Of all the positions in football, running back seems to be the consensus pick for least challenging transition from college to the NFL. That’s not to say it isn’t difficult. But when you look at how quickly rookie running backs are inserted into the starting lineup as opposed to quarterbacks, how many touches they get compared to receivers, and then how many opportunities they get in the red zone compared to tight ends — rookie running backs check all the boxes.
Does that mean that Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette should be your top prospect when it comes to your standard fantasy leagues and rookie drafts in dynasty leagues?
Our fantasy team at SBNation seems to think so and I’m inclined to believe them. In their 2017 fantasy football guide, they see a low-end RB1 as baseline expectations for Fournette and for production to only go up from there.
The top running back off the board in the 2017 NFL draft is also the first rookie being selected by many mock drafters over the summer — and for good reason. The Jaguars struggled offensively in 2016 despite their above-average defense. The team drafted Fournette to pick up the slack that a struggling Blake Bortles gave the passing game. The Jaguars experienced a coaching overhaul throughout the 2016 season and brought on Tom Coughlin as the organization’s executive vice president shortly after.
Fournette was selected fifth overall in the draft, and he’ll be expected to serve as an offensive centerpiece for the team heading into the season. Fournette has the size, strength, and speed to make it all happen. He’s also a great blocker, which will only further encourage a lot of snaps in his rookie season. He’s been compared to the likes of Bo Jackson and Adrian Peterson. While no one should be drafting Fournette with such lofty expectations, it’s reasonable to expect low-end RB1 numbers from him out of the gate, making him the most appealing rookie in 2017.
Fournette is walking into a position that will unfortunately require fantasy owners to tread lightly. Newly promoted head coach Doug Marrone and newly hired VP of football operations want to live and die by the run game. Fourth-year quarterback Blake Bortles is on a short leash and his new head coach won’t suffer him turning the ball over.
And other than quarterback, the Jaguars’ offensive line is probably the worst unit on the team. Four of five starters from last year are returning when Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon struggled to find yards (and touchdowns).
Unlike Ezekiel Elliott, Fournette is walking into a situation where his offensive line is bad and his quarterback is worse. That’s not a recipe for success.
But on the other hand, Fournette is the unquestioned starter and will get plenty of opportunities on a run-first, run-often team. Will the quality around him be balanced out by the quantity of his opportunities this year?
Read the entire 2017 fantasy football guide here.