Last season proved to be a great one for football cards. Impact rookies helped drive sales online, via case breaks and in card shops across North America.
The 2017 NFL rookie class is dominated by talented running backs, each of which is capable of winning the Rookie of the Year award. While running backs have an easier transition from college football to the NFL, only three running backs (Adrian Peterson, Eddie Lacy, and Tod Gurley) have won in the past decade.
While anything can happen during the course of the season — and no one saw 2016 winner’s Dak Prescott’s emergence at this point last year — here’s a look at some of the top contenders.
Much of the early buzz surrounds Christian McCaffrey, the son of Denver Broncos star Ed McCaffrey. The younger McCaffrey joins a Panther team that finished last in the NFC South in 2016, but still has Cam Newton at quarterback. While individual achievement is key to this award, the combination of Newton and McCaffrey has some expecting the Panthers to return to form in 2017.
McCaffrey was the top choice to win Rookie of the Year in a recent discussion among experts on NFL.com, with former executive Gil Brandt calling him “a matchup nightmare for opponents.”
In 2015 McCaffrey was runner up to the Heisman Trophy and was named AP College Football Player of the Year. After playing four years at Stanford he was selected with the eighth pick in the first round by the Panthers.
Leonard Fournette was selected with the fourth pick in the first round by the Jacksonville Jaguars who are in rebuilding mode after bringing back Tom Coughlin as Vice President. No one expects the Jaguars to win anything in 2017, but with the struggles of quarterback Blake Bortles expect coach Doug Marrone to feed Fournette the ball. Fournette has drawn comparisons to Herschel Walker. The question is whether he can gain enough attention–or enough yards– playing for a small market team that perennial finishes in last place.
Playing for Florida State, Dalvin Cook was a two time All-American and the recipient of the 2015 Jim Brown award. He was taken with the 41st pick in the second round by the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings were 8-8 in 2016 with new Quarterback Sam Bradford.
While Cook has all the talent in the world, off the field and character issues caused his draft stock to fall, along with a history of injuries. If Cook can stay healthy and keep out of trouble he certainly has the potential to be the best player of the 2017 NFL rookie class.
Joe Mixon was selected by the Cincinnati Bengals with the 48th pick in the second round out of Oklahoma. Mixon became a pariah for a 2014 incident in which he punched a woman in the face. While considered one of the best running backs in the draft, teams have become hesitant to sign players involved in off the field scandals.
Marvin Lewis, who has served as head coach of the Bengals since 2013, hopes to be able to mentor the young Mixon, eliminate off the field distractions, and harness his raw talent into on the field success. The Bengals are coming off a poor season in 2016, but if the team rebounds in 2016 due to Mixon’s involvement it can help his candidacy for rookie of the year.
Tarik Cohen — RB — Chicago Bears. Selected with the 119th pick in the 4th round from North Carolina A&T. Won the Deacon Jones Trophy in 2016. As a fourth round pick he will not get as many carries as the other backs listed here, but he could impress with limited touches.
Deshaun Watson — QB — Houston Texans. Selected with the 12th pick in the 1st round from Clemson. 2016 Heisman Trophy runner-up; won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm award in 2016. While currently a backup, if Tom Savage fails to impress the future could be now in storm ravaged Houston looking for another division title.
Mitchell Trubisky — QB — Chicago Bears. Selected with the 2nd pick in the 1st round from North Carolina. The Bears traded up to select Trubisky as the first QB off the board and if Mike Glennon gets off to a shaky start the fans could clamor for Trubisky to start.