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There are always exceptions, but when it comes to making a fantasy football impact as a rookie, running backs and wide receivers are typically your best bets – last season we witnessed two top 10 rookies at the fantasy RB position (Ezekiel Elliott and Jordan Howard) and two top 15 finishes at the WR spot (Michael Thomas and Tyreek Hill). So with apologies to the incoming quarterbacks and tight ends, here’s a look at the running backs and wide receivers that fantasy owners should be keeping the closest tabs on come April’s NFL Draft:
Leonard Fournette, LSU, RB – It’s not hyperbole to say that Fournette has quite a bit of Adrian Peterson and Bo Jackson to his game. Size, speed power … you name it, Fournette’s got it. He’s a no-nonsense North-South runner, and when he is able to get a clean burst through the line of scrimmage, he can lower his pads and absolutely destroy second-level defenders. If you want to nitpick, you could say he needs to work on patience and letting things develop in front of him. But with his ability to plow his way to daylight, it’s certainly not a weakness that is going to keep him from making an instant impact in the NFL.
Where I’d like to see him end up: Carolina
Dalvin Cook, Florida St., RB – With his elite acceleration and ability to get out of his breaks in a hurry, Cook has drawn comparisons to a young Clinton Portis, a player who put up nearly 1,900 yards from scrimmage and 18 touchdowns in his rookie season in Denver nearly 15 years ago. But because of his natural receiving chops, perhaps his impact on the fantasy football landscape might look more like former FSU product Devonta Freeman.
Where I’d like to see him end up: Indianapolis
Christian McCaffrey, Stanford, RB – With his versatility and game-breaking talents, McCaffrey draws comparisons to Reggie Bush, though he’s more physical, and hopefully more durable. McCaffrey doesn’t have the body type ideally suited for fully featured NFL back duty, but he’s the kind of player (like a Percy Harvin, Tyreek Hill) that can make plays from anywhere on the offensive side of the ball, and he should be able to immediately carve out a 10-12 touch per game role for whichever team drafts him, assuming they understand how to fully tap his considerable talents.
Where I’d like to see him end up: Kansas City or San Francisco
Corey Davis, Western Michigan, WR – Hailing from the same school as former Packers wideout Greg Jennings, and from the same conference (MAC) that has produced current receiving stalwarts Antonio Brown and Julian Edelman, among others, Davis has the requisite size, athleticism and refinement to be a (near) future go-to wideout. Strength of competition is a fair question coming from a MAC school, but he averaged 5.9 catches and 73.6 yards, while also scoring a total of four touchdowns, in eight career games against Big 10 competition. He made an impact immediately as a freshman and put together a consistently high-level career at WMU, averaging 83 catches, 1321 yards and 13 TDs in his four seasons. He’s arguably the most polished, NFL-ready receiver in the ’17 class.
Where I’d like to see him end up: Tampa Bay
Mike Williams, Clemson, WR – Following in a line of impressive Clemson receiver products (Martavis Bryant, DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins) Williams resembles a combination of Bryant and Hopkins, using his size, athletic ability and body control to win jump balls and pick up yards after the catch. He doesn’t have elite speed, but it’s certainly above average, and a headache for the opposition when combined with his physical makeup and fluidity. And, unlike Davis (above), Williams won’t have to answer any questions about strength of competition, especially after putting on a show in the national title game upset of Alabama.
Where I’d like to see him end up: Los Angeles Chargers
Joe Mixon, Oklahoma, RB – Off-the-field problems could cause Samaje Perine’s college teammate Mixon to fall much further than he would if he were entering the NFL with a clean slate – some teams will likely not even have him on their board. But whichever teams lands him will get a special talent, one with a fully featured skill set. He’s an excellent receiver, and he packs enough power in his long, lean frame to carve out a role on early downs.
Where I’d like to see him end up: Washington
D’Onta Foreman, Texas, RB – At 6-foot-1, 250 pounds, Foreman really is a beast, and that physical makeup is made even more enticing when you add his lateral agility and ability to hit a top gear in a hurry (and that top gear is expected to produce sub-4.5 times in the 40 this spring). On the down side, Foreman was a non-factor in the Texas passing game and his six lost fumbles marred an otherwise amazing junior campaign for the Longhorns (he rushed for at least 124 yards in every game, and had three games with 250-plus rushing yards).
Where I’d like to see him end up: New York Giants
Samaje Perine, Oklahoma, RB – Perine’s a pure bruiser, someone who seeks out contact and is a nightmare to tackle in one-on-one situations. His fire hydrant build and running style is reminiscent of Michael Turner – both are 5-foot-10 and in the 230-240 pound range (at least in Turner’s playing days). And, while he may lack blazing speed, it plays just fine when coupled with his aggressive, one-cut power approach. After scoring 51 TDs in his three seasons at Oklahoma, he’s ready to make his living in NFL red zones.
Where I’d like to see him end up: Detroit
John Ross, Washington, WR – Speed, speed and more speed. Ross should be one of the fastest players at the NFL combine, and he made that speed even more functional in ’16 by improving his route running skills. He was very raw early in his career at Washington, but a move to defensive back in ’14 and a knee injury that caused a redshirt season in ’15 gave Ross the time and expanded perspective to hone his receiving craft. Ross has the skills (and experience) moving around on offense, be it in the slot or on the outside, which should only help his stock on draft day, not to mention his ability to see the field early in his rookie campaign.
Where I’d like to see him end up: Dallas
Cooper Kupp, Eastern Washington, WR – Competition is going to be one of the biggest questions for Kupp, but game film against the four Pac-12 teams he faced (Washington State, Washington, Oregon and Oregon State) in his four seasons at EWU will go a long way towards easing those concerns as Kupp scored a combined 11 touchdowns and averaged 10 catches for 179 yards in those contests – just read those numbers over again because they are video-game ridiculous. Typically working out of the slot, Kupp offers a fairly complete package – plus size, speed, hands and route running ability – and should be considered a steal if he falls outside the top two rounds.
Where I’d like to see him end up: Tennessee
Other RBs/WRs to watch: JuJu Smith-Schuster, USC, WR, Curtis Samuel, Ohio St., RB/WR (hybrid); Alvin Kamara, Tennessee, RB; Malachi Dupre, LSU, WR