A week ago, I profiled the draft’s top 10 backs, looking at how their collegiate athleticism/production profiles projected to the NFL.
Now that we know their landing spots, we can evaluate where they should rank in fantasy formats. I emphasize talent over situation in creating my personal board, but the PFF Advanced Stats can provide an important window into the immediate opportunity ahead. Last weekend’s draft served as a further reminder that many of the running back situations around the league are not as settled as it appears on first glance.
10. James White, Previous Rank: Unranked
If you’ve read my earlier offseason columns on Vision Yards and the value of forcing missed tackles, you know LeGarrette Blount was easily the best Patriots running back last season. While White’s skill set overlaps more with Shane Vereen than Stevan Ridley, it’s not out of the question that the Wisconsin product could act as a Vereen-Ridley hybrid who soaks up a high percentage of snaps from both.
Even ignoring the fumbles, Ridley offers very little, as illustrated by his No. 29 ranking in Elusive Rating. Vereen seems likely to remain the receiving back – his 2.14 yards per route finished second among runners – but White could be an immediate fantasy factor if he wrests that role away.
9. Jerick McKinnon, Previous Rank: 8
The Vikings spent a third round pick on McKinnon, validating my earlier ranking. Landing behind Adrian Peterson essentially crushed Toby Gerhart’s value for the entirety of his rookie contract, but the same might not be true here. Peterson ranked 44th among runners in yards per route and 36th in blocking. Despite offseason suggestions to the contrary, he won’t be heavily involved in the pass offense.
8. Tre Mason, Previous Rank: 6
As much as I like Mason, I strongly prefer Zac Stacy. An opening does exist, however. Stacy averaged a paltry 1.5 Vision Yards per Attempt (VYA) in 2013, and his 0.40 fantasy points per opportunity fell well outside the top couple of tiers. The selection of Greg Robinson helps both players.
7. Terrance West, Previous Rank: 7
Ben Tate graded out negatively last year (-3.6) and consistently gained fewer VYA than Arian Foster running behind the same line. Since the Browns intend to set football back 30 years with their 2014 offense, making great reads behind the line of scrimmage will be key. Many fantasy owners are already planning to select UDFA Isaiah Crowell ahead of West. Most of those folks didn’t attend Crowell’s disastrous pro day.
6. Charles Sims, Previous Rank: 4
The Muscle Hamster has long been one of my favorite players, but the Sims selection acts as a sucker punch to his fantasy value. Having to compete with Doug Martin doesn’t particularly help Sims either, although the Buccaneers’ draft did send a strong signal about their intention to score points. Don’t completely discount the possibility of Sims winning this job outright. Only Darren McFadden and Ray Rice received worse PFF grades than Martin’s -7.8.
5. Carlos Hyde, Previous Rank: UR
Hyde just missed in my previous rankings. His landing spot isn’t great and yet he skyrockets up the rankings. The 49ers have received glowing reviews for their 2014 draft, which is odd to say the least. By selecting overrated media darlings like Hyde and Bruce Ellington, they continue to repeat the mistakes of seasons past.
Hyde’s selection reduces Kendall Hunter and Marcus Lattimore to waiver wire status in all but the deepest of leagues. Although he won’t immediately dispense with Frank Gore, the Ohio State product remains a high floor, low ceiling back in a system that relies on volume more than explosiveness.
4. Devonta Freeman, Previous Rank: UR
The Falcons have been criticized for trading up to select Julio Jones, but it’s really the entire rest of their roster construction that should be lampooned. In drafting Freeman, they repeat the Jacquizz Rodgers mistake, overdrafting a trendy college player whose profile projects poorly to the NFL. On the other hand, the Falcons represent a tremendous opportunity simply because Atlanta’s running back depth chart is so weak. Steven Jackson averaged 3.5 yards per carry last year and a paltry 1.1 receiving yards per route. He offers no real impediment to a heavy touch load.
3. Andre Williams, Previous Rank: 2
Rashad Jennings averaged 2.8 yards after contact in 2013, but only broke 16 tackles on 163 attempts. He might have been more lucky than good, even though having the speed to turn a missed tackle into a long run tends to be an underrated aspect of running back evaluation.
Because of his limited track record, the perception may be that Jennings is in his mid-20s. He’s 29. Those who sold early on Fred Jackson will tell you age doesn’t mean everything, but it’s certainly a factor here. Even after Williams ran circles around Carlos Hyde and Jeremy Hill at the Combine – after also running circles around them on the football field last fall – pundits continue to refer to Williams as sluggish and lacking in burst. Don’t believe them. The Giants have found their new Brandon Jacobs.
2. Jeremy Hill, Previous Rank: 5
BenJarvus Green-Ellis averaged 0.33 fantasy points per opportunity in PPR formats a year ago. That was worse than Trent Richardson. Hill should quickly overtake him to provide the “thunder” half of the equation in Cincinnati. Andy Dalton is a better reality player than most realize, and the Bengals are primed to score a bunch of points. Hill could receive the bulk of the goal line carries, and he should pick up enough stray receptions to offer value in all formats.
1. Bishop Sankey, Previous Rank: 1
The draft’s best running back landed in the best situation for immediate fantasy value.
Just Missed: Ka’Deem Carey
Editor’s Note: Be sure to check out our new Mock and Companion Draft Tool. Utilizing our updated player projections, run a quick mock draft and see where this year’s crop of free agents are coming off the board in early fantasy football drafts.