Deep-League RBs: A Look Back, Part 3
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. Now, it’s time to look at the running backs who failed to contribute in a significant way in 2014.
Antone Smith, Atlanta Falcons (Week 6)
Boobie Dixon, Buffalo Bills (Week 13)
Jacquizz Rodgers, Atlanta Falcons (Week 2)
Bryce Brown, Buffalo Bills (Week 11)
Kerwynn Williams, Arizona Cardinals (Week 15)
Darrin Reaves, Carolina Panthers (Week 4)
These misses at running back all have crucial things in common (aside from production lower than expected): They come from the same teams, or they were the logical next step after injuries to other players. Many came late in the year, when it’s hard to get much value out of a player who hasn’t had many touches prior to their name being called up.
Let’s start with the Atlanta Falcons’ duo of Antone Smith and Jacquizz Rodgers. Recommending Rodgers in Week 2 seemed like a no-brainer—after all, Rodgers would be the logical handcuff to starter Steven Jackson, whose health is never reliable and who struggled through a hamstring injury through much of training camp. However, Jackson stayed mostly healthy until the end of the season, leaving Rodgers to be a marginal, third-down back.
Rodgers carried the ball 58 times for 217 yards and one touchdown. He did have some PPR upside, with 29 catches on 35 targets for 173 yards. Still, that earned him only 50.5 points in standard-scoring leagues and 79.5 in PPR leagues. Even that PPR upside wasn’t enough to warrant him starting in even the deepest leagues.
Smith, on the other hand, seemed to be on the verge of breaking out. He had two rushing and three receiving touchdowns in his first six weeks, all of which came on a combined eight carries and 10 receptions. It seemed inevitable that he’d get a more featured role. Instead, that never came to pass.
He had just 23 carries for 144 yards and two rushing touchdowns in 2014, along with 13 catches on 15 targets for 222 yards and three additional scores. This earned him 66.1 standard-scoring points and 79.1 in PPR leagues, but with all of that coming before the first half of the season even wrapped, he didn’t have a great year. It also didn’t help that he eventually went on injured reserve with a broken leg.
The pair of Buffalo Bills running backs that entered the ranks of Deep League Gems in 2014 did so because of injuries. Bryce Brown and Boobie Dixon came recommended in Weeks 11 and 13, respectively, because of CJ Spiller’s broken collarbone and a groin injury that cost Fred Jackson two games.
Brown initially seemed to be the biggest beneficiary of the Jackson and Spiller injuries. Unfortunately, he came recommended for Week 11 and Jackson returned the following week. Spiller, meanwhile, came back in a limited capacity for the Bills’ final two games, making Dixon also not as promising as first thought.
Brown rushed 36 times for just 126 yards and no scores, while also catching 16 passes on 22 targets, for 176 yards. This gave him just 29.7 fantasy points in standard-scoring leagues and 45.7 in PPR leagues. Dixon fared better as a rusher, carrying 105 times for 432 yards and two touchdowns, but he was targeted just nine times, with eight catches for 49 yards. He earned 59.6 standard-scoring fantasy points and 67.6 PPR points as a result.
This does not mean that Dixon or Brown have no fantasy value in 2015. Spiller is an unrestricted free agent and Jackson, should he remain in Buffalo, is no longer lead back material. The pair could combine to be the Bills’ new one-two punch at running back. They are worth monitoring once free agency gets underway; a new direction at running back could mean good things for one or both of them.
Injuries, too, resulted in the Carolina Panthers’ Darren Reaves and the Arizona Cardinals’ Kerwynn Williams showing up on the Deep League Gems in 2014. Reaves became a smart (or smart-seeming) waiver wire add for Week 4, after Carolina’s running backs corps was decimated by early-season injuries. He seemed to be the de facto pickup, and he did pay off during Weeks 4 through 6, with 31 carries for 76 yards and seven targets, five receptions and 31 yards. Still, Reaves was only on the field because fate forced him there; once Stewart, Williams and Tolbert all eventually returned from their respective injuries, Reaves again sat on the bench. He earned just 10.8 standard-scoring fantasy points, and 15.8 in PPR leagues.
Williams, on the other hand, was a late-season recommendation, due to starter Andre Ellington being placed on injured reserve at the beginning of December. Indeed, all of Williams’ touches came in Week 14 or later. For Ellington owners desperate to replace what was a likely starter in deeper leagues, Williams didn’t fare too poorly.
He had 53 rushes for 246 yards and no scores, along with five targets, two catches and another two yards. This earned him 25.2 points in standard-scoring leagues and 27.2 in PPR leagues. It’s a paltry full-season total. The 6.2 to 6.8 points he provided, on average, during the final four games of the season, makes Williams’ year—and his minimal fantasy impact—more palatable. However, Williams wasn’t ever on the fantasy radar before Ellington’s injury, and it’s not likely he’ll be of much use in 2015 aside from injuries again forcing him onto the field.