Ezekiel Elliott led the NFL in rushing as a rookie for the Cowboys last season, but it wasn’t enough for him to capture league Rookie-of-the-Year honors. Is there another potential rookie rushing champion in 2017? Is there a potential NFL Rookie of the Year? That’s the subject of our weekly Talk of Fame Network poll — what running back will have the best rookie season in 2017? Here are your options:
Dalvin Cook, Minnesota. With the offseason release of Adrian Peterson, the door is open for Cook to walk into a starting job with the Vikings. A second-round pick out of Florida State, Cook became the school’s all-time leading rusher with 4,464 yards – and he left his senior year on the table to turn pro. He was a two-time All-ACC selection and the 2017 Orange Bowl MVP, rushing for 145 yards against Michigan in his final college game. Cook collected 21 100-yard games and 48 touchdowns in his career.
Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville. The fourth overall pick of the 2017 draft – the same spot Ezekiel Elliott was drafted in 2016 on his way to an NFL rushing title as a rookie for the Cowboys. Fournette rushed for a school-record 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2015 and finished his career fourth on LSU’s all-time rushing list with 3,830 yards. Like Cook, Fournette elected to skip his senior season to turn pro. He set school records with nine consecutive 100-yard games and five career 200-yard games. He averaged 6.2 yards per carry in the NCAA’s toughest conference.
Christian McCaffrey, Carolina. The son of former Broncos wide receiver Ed McCaffrey, Christian joined both Cook and Fournette in leaving eligibility on the table to turn pro and joined Fournette as a Top 10 pick (No. 8). The most versatile offensive weapon in the draft, McCaffery scored touchdowns at Stanford on runs (21), receptions (10), kickoff (1) and punt returns (1). He averaged 6.2 yards per career rush, 12.2 yards per reception, 26.4 yards per kickoff and 11.2 yards per punt return. He set a school record with a 284-yard rushing game against Cal.
Joe Mixon, Cincinnati. A first-round talent, Mixon slid to the middle of the second round to the Cincinnati Bengals because of a campus incident where he punched a woman in the face. Oklahoma suspended him from the team in 2014, but he returned to rush for 2,027 yards over the last two seasons, including a 1,274-yard effort in 2016 that earned him All-Big 12 acclaim. He also caught 37 passes and set a school single-season record for all-purpose yards with 2,331 on runs, receptions and returns. He scored 16 touchdowns in 2016, including five in one game against Texas Tech.
Samaje Perine, Washington. Perine shared the same backfield with Mixon last season and rushed for 1,060 yards – the third of three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons that made him the school’s all-time leading rusher. And Oklahoma is a school that has prided itself on its running backs, including Heisman Trophy winners Steve Owens and Billy Sims, plus Adrian Washington. Perine rushed for 4,122 yards in his career and set an NCAA single-game rushing record with 427 yards against Kansas in 2014. He rushed for 1,713 yards and 21 touchdowns as a freshman and 1,349 yards and 16 touchdowns as a sophomore. He also skipped his senior season to turn pro. The Redskins drafted Perine in the fourth round.
Joe Williams, San Francisco. After spending a season at UConn and another at ASA Junior College, Williams transferred to Utah, where he used up the final two seasons of his eligibility. He played sparingly as a junior in 2015 but rushed for 1,407 yards and 10 touchdowns in his final season. The San Francisco 49ers claimed him in the fourth round. He rushed for 322 yards and four touchdowns in a game against UCLA and another 222 yards against Indiana. He scored touchdowns on an 82-yard run against Arizona State and a 58-yard reception against Indiana. He then flashed at the NFL combine with a 4.41 40-yard dash time.