Jay Ajayi blindsided every NFL fan and analyst after finishing the 2017 NFL season ranked 4th in rushing yards (1272) with 8 touchdowns in just 12 starts. In 2015, it was Devonta Freeman, and in 2014, it was Lamar Miller. What I’m trying to say is: another breakout running back is bound to explode in 2017. Here are my favorite running backs to launch themselves into superstardom in the 2017 NFL season.
Note: Let’s keep the rookie’s out of it, and focus on NFL players looking to make a big jump this season.
Let’s take a step back. If Carlos Hyde would have started all 16 games in 2016, he would have ranked 8th in rushing yards. At 4.6 yards per carry, Hyde was on pace to exceed 1,200 yards in 2016 while only ranking 13th in attempts per game. With Kyle Shanahan as the new 49ers head coach, expect Carlos Hyde to be utilized to the fullest. Hyde may be Shanahan’s Devonta Freeman 2.0 because of his power, soft hands, and pass-blocking ability. Injuries have crippled Hyde’s early career, but if he can stay healthy, we may see the solidification of a new top 10 running back in the NFL. And I don’t want to hear anything about Joseph Williams. *Scoff*
What is a common staple rule in fantasy football? Say it with me: Never trust Patriot running backs. The Patriots love their specialized running backs. From the power of LeGarrette Blount to the receiving ability of the true Super Bowl 51 MVP James White, New England’s backfield personnel changes week-to-week, drive-to-drive, and often play-to-play. In 2017, all bets may be off. Combine size, power, and hands, and you get… Mike Gillislee. The well-known LeSean McCoy fantasy buzzard is already impacting the Patriots’ training camp, and he may be in route for a breakthrough campaign under Bill Belichick. He has a lot of talent to beat out for touches though: Rex Burkhead, James White, Dion Lewis, and Brandon Bolden to name a few. In only 101 attempts in 2016, Gillislee reached 577 rushing yards. Give him Blount’s touches last year, we’re talking over 1,700 rushing yards. Yikes.
Ty Montgomery may have been the most underutilized running back in the NFL last season. Even when only averaging 1.2 yards before contact, the former wide receiver led the league in yards after contact with 5.1. We have a small sample size, but let’s use a partially fallacious stat projection to put things in perspective. Let’s project Montgomery’s league-leading 5.94 yards per attempt to Ezekiel Elliot’s league leading 322 carries. 1,911 rushing yards. You heard me right. Obviously it would be highly unlikely that he could sustain 5.94 yards per carry over the course of a 16 starts, but Ty Montgomery has everything to be an elite running back in the NFL. Size, speed, quickness, route running ability, and hands. Only a few things stand in his way: injury, pass-blocking ability, and the well-known Packer running back carousel. The latter may have already been solved. Montgomery is the only returning Green Bay running back with only rookies behind him. Only one rookie is a true threat to his precious touches: Jamaal Williams. If it were me, I’d give Montgomery 300+ touches and never look back. Needless to say, I’m a huge Ty Montgomery fan.
Honorable Mention: Bilal Powell and Isaiah Crowell