football Edit

Fournette, Cook and others make for stacked 2017 RB class

Leonard Fournette
Leonard Fournette (Getty Images)

MORE: Trubisky, Watson give ACC power at quarterback

One running back was taken in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft – Dallas selected Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott with the fourth pick – and that has turned out pretty well.

The previous year two running backs were selected in the first round – the Rams taking Georgia’s Todd Gurley and San Diego picking Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon – and both of those have been hits.

Could as many as four running backs go in the first round in the 2017 Draft?

The class is absolutely loaded with LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook leading the way. Then there is significant debate surrounding Texas’ D’Onta Foreman and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey.

For National Recruiting Director Mike Farrell, four won’t happen. Three is a real possibility though.

“The thinking is starting to change (on drafting running backs early) because Melvin Gordon has shown improvement this year before his injury, Todd Gurley had a very good rookie season with the Rams but no way four or five guys go in the first round,” Farrell said. “No way that happens.

“Fournette will go first round, there is no doubt about that. Cook will go first round because he’s that special and a guy you could use in your offense in multiple different ways. The other two are interesting.”

A former five-star who picked LSU over late pushes from Texas and others, Fournette could be one of the first overall selections. Cook, who turned down Florida, Clemson and others to star at Florida State, might not be too far behind. Both are that special.

Where does Foreman land? ESPN NFL Draft expert Mel Kiper, Jr., said on a conference call last week the Texas back, who was a two-star prospect in high school, is No. 12 overall on his board.

After rushing an astronomical 323 times for 2,028 yards and 15 touchdowns this season, Foreman is quickly becoming a hot name on draft boards. That he’s 6-foot-1 and 249 pounds could also be of significant interest to numerous NFL execs.

“D’Onta Foreman is a powerhouse,” Kiper said. “You’d like to see him get more receptions, came out with seven receptions this past year. During his pro day you’re going to work on and see what type of hands he shows. That’s what’s going to be important for D’Onta Foreman to show that he can be a consistent threat coming out of the backfield catching the ball because he only had seven catches.

“Cook can do everything. He’s explosive. He’s a Jamaal Charles type. Fournette draws comparisons to Adrian Peterson.”

And then there is the question of McCaffrey, who put up record-breaking numbers as a sophomore, only to be slowed by injuries this season. The former four-star still had 1,603 rushing yards and 16 total touchdowns, but does he warrant a first-round grade?

One argument is that his versatility – the ability to be a running back, catch the ball out of the backfield, line up anywhere and be an asset on special teams – makes him supremely valuable in today’s NFL.

The argument against says that McCaffrey doesn’t have a specific position, that he’s not as durable as some others at his position and that his size could be a concern. Is he basically a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none?

“Christian McCaffrey is a do-it-all, beat you in a multitude of ways,” Kiper said. “Everybody in this league likes versatile players and he’s versatile in punt return, kick return, he can catch, block, run. He’ll be one of the hardest workers on your football team.

“… He gets touchdowns, he has a great work ethic, good body lean when he runs. He’s a major asset, his all-around talent. He’s a versatile, dual-threat, multi-threat. Bloodlines are tremendous, loves the game, he’s an extremely hard worker. The NFL loves versatile players. He can help you win in a multitude of ways. That’s why he’s a first-round pick.”

Farrell isn’t so certain.

“McCaffrey’s stock dropped but I could see a Patriots team coveting that guy because they’re so creative offensively and they could get him in the ball in so many different ways,” Farrell said. “There are questions about his size and durability, so I think he slides.”

That’s the great thing about this time of year. So much debate. So much discussion about who goes where.

One thing is for certain though: This draft is stock full of talented running backs.