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2017 NFL Draft Fantasy Prospects: Quarterback and Running Back Rankings

2017 NFL Draft Fantasy Prospects: Quarterback and Running Back Rankings
Jake Ciely Senior Writer April 11, 2017 8:35PM EDT
Well, I hope you’re looking forward to a 2017 NFL Draft Fantasy Football impact two-parter this year. After getting through the running backs, I realized that half of this year’s article is as long as 2016’s entire write-up. That’s what happens when you have the deepest NFL Draft class for running backs in years. It also happens when I want to provide even more insight to each player’s ability and his Fantasy Football outlook. So, saddle up, grab some popcorn and prepared to be informed.

As a reminder, there will be a full post-draft breakdown, as several players will move up and down the ranks due to their landing spots.


I’ve gone on record as saying that if I ran an NFL team, I’d pass on this draft class and wait until 2018 to select a quarterback… unless I was happy to draft a developmental player. I don’t see any quarterback as being worthy of a first round selection, but that doesn’t mean none of them will go in the first round. It also doesn’t mean none of them will have Fantasy Football value.

1. Deshaun Watson – Watson draws some comparisons to Jameis Winston, and that’s because of his similar weaknesses; he’s inconsistent, inaccurate and struggles with read progression. Nevertheless, Winston was a Top 15 quarterback as a rookie, and Watson can be as well. Watson is extremely athletic with great speed and elusiveness, giving him that rushing factor we want in Fantasy. Watson does have a good feel for when pressure is coming too, which helps him turns sacks into rushing yards. Like Kizer, Watson is good at hitting tight windows and has a nice touch on his passes. However, Watson came from a simple offense with a heavy amount of shotgun use. Watson is quick with his decisions, but that can be counterproductive, as he won’t progress through his reads. That leads to throws he shouldn’t make, running when there is another option and/or throwing off balance while on the run. Again, Winston is a good comparison of Watson’s potential, but I would expect Winston’s rookie campaign to be Watson’s ceiling as a rookie… and bet against him hitting it.

2. DeShone Kizer – Kizer could be the most ready for the NFL and has the dual-threat ability to carry Fantasy value. Kizer has the size and a body built for the NFL. That’s important, as Kizer has good mobility and will put up rushing yards. He’s also quite good on the move and outside of the pocket. Kizer keeps his eyes downfield and can make most throws on the move, which includes hitting both sides of the field and even throwing across his body. Kizer throws with a quick release and strong arm, which is part of the reason why he’s one of the best at hitting small windows and shows good touch, even downfield. Kizer will let his skill lead to poor decisions, though, as he’ll make risky throws over the middle. There are also times when Kizer will recognize the open player too late despite having a good ability to look off defenders. Overall, Kizer is a good prospect who needs to read defenses better and quicker, but his legs will offset some of those mistakes in Fantasy. Kizer is likely a mid-level QB2 as a rookie.

3. Mitchell Trubisky – For a one-year starter, Trubisky is receiving plenty of hype, and it’s understandable. Trubisky has mechanical issues, yet throws accurately anyway. That’s due to Trubisky having the size, arm, confidence and anticipation that NFL teams desire. Trubisky is also very athletic and can put up yards on the ground with the best of them. Trubisky will keep his eyes downfield whether moving in or out of the pocket, but he’ll sometimes stare down his receiver. Additionally, while he’s good at finding the gaps in coverage, Trubisky needs work in understanding coverages overall. There is more good and bad with Trubisky too, as while he’s good in the pocket and with play fakes, his footwork and mechanics will lead to passes sailing high/getting too much air. He’ll also bail at times even before pressure has arrived. Trubisky has desirable traits and has drawn comparisons to Cam Newton and Blake Bortles… quite the variance in success, huh? Trubisky would be best served sitting for a year to develop, but today’s NFL might not allow that.

4. Patrick Mahomes – Speaking of sitting first, few quarterbacks need to sit and learn more than Mahomes does. However, you can argue – and I will – that Mahomes has the best potential in this class. Mahomes needs significant work when it comes to mechanics, which is impressive when you consider how successful he was purely off his talent. Mahomes has a body ready for the NFL, great arm strength, which he flashes throwing from multiple angles, and he makes high-level throws on the move. Don’t take this to mean he will definitely be as good, but Mahomes has Aaron Rodgers upside. As with Trubisky, Mahomes keeps his eyes up while scrambling and has a quick release that lets him find open receivers. Mahomes also has pinpoint placement with his throws, can hit the short, medium and deep passes and will throw his receivers open. He’ll also make the smart decision to throw the ball away or find the check-down options. It’s not all good with Mahomes, though. As mentioned, his mechanics might need an overhaul, as his footwork in quite poor in the pocket and on drop-backs. He’ll also fail to reset completely and has a wide stance, leading to sailed passes due to his front leg being too stiff. Mahomes will often hold the ball too long and sometimes pull a Kirk Cousins: ignore the open/easy throw to make the more aggressive play. Fantasy Football-wise, Mahomes is not a year-one option, but in keeper and dynasty leagues, he has the potential to provide QB1 numbers in the future with the right team/offense.

Running Back

This is one of the deepest running back draft classes we’ve seen in a long time. There are numerous options for teams, and some have the potential for RB1 value. I’ll try to keep the breakdowns a bit more condensed to avoid this turning into War and Peace.

1. Joe Mixon – We’re not here to debate Mixon’s off-field issues or if he’s reformed. Purely as a running back, Mixon is the best talent in this class. Mixon has a terrific build that doesn’t stop him from having some of the best acceleration and quickness in the draft. You like jukes? Mixon is also one of the best at moving laterally with top-notch moves and vision. He’ll also allow the blocking and holes to develop, and then burst through them, as Mixon can stop-and-go like few others. Mixon isn’t solely flash, though, as he’ll drive through contact, has the power to break tackles and is also good in the passing game. The only downside is the lack of true breakaway speed, but after all of that, do you really care that much… especially if he falls to a winning team due to his off-field issues.

2. Leonard Fournette – Did you see his 40 time? Fournette is a freak when it comes to his size and speed combination. As a result, Fournette racks up the yards after contact and will make defenders think twice about squaring up to him. While Fournette shows good control most of the time, he can get tripped up from his momentum. He’s also been indecisive at times, leading to tackles for no gain or a loss because he waited too long. As with Mixon, though, the positives far outweigh the negatives, as Fournette is also a solid receiver and great pass blocker. He’s the second running back in this class that can turn into a RB1 immediately.

3. Christian McCaffrey – McCaffrey makes three for the RB1 potential if teams get preconceived notions out of their heads. Truthfully, McCaffrey’s only negatives are a lack of between-the-tackle power and breakaway speed. He does everything else great, and he eludes defenders with the best of them. McCaffrey is a great athlete with the vision and intelligence to find or create holes, even if the gap is small. McCaffrey is also a good route runner and pass catcher, which is why you’ve heard rumors of teams using him as a receiver. That’s a discredit to his ability, as that vision and explosiveness will prove he’s more than a one-trick player.

4. Dalvin Cook – The gap between these top four running backs is narrow. We’re talking small gripes in ranking them, and landing spots will have an impact. If a team drafts Cook as their lead option, he too can be a RB1 given his ability. As with Mixon, Cook will make defenders frequently miss thanks to his amazing ability to change direction and get right back up to speed after stopping. Cook has a great IQ when it comes to reading where the defenders will be, setting up his blocks and finding room to run. Cook is strong between the tackles and will run through weak contact but won’t drive a pile back. While Cook is a good receiver, he does struggle at times with pass blocking, and his last concern is ball control. Again, we’re finding flaws in a great player… oh, and don’t get hung up on his combine, Cook is a great running back.

5. Jamaal Williams – Williams is likely to be the first surprise to most, but get ready to be a fan. Williams simply knows what it takes to be a NFL level running back. Williams arguably has the best vision in the draft, finding holes, letting the blocks develop and creating his own lanes (or tight creases even). Williams has a great lower half with terrific balance, and blends power with high-end acceleration and spin moves to evade defenders. That’s a dangerous combination, as Williams carries the “Madden button moves” (spin, juke, truck) in addition to the knowledge of when to get the first down or find the end zone. Williams can be the lead running back and carry RB2 value, but as with some overlooked running backs of years past, he may sit behind someone to start and be a better stash option.

6. D’Onta Foreman – Just as with Perine, Foreman is all about power. Foreman doesn’t go down easy and blasts through arm tackles thanks to that power and a low center of gravity. Foreman isn’t a pure bulldozer, though, as he shows good footwork for a power back and has good vision to let blocks develop and make cuts. In addition, Foreman doesn’t wear down with a high number of touches, which helps him put up nice gains late into games. On the downside, Foreman’s weight could get him in trouble if not kept in check. In addition, he’s not very elusive (not surprising), takes a few steps to get up to speed and is quite poor in the passing game – both as a receiver and blocker. Foreman makes for an intriguing early-down option paired with a passing game back, which makes Foreman a fringe RB2, lower in PPR.

7. Alvin Kamara – Kamara is one of the most contentious names in the draft, as it seems most love him or hate him. I actually fall in the middle, as there are traits to like but flaws that could lead to Kamara being a bust. To compare him to Gallman, Kamara is always looking for the big play instead of the smart play/yards. Yes, he’s even worse than Gallman at that, which doesn’t sound like a major issue until you see how his lost yardage hurts the offense. Kamara also has narrow vision, a history of low workloads and fumble issues. On the positive side of things, Kamara is a balanced runner with good lateral ability, a great initial burst and solid hands in the passing game. Kamara’s acceleration helps with his change in direction and ability to elude defenders, but he will be best suited in a defined role and not as a lead option. That will limit him to RB3 value at best.

8. Kareem Hunt – Hunt won’t wow you and isn’t flashy, but he does have the ability to eventually be a team’s lead option. Hunt is a patient/quality runner between the tackles with solid technique and good cutting ability. Hunt is also a decent pass catcher, but if you’re sensing a theme here, it’s that Hunt is good at many things but terrific at none. He’s kind of a James Jones of running backs, and it’s unlikely a team drafts and plugs him in as the lead immediately. He’s a RB3/4 for Fantasy as of today.

9. Samaje Perine – Perine is the definition of a power back. Defenders will have a tough time tackling him solo, even squared up, as he is a chore to bring down and can power through most contact. Perine will utilize his blocking quite well, but he’s lacks high-end vision to find a new hole or figure out what to do when the play breaks down. Often, he’ll force his way through, and many times, it can work with that power. Even being a power back, Perine can provide value in the passing game, so don’t discount that aspect. The other issue is that it can take a bit for Perine to gain speed, which leads to his getting tripped up early. Some argue Perine’s lack of burst is due to injury, which if true, could be huge for Perine. If he gets back to his early college days speed-wise, Perine could be a force in the NFL and a rock solid RB2.

10. Wayne Gallman – Gallman’s Fantasy value will hinge on his landing spot more than most and his ability to play a bit smarter. Gallman is intuitive and knows when to find his own space or wait for lanes to develop. The downside is that he sometimes relies on his instincts a bit too much, making one move too many and losing what would have been a first down or solid gain. He has a good mix of moves to evade tackles and power to break many, so if Gallman improves his intelligence, he too could be a lead option on a team and a RB2/3.

11. Brian Hill – Rounding out a stretch of several powerful backs, Hill is one that also brings quality speed for his size (6’1″, 219 with a 4.54 40-yard dash). That speed helps Hill cut through gaps, but he is more of a one-cut runner than elusive, although he has a few moves, including a nice stiff-arm. Hill routinely breaks tackles, bringing power behind his pads but isn’t much of a receiver. Hill has the potential to be an early-down back, but he is likely primed for a backup role as a rookie.

12. Joe Williams – Williams has some of the best speed in the draft coupled with a great initial burst. Williams shows good patience but can struggle to find space if the initial hole/lane isn’t there. Don’t mistake Williams for a scat back, as he does have the power to shed some would-be tacklers. Williams has room to grow, and if he learns how to better utilize his skills and not overexert (one too many moves, sometimes shakes himself), Williams could be part of nice one-two punch in the NFL and a RB3/4.

13. Jeremy McNichols – McNichols may be short at 5’9″, but he has a strong, compact, 214-pound frame. McNichols has good footwork, evidenced in his lateral movement and burst to hit the holes. More people took notice after his combine, but as you can see with his ranking here, don’t overrate McNichols. While he has the initial burst, McNichols lacks both the great size to bowl through defenders or top-end speed to run away from them. McNichols can be a complementary piece or backup with the potential to surprise with the right team, but on the surface, he looks to be a backup option.

14. James Conner – Getting back to the power guys, Conner is another among this year’s long list. Conner has the power, decent speed and vision to get to the second level, but it’s in the second level where the questions lay. Conner is strong enough to beat a good amount of linebackers one-on-one, but the beasts of the middle still have the advantage. Conner also doesn’t have the speed to beat the NFL’s quicker linebackers or the secondary. Conner is a “no nonsense” runner but best suited to be an early-down back’s replacement for a few snaps per game.

15. Marlon Mack – Mack is a great athlete with the power to break tackles but is very inconsistent. The inconsistency is evident right in that power. Mack will shrug off arm tackles and push back defenders when up to speed, but he’ll also get tripped up by blitzes from the secondary and smaller defenders if they make quality contact. Mack is also similar to Gallman in that he will turn to his ability, assuming he can make the big play instead of taking what’s given. If Mack can get his head right (even literally during runs by looking away from contact), Mack could shoot up the list based on his skills. However, there are too many concerns to overcome to rank him higher and not as a pure backup.

16. Donnel Pumphery – We have quite a few power backs above, but Pumphery is the complete opposite at 5’9″, 176 lbs. and can provide Darren Sproles type value with the right team. Pumphery can even line up in the slot, and displays great quickness and cutting ability, which helps him elude defenders and gain space as a receiver. Obviously, it doesn’t take much to bring Pumphery down, and unfortunately, he’s not blazing fast, but he can have deeper PPR value.

17. Aaron Jones – Jones doesn’t have great speed and isn’t terrific in any one area, but he is a smart player and decisive. He’s actually similar to Hunt and that James Jones comparison. Aaron Jones is a decent pass catcher but has shown questionable hands at times. Jones will be drafted as a backup, and like most rookie running backs in that position, that holds little-to-no Fantasy Football value. He’s worth keeping on your watch and dynasty list, though.

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