Fantasy 5: RBs Matt Jones and Latavius Murray could be great values

Jeff Ratcliffe provides you with two mid-round backs to keep an eye on. Plus, a sleeper RB in Baltimore and a WR to watch in Houston.

| 11 months ago
(AP Photo/Gail Burton)

(AP Photo/Gail Burton)

Fantasy 5: RBs Matt Jones and Latavius Murray could be great values

Unknowingly, I lied last Monday. In the Fantasy 5 intro, I said we just had the last weekend without NFL football until February. Let’s try that again. After last night’s debacle in Canton, we have now made it through the last weekend without NFL football until February.

A lot of other things happened over the weekend besides #PaintGate. Here are the five items that fantasy players need to know:

1. Redskins RB Matt Jones is a fantasy value

Speculation on the Redskins’ backfield ran rampant this offseason, but with the dust settled, Matt Jones appears to be locked into the feature back role for Washington. Jones was second on the team in carries last year, but managed an uninspiring 3.4 yards per carry. But with Alfred Morris now in Dallas and a thin depth chart, Jones projects to get the lion’s share of the work. Chris Thompson figures to be Washington’s passing down back. He saw 44 targets last season, but only carried the ball 35 times. Rookies Keith Marshall and Mack Brown are battling it out for the No. 3 job.

Washington ranked out in the middle of the pack last season with an average of 26.8 rushing attempts per game. That’s roughly 430 carries for the season. With Jones slated to get a majority of that work, he’s certainly a candidate for 250-plus carries if he stays healthy. That’s a massive workload in today’s NFL, and it’s one that all but guarantees fantasy production. Last year, just three backs topped the 250-carry mark and all of them finished as RB1s. Eight backs did it in 2014, with six RB1s and two RB2s. Frank Gore was the lowest finisher of that group, ranking 16th fantasy scoring with 255 carries.

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Volume translates to points in fantasy football, and Jones is in line to see plenty of it. While detractors will point to his lackluster play on the field, Jones is essentially the only show in town for the Redskins. He’s currently going as the 24th running back off the board in ADP. Given the likely volume he’ll see, Jones is a good bet to easily outplay that ADP and give a strong return on investment.

2. Latavius Murray could be poised for a big season

Murray was one of the three players mentioned above who topped 250 carries last season, finishing the year with 266 to go along with 41 catches. Yet despite this volume and a rare every-down role, Murray ranked just 10th in fantasy scoring among running backs. Sure, it’s an RB1 season, but he had the fourth-most touches at the position. There were 15 running backs who played at least 75 percent of team snaps last season. Of that group, only Theo Riddick and T.J. Yeldon has a lower fantasy points per opportunity than Murray.

There were rumblings throughout the offseason that the Raiders wanted to reduce Murray’s workload, and the team ended up selecting DeAndre Washington in the fifth round. Concerns about Washington earning an early-down role have suppressed Murray’s ADP. He’s currently the 17th running back being selected. However, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Vic Tafur said Murray has cruised through camp and is “ready for a big season.”

As they are with Jones, the drafting public is down on Murray, which creates an opportunity for those who end up going WR-heavy in the early rounds. To successfully deploy that sort of approach, you need to hit on some solid middle-round running backs. These should be players in ideal situations who figure to see a lot of touches. Murray has already proven to be this type of player last season. Just like Jones in Washington, he’s going to have very little competition for touches.

3. Is Terrence West in the mix for the starting job in Baltimore?

Justin Forsett entered the preseason as the heavy favorite for the Ravens’ lead back role, but he’s reportedly being outplayed by former Browns RB Terrance West. While this is certainly interesting news, it’s important to not overreact. Forsett is still the likely starter unless West completely blows him away in the preseason. However, this is another indication of how tenuous Forsett’s grip is on the lead role.

Forsett enters the season as the likely early-down back, but he’s far from a lock for the job. Passing duties will likely go to either Javorius Allen or rookie Kenneth Dixon. West is a former third-rounder who floundered in Cleveland, but has reportedly shed 15 pounds in the offseason and has shown well all offseason. With West on the rise, there is still a chance Forsett doesn’t make the team. Keep that in mind if you’re drafting before final cuts, as Forsett is currently going 32nd in running back ADP.

4. Will Fuller is struggling in Texans camp, so don’t overlook Jaelen Strong.

A rookie having a tough time in his first training camp is to be expected, but it’s worth noting in the case of Fuller. The former golden domer is being drafted as a late-round flier as the No. 62 wide receiver selected in current fantasy drafts. However, with the rookie struggling to adjust to press coverage and the strength of NFL defensive backs, Fuller isn’t a good bet to be a Week 1 starter. Instead, the Texans are more likely to rely on second-year man Jaelen Strong to man the outside opposite DeAndre Hopkins.

Strong was a third-round selection in 2015 out of Arizona State who ran 4.44 in the 40-yard dash and posted a massive 42-inch vertical at the NFL scouting combine. He entered the league athletic but raw, and struggled in his rookie year. However, he lost over 30 pounds since last season, and Texans head coach Bill O’Brien praised Strong’s improvement. At this point, the drafting public hasn’t caught up with Strong, as he’s essentially going undrafted as the 91st wide receiver. If he earns the starting job, Strong will be on the fantasy radar as an upside WR5-type.

5. Eric Ebron may have avoided injury. What does that mean for Detroit’s fantasy options?

The Lions had a scare over the weekend when Ebron went down with an apparent Achilles injury and had to be carted off the field. However, Ebron later told teammates that he was okay. At this point we can’t be 100 percent certain that he avoided major injury, but the reports sound very positive.

Ebron has had a strong camp and is likely in store for an increased workload even following the Lions’ recent signing of veteran WR Anquan Boldin. Currently being drafted 17th among tight ends, Ebron will remain an upside TE2 option if the injury proves to be minor. Stay tuned.

| Director of Fantasy

Jeff Ratcliffe is the Director of Fantasy at Pro Football Focus. He produces all of our projections and is 2016's second-most-accurate ranker in the fantasy industry. Jeff also is the host of our show on SiriusXM fantasy sports radio and is one of the main hosts of our Fantasy Slant podcast.

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