2017 Running Back Class Has The Potential to be Legendary

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When you start voting for the 2018 pro-bowl, flip to the running back section. Names like Todd Gurley, Saquon Barkley, and Ezekiel Elliot will be obvious locks, but the 2017 draft class will overwhelm voters with the talent, and big numbers to be voted upon. Top running backs Alvin Kamara, James Connor, Christian McCaffrey, and Joe Mixon will earn top votes, but there is so much more to the crop of 2017 running backs, so much that I believe that 2017 running back can be legendary. There are two draft classes that I think could compete with the 2017 class; 1993, and 2008. In 1993 stars such as Garrison Hearst, and Jerome Bettis changed the fate of their teams. The same can be said for 2008, as Chris Johnson, Matt Forte, and Jamaal Charles headlined the class, but neither has the depth of current stars and starters that the 2017 class has.

Here is how I would rank the top talent in that draft class. Alvin Kamara and James Connor are both top five running backs in the NFL. While, Kareem Hunt, Christian McCaffrey, and Leonard Fournette are talented enough to be in my top 10.

  1. Alvin Kamara
  2. James Connor
  3. Kareem Hunt
  4. Christian McCaffrey
  5. Leonard Fournette
  6. Joe Mixon
  7. Dalvin Cook
  8. Marlon Mack
  9. Aaron Jones
  10. Matt Breida
  11. Austin Ekeler
  12. Chris Carson
  13. Tarik Cohen
  14. Jamaal Williams
  15. Correy Clement
  16. D’Onta Foreman
  17. Samaje Perrine
  18. Wayne Gallman

The first seven out of that list are pro-bowl type players right now. Marlon Mack through Tarik Cohen are either starters or focal points of their respective teams. The rest of the list is rounded out by players that are either solid role players or are players that filled into substantial roles nicely.

The 2017 draft doesn’t just have star players; it has hall-of-fame talent type players. The hall-of-fame level players each are at the best of the running backs in the NFL in their second seasons. Alvin Kamara was offensive rookie of the year and can be a legitimate MVP candidate. Connor has seemingly gone from Le’Veon Bell replacement to the man that has broken Bell’s records. Kareem Hunt led the NFL in rushing yards in his rookie season and is a focal point of the Chiefs high-powered offense. Each of these players was a third-round pick. The two first-round backs of the 2017 (Fournette, McCaffrey) are no slouches either.

Those three players would solidify the 2017 class as one of the best back classes ever, but there is so much more depth. Christian McCaffrey can play both running back and wide receiver at a high level, and provides the Panthers with an efficient zone-running back they have longed for. Leonard Fournette IS the Jaguars offense. His powerful, yet elusive running style can’t be replaced for the Jaguars, and it shows as the Jaguars are fighting to remain competitive (currently out with a hamstring injury). Joe Mixon is a pro-bowl level type runner and has brought consistency to go along with big plays (and games) to the Cincinnati Bengals. Dalvin Cook has started 2018 with a slow start, but he has shined while healthy; the Vikings offense is more complete with him playing.

Of course, that’s not it with the 2017 class. Marlon Mack has brought back the whole running thing to Indianapolis, don’t believe me? Check out this article. Aaron Jones is a smart running back that can run downhill, forcing defenses to stack the box against Aaron Rodgers. Tarik Cohen is one of the best returners/gadget players in the NFL and is a critical cog in the Bears offense. The shifty Matt Breida is one of the bright spots of the 49ers 2018 season. Chris Carson outplayed 2018 first round pick Rashaad Penny for the starting job and has kept it. Austin Ekeler is one of the best complementary backs in football, while he can carry some of Melvin Gordon’s workload at a high level.

So now that we know that the 2017 class has historically great talent, star players, current and future starters we know that this class is historic. But, there’s more. D’Onta Foreman looked the part of a third-round steal for the Texans as a bruising back and can return to that status once he comes back from his Achilles injury. Jamaal Williams has carved himself a role as a pass-catching, change of pace back to complement Aaron Jones in Green Bay. Corey Clement might be the lead back in Philadelphia after Jay Ajay’s injury, and the same can be said for Elijah McGuire for the Jets. To round out the big-time players of the 2017 class, Samaje Perrine and Wayne Gallman can carve out long NFL careers as strictly situational players for their respective teams.

If you prefer to talk numbers rather than players, this draft class can back that up. In just those 18 players alone, that class has already produced 14,462 rushing yards, 7,759 receiving yards, and 150 total touchdowns (all in a season and a half). Kamara won offensive rookie of the year in 2017, Hunt had the most rushing yards in 2017, and both were pro-bowlers their rookie years. Each should return to Orlando as pro-bowlers (if they don’t meet each other in the Super Bowl) in 2018, while McCaffrey, Connor, and Mixon could easily join that club by the end of 2018.

The 2017 draft gifted 17 teams with starting to solid backs, each with varying levels of massive success. From Leonard Fournette to Alvin Kamara to John Conner, 2017 running back class will be the best in recent history. 2018 marks only the second year in their respective pro football careers, but they are already taking advantage of it. Some are even looking like candidates for mega extensions early in their career. It should be fun watching the progression of these players, of course, some won’t pan out, but the majority of the players mentioned should. There is just too much talent in the 2017 draft to not be known as a legendary one.

-Avery Duncan

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