Running games live and die by the blocking up front. Don’t believe me? See NFL leading rusher Dallas Cowboys rookie Ezekiel Elliott. Pro Football Focus ranked the Boys O-Line as No.2 in the NFL after posting the No.1 ranking in 2015. Behind that line as a rookie Zeke showed his electric open field ability tallying 1,631 yards and 15 rushing TDs. He also had an impact in the passing game with 32 catches, 363 yards and one TD. Going off of those same Pro Football Focus rankings let’s focus on the top running backs drafted in the 2017 NFL Draft.
First up is Jaguars 1st Rounder Leonard Fournette, who has that Hall of Fame like makeup but does come with durability and effort question marks. Jacksonville had the No. 22 ranked offensive line in the NFL last season (23 in 2015). The Jags did make a few noteworthy pickups getting Dolphins LT Brandon Albert in a trade for a seventh round pick and drafted Alabama OT Cam Robinson early in the second round. Albert did skip voluntary workouts due to his contract and he is a veteran after all, Robinson would fill in at LT if Albert were to miss real time but it’s more likely he gets to man LG as a rookie. Those two additions have the potential to push Jacksonville to the middle of the pack of the NFL and could be just enough to turn the offense into what was expected last year from the Jags.
Christian McCaffrey was the second back off the board to the Carolina Panthers. After a trip the Super Bowl, the Panthers had the usual Super Bowl hangover as Cam regressed, the offense took a huge step back and Carolina finished 6-10 after going 15-1. This team is somewhere in between those two win-loss marks. I think they win 9 to 10 games this season as the Falcons should fall back after losing OC Kyle Shanahan and of course blowing a 28-3 lead in Super Bowl LI.
The Panthers had one of the best O-Line’s in 2015 finishing at No. 6 but dropping to No. 17 last season. Mainly the drop came from losing LT Michael Oher, who was surprisingly serviceable and going to backup Mike Remmers was a train wreck. Carolina drafted Western Michigan LT Taylor Moton but the experts see him sliding to RT to start his career. With Oher still a question mark, the Panthers gave $25M guaranteed to Matt Kalil, brother of Panthers C Ryan, which is a big risk but Matt had shown elite stuff at one time in Minnesota. With all of these moving parts it’s hard to know what the Panthers and most importantly Cam get in front of them.
Round 2 saw Dalvin Cook come off the board to the Vikings, who signed free agent Latavius Murray the former Raider. Cook was a lightning bolt in the open field for Florida State but didn’t impress at the combine. It could be he just doesn’t perform without the pads on and might have been a nice steal for Minnesota. The Vikings O-Line dropped from No. 15 to 29 last year and was a complete mess. Check out this quote from Pro Football Focus, “…in the second half of the season, the Vikings were operating an offense virtually impossible to surrender pressure in, with the league’s lowest average depth of target and one of the faster average times to throw.” Ouch. Near the bottom is not a place you want to worry about a rookie running back likely in a time share to start his career. Look elsewhere in fantasy and elsewhere for futures.
The next guy off the board comes with a load of controversy but we are here to talk only football. Joe Mixon could be the most talented RB in this draft and landing with the Bengals might be the perfect environment. They have a quality starting QB, an above average amount of talent in the passing game led by Pro Bowler A.J. Green and TE Tyler Eifert. Cincinnati also nabbed the fastest player in the draft WR John Ross. The Bengals O-Line is anchored by PFF darling LT Andrew Whitworth, the No.2 rated lineman in football, but he is now in LA playing for the Rams. Cincy had a No. 13 overall ranking after finishing the prior year No.4. Whitworth isn’t really a replaceable offensive lineman and it could be a big adjustment for the Bengals who didn’t draft a lineman until Round 5. I can’t see this team being a Top 15 line this year, so buyer beware in Mixon Year 1, but love him as a dynasty prospect.
I love the James Connor to the Steelers pick but can’t see him being much of a factor unless Le’Veon Bell goes down with injury or suspension. If he does you might be shocked how Pittsburgh doesn’t miss a beat. That said, for fantasy or futures, the Steelers are still the Steelers.
The last bit is on Washington taking a shot with Samaje Perine, who isn’t the talent that fellow Oklahoma RB Mixon is but with the Redskins offense he doesn’t need to be. Opportunity is in front of Perine to take the job away from incumbent Rob Kelley, who doesn’t factor as a true NFL starter. The Skins had the No. 7 offensive line in football and Perine could be a steal in yearly draft and should be taken seriously as a dynasty selection.
Article by Alan Berg