The preseason has barely cooled and not one team in the NFL has played an actual down of regular season football, yet we’re already seeing mock drafts for the 2017 NFL season. One of the first I’ve seen was conducted by Rob Rang and Dane Brugler of CBS, who had the Detroit Lions picking eighth overall and selecting LSU star running back Leonard Fournette. Running back was a popular choice in the 2016 draft but the team ended up selecting only one, Dwayne Washington, in the last round of the draft and the team barely scouted any rushers.
The 2017 NFL draft is being projected as the best draft for running backs in at least a decade. I’ve personally covered the draft since 2008-2009 and there hasn’t been a draft in my time that was this strong at any position, with the notable exception of 2014 receivers and then it’s only a maybe. CBS, who conducted this mock draft, has four running backs in the first round and another four in the second. Of a group of players that contains FSU’s Dalvin Cook, Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine, and a who’s who of great backs in college football, CBS has Leonard Fournette ranked as their number one back and third overall player.
The 6-foot-1, 230 lb. Fournette ran for 1,953 yards on 300 attempts (6.5 YPC) and 22 touchdowns in 2015 and added another 19 catches for 253 yards and a score in the passing game. In his opener for 2016 he rushed for 138 yards on 23 attempts, but wasn’t able to score. This running back class is loaded from top to bottom, but I have no doubt Fournette will be talked about with the elite of this group right up until the draft. After Ezekiel Elliott went fourth overall, following Todd Gurley at 10th overall the previous season, we’re well past the narrative that teams have devalued the running back position, so eighth overall in a stacked class doesn’t feel like a reach.
One of the biggest regrets that Lions fans seem to have is when the team selected Eric Ebron in the wide receiver stacked 2014 draft. At the time, many were saying to wait and draft a receiver later, since the draft was so deep. Will they be saying the same in this draft if running back is still a significant need? They may miss out on a Fournette, but what if Nick Chubb, presently ranked 51st overall at CBS, is likely to be available in the second round? Would the team consider passing on an elite talent and instead target someone like Jalen Hurd (ranked 80th) in the third round? Maybe the team goes back to the well, selecting local product De’Veon Smith out of Michigan or goes after cancer survivor James Connor in the later rounds?
Then again, the team could just look at some guy named Sanders out of Oklahoma state in the late rounds and hope it works out (again).