Success in the world of Fantasy Football weighs heavily on the skill in which an owner drafts his or her team. Sure, there are elements of luck and chance that play a big role on whether a team wins or loses, but that can’t be controlled. The draft is, and always will be, the most important win for any owner.
The first few rounds of any draft are where a team’s foundation is built. The ideal draft plan is based on picking the right players at the right spots to ensure that your team can compete through difficult bye weeks and injuries.
The most valued building blocks for any fantasy team (standard scoring league) is the running back. A good one will get you wins, but if you manage to secure two of them, fantasy immortality (to include bragging rights) is sure to follow.
This year the actual NFL draft had four running backs go in the first two rounds, and for good reason. Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffery, Dalvin Cook and Joe Mixon are four talented backs that will provide their respective teams with stability at the position for years to come.
As talented as these runners are, however, the question remains: Where should they go in fantasy drafts? Are they the other half of the mystical “two-headed running back” lineup? Are they worth a first or second round pick? Let’s take a look at how they stack up in a standard scoring, 10-team league.
Leonard Fournette, 6’0” 240 lbs. Jacksonville Jaguars Round 1 Pick 4:
The first back off the board in the 2017 NFL draft was no surprise; Leonard Fournette is a monster. He will be the favorite to win the starting job in the lackluster Jaguars backfield once training camp begins. He is a prototypical RB1 from a fantasy standpoint and is worth every bit of a low first or second round pick.
Fournette will not compete for carries but will have to come off the field on third down, as his pass blocking and route running need work to get to the NFL level. He is a downhill runner that is not afraid of contact, but running behind the 22nd ranked O-Line may slow his production.
The Jags ended the 2016 season with a 3-13 record. They were playing from behind most of the season leaving them ranked 22nd in rushing yard for the year. Blake Bortles and the Jacksonville wide receivers will continue to play a big role in this offense, but that’s not enough to let Fournette fall into the third round.
Rank: Low-end RB1
Christian McCaffrey, 5’11” 202lbs. Carolina Panthers Round 1 Pick 8:
The Panthers took McCaffrey with the eighth overall pick because they saw a versatile weapon that is sure to help Cam Newton and the Panthers take the next step in returning to the Super Bowl. Fantasy owners, however, should wait until the fourth or fifth round to take the Stanford product.
With Jonathan Stewart entrenched as the starter in Carolina, McCaffrey will serve as a gadget player with big upside. Offensive Coordinator, Mike Shula, will find ways to get the talented back in space and take full advantage of his pass catching ability.
With the goal line work being handled by Newton, and the heavy lifting going to Stewart, McCaffrey will have to find fantasy value on third downs and as a slot receiver. The Panthers ranked in the top ten in both rushing yards and attempts in 2016, so there may be plenty of work to make him worth an early round pick, but that’s a stretch.
Rank: RB2/3, FLEX (in a PPR league he would be a low-end RB1)
Dalvin Cook, 5’11” 210lbs. Minnesota Vikings Round 2 Pick 9:
Cook may have landed in one of the worst situations for any running back, fantasy or real world. He will have to fight for carries with the newly acquired Latavius Murray, his O-line should be better than last year but is still one of the worst in football, and he is expected to be the second coming of Adrian Peterson, one of the all-time greats at the position.
Dalvin Cook, not known for his inside run game, is going to have a tough time behind the 29th ranked offensive line of the Minnesota Vikings. Cook’s value will come from the big plays and his work around the goal line; this is never a good thing for fantasy owners. A high ceiling/low floor is not ideal, but if he can produce on a consistent level, even if its “middle of the road”, he is worth a 4th or 5th round pick.
His talent is undeniable, but his situation in Minnesota is hard to ignore. Dalvin Cook should not be taken anywhere close to the first or second round, and any expectations should be tempered until the Vikings truly address their issues with the O-Line.
Rank: RB2, FLEX
Joe Mixon, 6’1” 226lbs. Cincinnati Bengals Round 2 Pick 16:
Joe Mixon is easily the most talented running back playing in Cincinnati, but he will have to fight two proven veterans for playing time. This is the risk associated with taking Mixon early in fantasy drafts; until the Bengals commit to him, his value hinges on his work load in a crowded backfield.
Mixon is everything Jeremy Hill is supposed to be and is a bigger, more athletic, Giovani Bernard. Head Coach, Marvin Lewis, would be smart to give this kid the ball early and often. A true three-down back, Mixon has the opportunity to be something special in this league. However, the Bengal’s offensive line took a huge hit in the offseason and finding holes may be few and far between.
While Mixon should be avoided in the first round of fantasy drafts. Taking him at the end of the second is a stretch, but landing him in the third is a steal. There might not be enough work for him in his rookie year to justify taking him with an early pick unless he wins the starting job.
Rank: RB2 (RB1 if he wins the job outright)
Knowing When Is As Important As Knowing Why
Knowing when to pick a player is the key to fantasy football success, and those who win championships know this all too well. Grab a player too early and you may miss out on a sure thing. Wait too long and you may miss the player you wanted because you didn’t pull the trigger when you should have. Gambling in the first four rounds is never a good idea, but a few of these running backs look like easy money and taking them at the right spot could pay off big in the long run.