Fantasy 5: What Foster signing means for Miami’s fantasy options

The Dolphins' signing of Foster doesn't take away Jay Ajayi's value, says Jeff Ratcliffe. That, and more running back talk.

| 12 months ago
(Bob Levey/Getty Images)

(Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Fantasy 5: What Foster signing means for Miami’s fantasy options

Every weekday, the Fantasy 5 will take a look at the five most important NFL news stories for fantasy football players, giving you the advice you need to improve your team.

Things are starting to ramp up across the NFL, especially at the running back position. It’s a running back special in today’s Fantasy 5, with insights on four players at the position who have the potential to impact the fantasy landscape.

1. The Arian Foster fantasy fallout.

After months of speculation, Foster signed with the Dolphins on Monday. As I mentioned in yesterday’s Fantasy 5, this move doesn’t represent a death knell for Jay Ajayi’s fantasy value. Ajayi is still the best bet to be Miami’s Week 1 starter, though this is certainly shaping up to be a training camp battle provided Foster can stay healthy.

There has been some chatter on the interwebs about how Foster’s torn Achilles has the potential to sap burst from him as a runner. But burst has never been a part of his game. This is a guy who entered the league with a 4.68 40-yard dash time. He’s more a gliding runner who uses his one-cut ability to take advantage of creases to churn out yards.

The issue for fantasy purposes isn’t Foster’s recovery, but rather his role in the offense. With Kenyan Drake struggling at times in offseason practices, the Dolphins lacked a capable passing-down back. Adam Gase attempted to work Ajayi in more as a receiver, but he didn’t look particularly sharp in OTAs. Given this series of events, the Foster signing makes perfect sense.

Foster’s best fantasy years came in a zone-blocking scheme, which is exactly what Gase runs. Per our Sam Monson, inside zone concepts accounted for 48.9 percent of Chicago’s runs last season when Gase was offensive coordinator. However, Monson also pointed out that Ajayi was more productive than Foster was on inside zone concepts last year.

At least initially, this looks like a potential committee situation, with Ajayi as the early-down runner with Foster mixing in and seeing the bulk of receiving duties out of the backfield. If this is how things play out, both players will be in the RB3 range in standard leagues, with Foster getting a value boost in PPR formats.

2. It isn’t crazy to take Ezekiel Elliott in the first round.

The fantasy football drafting public seems to be split on Ezekiel Elliott. Some have him as high as the top fantasy running back, while others find it silly to spend a first-round pick on a player who has never stepped foot on an NFL field.

The latter argument is a common one, but it seems a bit shortsighted. It’s not like this season will be Elliott’s first year ever playing football. We have seen him play at an extremely high level against tough competition when he was at Ohio State. Elliott clearly stood out, putting up a gaudy 3,699 yards and 41 scores over the last two seasons. He excelled as a runner, receiver and blocker, and he landed behind the best offensive line in the NFL.

Elliott steps into a Cowboys uniform as the clear three-down work horse, and Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s  Drew Davidson predicted “close to 300, if not 300-plus carries.” If that number doesn’t resonate, it should. Last season, only one running back topped the 300-carry plateau: Adrian Peterson. He finished second in fantasy scoring. If Elliott gets that sort of workload as a runner plus a healthy compliment of targets as a receiver, he has the potential to outplay his already lofty ADP as the fifth running back being selected.

[Considering Elliott? You’ll want to see how early you can take him, and what running backs you might be passing over for the rookie. Take a spin with PFF’s new Draft Master tool to find out, plus get recommendations on the players you should target in every round of your draft.]

3. Buyer beware: Jeremy Langford

With Matt Forte no longer in Chicago, the Bears begin a new era at running back. Many believe Chicago will simply hand the keys to Langford, but the tea leaves might suggest otherwise. We’ve already discussed Langford’s many red flags, and the Chicago Tribune believes the Bears will use a committee approach at running back.

Chicago drafted Jordan Howard out of Indiana in the fifth round back in April. Howard is a bruising north-south runner, who figures to see work on early downs and in short-yardage and goal-line situations. Ka’Deem Carey is also in the mix for work, as is Jacquizz Rodgers, who figures to be more of a receiving option. Langford still projects as the starter, but a committee situation would make it nearly impossible for him to return value at his current ADP of 21st among running backs.

4. David Johnson locked in as an elite fantasy option.

In the first episode of the series All or Nothing, which chronicles the Cardinals’ 2015 season, head coach Bruce Arians said he thought Johnson would “be a bell cow by Thanksgiving.” Of course, that quote didn’t surface until well after the season ended, but Arians couldn’t have been more right. Johnson assumed lead back duties a week after Thanksgiving, and he went on to lead all running backs in fantasy scoring over the final five weeks of the season.

While there has been some concern that Johnson will lose work to Chris Johnson, Darren Urban of called David Johnson the “guy that this organization loves” and pegged him as the unquestioned featured back. The older Johnson will get some early-down work and Andre Ellington will mix in as a receiver, but the younger Johnson figures to see the lion’s share of touches. In an explosive offense, Johnson has No. 1 fantasy running back upside this season.

5. Pass on Jimmy Graham this year.

Patellar tendon injuries are among the worst for football players, and that’s bad news for Jimmy Graham. The veteran tight end suffered the injury last season in Week 12. However, Seattle still expects Graham to be their starter in Week 1.

Just a few years ago, the fantasy debate at tight end was Gronkowski or Graham. Fast forward to today and Graham is going nearly 100 picks after Gronkowski in ADP as the 13th tight end being selected. The question is whether or not that’s too high?

While Graham didn’t meet fantasy expectations last season, he was ninth among tight ends in fantasy scoring before his injury. He was on pace for nearly 100 targets, and was playing well. Had Graham scored more than two touchdowns, the fantasy community likely would have been singing a different tune. That being said, he’ll turn 30 in November and is coming off this brutal injury. At his current ADP, fantasy drafters are better served passing on Graham and looking for upside with someone like Eric Ebron or Zach Ertz.

| 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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