Ranking the draft-eligible running backs for fantasy
Jeff Ratcliffe offers fantasy rankings and scouting reports on the rookie running backs eligible for this year's NFL draft.
Ranking the draft-eligible running backs for fantasy
With the combine in the books and college pro days kicking off, we’re starting to get a good picture of how the rookies in the 2017 NFL draft class stack up against each other. In the coming days, we’re going to go position-by-position and provide a detailed fantasy profile for each of the prospects in this year’s class.
Remember, ranking players is a process that continuously changes as we get new pieces of information. The biggest piece won’t come until late April when the player is either drafted, signed as an undrafted free agent, or passed over by the 32 NFL teams. For now, all the incoming players exist in a vacuum without a team and can be compared on even ground.
Below you’ll find the post-combine rookie running back rankings for the 2017 NFL draft class.
1. Dalvin Cook, Florida State — An explosive playmaker, Cook topped 1,000 rushing yards in each of his three seasons at Florida State and scored 20 total touchdowns in each of the last two seasons. Prototype size (5-foot-10, 210) and extremely elusive. He led the nation in 2016 with 90 forced missed tackles and averaged an impressive 4.2 yards after contact. Cook is also an effective receiver, catching 33 balls for 488 yards last season. Does have some injury baggage with a nagging hamstring injury in 2015 and three shoulder surgeries. Also has several off-field issues with two charges dropped (robbery in 2009, and possessing a weapon on school property in 2010) and he was found not guilty of battery outside a bar in 2015. Not the best combine workout, but ran 4.48 in the 40 and put up 22 reps on the bench. With legitimate three-down ability and explosive upside, Cook has the makings of a future fantasy standout. He has the potential to be an RB1 in very short order.
2. Leonard Fournette, LSU — Arguably the nation’s best player in 2015, Fournette racked up 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns to go along with 19 catches for 253 yards and a score. He also forced a nation-leading 83 missed tackles. Injuries hampered his 2016 campaign, as he suffered an ankle injury in the preseason that nagged him for much of the year and he only managed to play seven games. He has the size (6-0, 240) to hold up to a full NFL workload and showed impressive speed at the combine (4.51 40 time). He doesn’t offer a lot as a receiver and only stayed in to block on 47 passing plays last year. Despite those possible deficiencies, he’s still a rare talent who has some elements of Adrian Peterson to his game.
3. Joe Mixon, Oklahoma — Comes with major off-field baggage, but has been impressive on the field. Skilled as a runner and receiver, Mixon graded out No. 4 overall and was the top-graded receiver among running backs in 2016. He was suspended for all of 2014 for punching a female student in the face and was suspended for one game in 2016 for an altercation with a parking lot attendant after receiving a ticket. Still, he managed 1,274 yards and 10 scores on the ground to go along with 37 catches for 538 yards and five scores. He also averaged an impressive 3.72 yards after contact. Very agile for his size (6-1, 226), and has breakaway speed (4.43 40 time at his pro day) with 56.9 percent of his yards coming on runs of 15-plus yards (21 of them). Ranked second among running backs in yards per route run (2.85). Character concerns are very real, but so is his talent. Mixon has drawn comps to Arian Foster and Le’Veon Bell. If he keeps his nose clean, he could be a fantasy monster.
4. Christian McCaffrey, Stanford — Though he doesn’t have prototype NFL size (5-11, 202), McCaffrey is a versatile back who put up prolific numbers at the college level. In 2015, he topped 2,000 yards rushing and set an NCAA record with 3,864 all-purpose yards. For his efforts, he graded out as our No. 1 overall running back. He dealt with injuries in 2016, but still managed to grade out No. 5 in the nation with 1,639 rushing yards and 16 total touchdowns. McCaffrey forced 21 missed tackles as a receiver, which was third in the FBS. Combine all-star with a 4.48 40-yard dash time, and strong performances in the vert (37.5″), 3-cone (6.57), 20-yard shuttle (4.22), and 60-yard shuttle (11.03). His abilities as a receiver bode positively for fantasy success.
5. Alvin Kamara, Tennessee — It almost didn’t happen for Kamara, as he redshirted his freshman season at Alabama and ended up leaving after being suspended for the Sugar Bowl for behavioral reasons. He ended up playing at Hutchinson Community College in 2014 and made his way back to the SEC in 2015. Didn’t rack up a ton of touches in 2016 and missed time with an LCL sprain in his left knee. Finished with 101 carries for 596 yards and nine scores along with 40 catches for 392 yards and four scores. Tied for the nation high in forced missed tackles among running backs as a receiver with 23 and averaged and impressive 3.81 yards after contact per attempt. Also ranked fifth among running backs in yards per route run (2.40). Has good size (5-10, 214) and speed (4.56). Posted position bests in the vert (39.5 inches) and broad jump (10-11). He’s unproven as a workhorse – didn’t have more than 20 carries in any game in his college career – but Kamara has a very intriguing fantasy profile.
6. D’Onta Foreman, Texas — A big-bodied (6-0, 233) running back who was a one-year wonder at Texas. Following a 2015 campaign where he posted 672 yards, Foreman exploded for 2,028 last season, which was second in the nation. He also scored 15 touchdowns. Doesn’t offer much as a receiver, with just seven catches last season. He showed good elusiveness, averaging 3.53 yards after contact per attempt and forced 64 missed tackles as a runner. Only five backs had more on the ground. Had seven fumbles (six lost) in 2016. But was actually one of the nation’s top pass-blocking backs with zero pressures yielded in 163 pass-block snaps. Injured at the combine and didn’t run. Though he doesn’t have an extensive resume and isn’t extremely polished, Foreman’s size and agility will almost certainly place him on the fantasy radar in the near future.
7. Samaje Perine, Oklahoma — Physical running back who topped 1,000 yards in all three years at Oklahoma. Split time with Joe Mixon in 2016, but still managed 1,060 yards and 12 touchdowns. Finished his college career with 49 rushing scores and an average of 6.0 yards per carry. Stout build at 5-11, 233. Not the most elusive back with just 37 forced missed tackles on 206 touches last season. Not fast (4.65 40 time), but extremely strong (30 reps on the bench). More of the “thunder” type in a committee backfield, but he’s also the type of player who could end up seeing a big workload. In the right opportunity, Perine could have immediate fantasy value.
8. Kareem Hunt, Toledo — Our top-graded running back in 2016, Hunt is extremely elusive with 98 forced missed tackles, which was one fewer than Dalvin Cook. A capable receiver out of the backfield, he had 41 catches last season. Was suspended for the first two games in 2015 and batted ankle and hamstring injuries. Also had ankle issues in 2014. Put on a show at the GoDaddy.com Bowl in 2016 with 271 yards and five touchdowns. Has prototype size (5-10, 216), but isn’t the fastest back (4.62 40 time at the combine). Did manage a 36.5-inch vert. Only 29.3 percent of his yards came on runs of 15-plus yards, which isn’t the most explosive number. Still, he has the potential to be quite productive, especially if he lands in a zone blocking system.
9. Jamaal Williams, BYU — Decisive grinder who is coming off a strong 2016 campaign where he put up 1,375 yards and 12 scores despite missing three games with an ankle injury. Played four years at BYU, but did leave school in 2015 and missed the whole season. Also was suspended in 2014 for violating team rules including an underage drinking charge. Has ideal size (6-0, 212). Not the most dynamic runner, but did post 55 forced missed tackles on 235 carries and averaged 3.3 yards after contact. Won’t be a home-run hitter (4.59 40 time), but his physicality is an asset that should ultimately land him on the fantasy radar.
10. Jeremy McNichols, Boise State — A solid football player who doesn’t necessarily wow you in any area, but he does a lot of things well. Graded out as our No. 3 back in 2016. Took over as the starter after Jay Ajayi left and carried the ball 240 times in 2015 and 314 times last season. He caught an additional 88 balls over that span. Has a nose for the end zone with 53 combined scores as a starter. He also racked up 2,183 scrimmage yards in 2016. Not particularly big (5-9, 214), but was able to force 66 missed tackles and average 3.55 yards after contact per attempt last year. Ran a solid 4.49 40 time at the combine. Not an elite-level back, but one who should be a productive fantasy option at the pro level.
11. Brian Hill, Wyoming — Hyper-productive back who averaged 5.5 yards per carry over three years at Wyoming. In 2016, he racked up 1,860 yards (third in the FBS) and 22 scores (fourth in the FBS) on 349 carries. Has thick build (6-1, 219) which bodes well for early-down work. Did very little as a receiver at Wyoming with just eight catches in 2016. Also managed an unimpressive 2.9 yards after contact. Has good speed (4.54 40 time) and a similar playing style to Jay Ajayi. Despite his lack of receiving ability, Hill has the size/speed profile to be a productive back at the pro level. He’s going to be a fantasy option.
12. Elijah Hood, North Carolina — Grinder type with impressive size (5-11, 232), but isn’t expected to run a fast 40 time at his pro day. Put up 1,463 yards and 17 scores on 219 carries in 2015. Numbers dipped in 2016 because he split time with T.J. Logan, but still managed 3.8 yards after contact and 47 forced missed tackles on 147 attempts. Prolific at the high school level with two 3,000 yard seasons. Didn’t run at the combine – he had a strained hamstring. Doesn’t quite fit the mold of today’s running back, but could have fantasy success in the right system.
13. Aaron Jones, UTEP — A four-year back who ranked fourth in the FBS with 1,773 rushing yards in 2016. Posted an impressive 7.7 yards per carry and topped 4.0 yards after contact per attempt. Only 41 forced missed tackles, but had fewer carries than a lot of the nation’s top backs at just 228. Ran 4.56 in the 40, but also posted top performer numbers in the vert (37.5), broad jump (10’7”), 3-cone (6.82), 20-yard shuttle (4.20), and 60-yard shuttle (11.53). Was arrested for DWI in February of 2016. Missed most of 2015 with torn ligaments in his ankle. Very athletic and productive back who has some sneaky deep-dynasty appeal.
14. Marlon Mack, USF — A productive back who topped 1,000 yards in all three years at USF while averaging an impressive 6.2 yards per carry. Extremely elusive, Mack averaged 3.85 yards after contact per attempt and racked up 49 forced missed tackles on 202 touches. Capable receiver with 28 catches and zero drops in 2016. Has good size (5-11, 213), but could potentially end up as more as a scatback type. Ran 4.50 and posted a solid 10’5” in the broad jump at the combine. He’ll play on Sundays, but he isn’t the best bet to emerge as a consistent fantasy asset.
15. Tarik Cohen, North Carolina A&T — Small-school back who checks in at just 5-6 and 179 pounds, but was extremely productive at the collegiate level. Finished his career with 5,619 rushing yards. Dynamic player who can stop on a dime and accelerate. Ran 4.42 in the 40 at the combine. Extremely elusive with highlight-reel plays on the regular. Home-run ability with four scores of 80-plus in 2016. Capable receiver out of the backfield with 37 catches for 339 yards last year. His size is a concern, but Cohen has some of Darren Sproles’ electric ability. The question is whether he’ll also mirror Sproles’ fantasy value.
16. Donnel Pumphrey, San Diego State — The all-time NCAA leader in rushing yards (6,405) also led the nation in 2016 with 2,133 yards on the ground. Lacks prototype size (5-8, 176), but is able to win with speed (4.48 40 time) and agility. Forced 74 missed tackles as a runner, which ranked third among running backs, to go along with a solid 3.4 yards after contact per attempt. Despite size, he ran between the tackles in a power running system. Wildly productive, but his lack of size calls into question whether he’ll be a meaningful offensive contributor at the pro level.
17. Wayne Gallman, Clemson — A physical “banger” of a runner who checks in at 6-0, 215 pounds. Gallman topped 1,000 yards in each of the last two years, racking up 31 total touchdowns over that span. His yards per carry dipped from 5.4 in 2015 to 4.9 in 2016. Also wasn’t the most effective at creating yards after contact with 2.98, which ranked 43 among qualifying running backs. He wasn’t asked to do a lot as a receiver, with just 42 catches over the last two years. Slow 40 time (4.60) and poor jumps in the vert (29.5”) and broad (10’0″), but he did post 4.28 in the 20-yard shuttle. Gallman’s lacks the ideal athletic profile, but his size could lead to him surfacing as a fantasy option at some point in his career.
18. James Conner, Pittsburgh — Inspirational story. He was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma while rehabbing a torn MCL in 2015, but was able to return for the 2016 season and rush for 1,092 yards along with 16 touchdowns. He scored four more times as a receiver. Put up big numbers as a sophomore in 2014, scoring 26 times and racking up 1,765 rushing yards. Impressive size (6-1, 233) allows him to run with power, but he doesn’t possess good speed (4.65 40 time). Struggled in pass pro, allowing nine QB pressures in 80 pass blocking snaps. A dark horse to surface as a fantasy option.
19. Elijah McGuire, Louisiana-Lafayette — Productive back who posted 4,301 yards and 42 scores on the ground to go along with 130 catches for 1,394 yards and 10 scores in his four years in college. Athletic build (5-10, 214) with good speed (4.53 40 time). Very effective receiver who caught 108 balls over the last three years. Averaged 3.1 yards after contact and forced 38 missed tackles as a runner. Possesses intriguing upside, but he’s unlikely to be a fantasy factor in the short term.
20. Joe Williams, Utah — Dovontae Booker’s replacement has an interesting backstory. Initially played at Connecticut, but was suspended for credit card fraud in 2013. Played at ASA College in New York in 2014 and then transferred to Utah in 2015. He actually quit the team briefly in 2016, but then returned to put up 1,407 yards and 10 scores on 214 carries. Has good size (5-11, 211) and ran a fast 40 at the combine (4.41). Despite his impressive numbers, he actually graded out poorly due to his deficiencies in the pass game. Our analysts also credited him with five fumbles in 2016. His lack of receiving ability is a concern. Williams isn’t a strong bet for long-term fantasy value.
21. T.J. Logan, North Carolina — Took a back seat to Elijah Hood, but was a highly touted back out of high school. Averaged 5.4 yards per carry on 120 carries last season. Solid receiver who posted 1.63 yards per route run, which ranked 25th out of 82 qualifying backs. Not the biggest player (5-9, 196), but he has a turbo gear (ran a 4.37 40-yard dash time) that profiles well for third-down work. Unfortunately, that sort of role doesn’t lend itself well to strong fantasy production.
22. Chris Carson, Oklahoma State — Spent two years in junior college before transferring to Oklahoma State. Didn’t put up big numbers, with just 83 carries for 554 rushing yards in 2016, but was able to average 3.9 yards after contact per attempt. He also scored nine times. Has ideal size (6-0, 218). Posted a lackluster 4.58 40 time at the combine, but showed explosion with a 37-inch vert and 10’10” in the broad jump. Only carried the ball more than 20 times once, so durability is unproven. Has athleticism but he’s a bit of a longshot to be fantasy relevant.
23. Corey Clement, Wisconsin — Athletically built at 5-10, 220. Had 1,375 yards and 15 scores on 314 carries last year, but graded out poorly as a runner. Averaged just 4.3 yards per carry with just 2.8 yards after contact. Doesn’t offer much as a receiver. Caught just 11 balls last season. Dealt with a sports hernia injury in 2015 along with a hand injury he sustained punching someone – he also lied to coaches about the incident. Ran a slow 4.68 40 at the combine. Despite having ideal size, Clement is a two-down back who won’t make waves as a fantasy option.
24. Matthew Dayes, NC State — A workman-like back who put 1,166 yards and 10 scores last year. His 2015 season was cut short due to turf toe, but he managed to find the end zone 12 times in eight games. Not particularly big (5-9, 207) or explosive – he managed to jump just 28 inches in the vert and 9’1” in the broad. Averaged an unimpressive 4.7 yards per carry last year. Also really struggled to generate yards after contact with just 2.62 in 2016. Unlikely to be much of anything for fantasy purposes as a pro.
25. Justin Davis, USC — Athletic back who has good speed, but is a tad on the thin side at 6-1, 201. Got off to a good start in 2016 with two 100-yard games in the first five weeks, but suffered a high ankle sprain. He missed three games, which allowed Ronald Jones II to take over. Finished with 109 carries for 598 yards and an impressive 4.0 yards after contact per attempt. He’s a bit of a longshot, but does have the potential to be a factor at the pro level.
26. De’Angelo Henderson, Coastal Carolina — Small-schooler who racked up 4,635 yards and 58 scores on the ground at the collegiate level. Short and stout (5-7, 208) build, and has good speed (4.48 40 time). Reminiscent in some ways to Maurice Jones Drew. Strong receiver. He caught 97 balls over the last four years. Will be stepping up in level of competition. He may end up on an NFL roster, but he isn’t likely to be on many fantasy rosters.
27. I’Tavius Mathers, Middle Tennessee St. — Initially played at Ole Miss, but transferred after the 2014 season when his role decreased. Sat out 2015 and returned to post 1,561 targets and 17 scores on 232 carries to go along with 66 catches for 633 yards and three scores. Effective after contact, he averaged 3.9 yards and posted 62 forced missed tackles as a runner. He also racked up 23 forced missed tackles as a receiver, which tied for the most among running backs in the nation. On the smaller side (5-11, 190), so he projects more as a receiving back. Though he could be a productive option in that role. He’s worth monitoring, especially for those in deep dynasty leagues.
28. De’Veon Smith, Michigan — Big-bodied back (5-11, 220) who put up 22 reps on the bench, but didn’t run a 40 at the combine. Played four years at Michigan, starting the last two years. Posted 846 yards and 10 rushing scores last season. Only managed 3.0 yards after contact. Offers very little as a receiver with just 16 catches in 2016. Has two-down ability as a between-the-tackles pounder, but isn’t likely to ever be a fantasy option.
29. Boom Williams, Kentucky — Smaller back (5-7, 190) who topped 1,000 yards and scored seven times as a runner in 2016. Not especially elusive as a runner with 3.1 yards after contact per attempt, but did post 20 runs of 15-plus yards. Only 25 backs had at least 20 of these “breakaway” runs. Despite the big runs, he ran a mid-pack 4.51 in the 40-yard dash at the combine. Doesn’t possess the size/speed profile to be a long-term fantasy option.
30. Dare Ogunbowale, Wisconsin — Started his college career as a walk-on cornerback. Has decent size (5-11, 213). Started 10 games in 2015 with Corey Clement banged up. Carried the ball just 91 times in 2016, but did catch 24 balls. Not particularly elusive. Averaged 2.6 after contact and forced just 17 missed tackles as a runner. Lacks speed (4.65 40 time). Has third-down potential at the pro level, but won’t be fantasy relevant.
31. Jahad Thomas, Temple — Undersized back (5-10, 190) who posted solid numbers in the AAC. Notched a combined 2,215 yards and 30 scores on the ground over the last two years. Showed ability as a receiver with 33 catches for 418 yards and six scores in 2016. Wasn’t able to do much after contact with just 2.8 yards per attempt and a meager 24 forced missed tackles on 207 carries. Lackluster combine with a 4.62 40 time and just 11 reps on the bench. Projects as more of a returner with the possibility of being a third-down back at the pro level.
32. Devine Redding, Indiana — Topped 1,000 yards in each of the last two years, but did so at just 4.5 yards per carry. Managed just 2.8 yards after contact per attempt last season with a meager 40 forced missed tackles in 253 attempts. Also fumbled four times. Can catch the ball out of the backfield. Had 27 catches for 146 and two scores last season. Ran a slow 40 at the combine (4.74) and is a tad undersized (5-8, 205). Profiles more as a third-down option.
33. Rushel Shell, West Virginia — Former five-star recruit who put up over 9,000 rushing yards and 110 scores in high school. Initially played at Pitt, but transferred to West Virginia after previously committing to UCLA. Dealt with an ankle injury in 2016, posting 113 carries for 514 yards and five scores. On the thicker side (5-10, 227) and slow (4.74 40 time). Unlikely to be a fantasy factor.
34. Tarean Folston, Notre Dame — Was once considered a strong NFL prospect, but ended up playing behind Josh Adams last season. Has an NFL build (5-9, 214). Missed the 2015 season with a torn ACL he suffered in the season opener, which opened the door for C.J. Prosise. Posted 889 yards and six scores on 175 carries as a sophomore. Another year removed from the knee injury, he could be a third-day pick and could be a dark horse to eventually surface on the fantasy radar.
35. Joseph Yearby, Miami — Declared for the draft after his role decreasing from 556 snaps in 2015 to just 221 in 2016. Despite the minimal role, he managed 608 yards on 102 carries with 3.6 yards per attempt coming after contact. Rushed for 1,002 yards in 2015. Has the size profile of a third-down back (5-9, 200). Has ability as a receiver. He caught 23 balls for 273 yards and two scores in 2015. Will face an uphill battle to be a fantasy asset.
36. Sam Rogers, Virginia Tech — Classic fullback (5-10, 231) who can carry the ball. He rushed 67 times for 283 yards and two scores last year. He’s also a capable receiver with 25 catches for 301 yards and four scores. Graded out as the No. 2 blocking fullback in the nation.
37. Freddie Stevenson, Florida State — Recruited out of high school as a linebacker, he converted to fullback and helped out Dalvin Cook since 2014. Capable of catching the ball out of the backfield along with getting the occasional carry. Big size (6-0, 234). Classic lead-blocking fullback who won’t ever have fantasy value.
38. Marcus Cox, Appalachian St. — Productive back who topped 1,000 yards in each of the last three years with 37 touchdowns over that span. Averaged a solid 3.6 yards after contact, but only forced 26 missed tackles in 159 carries last season. Has decent size (5-10, 205), but lacks burst. Doesn’t offer much as a receiver. Only 14 catches last year. A long shot to make an NFL roster.
Jeff Ratcliffe | Director of Fantasy
Jeff Ratcliffe is the Director of Fantasy at Pro Football Focus. He produces all of our projections and is 2016's second-most-accurate ranker in the fantasy industry. Jeff also is the host of our show on SiriusXM fantasy sports radio and is one of the main hosts of our Fantasy Slant podcast.