This is a brief overview of the top rookie running back performances at the running back position in Week 1 of the regular season. This is not a ranking of the projected success the rest of the season, just a synopsis of the performances after week 1. I’ve listed the top five in order of most impressive starting with the first game of the year:
- I think this one is obvious but Kareem Hunt looks like the next great Kansas City back after his performance against the Patriots. After fumbling once in 856 touches at Toledo (which he recovered), Hunt lost a fumble on his first career NFL carry. Most Chiefs fans were probably missing Spencer Ware after that but it’s safe to say Kareem made up for it with the rest of his performance. Totaling 286 yards and three touchdowns, he led the Chiefs to a week one victory over the preseason Super Bowl favorites. He averaged 8.7 YPC and looked shifty and quick against an overmatched, depleted Patriots defense. Charcandrick West was a nice compliment but is clearly behind Hunt after his historic performance.
Projection for Week 2: 16 carries 92 yards, 3 catches 17 yards, 1 touchdown.
- This was a little bit tougher of a call for the number 2 spot but I think I’m going to go with Leonard Fournette as the second-best rookie RB of the week. He ran for 100 yards and a touchdown against what should be a pretty stout Texans defense as the Jaguars fed him 26 times. He was also involved in the passing game with three catches and just looked generally fast and powerful. As long as he stays healthy, Doug Marrone should continue to feed him. The only way the Jaguars compete this year is by winning low scoring grinders through a stout defense and controlling time of possession. There’s no one else on the Jaguars offense that merits more than a few touches a game so until teams figure this out FEED HIM THE BALL.
Projection for Week 2: 24 carries 124 yards, 2 catches 8 yards, 2 touchdowns.
- Coming in a close third is the rookie in Minnesota, Dalvin Cook. The only reason I placed him below Fournette is due to the fact that his team looked far superior offensively. Playing against an overmatched Saints defense made for an easier path to success. That’s not to say he wasn’t impressive. Cook hit the corner several times and turned on the jets to show magnificent acceleration and burst. It will be interesting to see how he fares against a more competent defense but Dalvin Cook looks like the bell cow in a backfield that was a nightmare last season. Latavius Murray is no match for him as Cook is clearly the more talented player.
Projection for Week 2: 19 carries 83 yards, 3 catches 9 yards, 0 touchdowns.
- A surprising development in the rookie running back scene was the emergence of the swiss army knife that is Tarik Cohen. In a role that most people expected to be filled by Christian McCaffrey (more on him later), the 5’6” back more than earned the nickname “The Human Joystick” as he put on a display of video game-esque jukes and spins. He ended the game as the leading rusher and receiver for the offensively challenged Bears. It appears as though Fantasy owners of Jordan Howard should be worried moving forward.
Projection for Week 2: 8 carries 45 yards, 6 catches 42 yards, 1 touchdown.
- Although not quite as impressive statistically as Tarik Cohen, Christian McCaffrey was special in his own right. It appeared as though the Panthers were trying to figure out how to use their new toy with a variety of plays centered around him. Jonathan Stewart has a little stronger grip on the rushing attack than a lot of people thought heading into the season, however, as mentioned last week, the Panthers have an entire separate playbook dedicated to getting McCaffrey the ball. That’s not something you do for an average football player. Carolina looks to have a special player here and it will be interesting to see how much effectiveness they can squeeze out of him this season.
Projection for Week 2: 10 carries 63 yards, 4 catches 98 yards, 1 touchdown.
I will provide an updated look at these backs and any others that may burst onto the scene (looking at you De’Angelo Henderson and Marlon Mack) to give my thoughts on what appears to be a tight race. There are a few rookies that may be thrust into a larger role as the season continues. After one week, it appears we may have more than one back of the next generation in this class. For our sake, let’s hope the success continues.