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Leonard Fournette might have been the first running back picked in April's draft, and he might be the first rookie rusher drafted in your league. But he wasn't the best rookie rusher -- at least, not during the first week of the preseason.
Not every single run was a highlight, but Mixon easily proved he's a more exciting runner than teammate Jeremy Hill. As you might expect, Hill started and actually looked fairly nimble compared to last season, but once Mixon started getting carries it was evident who the quicker, faster and all-around better back was.
Mixon impressed on consecutive plays (with backups) in the second quarter. First, he showed off his instincts, hitting a lane to his left on a cutback instead of pressing another to his right. Then, lined up in shotgun with A.J. McCarron, Mixon took the handoff, made a quick cut toward the middle of the line and burst forward through arm tackles for 13 yards.
Four of his carries went for five yards or more, and he had an 11-yard grab.
The Bengals coaches have never relied heavily on a rookie running back before, but it's obvious that it's just a matter of time until Mixon is the lead back – .
Fournette was good, but what really eased the nerves was a decent showing by the Jaguars offensive line. The Patriots' second-string D-line wasn't the toughest test they'll face, but it was a nice acquittal nonetheless. It's not like they pushed them around, but they weren't whipped in pass protection and mostly did a satisfactory job in run blocking. There's room for improvement but it's not a bad start.
Now if he didn't have this annoying foot issue to deal with.
Fournette's foot and ankle problems date back to his college days. He missed four games at LSU last season because of a nagging ankle, and seems to have a toe problem "that's been kind of growing," according to coach Doug Marrone, who also said it wasn't that serious.
For a guy expected to have a huge workload in 2017, this isn't good.
Fournette didn't get much work and wasn't even the first or second Jaguars running back in the game. Don't worry, that'll change. But what won't change is his effectiveness and opportunities in the red zone. Late in the second quarter when the Jaguars picked up a goal-to-go series, Fournette was in and powered his way into the end zone over three carries.
Hopefully we see a lot of that in 2017.
The Vikings rookie rusher looked good, especially as a receiver, but his offensive line did not – a troubling sign, given last season's issues. Playing without left tackle Riley Reiff, they were mostly manhandled by the Bills' big defensive line. Reiff's replacement was especially bad. Cook rarely had lanes to run in and when he did they were sewn up quickly. Cook's pass protection didn't help Sam Bradford much, either.
The good news is that Cook's usage was as good as it could have been. He played every offensive down for four series and was a constant outlet for Sam Bradford. He also looked a little bit thicker than when he was at Florida State.
We'll see if this kind of workload continues once Latavius Murray gets fully up to speed. Hopefully Reiff's return will spark improvement in the O-line and give Cook even more room to rack up yardage.
McCaffrey's debut didn't feature any jaw-dropping plays, but the Panthers weren't shy to use him. He ran it seven times for 33 yards, highlighted by a 12-yard scamper where he ran behind a bunch formation into traffic and nearly popped free for a big gain.
He ran plays like that in college and did well, so it's nice to see the Panthers incorporating stuff from his college days -- expect them to keep it up.