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The rookie running backs were the breakout stars of the 2017 Fantasy Football season. Kareem Hunt led the league in rushing; Alvin Kamara was historically efficient; Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey had dominant stretches in completely different ways. At the end of the season four of the top-10 running backs in PPR were rookies.
Well, they were the breakout stars if you don't count Todd Gurley. Gurley's bounceback season in 2017 was one for the ages. He topped 2,000 total yards, scored 19 touchdowns and caught 64 passes. He was only the second back to reach those three marks since 2003. He was also a league-winner because he was available after the first 12 picks in almost every draft.
My favorite breakout candidate at running back is a part of last year's rookie class, but an injury kept him from keeping up with his peers. He also has the upside, skillset, and situation to match Gurley's 2017 campaign.
Dalvin Cook's rookie season was cut short by an ACL injury, but he's been a full-go at camp and isn't even wearing a brace. We have every reason to believe Cook is fully recovered, and it's probably good to go back and look at what he looked like before the injury. It was just three and half games, but Cook looked like a star. In his first NFL start he ran for 127 yards and caught three passes. Two weeks later, he had 169 total yards and a touchdown against Tampa Bay. In the game he was injured he had 74 total yards and a touchdown in a little over a half.
The scary part is, Cook's situation may be even better than before. Jerick McKinnon left for the 49ers, leaving little competition for third-down work. Kirk Cousins replaced Case Keenum at quarterback, which should lead to better quarterback play, fewer men in the box and more positive game scripts in the second half of games.
I have Cook ranked sixth at running back, and that's trying to be reasonable. He is one of seven or eight backs that has true No. 1 overall potential. In non-PPR, I'd rank him ahead of every running back from his draft class other than Hunt, and they're close to a coin flip.
Truth be told, Alex Collins had a breakout last year. But he could have another one coming. Collins enters the season as the unquestioned No. 1 running back in Baltimore, and there's a lot to like here. He's elusive, the Ravens committed to the run again in 2017, and he seemed to resolve his one main weakness, fumbling the ball. So how does he get even better in 2018?
Collins only had 23 catches last year, but almost all of them came in the second half. He had at least two catches in each of his final seven games. There's also hope for more work in the red zone. The Ravens gave the ball to Javorius Allen way too often last year and Allen didn't find much success. If Collins' role as the certain-starter includes short-yardage work he could blow last year's six touchdowns away.
I have Collins ranked just outside my top-12 running backs, but if he has the year I expect and stays healthy he'll finish there. If you take a pair of No. 1 receivers to start the draft Collins is a fine No. 1 running back to put with them at the end of the third.
Derrick Henry was everyone's favorite breakout candidate in the short period of time between DeMarco Murray's release and Dion Lewis' signing. But after Lewis signed a four-year deal worth almost $20 million, perception has chilled. This move told me the Titans want to have a two-back system similar to what we've seen succeed wildly in New Orleans and Atlanta the past few years. A committee limits Henry's upside, sure. He cannot likely be the No. 1 overall back if Dion Lewis stays healthy. He may not even crack the top-5. But he could be the next in a string of committee running backs finishing as top-10 options.
I only have Henry pegged for 204 carries and 25 catches this year, but touchdowns and efficiency keep him in the top-20 running backs. If he gets 270-plus touches? He could be a top-10 back.
I'm not sure we've properly considered the upside of Marlon Mack. He had five carries of more than 20 yards last year. Unfortunately he was smothered behind the line so often his efficiency numbers still look terrible. I expect the Colts will have one of the most improved offensive lines in the league. And they're only the second-biggest thing Mack has going for him.
Andrew Luck is, by all indications, ready to play football. There's even talk of him playing in the team's first preseason game. If Luck is truly back, it becomes much easier to run the football in Indianapolis. Their line will look better running the ball if only because they won't have so many guys to block up front.
Mack is the current favorite to start Week 1. If he seizes the lead back spot in this committee and continues to hit on the big plays like he did last year, he has legitimate 1,000-yard upside. The touchdowns would ultimately determine what that meant in Fantasy, but it's highly likely he'd be a top-20 running back.