Have we just entered The Year of the Rookie Running Back?
My Magic 8 Ball says “Outlook good.”
Kareem Hunt got the ball rolling, literally, with a fumble on his first carry last Thursday night. Then he proceeded to wipe the memory of Spencer Ware off the mind of every Chiefs fan with a monster three-touchdown, 246-total-yard shellacking of the Patriots.
Hunt is not just the leader in the clubhouse for Rookie of the Year honors, but the rest of the league could be playing catch-up for weeks in the Fantasy MVP race.
But Hunt isn’t the only shining star from the RB Class of 2017. Leonard Fournette had an impressive debut as well, notching his first 100-yard outing and touchdown as a pro against the usually stingy Texans defense. There’s little doubt Jacksonville’s offense will revolve around Fournette going forward, especially now that Allen Robinson has been lost for the season.
In Chicago, Tarik Cohen served notice that he has no interest in being groomed for “the future.” The first-year player dazzled, breaking out for a 46-yard run and answering the question “who is left to catch Mike Glennon’s passes?” With a game-high eight receptions for 47 yards and a touchdown, Cohen should be at the top of everyone’s waiver-wire priority list – especially in PPR leagues.
On Monday night, the torch was symbolically – yet emphatically – passed from Adrian Peterson to Dalvin Cook, who steamrolled the Saints with 127 yards on the ground. Most impressively, Cook made the Vikings’ offensive line look competent for the first time in years.
Meanwhile, as the perennially underrated Frank Gore begins to show his age, Marlon Mack’s young legs are clearly ready to carry the load for Indy. The rookie equaled Gore’s 11 combined touches on Sunday, and he reached the end zone twice (though he was robbed of one of the scores). Mack is a decent consolation prize for those who don’t land Cohen.
Though he didn’t produce big fantasy stats, it’s clear that Christian McCaffrey is going to be featured prominently as both a runner and high-volume receiver in Carolina.
Chris Carson averaged more than six yards per carry in his Seattle debut, and he may prove to be the most viable fantasy option in the Seahawks’ muddled running back committee over the coming weeks.
The Bengals have bigger problems than figuring out its three-headed backfield, so Joe Mixon’s days in the spotlight may have to wait a bit. But rest assured, it’s only a matter of time.
Indeed, the outlook looks quite good for this rookie class.
CATCH ‘EM WHILE YOU CAN
Tarik Cohen, RB, Bears: Run, don’t walk, to your waiver wire. Cohen doesn’t just represent handcuff value for Jordan Howard; the rookie is obviously the more dynamic back of the two. With 103 combined yards and a score, including a team-high eight receptions, Cohen looked like a backup who doesn’t intend to be a backup for long.
Kerwynn Williams, RB, Cardinals: That gasp you heard is from owners of David Johnson, who is headed to injured reserve with a dislocated wrist. Williams is the next man up in the Arizona backfield, but don't expect anything near Johnson’s production. Andre Ellington will likely absorb most of the receiving duties, limiting Williams to ground-based contributions.
Kenny Golladay, WR, Lions: The rookie was a training camp and preseason sensation, and he carried that over to his NFL debut. Golladay reeled in two scoring passes among his four receptions against a solid Cardinals secondary. Though Golden Tate remains Matt Stafford’s go-to target, the 6-foot-4 Golladay has a chance to continue shining in the red zone.
Jesse James, TE, Steelers: He may be listed as the second tight end on Pittsburgh’s depth chart, but James was Big Ben’s No. 1 target in the red zone on Sunday. Those in need of TE reinforcement should not ignore his six-catch, 41-yard, 2-TD outing.
DON’T BE FOOLED
Alex Smith, QB, Chiefs: If we didn’t have 11 years of history to review, Smith’s opening-night performance would merit immediate fantasy consideration. But that was just his sixth 300-yard game ever, and Thursday was his first outing with at least three passing TDs since the 2015 opener. Avoid the mediocrity.
Jermaine Kearse, WR, Jets: Wondering who’s going to catch passes in New York? The early answer is the former Seahawk, who reeled in a game-high seven receptions on nine targets (albeit for just 59 yards). But really, who wants the leading receiver on a pass-challenged team?
Marqise Lee, WR, Jaguars: Just lost Robinson? Sure, Lee and Allen Hurns will see an increase in targets. But much like the Jets, this passing offense is best left to someone else.
Ladd Biro is a two-time winner and five-time finalist of the Football Writer of the Year Award by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. Follow all his advice daily at the Fantasy Fools blog (fantasy-fools.blogspot.com), on Facebook and via Twitter (@ladd_biro).