Deep-League RBs: A Look Back, Part 2
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 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. Earlier in the week we looked at the waiver wire running backs who proved to be season-long studs. Now, let’s look at who provided better returns in PPR formats and less-so as straightforward rushers.
The PPR Beasts
Branden Oliver, San Diego Chargers (Week 4)
Roy Helu, Washington (Week 14)
Bobby Rainey, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Week 3)
Latavius Murray, Oakland Raiders (Week 12)
Jerick McKinnon, Minnesota Vikings (Week 5)
Dan Herron, Indianapolis Colts (Week 13)
Though a number of the Deep League Gems running backs in the first group made huge leaps in points from standard scoring to PPR, these six made far greater impacts as receivers than as backs. That doesn’t mean they do not possess the talent to be straightforward running backs; however, their value, at least in 2014, was limited by the nature of their usage.
Branden Oliver was a no-brainer waiver wire recommendation for Week 4—Danny Woodhead had just suffered a season-ending leg injury the week before and other than the oft-injured Ryan Mathews (who missed a large chunk of the season with a knee injury of his own) there didn’t seem a better back for the San Diego Chargers to turn to than Oliver.
Still, Oliver had just 159 carries on the season, for 581 yards and three touchdowns. That earned him a respectable 109.2 standard-scoring fantasy points on the year. Catching passes, however, is how he made a fantasy name for himself, catching 36 of 44 passing targets, for 271 yards and a touchdown, bringing his PPR points total up to 145.2. Oliver should be on the fantasy radar for 2015, especially with Mathews an unrestricted free agent.
Washington’s Roy Helu might be the undisputed PPR king of the Deep League Gems running backs. He had only 40 carries in 2014, for 216 yards and just one rushing touchdown. However, he caught 42 of 44 passes thrown his way, for 477 yards—the most receiving yardage of any of our 2014 running backs on this list—and two additional scores. That bumped his fantasy points up from 86.3 in standard-scoring leagues to 128.3 in PPR leagues. It’s not hard to conclude that if you were in a deep, PPR league and rotated Helu in as a starter, he paid far greater dividends than in standard-scoring leagues.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Bobby Rainey was a picture-perfect third-down style running back in 2014, with modest carries augmented by a convincing enough number of targets and receptions to lump him in with the best of the PPR Deep League Gems. While he rushed 94 times for 406 yards and one score, he did manage 33 receptions on 39 targets for 315 yards and a touchdown. That took him from 82.6 standard-scoring points to 115.6 in PPR leagues. Rainey seems to be a career waiver-wire gem; he serves his purpose, but it doesn’t ever feel like the Buccaneers want to lean their run game solely on his shoulders. That’s good for deep league GMs who are keeping names on the back burner for 2015.
Oakland Raiders running back Latavius Murray didn’t put up dazzling numbers, either as a rusher or a receiver. But he deserves a nod as a PPR stud because of the significant jump in points between standard-scoring and PPR leagues. Murray rushed 82 times for 424 yards and two touchdowns, while catching 17 passes on 22 targets, for 143 yards. In standard-scoring leagues, this earned him 68.2 points; in PPR leagues, he earned 85.2. Murray has too much talent to be used so lightly in 2015—especially with the Maurice Jones-Drew/Darren McFadden experiment on its last legs. Murray has significant upside in 2015.
Where Matt Asiata was the Minnesota Vikings’ best all-around running back in 2014, Jerick McKinnon did have his usage, primarily as the third-down and receiving back. On top of his 118 carries for 538 yards, he added 27 catches on 37 targets, for an additional 135 yards. Still, McKinnon did not score a touchdown for the season, which further held down his points total. He earned just 67.3 standard-scoring points, though that number jumped considerably to 94.3 points in PPR leagues despite the dearth of touchdowns. For a deep league waiver-wire pickup, there were certainly worse additions to make. But like Asiata, McKinnon’s fate moving forward also depends on what happens with Adrian Peterson.
Perhaps the running back with the highest overall upside in this group is the Indianapolis Colts’ Dan Herron. Bumped up the depth chart thanks to Ahmad Bradshaw’s season-ending fibula fracture and Trent Richardson’s utter uselessness, Herron could now be the Colts’ primary ball carrier in 2015. Considering the Colts’ willingness to get backs involved in the passing game—Bradshaw was on pace to break the running back receiving touchdown record before his injury—and Herron may not be on the waiver wire in deeper leagues next season.
Herron had just 78 carries for 351 yards and a touchdown, mainly because he didn’t start seeing a significant workload until Week 12. But even with that slow start to his season, he still caught 21 of 24 passes, for 173 yards. This earned him 57.4 standard-scoring fantasy points and 78.4 PPR points, a leap of 30 points depending on format. That’s not so bad for six weeks of production. And it bodes well for his future. Herron fits the Colts’ offense and won’t have the free agent Bradshaw to compete with in 2015.
Check back in a few days for the next installment in this series.