Deep-League RBs: A Look Back, Part 1
There may be no more difficult a proposition on the fantasy football waiver wire than trying to find a running back who can contribute to your starting lineup on a weekly basis. That becomes even more tricky in a league of 14, 16, or 18 teams, where the running backs have already been picked over numerous times in the draft.
But there are waiver-wire running backs with both long- and short-term value to be had, even in deeper leagues, as proven by 2014’s group of 21 Offensive Deep League Gems running backs. Now, not all 21 panned out as starting-caliber players, but a surprising number of them had quite good years from a fantasy football perspective. Others, well, others could have stood to make more of an impact, but they still came with solid reasoning as to why they were worth picking up.
In this series, we will look back at the 21 running backs recommended in 2014’s Offensive Deep League Gems and see which ones performed well, which ones disappointed and where each of them stand as fantasy targets heading into 2015. There are a lot of “buts….” associated with these backs for 2015, all of which will be detailed in the final installment. For now, let’s look at who exceeded expectations as all-around fantasy backs in 2014.
Justin Forsett, Baltimore Ravens (Week 2)
C.J. Anderson, Denver Broncos (Week 11)
Matt Asiata, Minnesota Vikings (Week 10)
Andre Williams, New York Giants (Week 6)
Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers (Week 14)
Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland Browns (Week 1)
Considering the list above, it wasn’t impossible to find a waiver-wire running back in deep leagues who could end up carrying the entire position. Possessing just one of these backs could have easily made the difference between making the playoffs, reaching the championship or being on the outside looking in. None of these were more valuable than the Baltimore Ravens’ Justin Forsett in 2014.
Forsett, brought on to provide veteran depth given Ray Rice’s suspension and eventual release from the team, was supposed to be the Ravens’ No. 2 running back behind Bernard Pierce. However, Forsett quickly supplanted Pierce as the starter and ended the year as one of the NFL’s best backs.
He rushed 234 times for 1,274 yards and eight touchdowns, averaged 5.4 yards per carry, and fumbled just once. He also added a bit of value as a receiver, amassing 263 receiving yards and catching 44 of 56 passes thrown his way, though he didn’t record a receiving touchdown on the season. This earned him 200.8 standard-scoring fantasy points and 244.8 in PPR leagues, with an average of .3 points per snap.
Forsett regularly broke off long runs – he had at least one rush of 20 or more yards in 11 regular-season games in 2014, with 52 yards his longest. His carries – and thus his weekly yardage totals – were a bit erratic, especially to begin the year. But as a Week 2 waiver-wire addition, Forsett could have easily been an every-week starter for you for most of the year.
Denver Broncos running back C.J. Anderson found himself in a similar situation, as the cream that rose to the top in what could have been a muddled, committee approach to running back. Thanks to his 2014 performance, Anderson has solidified himself as Denver’s true featured back, which bodes well for his 2015. It doesn’t hurt that the running back-friendly Gary Kubiak (who resuscitated Forsett’s career in Baltimore) is now his head coach.
Anderson was relatively light on yardage for 2014, carrying the ball 179 times for 849 yards, but he made up the difference in his eight touchdowns. He had zero fumbles, averaged 4.7 yards per carry and forced 49 missed tackles on the season, including 13 in Week 13 against the Kansas City Chiefs, in which he rushed 32 times for 168 yards. Anderson also caught 34 passes on 41 targets, for 325 yards and two touchdowns.
In total, he earned 176.9 standard-scoring points and 210.9 PPR points. It’s no secret that Anderson is a weapon in the passing game, and with Kubiak in town (and presumably Peyton Manning under center for one more year), that aspect of his game should widen.
Matt Asiata was one of two recommended Minnesota Vikings waiver wire running backs this year, and was the most productive of the two (the other being Jerick McKinnon, whom we’ll discuss in a later installment in this series). With a rookie quarterback and no Adrian Peterson, it’s not surprising that Asiata saw a lot of work both as a runner and receiver in 2014.
Asiata rushed 164 times for 570 yards. Though that gave him an average 3.5 yards per carry, he did contribute nine rushing touchdowns. He also caught 44 passes on 58 targets, earning him another 325 yards and a touchdown. All told, Asiata earned 147.7 standard-scoring fantasy points in 2014, and 191.7 in PPR leagues.
He’s proven to be a trustworthy checkdown option for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, keeping his fantasy ceiling high – in a vacuum – in 2015. However, Asiata is a restricted free agent and Adrian Peterson could make his return at any time, which would heavily affect Asiata’s fantasy value moving forward.
New York Giants running back Andre Williams did nothing remarkable, if his contributions are taken singularly. He rushed 216 times for 720 yards, giving him an average of just 3.3 yards per rush. He only surpassed 100 rushing yards in two games and had only two runs that went longer than 30 yards. He had seven touchdowns – nothing to sneeze at, but not an All-Pro number of scores either. He caught just 18 of 28 targets, for 130 yards and no scores.
But put them all together, and he ended the season with a strong fantasy performance: 126.5 standard-scoring points and 144.5 in PPR leagues. The biggest key for Williams’ performance was volume – he had the second-most carries in this group of backs.
That – and David Wilson landing on injured reserve. Because of Wilson’s injury, the Giants stockpiled running backs and alternated Williams with Rashad Jennings (who, too, couldn’t stay healthy on a consistent basis). For Williams to remain fantasy relevant, the Giants will have to thin down their receiving corps. He’s waiver-wire fodder for 2015 as a handcuff worth keeping an eye on.
Then there are Jonathan Stewart and Isaiah Crowell, whose seasons were near-inverses of each other. Stewart, part of the Carolina Panthers’ run-heavy offense, missed Weeks 4 through 7 with an MCL sprain. Once he returned, it took time before he became the Panthers’ hot hand, helped along by numerous injuries sustained by fellow back DeAngelo Williams. Crowell, in contrast, had a great start to his season with the Cleveland Browns, only to see the Browns’ run output decline to nearly nothing once center Alex Mack was lost to the year with a broken leg.
Stewart rushed 175 times for 800 yards and three touchdowns, while Crowell had 148 carries for 607 yards and eight touchdowns. This gave them comparable fantasy point totals in standard-scoring leagues, with 121.6 points for Stewart and 115.9 for Crowell. Where the two differed, however, was in their usage as receivers. Stewart caught 25 passes on 30 targets for 181 yards and a score, while Crowell was targeted only 14 times, with nine receptions for 87 yards and no touchdowns. Thus, Stewart had the better PPR year, with 146.6 points, to 124.9 for Crowell.
Both have significant upsides in 2015. Crowell has established himself the starter over Terrance West, while Stewart seems to be the winner of the war of attrition between himself and fellow high-priced back Williams, who could be released if he does not restructure his contract. Because of this, however, neither may be available on the waiver wire in deep leagues.
Up next in this series: Taking a closer look at the Deep League Gems running backs who offered more in PPR formats than in standard-scoring leagues.