Fantasy Fallout: Will any other rookies come close to Kareem Hunt's debut?

It’s a safe bet that nobody else from this year’s dynamic rookie running back class will match Kareem Hunt's jaw-dropping debut for the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday night.

Since, you know, no other player in history has ever posted 246 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns in his NFL debut before.

But who has the best chance to come closest? I polled our ESPN NFL Nation reporters to find out.

Christian McCaffrey: The three-touchdown part might be the hardest for McCaffrey to pull off, since the Carolina Panthers still feature an underrated veteran bruiser in Jonathan Stewart and a quarterback in Cam Newton who won’t completely give up running the football.

But, man, have the Panthers been raving about McCaffrey’s dynamic ability as a runner/receiver this summer. Among several other accolades, Stewart said, "I can tell you now, there's not going to be anybody in this league that can cover him one-on-one.”

“If you were impressed with Christian McCaffrey during the preseason, hold on,” said ESPN Panthers reporter David Newton, who said coach Ron Rivera promised McCaffrey’s role will be “amped up a little bit” now that they’re done with the vanilla game plans. Newton said he expects the No. 8 overall pick in this year’s draft to be on the field -- “a lot” -- as a running back, fullback, slot receiver, wide receiver, punt returner and maybe even as the quarterback in the Wildcat formation.

Newton did warn that Stewart shouldn’t be forgotten, since he is still the lead back, but he expects at least 25-30 snaps from McCaffrey at San Francisco.

Dalvin Cook: The Minnesota Vikings' second-round pick could have an even bigger role than McCaffrey after being named the official starter. The 5-foot-10, 210-pounder has shown power between the tackles as well as dynamic speed and athleticism in open space as a runner and receiver.

ESPN Vikings reporter Courtney Cronin also warned that veteran Latavius Murray should see a lot of touches near the goal line, which has been a strength for Murray. But she anticipates Cook being a big part of Minnesota’s plans Monday night against the New Orleans Saints and “wouldn’t be surprised if he makes a big splash in the passing game pretty early on” after earning the team’s trust as a pass protector.

Leonard Fournette: The Jacksonville Jaguars obviously have big plans for the No. 4 pick in the draft, who is more of a between-the-tackles option than anyone else on this list at 6-foot, 228 pounds. But ESPN Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco warned that he might stay away from Fournette in his starting fantasy lineup early in the season if there are other proven options available -- particularly Sunday against the Houston Texans' stout defensive front -- because the Jaguars' offensive line has continued to struggle.

DiRocco also pointed out that Fournette is still not the official starter, since veteran Chris Ivory got most of the first-team work this summer. However, DiRocco said Fournette is fully healed from a summer toe injury and wasn’t even listed on the team’s injury report this week. So he still expects Fournette to get a ton of work early in the season and said it would be “borderline irresponsible” for the Jaguars if he didn’t.

Joe Mixon: Mixon is even more of a potential non-fantasy starter early in the season because his role alongside veterans Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard remains a mystery. ESPN Cincinnati Bengals reporter Katherine Terrell has consistently said that Mixon has shown the potential to emerge as Cincy’s No. 1 back. But for now, he remains listed as No. 3 on the depth chart, and that might be how things actually play out in Sunday’s opener against Baltimore.


Some thoughts from our NFL Nation reporters on players who might be getting too much (or not enough) love from this week’s ESPN fantasy projections:

  • ESPN New York Giants reporter Jordan Raanan is leery about seeing Odell Beckham Jr. atop the list for receiver projections, because he is 50-50 for the Sunday night opener after missing practice time all week. Even if Beckham does play, he’ll likely be less than 100 percent.

  • Some strong advice in this fantasy breakdown from ESPN Detroit Lions reporter Mike Rothstein, who explains why you might want to start RB Ameer Abdullah and sit QB Matthew Stafford.

  • Washington Redskins receiver Terrelle Pryor isn’t necessarily an “under” since his projections are somewhat modest at around five catches for 70 yards. But ESPN Redskins reporter John Keim warned that Pryor remains a bit of a work in progress in a new offense. Keim did an excellent breakdown of Washington’s revamped receiving corps. In it, he said Pryor showed this summer how well he could use his size and speed, but that it was evident he and quarterback Kirk Cousins still needed some more work together at game speed. Among other things, Keim also mentioned that people in the organization actually believe Josh Doctson is the team’s best receiver -- or should be, at least.

  • ESPN Tennessee Titans reporter Cameron Wolfe also thinks rookie receiver Corey Davis' projections are too high for Week 1, because he expects limited snaps for the No. 5 pick in the draft after he dealt with a summer hamstring injury. Wolfe expects more early from veterans such as Rishard Matthews, Eric Decker and tight end Delanie Walker.

  • On the flip side, ESPN Denver Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold said he thinks receiver Demaryius Thomas has been consistently undervalued in fantasy rankings. Legwold pointed out that new coach Vance Joseph said when he was hired that one of the offense’s main goals was to make teams pay for playing single-high coverage against Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.

  • ESPN Pittsburgh Steelers reporter Jeremy Fowler thinks receiver Eli Rogers' projection of two catches and 26 yards is a bit low. He thinks Rogers will be a decent producer over the middle this season. Fowler, however, has no problem with Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant's projection of four catches for 58 yards in his return from suspension. Fowler said Bryant might need a week or two to really get going, but that he is fully up to speed after a month of practices with the team and expects at least one deep ball to go his way.

Worth a click