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The Young Running Backs Stole the Show at the Beginning of Week 1

Leonard Fournette and Tarik Cohen impressed while David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell struggled

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The youngins are taking over the running back position.

Kareem Hunt had the greatest debut in fantasy history for a running back by on Thursday. The Panthers may have a playbook personalized for Christian McCaffrey. Dalvin Cook is going head-to-head with the man he replaced, Adrian Peterson, on Monday Night Football. Then during the early slate of games on Sunday, we saw two young backs steal the show while the older established guys looked lost. Here are the younger backs who impressed—and the older guys who didn’t—on Sunday.

Leonard Fournette

“I’d like to run the ball every play,” Jags head coach Doug Marrone said this offseason. “I want to go back to the old way [of playing football].”

The Jags manhandled the Texans on Sunday, 29-7, in large part because Marrone got his way. In total, Fournette had 26 carries for 100 rushing yards. He also grabbed three receptions for 24 yards while looking explosive at times.

The first NFL touchdown for this year’s fourth overall pick came on fourth-and-goal as Fournette plowed into the end zone. Fournette captured all football’s imagination at LSU, and Marrone and Co. hope he can do the same for Jacksonville. We don’t know whether that’s because Marrone really believes in running the ball or because he wants Blake Bortles to have the ball in his hand as little as humanly possible. Either way, Fournette looks legit.

Tarik Cohen

Chicago has a 5-foot-6, 179-pound running back nicknamed “Chicken Salad.” That’s all I need to hear to forget about Jordan Howard, but Chicken Salad can also ball.

Tellingly, on fourth down against the Falcons in the red zone with eight seconds left, the Bears put the rookie back in the game. Bears quarterback Mike Glennon was sacked and the Bears lost, 23-17, but being given that type of trust in his NFL debut speaks volumes of what John Fox and the Bears coaching staff thinks about Cohen’s ability to change a game.

Cohen, a fourth-round pick in this year’s draft out of North Carolina AT&T, is also known as “The Human Joystick.” It’s easy to see why.

You’re not supposed to be able to reverse field on a defense in the NFL—everyone is too fast. Nine times out of 10 when a rookie running back tries this, a defensive end eager to teach him the difference between the NCAA and the NFL will crack him. That didn’t happen this time. Cohen seems pretty special.

Down With the Establishment

The consensus top two running backs in fantasy this year, Le’Veon Bell and David Johnson, combined for 55 rushing yards on 21 carries, while DeMarco Murray managed only 12 carries for 44 yards. Bell may have been rusty after a bizarre negotiating strategy in which he held out for the entire preseason. Johnson, meanwhile, got the wind knocked out of him midgame, which may have sapped him in the second half. Both he and Bell should return to their normal selves as the season progresses, but on Sunday afternoon, the RB standard-bearers looked like they could be knocked off their pedestal.

An earlier version of this piece incorrectly stated that Tarik Cohen is Jewish.