By Ben Bozych
Posted June 19, 2017
Sick of the Usual
CALLING ALL FANTASY FOOTBALL ENTHUSIASTS: what do the names Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, and Joe Mixon all have in common? The answer: everyone knows about them! These are the rookie running backs that stand to come off the boards first in your fantasy football drafts. Nearly every expert has discussed these young guys in one way or another and every drafter will be gunning for them in hopes of landing the next Ezekiel Elliott. But let me be honest with you, he isn’t out there. Elliot was brought into the world of professional football with a godsend offensive line and an ounce of good luck, but that’s a different story completely.
The point of this article is to discuss three of the running backs drafted this year that COULD potentially come into similar roles, but haven’t seen the light of day on expert twitter feeds. They are Joe Williams of the San Francisco 49ers, James Connor of the Pittsburg Steelers and Marlon Mack of the Indianapolis Colts. These players will be available late in the draft and can be considered both dynasty and standard scoring league options. And let’s be honest, we’re all searching for that player who we can get late in the drafts and rub them in our league mate’s faces when they blow up. So with that said, lets get to it.
Joe Williams, San Francisco 49ers
To start off with a bang, I believe Joe Williams is the back to own in San Francisco! After months of pre-draft research, new coach Kyle Shanahan convinced the 49ers front office to select his guy in the 4th round.[i] This was based on Williams’s ability to run for 1332 yards and produce 10 touchdowns in only 7 games during his senior year.[ii] Coming out of the University of Utah, the 5’11, 210 pound, running back revealed NFL level speed as he broke through seams and blew by pursuing defenders. He backed this up with his 4.41 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. He is the total package of size, speed and power and his game parallels Frank Gore’s prime
The only challenge Joe Williams faces in San Francisco is taking the starting job from freak athlete Carlos Hyde. Everyone who has watched Hyde has seen at least one of his iconic spin moves that he uses in combination with his strength and agility to run the ball effectively. The only weakness Hyde has is his health. In the three years Hyde has player in the NFL, he has missed 14 games.[iii] To make matters worse, the new offense Shanahan installed is giving Hyde difficulties. Christ Burke of Sports Illustrated has even reported that, “Hyde is the slowest and most indecisive running back on the team.”[iv] Some even believe that he may be traded, as he enters the final year of his rookie contract with San Francisco. [v]
All of this benefits Joe Williams. He is getting along with the members of the team and is believed to be the favorite to topple Carlos Hyde this year. But let me warn you, this is not a one running back system. Many may remember coach Shanahan’s time on the Atlanta Falcons coaching staff as an offensive coordinator. He likes to use two running backs as a pontoon system (Freeman and Coleman), no matter how good they both may be.[vi] This will most likely occur in San Francisco’s new offense as Hyde is still a beast on the field and is playing for a new contract either with the 49ers or a different team. And even though this may be considered a committee of sorts, I still believe Joe Williams will finish the year as one of the top rookies. He has the speed, power and support of his coaching staff and that means the sky is the limit on what this kid can do.
James Connor, Pittsburg Steelers
Not only am I including James Connor on this list because he is an inspiration to us all, but also because he is an authoritative runner in a great situation to return value for owners if given the chance. The Pittsburg Steelers selected Connor, a cancer survivor, in the third round of the 2017 NFL draft. During his final year in at the University of Pittsburg, the 6’2, 235 pound, power back ran for 1092 yards and 16 touchdowns.[vii] He can stay on his feet during long dashes up the sideline, and also likes to make sudden bursts up the middle of the field as he bulldozes smaller defensive players. In addition to his groundwork, Conner also had 21 catches for four additional scores.[viii] His breakaway speed and colossal size draw comparison to players like LeGarette Blount or Eddie Lacy.
Now let’s be honest here, since the Steelers have made an offer for Le’Veon Bell to be their number one guy for years to come, this makes James Connor more of a handcuff. But, as of June 19th, Bell has not yet signed said franchise tag offer.[ix] And even though everyone expects the 25-year-old prodigy to be the starter week 1, staying on the field has been an issue for Bell in the past. Whether it is suspension or injury (knee groin, hamstring)[x], Bell isn’t always the most reliable.
To make the situation better for Connor, DeAngelo Williams – the rb2 on the team’s depth chart, has left the NFL in hopes of becoming a professional wrestler. And even though Connor still has to move past veteran Knile Davis and Fitzgerald Toussaint on the depth chart, the belief around Pittsburg’s training camp is that James Connor will take control of the vacant slot.[xi] That being said, with Bell’s inconsistencies and the growing support of the coaches; don’t be surprised to see James Conner on the field. It will be impossible to replace Le’Veon Bell[xii], but if you used a first round pick on him in your fantasy drafts and need a handcuff; James Conner is well worth a late round flier. His speed, size and pass catching ability are impressive enough to earn him a solid position in the Steelers power offense.
Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts
The last player on this list is my favorite, and all though he is a sleeper, he is the Indianapolis Colts future star. Marlon Mack, or “Mack-Attack” as he has been called, is a 5’11, 213 pound[xiii], agile running back with solid down field vision and a similar style of play to Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren Sproles. In his three years at the University of South Florida, he set all time university records in rushing yards (3,609), all-purpose yards (4,107) and touchdowns (33)[xiv]. Given the chance, he will thrive in the NFL due to his ability to see holes the offensive line creates and make big plays in the open field. But the question stands, will he get that chance?
During the offseason, the team brought in veteran running back Christian Michael[xv]. He will back up long time Indianapolis Colt, Frank Gore, who is one more injury away from retirement. In this situation, Gore will remain a prospective starter until he runs out of juice, while Michael takes the scraps. But Christine Michael’s track record has not been impressive[xvi]. He bounced around last season between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers because he couldn’t outperform his competition or impress the coaching staff.[xvii] He has the potential, but with two teams cutting him loose in a single season, one must ask if he brings anything to the table?
The Colts also have another runner in Robert Turbin, but don’t be surprised if Mack replaces him due to his own skills. In fact, Mack has already impressed head coach Chuck Pagano in the short time he has been on the field in Indianapolis during OTAs.[xviii] Analyst Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks at nfl.com believe Marlon Mack rookie year could parallel the breakout we saw from late round rookie pick Jordan Howard last year.[xix] With a come back year in sight for star quarterback Andrew Luck and a weathered runner in Gore at the top of the depth chart, the day will come for “Mack Attack” to bring his talent to the big stage.
[xii] Reports are even indicating that Steelers may be limiting Bell’s touches to be
more careful with him. (Kevin Parta, www.nfl.com)
[xvi] As of 7:54, the Indianapolis Colts have places Christine Michael on IR for an
undisclosed reason. The team then made a knee jerk reaction to this and signed free
agent running back Troymain Pope. Pope is not a threat to Mack as he has only started
four games with two different NFL teams. (Colts.com)