game a little more, but it’s bad news for fantasy football owners who drafted Mixon early this year. Only way we’re seeing Mixon play is if there are key injuries, and that may not be towards to the end of the season, if at all. Although that’s exactly how David Johnson was discovered for his supreme talents in the league, so there is always hope for Joe Mixon… just maybe not this year.
#4 – Leonard Fournette
I know what you’re thinking. This must be a mistake, right? Fournette being this low must be some sort of a joke, as in an homage to him being picked #4 overall in the draft. The Jaguars definitely did a great job picking him up early in the draft, seeing the same thing we all saw at LSU: a hard-hitting, side-stepping, burst of talent running full speed ahead. The only vice on Fournette is that he becomes injury prone. While fantasy owners are going to biting their nails and crossing their fingers that Fournette stays healthy for them for a majority of a season, it also poses a good question of just how many touchdowns Fournette will obtain on the Jaguars. It’s not so much a secret anymore that Jacksonville has a young and talented defense, but their offense seems pretty lack luster with Blake Bortles behind center. Fournette may receive the majority of the hand offs in the first quarter, but if the Jaguars are constantly playing catch-up from behind they’re going to be handing off the ball less and less. Don’t expect to see too many garbage time touchdowns coming from the back field this year.
#3 – Dalvin Cook
This Florida State running back has some big shoes to fill in Minnesota this year. Cook is definitely talented, but nobody is entirely sure if he’s exactly Adrian Peterson caliber. Then again, who really is? Cook will most likely be splitting carries with Jerick McKinnon at first, and then going running back by committee once Latavius Murray when he returns from injury reserve. As of right now Cook is named as the leading RB for the team, but the Vikings are going to go with whoever is the hot hand when it comes to game time. Cook’s total touches is a pretty mild worry on whether to play him in fantasy this year though. The real problem is whether Minnesota’s offensive line can help or hurt the rookie RB. Last year Sam Bradford ran in to lots of troubles the last eight games by having constant pressure in his face. The Vikings O-Line were cursed with injuries across the board, and their second string were not ready for the task to take care of business. If the Vikings come into injury problems again this year, their line may not hold very well for such a young and promising Dalvin Cook.
#2 – Christain McCaffrey
As much as he gained love from NCAA affiliates, the biggest criticism McCaffrey received going into the NFL combine was he was too small, too slow, and too weak. The Carolina Panthers took a gamble on him regardless, and it looks to be the better end of the deal considering that McCaffrey had a great pre-season. Picking a great RB early in the draft was a pretty smart move coming from Carolina, who have an aging Jonathan Stewart on their roster. The only worry going in to this fantasy football season is how many rushing touchdowns McCaffrey will see his first year in the big leagues. When on the goal line the Panthers generally will still hand off to Stewart, but they also have the option of looking for their all-pro tight end Greg Olson, or they’ll have Cam Newton run it in to the endzone himself. McCaffrey is his own special breed, though. He will be utilized more so on the receiving end, running the flat routes or quick screens. We could potentially be talking about McCaffrey being up there as some of the greats such as Darren Sproles, Danny Woodhead, or Matt Forte. Expect to see Christain McCaffrey have just as many receiving yards as he does rushing yards this year, which makes him extremely valuable for PPR leagues in fantasy football.
#1 – Kareem Hunt
Possibly the most over-looked running back in the draft this year, Hunt has the most potential to make an identity for himself among the fantasy football world. With Spencer Ware tearing his MCL, it has the gate wide open for Hunt to take over as the new face of their offense. For fantasy football owners, there is no question that Hunt will be taking the majority of the work load on the Chiefs. It’s a nice sigh of relief knowing that Hunt is the starter, but it only adds to the value knowing that the Kansas City is a run-first type of offense. The only question when it comes to their offensive roster is whether or not Patrick Mahomes will take over as starting quarterback this year or not. Andy Reid is one of the most well respected coaches in the NFL, so whether he sits or starts Mahomes people will just his judgement. If Mahomes does become a starter this year, they may capture the same type of lighting in a bottle magic that the Dallas Cowboys had last year with Dak and Zeke. Either way, Hunt has looked impressive during his pre-season, and no matter which quarterback is under center he has a good offensive line to help him out, and an even better defense to rely on to keep the time management on their side. Alex Smith doesn’t throw too many passing TD’s, so the majority of the Chief’s scoring is going to be coming from the running game.