The Mountaintop of Value: Dynasty Running Backs
March 3, 2014 | Rich Hribar
After digging into the recent history of sophomore runners, I wanted to get a little more churning on the running back position as it sits right now. It’s already known that this is an odd time for dynasty backs, more than usual. The majority of the players already producing on the best level are over the average age of decline and the talent level for the incoming newbies is puddle like. With this transition period of aging RB1’s and waiting on more youth to grab a stronghold, the value of a few players is as high as it ever will be for this window of time.
This isn’t a strict buy or sell piece, because I really don’t put much stock in selling high at market price as a legitimate tactic in this era of fantasy football. Rather, this post is about three runners who I believe will never be as valuable as they currently are right now. Whether you wish to pursue actively shopping them is up to you.
2014 Age: 25 Career Touches (including postseason): 210
This one hurts a lot on the inside. As many were, I was one of the official conductors of the Vereen hype train last summer; I even took a course to get certified. After seeing his usage in 2013 however, I am quickly realizing he’ll never get the real opportunity in New England to the overall player I believe he can be.
Vereen gave us a quick taste encompassing the entire package in week one when Stevan Ridley was benched for the first of two thousand fumbles (stat not officially checked with Elias), totaling 159 yards from scrimmage on 14 carries and seven receptions. Right when the train officially got off and running, it was revealed that he suffered a broken wrist and missed the next nine weeks.
Even with the hot and cold rotation of Ridley, LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden being ineffective during his return weeks 11 through 14, Vereen only received more than three carries in a game twice. His 2012 mark of 4.8 rushing attempts per game went only up to 5.5 this year. He’s forever going to be locked into a pass catcher in that offense, bringing him with limited upside to remain more than a fringe RB1 even in PPR.
The ceiling for Vereen is pretty much that he remains a Sprolesian (royalties for C.D. Carter for the term) back, but even his massive pass catching workload came during a season mired in offensive turmoil and turnover at the receiver position for New England. He led the entire NFL in targets per route (once every 2.9) and was fourth in receptions per route (4.3). The one saving grace is that when he played alongside Rob Gronkowski, he was a Dapper Dan man.
Don’t be totally fooled by the yards per carry or the points per game output sans Gronk. 100 of the rushing yards and 23 of those points came week one versus Buffalo. In the three games to close out the season, he totaled just 26.6 points 13 total touches. He was also a little dinged up, but he is reliant on Gronk being on the field, something that is uncertain to start the season, and with Gronk, that question will probably be built into the remainder of his career.
The secondary issue is touchdown production. New England is a even 50/50 run to pass team inside the red zone, limiting his opportunity to be used in a fashion similar to Sproles. The Patriots are even more run heavy inside the five yard line, attempting 23 runs, ninth most in the league. Of those 23 runs, Vereen had just three attempts. Vereen is a player I love to watch play, but I have a tough time owning players when I have to rely on one aspect of their game to create all of their fantasy production.
2014 Age: 25 Career Touches: 158
Ellington is very similar to Vereen in functionality for an offense, only in an expanded role rushing the football. With Rashard Mendenhall a free agent and not expected to return in 2014, the cries from 2013 for Ellington’s freedom will most certainly be heard, especially after head coach Bruce Arians has stated he would like to center the offense around the second year back.
Not so fast on that, but Ellington is in a great position to get a large increase in workload this upcoming season. The only other backs on the Cardinals roster are former second round pick, Ryan Williams, fellow second year back Stepfan Taylor and restricted free agent Alfonso Smith. Williams has played just five games in his first three seasons and is entering the last year of his contract. Taylor isn’t really a poor man’s version of Mendehall as a prospect, but a clone of what Mendy became in 2013.
Taylor is nearly a lock in my eyes to at least get an immediate shot at short yardage and goal line work, something that Mendenhall thrived in last season. If Taylor can come close to being as effective as Mendenhall was, who turned eight of his 11 carries inside the five for scores, then Ellington is going to take a hit regardless if his touches go up or not. Just like Vereen, Ellington was zero for three on his goal to go carries from five yards and in a season ago.
He also plays in a division loaded with stout defenses. While that long term success of his opponents and that effect shouldn’t really be assumed, especially in Dynasty, it definitely can be problematic for a player his size (5’9″ 199 pounds) in the offense. In a division as black and blue as the NFC West, it’s really hard to envision him grinding towards 200 carries in a season and preserving his well being in the short term. He claims he’s going to add weight this offseason, but it’s still unlikely that he achieves true desired size for a lead back. He already projects as a back that lacks significant touchdown volume, similarly to what people thought C.J. Spiller could achieve with “more touches” and were left high and dry a season ago, which will always likely keep him from ever cracking the top ten performers in a given season.
2014 Age: 28 Career Touches (including playoffs): 1,278
It’s not surprising to put a 1,200 touch, 28 year old back in here that is coming off of not only a career season, but one of the best fantasy seasons of the past decade. But I am seeing that Charles is going sometimes in the top five and nearly in the top 10 of all dynasty startups so far. Buying a player with likely two to three really strong seasons in the most fortunate of circumstances for that kind of price means that someone in your already established league may be willing to make a serious play for his services. I’ve already seen him involved in deals for Dez Bryant and Josh Gordon this offseason, which is a home run deal if you can make it work.
Charles is coming off of a 329 touch, 1,980 yard season in which he scored 19 total touchdowns. Those 19 touchdowns are only five fewer than he had in the first 55 career games played. Seven of those scores via the air, something that only Darren Sproles has accomplished since 2001 out of the backfield and four of those seven came in one game. He was targeted nine times inside the ten yard line, most of any Chiefs player, and one of two backs to lead his team in targets in that area of the field (the other being Danny Woodhead with 12 targets).
His role substantially dipped in the passing game over the final eight weeks minus the Oakland performance. That’s definitely cherry picking, but owners already got those points and they can’t be taken away, so we care about them little going forward.
|Charles Receiving||TGT||REC||YDS||TD||GP w/5+ Rec.|
|First 8 Weeks||64||41||383||2||6|
|Last 6 Weeks||32||21||115||1||2|
*DNP Week 17
The 70 receptions that were a career high by 25 aren’t too far off of what we can expect going forward though, even if they came back down a touch as the season went on. Under Andy Reid, Charles was the 11th back to reach 48 receptions in a season and the fourth to reach 70. Although I expect Kansas City to upgrade at receiver and involve their designated pass catchers more this upcoming campaign, Charles is still golden for in the area of 50-60 catches, just not the seven scores.
Not only are those receiving scores likely to dissipate, but the rushing scores could very well be a onetime deal, too. Charles was only the second back to ever run for double digit scores under Reid (LeSean McCoy had 17 in 2011). In a large part, just like his receiving involvement, that was out of necessity with the surrounding incapability of his teammates to perform. The Chiefs were smart to use him to win football games because they had to.
Charles is a snowflake type of talent, built like a wide receiver. At 6’1”, he’s very tall for a runner in today’s NFL, but is also very lean at 200 pounds. His NFL spirit animal is a deer, basically. Historically, duplicating a ten plus touchdown season on the ground would be pretty astounding.
10+ Rushing TD Seasons by BMI Since 1970
|BMI||Total Seasons||%||Players w/ Multiple Seasons|
Body Mass Index (BMI) for running backs has a strong correlation to touchdown production throughout time, just like weight does with high touchdown seasons from the wide receiver position.Weight and height don’t have the same marriage as they do for receivers for runners, as backs come in all shapes and sizes. You can read more on running back performance by height, weight, speed and size in the March installment of the RotoAcademy, but for now I’ll tease it while shining light on Charles.
Already talking up his deer-like physique, Charles sports a BMI of 26.4, which places him in the lowest tier on that far left column. Only Tony Dorsett (who was 5’10 and 192 pounds) posted multiple ten plus rushing score seasons in the past 44 years of football and Charles became only the seventh different back total to accomplish the feat in a group that makes up less than three percent of all double digit rushing seasons. In other words, his lack of touchdown production prior to 2013 wasn’t strictly tied to the Chiefs being a disaster offensively (which isn’t true anyways) for the majority of his career.
If you already own him, you’re still in good shape, don’t fret. I still believe he is easily one of the top backs to own for the next two seasons, but I just wanted to illustrate how massive and historic his 2013 season was. It’s not just about seeing a career year and dismissing it just because it may appear to be an outlier, it’s about digging in if that season can be replicated. Charles very well may do it, there’s no denying his talent level as a player, but the probability is very low by these estimations. Even if he does in fact fall down to the 8-12 total touchdown area, you’ll be pleased with the results, but I wouldn’t consider him untouchable by any stretch in terms of trade value.