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From Christian McCaffrey to Joe Mixon, what to expect from top rookie RBs

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Should Bell be worried about Conner? (1:13)

Herm Edwards says it's a big deal that Le'Veon Bell has missed training camp and notes how many carries rookie RB James Conner received in his absence. (1:13)

Eight running backs selected in the 2017 NFL draft continue to turn heads in practice and preseason games. NFL Nation reporters break down each rookie, including first-round choices Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey, and the impact they could have this season:

ยป McCaffrey | Cook | Mixon | Kamara | Hunt | Conner | Cohen

Jaguars reporter Mike DiRocco on Leonard Fournette:

How big of a role will your rookie RB have this season?

Fournette is going to be the Jaguars’ main back in 2017, even with former second-round pick T.J. Yeldon and 2016 free-agent signee Chris Ivory on the roster. The expectation is Fournette will get at least 250 carries, and he also should be the Jaguars’ first option on the goal line, which is great for fantasy owners.

What is the biggest concern at this point?

Fournette’s performance behind a shaky offensive line. The unit got handled by the Bucs’ defensive front in a preseason game, and the team has not decided on a starter at left guard. Fournette isn’t going to have a lot of space in which to work at the line of scrimmage.

What are his coaches and teammates saying about him?

Fournette’s study habits, his maturity and the way he conducts himself make him seem like a veteran. “Can’t even tell [he’s under any pressure],” said tight end Marcedes Lewis, who is entering his 12th season. “You can’t even tell with him. That’s what I like about him.”

Panthers reporter David Newton on Christian McCaffrey:

How big of a role will your rookie running back have this season?

On a scale of 1 to 10, around 15. McCaffrey will line up in the I-formation, next to the quarterback in the shotgun, at slot receiver and wide receiver, and behind center in the Wildcat formation. The screen pass that’s collected dust the past few years now is a weapon. McCaffrey will be a fantasy point-producing machine.

What is the biggest concern at this point?

Trying to find enough ways to keep McCaffrey on the field. This really isn’t a concern because offensive coordinator Mike Shula lines McCaffrey up everywhere but the offensive line, and that may have crossed his mind. The only thing more impressive than McCaffrey on the field is his preparation.

What are his coaches and teammates saying about him?

This from running back Jonathan Stewart sums up what most in the organization think: “I can tell you now there’s not going to be anybody in this league that can cover him one-on-one.’’ Everyone, from coach Ron Rivera to middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, says McCaffrey is “special,” particularly with his first move, which Kuechly calls “shake.”

ESPN national NFL writer Kevin Seifert on Dalvin Cook:

How big of a role will your rookie RB have this season?

Cook will be the Minnesota Vikings’ primary ball carrier, a major part of their short-range passing game and even a third-down back at times. In other words, he’ll play as much as he can hold up from a physical standpoint. He took advantage of camp injuries to veterans Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon and earned this spot.

What is the biggest concern at this point?

Can he handle the longer season? Will he surround himself with positive influences? On the field, one area to watch is ball security. Cook fumbled 10 times as a runner during three seasons at Florida State, tied for the third most in major college football over that span. (He hasn’t fumbled through two preseason games.)

What are his coaches and teammates saying about him?

The most notable moment came when offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur was asked if he trusted Cook in pass protection, routinely a difficult area for rookies and an obstacle for maximum playing time. “Absolutely,” Shurmur said.

Bengals reporter Katherine Terrell on Joe Mixon:

How big of a role will your rookie RB have this season?

Mixon averaged 5.2 yards per carry and caught an 11-yard pass against the Buccaneers in his preseason debut. Mixon can be used as both a traditional back and a pass-catcher, and the Bengals have even lined him up out wide. Mixon is definitely a player to pick up in fantasy because of his versatility.

What is the biggest concern at this point?

The Bengals have three good running backs, and that’s a lot of snaps to split. The Bengals tend to lean on their veterans, particularly early, so Jeremy Hill could be the most utilized running back in the beginning. Mixon’s talent is unquestioned, but they’ll have to figure out a way to use that while subbing in Giovani Bernard and Hill.

What are his coaches and teammates saying about him?

“He likes to run down that field like he is scoring a touchdown, and we are going to give him a lot of opportunities to do that. That’s just part of his makeup, and that’s good. He can never lose that. ... You don’t want him to lose that. I hope he keeps that enthusiasm that he has now.” -- Bengals coach Marvin Lewis

Saints reporter Mike Triplett on Alvin Kamara:

How big of a role will your rookie RB have this season?

It’s hard to predict a major role for Kamara because he’s stuck behind Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson. The Saints envisioned Kamara in a “joker” role like Darren Sproles and Reggie Bush when they traded up to draft him in Round 3. But he has proved to be more than just a pass-catcher. He has runs of 50, 22 and 12 yards in the preseason, all with the starting unit on the field.

What is the biggest concern at this point?

Playing time with Ingram and Peterson in front of him. But the Saints will rotate Kamara into the mix and use two backs at once sometimes. And he could be split out wide in their empty-backfield sets, which is a role that led to 40 catches and 281 yards for Travaris Cadet last season. I’m projecting Kamara with 200 to 300 rushing yards and 350 to 450 receiving yards.

What are his coaches and teammates saying about him?

Sean Payton gave Kamara the ultimate compliment early in camp when Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk was visiting the Saints. Payton, who coached Faulk at San Diego State, said Kamara has some traits that remind him of Faulk in regard to his intelligence and his route-running ability.

Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher on Kareem Hunt:

How big of a role will your rookie RB have this season?

He’s a backup to Spencer Ware and will get the occasional series, but his role should continue to grow. The Chiefs don’t have to be afraid to use Hunt in any particular situation because he’s proved to be well-rounded and capable of handling anything they give him in the run or pass game.

What is the biggest concern at this point?

As with any rookie back, it’s pass protection. But Hunt proved adept in a recent preseason game when he took out two Bengals with a single block to allow Alex Smith the time to complete a fourth-down pass. There are no worries about Hunt as a receiver.

What are his coaches and teammates saying about him?

“Maybe the best thing was just to see him and allow him to see most of all the speed of the game and the endurance it takes to carry it and play at that level. I thought he handled himself really well.” -- Chiefs coach Andy Reid

Steelers reporter Jeremy Fowler on James Conner:

How big of a role will your rookie RB have this season?

Conner is being given every opportunity to win the No. 2 running back job behind Le’Veon Bell. He can function as a change-of-pace, third-down back, but with Bell rarely coming off the field, Conner’s fantasy impact won’t be great. Maybe a few touchdowns, but touches could be scarce.

What is the biggest concern at this point?

Hamstring and shoulder injuries -- and his hands after multiple drops in his preseason debut against the Atlanta Falcons. Conner said he trusts his hands and will prove reliable in this area. Conner doesn’t have blazing speed (4.65 40-yard dash), so he must be decisive, which he didn’t look early against Atlanta.

What are his coaches and teammates saying about him?

Conner’s physicality as a rusher and blocker caught the attention of several coaches during his padded-practice debut. Since he was limited for most of camp, the Steelers gave him a 20-carry workload against Atlanta. “I thought he represented himself well, particularly from a conditioning standpoint,” coach Mike Tomlin said.

Bears reporter Jeff Dickerson on Tarik Cohen:

How big of a role will your rookie RB have this season?

Look for Cohen to play around 10 to 20 snaps per game. Ideally, the Bears want to maximize Cohen’s breakaway speed/elusiveness in the open field by getting him the ball in space. Cohen probably won’t rush for anywhere near 1,000 yards, but he might excite fantasy owners with his big-play potential.

What is the biggest concern at this point?

Cohen is only 5-foot-6, 189 pounds. Can he stay healthy through a full 16-game regular season? The biggest question is whether Cohen -- because of his size -- can be a permanent three-down NFL back if Jordan Howard goes down.

What are his coaches and teammates saying about him?

“Tarik’s always been a beast. I’m glad we’re on the same team. He’s fearless, man. I’ve always said it’s all about heart. You’ve got a bunch of measurables, but it’s all about heart, and that’s what he goes out there and plays with. He’s fearless running the ball, and he can take it the distance any given snap.” -- Rookie QB Mitchell Trubisky