2013 Fantasy Football Draft Market - Running Back
Fantasy football is like the board game Settlers of Catan. For the uninitiated, players take a bunch of resources — brick, wood, wheat, ore, and sheep — and utilize them strategically to gain the upper hand. Those resources are a lot like the positions in fantasy football. Some are more valuable than others, and owners need to be cognizant of when it is best to collect the different ones.
Last week we took a look at quarterbacks, revealing relatively good values for guys like Tony Romo and Jay Cutler while advising against taking Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady at their current average draft position (ADP). This week we will delve into the good and bad values at running back, which, like wheat in Catan, is the most valuable resource in fantasy football.
Adrian Peterson might have pulled his best Wolverine impression last season, but Jamaal Charles had a pretty impressive return from a shredded knee himself.
The Kansas City running back came back from the devastating injury to rush for over 1,500 yards despite erratic usage from the now-exiled Romeo Crennel regime. Actually, the herky-jerky way he was deployed led to some big carry numbers in a few games, and he wound up with the seventh-most carries in the league at 285.
At any rate, Charles enters this season with a new regime in town. Andy Reid brings his coaching prowess and taco Tuesdays to town, and with him comes the promise of a stable situation for the 26-year-old running back.
Some might point to the dysfunction in Philadelphia in recent years, but LeSean McCoy had a pretty good fantasy run regardless. Reid was also around when Duce Staley was relevant and Brian Westbrook was lighting up opposing defenses.
That is a nice track record of success for former Reid running backs, and Charles might just be the most talented out of the bunch. Until last season, Charles averaged 6.0 YPC for his career. He “only” averaged 5.3 YPC last season — second-best in the league, yet still higher than any other running back Reid has coached in his career.
Charles has little serious competition for playing time. Perhaps second-year man Cyrus Gray will take over the backup role, but this gig belongs to Charles. He is primed for a huge season if he stays healthy.
Apparently going from 20 touchdowns in 2011 to five the following year does not sit well with fantasy owners.
Despite the incredible upside McCoy possesses, fantasy owners across the Web do not seem to buy into McCoy as an elite running back. Sure, he is a first-rounder wherever you look — except at ESPN, where running back values appear to be wonky all around — but it does not appear that owners are thrilled with him as a top-tier choice.
All the better to beat them with, should you find yourself able to choose McCoy in the latter half of your fantasy draft, my dear. McCoy is a wolf in Eagles clothing, capable of wanton destruction across the fantasy realm.
Not only has he proven this with some huge fantasy performances in the past, but the new Philadelphia coaching staff should prove a boon to the talented running back. Chip Kelly is bringing his up-tempo style to the NFL, and his running backs have put up some incredible totals in years past.
If we were to apply standard scoring rules to Kelly’s top running backs during his tenure at Oregon — Jonathan Stewart, Jeremiah Johnson, LaMichael James, and Kenjon Barner from 2008 through 2012, respectively — they would have averaged 22.8 points per game. That would extrapolate to 364.8 points over the course of a 16-game season. That is not to say we can simply say Philadelphia will have the same amount of success — the NFL is a different animal — but McCoy has proven he can run with the big boys in the past.
Reggie Bush is gone. Daniel Thomas is terrible. Mike Gillislee is a rookie.
Opportunity cost is key with Miller — he will have plenty more opportunity to score fantasy points, and he won’t cost a lot in your fantasy draft. He was only on the field for 146 snaps, but he averaged a healthy 4.9 YPC on 51 carries. He hit runs of 15-plus yards on 7.8 percent of his rushing attempts, fifth in the league among running backs with 50-plus carries. Miller was a home run hitter coming out of college, a one-cut back in the Arian Foster mold.
He is faster and more dynamic than Foster — though smaller and a far worse pass-blocker — which gives him massive upside. If he has the job to himself, he could have a huge year. His pass protection was a bone of contention for Dolphins coaches last year, but he appears to have improved greatly in that area if his quarterback is to be believed. Still, fantasy owners appear skittish when it comes to taking a Dolphins running back.
Reggie Bush performed admirably during his two-year tenure, but he never reached his fantasy potential. Miller is an unproven commodity, hence the risk is being baked into his ADP.
David Wilson is all the rage out of that New York offense (see: below), but it seems fantasy owners are forgetting about his counterpart in the Giants backfield: Andre Brown.
He overtook Wilson on the depth chart last season after Wilson found himself in Tom Coughlin’s doghouse, and he made the most of his opportunities. He came out of nowhere to score eight touchdowns on 73 carries behind Ahmad Bradshaw.
Brown’s 5.3 YPC was tied for second in the league with the aforementioned Jamaal Charles. He was also tops in the league in points per opportunity (PPO) among players with at least 50 touches at 0.63. Even if sample size is an issue for Brown, it seems fantasy owners are blinded by Wilson’s upside. If Brown can stay healthy, he figures to retain a major portion of playing time in that backfield, particularly in scoring situations. Given he is a borderline RB4 given his ADP, that makes him an excellent value.
The Saints are stubborn. They have stuck with Mark Ingram through thin and thinner, but how much longer is he going to plod his way through significant playing time before Sean Payton has had enough?
Meanwhile, New Orleans has an all-around back who can and should be on the field plenty if he can stay healthy. His name is Pierre Thomas, and he averages more yards per carry than his counterparts in that backfield. That title belonged to Chris Ivory before the Saints shipped him off to the Jets for two ham sandwiches. Thomas averages 4.8 YPC for his career to Ingram’s 3.9, a startling difference given the latter’s price and how much the Saints have force-fed him the ball during his first two seasons.
Thomas is more well-rounded than his younger teammate as well. Ingram has just 17 catches through his two-year career; Thomas’ lowest catch total was 17 in his rookie year. Even with pass-catching wizard Darren Sproles around, Thomas has caught 89 passes over the past two years.
Ingram is being drafted as a RB3, while Thomas is barely being drafted at all. It will be interesting to see how much playing time Thomas continues to get — especially if Ingram finally gets it going, an unsafe bet if ever there was one — but there is little risk involved taking him in the latter rounds of your draft.
Who averaged the most YPC in New Orleans before handing that title to Pierre Thomas? That would be one Chris Ivory, who has averaged 5.1 YPC throughout his career.
He simply couldn’t make any headway in the four-headed running back approach the Saints employed in recent years, so they moved him to the Jets for a fourth-round pick. He instantly became the lead back in an offense that somehow got zombie walker Shonn Greene to 1,000 yards the past couple of seasons, but fantasy owners have been slow on the uptake thus far. Ivory had just 40 carries, but had the same gaudy 0.63 PPO that Andre Brown had, albeit on fewer touches.
Ivory figures to get at least 250 carries as the lead back, with the potential to surpass 300 if he can stay healthy. Even if his average dips to, say, 4.4 YPC, that amounts to at least 1,100 yards. He should get plenty of opportunities to find paydirt to boot. If he scores at least eight times, he will find himself in RB1 territory. He is being drafted as a borderline RB3 these days, a huge value.
Few players have been more consistent fantasy scorers in recent years than Arian Foster, who has finished in the top five at his position since he took over as the starter in Houston. But are there cracks in that armor?
Foster’s fantasy output has been great, but his peripherals put up red flags all over the place.
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By far the biggest one is his decline in PPO, down 0.14 points from 2011 to 2012. Foster required far more volume last season than in previous years to reach those fantasy heights. At one point last season, Foster was on pace for 400 carries, winding up with 351. The Texans must have realized they were about to run their franchise running back into the ground.
That is not all to say Foster cannot bounce back this season. He definitely has the talent and opportunity to land in the top five in fantasy scoring again. But what if his touchdown totals regress? Ben Tate has proven he can be effective when healthy, and the Texans might get him in more to keep Foster fresh for the stretch run and playoffs. Even if Foster regains some of the lost scoring efficiency, his utilization rate could drop.
Given the massive upside guys like Jamaal Charles and LeSean McCoy have, Foster is not a great value as the second running back off the board.
Don’t get me wrong, Maurice Jones-Drew will have a good year if he can stay on the field. It’s that little matter of health that is worrisome.
Jones-Drew was ultimately knocked out for the year last season after sustaining a foot injury early in the 2013 season. That came two years after he had season-ending surgery that left him with a bone-on-bone condition. Of course he came back from that to lead the league in rushing; MJD has proven he can come back with a vengeance.
He very well could have another good season at 28 years of age, but the price is not right to take that risk.
This is more an extension of the treatise against drafting rookies in redraft formats, but Le’Veon Bell is being far overvalued this year.
Rookie running backs that rock the fantasy Richter scale usually come from one of two places: the first round of the NFL draft or nowhere. The juxtaposition of Trent Richardson — the third-overall pick in the 2012 draft — and Alfred Morris — a sixth-round pick — is a good example. Bell was selected in the middle of the second round, a bit of a surprise pick based on the scouting community’s general opinion of him. He is a big back with potential, but it might take a year or two for him to realize it in the NFL. That makes him a risky redraft pick, at least at his current ADP.
He might not have played in the most explosive offense in college football, but Bell’s numbers were underwhelming. He averaged just 4.7 YPC during his final year at Michigan State, when the team coaxed 382 carries out of him in just 13 games. That approached Kevin Smith territory for college abuse. There are simply too many factors at play to take him as your second running back or over some other options around his ADP.
The fantasy community is in love with David Wilson. He has incredible upside, as evidenced by his Week 14 super nova against the Saints. He strapped a rocket to his fantasy stock that day after 327 total yards and three total touchdowns, including a 52-yard romp in garbage time.
Indeed, fantasy owners couldn’t wait to draft him, taking him as early as the third round on average on more than one site. Only Yahoo owners seem to have any reticence in taking the second-year pro, taking him in the sixth round on average. But is that even too high for the talented Giants running back?
For starters, folks have quickly forgotten that Wilson was in the doghouse for much of his rookie year. The aforementioned Andre Brown came out of nowhere to snag his role behind Ahmad Bradshaw, outperforming the rookie in most weeks when they were both active to boot. Wilson is one celebratory flip away from a Tom Coughlin death stare and exile. Is that worth a third-round pick?
Then there is the Brown factor. We have already illuminated his illustrious 2012 numbers and how he could have a big role for the Giants in 2013. If the team goes into the season with a committee approach, Wilson could wind up on the short end of the stick when it comes to playing time. He is certainly capable of catching lightning in a bottle, but Wilson becomes a riskier proposition the more you look at him.
The upside is huge, but so is the potential for backfire.