Four months have passed since the 2017 NFL Draft, and now all those endless clichés about upside and intangibles will be put to the test as the league kicks off a brand new season. By now, you know all about each team’s shiny new toy, but which one of these “can’t-miss” prospects will actually hit the mark and take the NFL by storm?
We’ve taken the guesswork out of the game’s biggest unknowns and have set the odds on which fearless freshman will be named the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year. (We’ll cover Defensive Rookie of the Year here.) Enjoy ‘em while you can while they still have that new rookie smell!
Just how good is Christian McCaffrey? The Panthers have reportedly created a separate playbook for the Stanford alum to take advantage of his do-everything skills. That’s quite an honor for any player, yet alone a rookie. the team clearly loves his speed, versatility, and elusiveness. McCaffrey may not be the number one option in the backfield just yet — especially near the goalline — but he should get plenty of carries and targets this season as the Panthers look for unique ways to get the ball out of Cam Newton’s hands and better protect their franchise pivot.
Forget about Rookie of the Year; Kareem Hunt looked like an MVP candidate on Thursday night against the Patriots. The Toledo product ran for 148 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries, and added five catches for 98 yards and two more TDs. His 246 yards from scrimmage were the most by a player in his first game in NFL history. Hunt won’t post those numbers every Sunday, but head coach Andy Reid favors a run-heavy offense, and Hunt has the strength and natural talent to take advantage of Spencer Ware’s season-ending injury.
Leonard Fournette may have found the perfect situation in Jacksonville, where head coach Doug Marrone has said he wants to “run the ball every play.” That old school approach should suit a workhorse like Fournette just fine, assuming his body can withstand the rigors of a full season. The 6’0, 228-pound back missed time during his junior season at LSU with an ankle injury, and was kept out of the Jags’ final three preseason games with a nagging foot problem. Health isn’t the only factor that puts Fournette behind McCaffrey and Hunt; Jacksonville’s offense is still led by Blake Bortles, meaning Fournette will see more stacked boxes than you could fit into a Costco.
Few rookies looked better this preseason than Dalvin Cook. The second-round pick from Florida State ran for 105 yards on 23 carries and displayed the kind of explosiveness that made him a two-time All-American and Orange Bowl MVP. Cook is highly capable as a pass-catcher and runner, and is expected to start the season as Minnesota’s number one back while Latavius Murray continues to work himself back into game shape after offseason ankle surgery.
Honorable mentions: DeShone Kizer (Browns), Joe Mixon (Bengals), Evan Engram (Giants), Corey Davis (Titans)
Featured photo: Christian McCaffrey with the Stanford Cardinal (Carlos Herrera/Icon Sportswire)
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