Good things come in threes. And through three weeks, there have been a lot of good things coming from rookie running backs. Week 3 is also when we can begin to pass judgment and form evaluations for a players’ future prospects. So, as opposed to last week when we did a rookie running back roundup, we’re putting the pertinent fantasy rookies from all positions into tiers:
Superstars: Kareem Hunt
What more can one say about Kareem Hunt? He’s been simply fantastic for one of the NFL’s two remaining undefeated teams, the obvious headliner for any rookie-centric Fantasy Football piece. Use any superlative you want; he has been all of them. The Toledo product again ran very well, though he needed over 58 minutes to turn it from a nice fantasy day to a monster one. Up 17-10 with 2 minutes to go, Hunt ripped off a game-sealing 69-yard score. He only carried the rock 17 times and was only targeted once, but he remains the best rookie by a gigantic margin. In fact, he might be the No. 1 pick if drafts were held today. In Week 4, he’ll face a Washington defense that just shut down Marshawn Lynch but also struggled against Todd Gurley the week prior.
Clear Starters: Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook
When Jacksonville turned to Doug Marrone as coach, brought in Tom Coughlin as an executive and drafted Leonard Fournette fourth overall, you knew this would be a no-nonsense, ground-and-pound offense. And through three weeks, all parties have delivered on that. Fournette ran it 17 more times on Sunday — 11 more attempts than anyone else on the Jaguars — for 59 yards and a touchdown. He also had three catches for 21 yards.
For the second-straight week, Fournette recorded a garbage time score to salvage what would have been a relatively average week otherwise. But this week it was different: The Jaguars were up by several scores late. And Fournette’s still getting that work, which is huge in fantasy, where opportunity rules all. Fournette’s averaging nearly 22 touches per game, and that’s with all three games being blowouts. Jacksonville will keep running him, regardless of score.
It’d be wise to plug Fournette into nearly any game due to how heavily the Jaguars lean on him and the run game in general. Through three games, Fournette’s 65 touches are well more than double that of the Jaguars’ second-most-used player, Chris Ivory (28).
As for Cook, the biggest thing this week was his powering into the end zone for his first career touchdown. A second development to watch, though, is his receiving out of the backfield. He caught five passes from Case Keenum against the Bucs, one more reception than his first two weeks combined. Cook didn’t rush for as high an average as he did in the first two weeks, but his 27 carries were a career best. If he can stay healthy and continue to avoid fumbles, his prospects look very solid no matter who is behind center. An enviable matchup with the Lions, who just gave up a big game to Devonta Freeman, awaits Cook.
Solid contributors: Tarik Cohen, Joe Mixon, Christian McCaffrey, Chris Carson, Kenny Golladay, Corey Davis
This group fills a wide range: They’re all guys that are/should be on rosters and, in some cases, starters in deeper leagues. Once byes hit, they’ll become plug-in starters in even more leagues. But unless there’s an injury ahead of them either on your fantasy team or on their real-life team, you might not feel great about that.
We start this section with Cohen, who is quickly playing his way into lineups mainly in PPR leagues. The diminutive rookie out of North Carolina A&T came fractions of an inch from winning the game in overtime against the Steelers but was deemed to have stepped out about halfway through his marvelous run. The Bears did finish off the Steelers shortly thereafter, but it was Jordan Howard who did the honors in OT. Still, Cohen received a career-high 12 carries for a career best 78 yards on the ground. His production in the pass game did come down a little bit, but through three games, he’s averaging nearly seven receptions per game.
After two dreadful weeks, the Bengals played much, much better in Week 3, although still lost to the Packers. Mixon had 21 touches, which equaled his Week 1 and Week 2 totals combined. The former Sooner was projected to get a bigger role in new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor’s system, and Lazor delivered on that. Mixon’s 91 total yards is a sign of good things to come; after two weeks in which his arrow was pointed down, it’s starting to point back up again. Next weekend he faces a Browns defense that has struggled mightily this season.
Following Greg Olsen’s injury last week, it made sense that McCaffrey would see a big uptick in targets, and that was the case. Then Kelvin Benjamin exited with a knee injury and, well, the targets just kept coming. The elusive rookie hauled in nine catches for 101 yards in a loss to the Saints, showing his greatest strength as a back: as a receiver out of the backfield. Benjamin’s status is worth monitoring, but as long as Olsen remains out, McCaffrey will be a PPR weapon.
Carson has taken hold of the Seattle backfield, but it’ll be important to monitor his snap count as Thomas Rawls continues to work his way back from an ankle injury. Sunday’s game against the Titans was a strange one for the Seahawks in that they were caught in a shootout, meaning they couldn’t run the ball as often as they would have liked. Still, Carson scored his first career touchdown and shouldered 11 carries for 34 yards. It’ll be important to see if Rawls starts dipping into Carson’s carries, but for now, the rookie is the back to trust in Seattle.
Golladay had everyone scrambling for the waiver wire after a four-catch, 69-yard, two-touchdown debut. In the two games since, though, he’s caught three passes for 33 yards. He’s owned in 67 percent of leagues. If he’s on your team, keep him around as he continues to adjust to the NFL, and if he’s not on your roster, get him on. He’s right on the edge of being a rotational guy and a guy on the end of your bench, but patience will be key with the former Northern Illinois star.
Davis, like Golladay, had a big Week 1 only to get hurt in Week 2 and be inactive in Week 3. Hamstrings are always tricky, especially for receivers, but Davis has all the makings of a top wideout in the Tennessee offense, and once he returns, the opportunities will absolutely be there. Just look at what Rishard Matthews did last week with Davis out: six catches on 10 targets for 87 yards and a touchdown against a normally tough Seattle secondary. Those chances will be waiting for Davis as soon as he returns, and that alone makes him an important part of any roster, especially when bye weeks hit.
Fringe roster guys: Alvin Kamara, D’Onta Foreman, Cooper Kupp
Kamara made his first trip to an NFL end zone last Sunday but only got five touches overall. The issue for Kamara is if the Saints have been leading and able to run the ball, as they were Sunday he’s the third option in the backfield. And when the Saints have been trailing, Kamara hasn’t put up big receiving numbers and still has to deal with the presence of Mark Ingram. There are simply too many options in that backfield. He’s owned in 40 percent of leagues.
Foreman makes this section of the list for a couple of reasons. First, he had a nice day through the air, reeling in two catches for 65 yards. Second, after a inefficient year last year, Lamar Miller still hasn’t been as effective as the Texans want him to be. Foreman’s still a ways away from even a real timeshare in the backfield, but he did go from just two snaps in Week 1 to 17 in each of the past two weeks. If he can continue to perform well alongside fellow rookie Deshaun Watson, he could continue to earn time.
Kupp has been third among Rams wide receivers in terms of snaps, behind both Robert Woods and Sammy Watkins. He was a trendy pickup after a big debut, but he has been quiet with Watkins emerging as more of a top wide receiver last week and Todd Gurley starting to see an uptick in targets as well. He’s really only relevant in deep PPR formats right now, but with Watkins’ lengthy injury history, there’s a good reason he’s owned in 57 percent of leagues.
Keep an eye on: Samaje Perine, Evan Engram, David Njoku, Mike Williams, Deshaun Watson
Washington really impressed on Sunday night, but Perine did not, accruing just 49 yards on 19 carries and leaving with a hand injury. Both Chris Thompson and Mack Brown had better nights. But with Rob Kelley out for the past game-and-a-half, Perine has run the ball 40 times as Washington has showed a renewed emphasis on the run, even if the ground game isn’t very effective. If Kelley remains out and Perine can return next week, he’s worth keeping an eye on. Most people think he’ll take the lead back role from Kelley eventually, and given these opportunities with Kelley out, Perine needs to start impressing.
Engram has been nothing if not consistent. In each of his three games, he’s caught at least four passes but never more than five, and he’s racked up at least 44 yards but never more than 49. But the Giants are 0-3 and need to find something — anything — to get this offense going. If Engram can be that something, it’ll be worth monitoring his play. When tight end byes hit, he could end up being a low-risk streamer.
For the second straight weekend, Njoku found the end zone. He’s not doing much outside that, but anyone seeing red zone targets warrants a look. The athletic, talented youngster is the only Brown with more than one red zone reception this year.
Williams still isn’t back for the Chargers, but once he returns, he’s worth monitoring. And the return date is expected to be just a few weeks away.
Watson had his best day as a pro Sunday against a very suspect Patriots defense. He has a lot to learn, but his natural ability has caught the eye of many an opponent — Malcolm Butler compared him favorably with Cam Newton — and the fantasy numbers have actually been solid. A long touchdown run in Week 2 offset a poor throwing performance, and a big Week 3 through the air makes him worth a look going forward.