Early ADP Musings: Running Backs
July 24, 2016 | Ian Goldsmith
I hesitated to write this article today, because there is news in the ether that will certainly change the ADP numbers for RBs very soon. It seems pretty clear at this point that Le’Veon Bell is likely to be suspended for the first four games of the season. The news has not affected his draft position yet—as of Saturday, he was still the #1 RB off the board according to the Fantasy Pros consensus ADP—but it surely will soon, and as he drops, others will benefit. Todd Gurley will surely become the new #1, while the back that will jump the most is Bell’s replacement DeAngelo Williams. Even at 33, he still has a lot left in the tank. Normally that age for a running back would scare me, but he is relatively fresh when looking at the number of touches for his career. For instance, though he’s played three years more than LeSean McCoy, he has 101 fewer touches than him over the course of his career. Needless to say, there is a lot of movement on the horizon.
As with last week’s look at WR ADP, this article will look at comparisons of current ADP to where RBs finished ranked last season in terms of fantasy points per game. Why FP/G? Well, simply put, it makes for a better comparison as it more-or-less takes into account injuries. We can see this perfectly exemplified with Jamaal Charles. His being drafted at #6 is much more akin to his FP/G finish of #2, rather than his overall RB rank in 2015 as a paltry RB5. Of course, no matter the way I choose to write this, it won’t help me to forget this atrocity. Sigh. So, let’s get to it, shall we? I need a quick distraction before I start watching hours of Andy Reid time mismanagement videos on YouTube.
The players on this list do not share as much in common as the wide receivers covered last week did. While there are a couple of players here who are rising due to sheer opportunity (Ameer Abdullah, Matt Jones ,and Jay Ajayi…well, maybe), others are simply rising because they are remembering how to take care of themselves physically (Eddie Lacy). Still others simply make little to no sense on this list…at least not to me.
With Alfred Morris taking his $2 Mazda to Dallas, it is Matt Jones’ turn to run the show in Washington. Jones clearly has talent, but his 2015 was chaotic to say the least. For every moment of brilliance, there were moment’s like this. I suppose that’s normal for a rookie. As long as he can hold onto the ball, he could be in a great position to be a solid RB2 in 12-team leagues. He runs with aplomb and can actually catch the ball, unlike his predecessor (though, it is a bit confounding that he is being drafted higher in PPR than standard leagues at the moment). I’m pretty optimistic that he can make the leap forward into a reliable starter. Ameer Abdullah is also in position to take a major leap forward in both the real and fantasy football worlds. While there still seems to be a carousel of backs in Detroit, the starting job is his to lose. With 780 rushing and receiving yards on 168 touches, Abdullah could come close to 1,500 total yards this season with the assuredly increased workload. His ADP of 27 and 30 in standard and PPR leagues, respectively, should prove low if he stays healthy the entire season.
Last, but not least, if Jay Ajayi, whose ADP numbers appeared perfectly legit before Arian Foster signed with the Dolphins last week. The starting job is still seems like Ajayi’s to lose, but if Foster stays healthy and is even remotely close to the player he was in 2014, early Ajayi drafters may be hoping that they had drafted someone else. Melvin Gordon belongs amongst this group as well, I suppose, but his opportunity is solely up to his work ethic; he has apparently worked with Adrian Peterson this offseason, which is a good sign. The #1 RB job was basically his last year, though you wouldn’t have known it the way he underwhelmed; 3.5 yards per carry doesn’t scream excellence.
Unlike the sophomore players with major opportunities, this next group of players will have to settle for improvement without taking over the reigns. Out of this group, Duke Johnson excites me the most. While Isaiah Crowell looks to be the starter at the moment, I’d rather have Johnson in fantasy leagues; in PPR leagues, there is no question he is the better back as he has a change to catch 70+ passes this season after bringing in 61 in his rookie campaign. This is shown in his current ADPs, as he is being drafted at 31 in standard leagues and an incredible 21 in PPR leagues, while Crowell is being drafted at 39 in both types of leagues. Johnson deserves the hype. If Crowell falters at all, Johnson is poised to become a high end RB2.
Another player on the tables above that could leap frog a number of spots given the opportunity is Tevin Coleman. While he is currently sitting behind Devonta on the Atlanta depth charts, he has the talent to hold down the lead role. Averaging a robust 4.5 yards in a limited number of carries, he is an enticing handcuff. Zach Zenner is being drafted as an RB6 in standard leagues, a full 54 spots ahead of where he finished in FP/G last season. He is going to have a hard time breaking into the fold in Detroit. Already behind Abdullah and Theo Riddick, he has to contend with vet Stevan Ridley for the #3 RB spot. I’d personally rather give the opportunity to the 24 year old out of South Dakota State, but Ridley’s experience could win out. We’ll see.
Eddie Lacy needs to keep the weight off; C.J. Anderson needs to start the season quickly. I have more confidence in the former than the latter. In terms of FP/G, Anderson was an RB4 last season. With the QB situation in Denver, there is no way that I can see myself grabbing C.J. at his current ADP of 15. I don’t think his talent nor his team warrant that high a draft position. I’d honestly be happier drafting Matt Jones or Abdullah. Lacy, on the other hand, looks to be focused and ready to roll. With the Green Bay WR corps healthy and AROD still under the gun, I think the slimmed-down Lacy is easily going to meet or exceed his current ADP of 10.
I suppose I shouldn’t get too upset about seeing Knile Davis and Stevan Riley drafted as RB8’s, but I won’t be touching either in 12-team leagues. If Ridley is healthy (a big if) and wins the #3 job outright in Detroit, then I can see some value, but I still can’t see myself drafting him in anything other than a 16-team league. Knile Davis, on the other hand, is the clear #4 on his own team and has never averaged more than 3.5 YPC. He needs to be traded to another team before I see him having any fantasy value at all.
Where to begin? This group is a melange of injured stars, glorious fill-ins, and also-rans. For the most part, however, the players on this list deserve to have fallen from fantasy football grace.
The Potential Stars
It shouldn’t take much convincing (well, to anyone other than Ajayi owners) that Arian Foster has a chance to be one of the biggest steals of the 2016 fantasy season. Currently the 41st running back off the board in both standard and PPR leagues (a surprisingly higher number than before he signed with Miami), Foster obviously has the potential to outperform his draft position should he stay healthy. Should. There is never any way to know whether or not a player will stay healthy, and he now has to contend with the aforementioned Ajayi for the lead role. However, should Miami use him well and keep him in shape, then his current ADP is, frankly, a joke considering he was averaging 19 FP/G in PPR leagues before he went down, which was good enough for the third highest average amongst RBs. I’m the type of drafter that likes to take chances; Foster is my risky pick cette année (well, outside of Josh Gordon, who I have proudly/irrationally stashed in my one dynasty league).
The other guy who belongs here is, clearly, DeAngelo Williams. As mentioned above, he is set to start out the year as Pittsburgh’s #1 with Bell likely to be suspended for at least the first four games. While I don’t think it will be more, I say at least because you never really know what Goodell has up his sleeves. At lease Bell deserves his suspension, unlike others whom have fallen under Goodell’s all-too-eager punishing hand. The Steelers’ first four games don’t leave me thrilled to use DW in standard leagues, but he’s certainly a must in PPRs (of course, if you have him on your team you likely need to start him regardless, even against KC and Cincy). Even at 33, he is the top handcuff on the board and should be drafted higher than his current position as an RB4.
Late Season Stars
Every year guys like Spencer Ware and Tim Hightower come out of nowhere to become fantasy studs, at least for a few games. Tim Hightower, in particular, almost single-handedly won a lot of Fake Footballers championships last season. What do these guys get for their big additions to their teams? Slightly more playing time. Both players look to be the respective #2 RBs on their teams, although Ware will likely have to battle Charcandrick West in camp to ensure his spot. Still, his more physical style of play is a better fit than West for the #2 in KC behind a player like Jamaal. Hightower will have to sit behind Ingram, but will likely be able to start at least a few games this season given that Ingram has only played one full 16-game season in his five year NFL career. If New Orleans isn’t in the running for the playoffs come December, Timmy might be able to have a chance to be a fantasy god once again.
Like any professional league, there are a number of players who are good enough to make rosters, but are either not well-rounded or consistently healthy enough to make regular contributions to their teams. Guys like Lance Dunbar, Dexter McCluster, and Alfred Blue fall into this category. I would love to see any one of these guys thrive, but from a fantasy perspective, there is just not a lot to love…at least how depth charts currently stand. Dunbar will be lucky to be anything better than an RB4 on his own team. He’ll first have to prove he is healthy. If he passes that task, he has a wall of Ezekiel Elliott, Darren McFadden, and Alfred Morris to surmount. Good luck. McCluster should at least have a role carved out as a semi-regular passing down back. He certainly has the hands and speed to offer Mariota a reliable option, but barring an injury to either DeMarco or rookie Derrick Henry, the touches won’t come often enough for him to be fantasy relevant.
Alfred Blue could have been in a good position, but unfortunately for him the Texans swapped out the oft-injured Foster for the reliably healthy Lamar Miller, who is set to have a truly breakout season after having had to deal with the regular inanity that was the Miami coaching staff while he was there. Blue was able to average 3.8 YPC carry last season, which I think is actually pretty damn incredible considering the absurd QB situation in Houston last year. He is a decent pass-catching back and is yet to miss a game in his first two years. He is currently being drafted as an RB8, far below his RB3 numbers in terms of FP/G in 2015. I think he is currently undervalued and should be looked at as an RB6, with potential RB3 upside on a weekly basis should Miller miss any time.
Bilal Powell. No respect. Yeah, he clearly seems to have less of a role going forward this year given that Matt Forte catches more passes than most WRs, but he at least showed that he belongs. If Khiry Robinson is healthy to start the season, however, Bilal’s similar skill set to Forte could cause him to go the way of Charcandrick in KC. If anything happens to Forte, however, Bilal Should thrive. Do you really think Geno is going to be slinging passes downfield with accuracy? Yeah, me either.
Antonio Andrews. How is he even an RB 8?
What are your thoughts on where players are being drafted? Leave me a note below or connect with me @ianrgold on Twitter.