Revisiting scouting reports of the 2017 running back class

The 2017 running back class has been anything but a disappointment.

Just look what some of these guys did in Week 9: Alvin Kamara and Kareem Hunt each had three scrimmage TDs; Christian McCaffrey had a pair of rushing TDs; James Conner his fourth-straight 100-yard rushing game; and Dalvin Cook ripped off a career-long 70-yard run.

These performances aren’t anomalies. This class as a whole has been a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators since coming into the league, and the class’ early success has literally forced me to ditch the running back rankings this week. (Don’t worry, the rankings will return for Week 11.) Instead, I am going to re-visit my scouting reports of the 2017 running back class from before they were drafted — and let me tell you, I have a great eye for scouting talent.

After re-examining past scouting reports and reviewing how the running backs have fared in the NFL so far, I have ranked my top 10 backs of the 2017 class. Without further ado …

1Kareem HuntRBChiefs
College: Toledo
Pre-draft ranking: No. 13

2017 scouting report: He’s got short-area quickness — making defenders miss in a small area — and has good hands. I’m impressed with his leg drive on contact (picture Marshawn Lynch-type runs). His speed could be an issue, though, as he ran a 4.62 40 at the combine. Draft pick: Third-round selection, No. 86 overall.

What I think now: Although Hunt is a perfect fit for Andy Reid’s offense, he would be effective on any team. The 2017 NFL rushing yards leader is a younger Marshawn Lynch, as evidenced by this epic Week 8 touchdown run. Hunt has been far better than expected in the NFL and is going to be a top-tier back in the league for years to come.

2Alvin KamaraRBSaints
College: Tennessee
Pre-draft ranking: No. 7

2017 scouting report: Kamara’s open-field patience reminds me of LeSean McCoy, as both are great out of the backfield. The Tennessee product has good hands and short-area quickness but doesn’t have great speed (running a 4.56 40 at the combine). Because he didn’t line up in the I-formation much at Tennessee, he rarely runs through tackles, something he must get comfortable with. Draft pick: Third-round selection, No. 67 overall.

What I think now: As good as Shady was in his prime, the second-year Saint has slightly more upside, as we have yet to see him reach his full potential. Scary, I know. A year and a half into his career, Kamara has proven he can do it all. He was great as a complement to Mark Ingram in 2017 and even greater when carrying the load during Ingram’s suspension in 2018. Like Hunt, Kamara has far exceeded expectations and will be a top back in the league for a long time.

3Christian McCaffreyRBPanthers
College: Stanford
Pre-draft ranking: No. 4

2017 scouting report: He has short-area quickness and good contact balance. McCaffrey’s ability to catch out of the backfield will make him a threat in the passing game for any team. The Stanford standout touched the ball 300-plus times (including returns) in each of the last two seasons. That’s a ton. I’m hoping he wasn’t overworked too early. Draft pick: First-round selection, No. 8 overall.

What I think now: When drafting McCaffrey, it was clear the Panthers’ intent was to implement a short passing game to help Cam Newton. McCaffrey has been a great complement to Newton in the run game and a huge weapon for him in the passing game. McCaffrey, who is just tapping into his potential in Year 2, will be a staple in Carolina alongside Newton for a while.

4Joe MixonRBBengals
College: Oklahoma
Pre-draft ranking: No. 1

2017 scouting report: Some may be surprised that the Oklahoma product is at No. 1, considering his controversial past. The off-the-field incident — which ultimately kept him from being invited to the NFL Scouting Combine — is a very serious issue that teams will have to examine extensively before the draft.

What I know about Mixon on the football field is that he’s without a doubt the best running back in this year’s class. He’s versatile, a good route runner, accelerates through contact and has great patience. I recently spoke to a coach who attended Oklahoma’s pro day, and he told me Mixon was the best player he had seen in the last 10 years at any pro day. The 6-foot-1, 226-pound running back doesn’t have many weaknesses when it comes to football. The only concern — and it’s a significant one — is his maturity and decision-making outside of football. Draft pick: Second-round selection, No. 48 overall.

What I think now: Mixon got off to a slow start as a rookie behind a poor offensive line. The Bengals addressed their O-line troubles this offseason, and Mixon has reaped the benefits. I’ve been high on this kid’s ability since college and the football world is starting to see why. In terms of off-field issues, Mixon has stayed out of the headlines since entering the NFL — a great sign.

5Leonard FournetteRBJaguars
College: LSU
Pre-draft ranking: No. 3

2017 scouting report: Fournette is an explosive back who accelerates through contact and is dangerous in the open field. He is a solid pass blocker but didn’t catch the ball much at LSU with an average of 12.7 catches per season. I’m also concerned about his health. He’s been banged up with an ankle injury, and the physicality of the game won’t get any easier for him. Draft pick: First-round selection, No. 4 overall.

What I think now: I hate to say that I was spot-on in my scouting report, but … I was. He was a key piece in the Jaguars’ run to the AFC Championship Game last season. His health is a HUGE concern and has been his Achilles’ heel, as Fournette has played in just 15 of 24 regular-season games since entering the league. You can’t help your team if you’re not on the field.

6Dalvin CookRBVikings
College: Florida State
Pre-draft ranking: No. 2

2017 scouting report: Cook has a leg up on most of these guys, just based on the fact that he’s coming out of a pro-style offense. He has great speed (he ran a 4.49-second 40-yard dash at the combine), breaks arm tackles and can score from anywhere on the field. He can be a home-run hitter for any team. However, Cook is a high-risk, high-reward player, as he struggled with turnovers in college, recording 13 fumbles in three years at FSU. Draft pick: Second-round selection, No. 41 overall.

What I think now: Showing flashes as a rookie, Cook was leading the NFL in rushing yards before an ACL injury ended his debut season. He’s still fighting the repercussions of that injury, but we saw Sunday against the Lions how he takes the Vikings’ offense to another level when he’s in the game. Barring another major injury, Cook looks to be Minnesota’s running back of the future.

7James ConnerRBSteelers
College: Pittsburgh
Pre-draft ranking: No. 16

2017 scouting report: What a feel-good story. Like Eric Berry, Conner had Hodgkin lymphoma and is a cancer survivor. Now healthy, Conner looks to be an impact player in the NFL. He is a big back who is very physical, explosive with his shoulders and finishes runs. He is a true downhill runner as a first- and second-down back. Can Conner be a threat out of the backfield? He didn’t line up outside, so there are question marks about his ability to impact the passing game. Draft pick: Third-round selection, No. 105 overall.

What I think now: Without Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh has had to rely on Conner this season. My goodness, has that worked out. His running ability has been as expected, but I’ve been impressed with how big of an asset he’s been in the pass game. Conner is a nightmare for defensive coordinators and has proven he can be an RB1 in this league.

8Chris CarsonRBSeahawks
College: Oklahoma State
Pre-draft ranking: No. 20

2017 scouting report: Carson has good size at 6-feet, 218 pounds, explodes through holes at the line of scrimmage and has a nose for the end zone. He’s patient in the run game and has decent hands in the pass game. But I think Carson needs to show more want in pass protection by being more physical. He carries the ball in his right hand only. That will need to change. Draft pick: Seventh-round selection, No. 249 overall.

What I think now: A healthy Carson takes a lot of pressure off Russell Wilson. While the young running back has been good in 2018, he could still improve his skill set in the passing game.

9Aaron JonesRBPackers
College: UTEP
Pre-draft ranking: No. 9

2017 scouting report: Jones is my sleeper in this draft. He’s versatile, runs good routes and moves well in the open field. He is tough to tackle and has decent speed. Jones is a well-rounded running back — as he touched the ball on nearly every play at UTEP — and is good at everything, but not great at one thing. Draft pick: Fifth-round selection, No. 182 overall.

What I think now: Everything about Jones’ game has translated well at the next level. He should continue to get more opportunities in the second half of the season and has all the goods to be a starting RB for Green Bay in the future.

10Tarik CohenRBBears
College: North Carolina A&T
Pre-draft ranking: No. 11

2017 scouting report: Cohen is special when the ball is in his hands. He’s tough to tackle and great in the open field. He sets up blocks well and has good vision, but the league will be a huge jump in competition for him. Can he continue to be the weapon he was in college against much better competition at the next level? Draft pick: Fourth-round selection, No. 119 overall.

What I think now: Having a creative offensive coordinator (Mark Helfrich) and head coach (Matt Nagy) has greatly benefited Cohen. A nightmare in the open field, Cohen will continue to be a weapon as a specialty player on offense and special teams.


I had Brian Hill (Wyoming), Jamaal Williams (BYU), Samaje Perine (Oklahoma) and Jeremy McNichols (Boise State) all ranked in the top 12 of this loaded running back class. A fifth-round draft pick, Hill made the roster for the Falcons and Bengals as a rookie and is back in Atlanta in Year 2. With 11 career rushing attempts, there’s no sign that Hill will lock down a significant role anytime soon. … Although Williams has played in 24 games (12 starts) for Green Bay, he’s averaging less than 4.0 yards per carry for his career and has been unable to solidify his hold on the starting job, despite Mike McCarthy’s best efforts to keep him as the RB1. … With injuries to Washington’s backfield in 2017, Perine had an opportunity to run away with the starting role. He underperformed in seven starts down the stretch and now has faded down the depth chart in 2018. … McNichols has bounced around and has been unable to earn a roster spot for significant time.

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