The 2017 NFL Draft was loaded with playmakers. However, it's rare for a rookie to come in and start from day one. This makes their fantasy value a bit of a mystery.
Who will be this year's Ezekiel Elliott? Will Corey Davis flourish in Tennessee? Can Christian McCaffrey live up to the hype?
Here are nine positional battles created by the incoming rookies.
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TJ Yeldon/Chris Ivory/Leonard Fournette
There’s a reason the Jaguars felt confident enough to draft Fournette with the fourth overall pick. In 2015, Fournette rushed for 1,953 yards with 6.5 yards per carry and 22 touchdowns. He only played seven games in 2016, but still managed to generate 989 yards of total offense and make eight trips to the end zone. Yeldon on the other hand, failed to rush for 40 yards in 12 games last season. The Jags also signed Chris Ivory, who yielded just 439 yards and 3 touchdowns. It’s clear the Yeldon-Ivory combination is not the answer and I’d be shocked if Jacksonville didn’t break training camp with Fournette as its starter.
Mike Williams/Chargers WRs
Keenan Allen played in one game before tearing his ACL last season. Without Allen, the Chargers were stuck with Dontrelle Inman and Travis Benjamin playing significant roles. Neither reached 1,000 receiving yards in Allen’s absence. If Allen is healthy he will get targets as Philip Rivers and he have built that needed rapport. So, Mike Williams will be competing with Tyrell/Benjamin/Inman for the rest of Rivers' love. In real football it’s nice to have a ton of weapons. In the fantasy realm, Rivers’ propensity to distribute the ball evenly can be a bit of buzzkill. Six different receivers on the Chargers caught 35 or more receptions in 2016.
Dalvin Cook/Latavius Murray
How mad would you be if you were Latavius Murray? After injuries in every season dating back to 2013, he’s finally healthy and signed a new contract with the Vikings, only to have Florida State’s Dalvin Cook clog up the backfield. Cook was a monster at FSU, tallying back-to-back 1,700-yard/20-touchdown seasons. When Murray is healthy he is no slouch — he rumbled for 12 touchdowns last season and topped 100 yards in two of the three games in which he received 20 or more carries. This will be one of the more balanced position battles on this list. The fantasy tiebreak might be Cook’s ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. He hauled in 20 or more receptions in all three of his college campaigns.
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Kareem Hunt/Spencer Ware
Spencer Ware didn’t quite seize the reigns as the Chiefs featured running back. Ware’s 921 yards were notable, but three touchdowns scored left the door open for competition in the draft. Charcandrick West is in the mix too, but he was used sparingly. Enter Kareem Hunt. A talented third-round running back out of Toledo who might pry some carries away from Ware as the year goes on. Much like the Cook-Murray committee, this tandem will split their workload on a regular basis. However, unlike in Minnesota, both Chiefs backs are legitimate receiving threats. This creates cloudy committee usage throughout the game.
Redskins starter Robert Kelley was solid when he took over for the injured Matt Jones. He churned out 704 yards and six touchdowns. Jones peaked in week two of 2015, and has just four touchdowns since. Then his 2016 season was derailed by injuries.
Oklahoma’s Perine had a stellar year on the ground last season. He rushed for 1,060 yards including a 239-yard outburst against Oklahoma State. Perine was mired in his own committee situation with Bengals draftee Joe Mixon. Jones has never been much of a receiving threat and neither is Perine; a telltale sign that Washington drafted him to eventually replace Jones. Chris Thompson remains the top pass-catching running back in Washington's backfield after he caught 49 passes on 62 targets last year.
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Jamaal Williams/Ty Montgomery
Ty Montgomery’s breakout postseason appeared to set him up to be the Packers starting running back in 2017. He scored two touchdowns in three playoff games and hauled in 10 receptions for 77 yards. Then Green Bay selected Jamaal Williams in the fourth round, and made the situation murky at best. Williams ran for 1,375 yards and 12 touchdowns at BYU and has the look of a more traditional runner than Montgomery. Montgomery entered the league as a wide receiver. It makes sense for him to be on the field on third down. Williams will handle the work on first and second down.
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Christian McCaffrey/Curtis Samuel/Jonathan Stewart
The Panthers dropped from the second-best rushing offense in 2015 to 10th in total rushing yards in 2016. Carolina was in dire need of speed and variety on offense and added those elements with McCaffrey and Samuel. Incumbent running back Jonathan Stewart was productive, but his 3.8 yards per carry are not enough. Samuel gets a mention because even though he is listed as a pure wide receiver, he showed the ability at Ohio State to make plays from the backfield and out wide. This three-headed monster could do some damage in the NFL, but fantasy owners should beware. This reeks of unpredictability. Besides, Ron Rivera isn’t exactly known for his brilliant offensive schemes. I’d lean toward McCaffrey as their premier fantasy option for the time being.
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Corey Davis/Titans WRs
Compared to the rest of his rookie class, Corey Davis enters one of the better environments for immediate playing time. He and Rishard Matthews will vie for the role as Tennessee’s number one. Despite Matthews’ 945 yards and nine touchdowns, the Titans still ranked 25th in the league in passing. Marcus Mariota is one of the best young quarterbacks in the game (26 TDs, 9 INTs in 2016) and will undoubtedly be buoyed by the arrival of Davis. He is a legitimate deep threat who torched opposing defenses for 15.5 yards per reception and 19 touchdowns.
John Ross/A.J. Green
Is the fastest man in NFL combine history the compliment AJ Green so desperately needs? Green was cleared for the offseason program on March 1, but Cincinnati lost big parts of its receiving corps to free agency prior to the 2016 and never really replaced them. Ross provides obvious big play ability to an offense where Green will draw most of the attention. Like many speedsters before him, Ross will most likely be hit or miss. If the Bengals can protect Andy Dalton, there should be plenty of chances for Ross to impact the game without dramatically affecting Green’s production.