The first week after the Super Bowl is generally when I release my way-too-early projections, and if you're wondering why I used that phrasing in both the headline and the first sentence of the article, it's because it is --in fact-- way too early. At the same time, it's kind of fun, and a lot of these projections will closely resemble what they look like in July.
Note that for the most part, I did not project unrestricted free agents. They are in my rankings, just not in the projections because I build those from a team-based approach and I don't know where to stick them. That's why free agency and the NFL Draft will have such a big impact on these projections in the coming months.
So when you take your first look at the running back projections below, you won't see James Conner, Leonard Fournette, Chase Edmonds, or Cordarrelle Patterson. You will see Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara, and Cam Akers, just maybe not as high as you would have expected.
For Kamara, it's pretty simple. His off-the-field incident at the Pro Bowl has me very concerned he will not play a full season. Add in the fact that I project the Saints to be among the league's worst offenses and I currently have Taysom Hill projected as their quarterback, and it's pretty easy to see that I will not be drafting any Alvin Kamara early without some resolution.
Cook and Akers are a little bit more complicated, but they both come down to health. For Cook, it's the fact that he has not once played more than 14 games in an NFL season, he'll be 27 years old at the start of next season, and he has a whole new regime calling plays. If you think Kevin O'Connell's offense is going to look a lot like Sean McVay's, you should not expect near as many running back opportunities in Minnesota this season.
Back in Los Angeles, I do think Akers has top-10 upside and when news came out of him returning this postseason I thought I might even rank him there. But we didn't see anything from Akers in the postseason to suggest he'd regained his form. And it really bothered me that Darrell Henderson, who is still under contract, was so effective in the passing game in the Super Bowl.
I could be convinced to move Kamara, Cook, and Akers up by the time we get to August, but there's a lot to happen before I'll draft any of them in Round 1 as we were at times last offseason. Here are my way-too-early running back projections: