If you went all-in on the rookie running back class in your fantasy draft this year, it might be time to start writing your championship acceptance speech.
Following the first slew of games, most fans have been left with more ominous questions than answers about their teams. Can the Seahawks protect Russell Wilson for sixteen games? Do the Giants have anything that resembles an offense without Odell Beckham Jr. on the field? How will the Patriots defense fare without a difference maker in the front seven? And will Le’veon Bell be able to regain his old form after skipping all of training camp? But if you’re looking for a sure thing after week one, just take a look at the 2017 class of running backs.
The hype around the rookie class of runners was real, and so too have been the results. Leonard Fournette — the man who put more fear into defensive players during his time at LSU than Pennywise did into the kids of Stephen King’s IT — made his presence felt in his debut for the Jaguars. After taking Fournette fourth overall, Jacksonville head coach Doug Marrone said he wanted to run the ball on every play, and they nearly did just that, with the LSU product acting as the battering ram that burst through the J.J. Watt-led Houston defense. Christian McCaffrey didn’t bust any long touchdowns for Carolina like he did on a seemingly weekly basis at Stanford, but he appears on track to take the starting job sooner rather than later, evidenced by the creative ways the Panthers tried to get him the ball in space all game.
You have to go back a few days to the season opener between the Patriots and Chiefs for what was not only the performance of the week in the NFL, but also the birth of a star. Kareem Hunt, starting for Kansas City in place of an injured Spencer Ware, burst onto the scene with an incredible 246 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns. Plans A, B and C for the defensive mastermind Bill Belichek proved futile in slowing down Kansas City’s new prodigal son. To cap it all off on Monday Night, Dalvin Cook did everything in his power to make Adrian Peterson a distant memory for Minnesota Viking fans. He showed the same blend of speed and power that made Peterson so dominant in his time in the twin cities, rushing for 127 yards, including a game-sealing 33-yard scamper. You wouldn’t be wrong to say the NFL is a passing league, but there’s always room for the pendulum to swing, and we might have found the guys to do it.
“The Patriots are the gold standard for starting trends years before the rest of the league catches on.”
Before you start yelling at me about how quarterback is the most important position, let me just say, I know, you can’t win without a good quarterback. But football is the ultimate team and strategic sport, making a balanced attack and offensive innovation paramount to success. The Patriots are the gold standard for starting trends years before the rest of the league catches on, starting with their use of the short passing game as a replacement for the run on early downs. Now as teams try to take advantage of rules favouring passing, it will be interesting to see if more teams try to mimic the approach of the Seahawks from the Marshawn Lynch era, or the way the Cowboys used Ezekiell Elliot as the focal point of the offense last year.
Minnesota could see Dalvin Cook as the offensive centerpiece to compliment its stout defense. Kareem Hunt could bring a new element to a Kansas City team known for being boring with Alex Smith at the helm, and Christian McCaffrey just might be the missing puzzle piece that brings the Panthers offense back to the level it was at during its 2015 super bowl run. In the week-to-week sport of football nothing is for certain, but a new generation of rookies are making a splash in the NFL, and time will tell how far the ripples travel.