Deep League RBs: A Look Back, Part 4
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. Let’s look at the trio of Deep League running backs who are question marks for 2015, before examining some of the bigger “buts” about all of the 2014 Deep League backs.
The Question Marks
Jonas Gray, New England Patriots (Week 12)
Joseph Randle, Dallas Cowboys (Week 16)
C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills (Week 16)
These three running backs all presented valid arguments for why they were worth waiver-wire pickups in deeper leagues, but because they did so little with their time—and, for two of them, being suggested additions in the final week of the fantasy season—it’s hard to say what their futures may hold on deep league rosters.
First up is New England Patriots running back Jonas Gray, the biggest fantasy cautionary tale of the 2014 season. We all know what happened: The obscure Gray ran 37 times for 201 yards and four scores in Week 11 against the Indianapolis Colts. He then promptly missed practice, was benched until Week 12 and remained a non-factor for the rest of the year, even becoming a healthy scratch in the playoffs.
While Gray rushed 89 times for 412 yards and five touchdowns, earning him 71.9 standard-scoring fantasy points and 72.9 PPR points (he was a non-factor as a receiver, with one catch on three targets), half of that yardage and the majority of his carries came in that one game. Starting him in Week 11 would have required a psychic ability to see into the future; starting him any time afterward just led to headaches and disappointment.
Who knows whether Gray will be a major part of the Patriots’ offense in 2015, or whether he’ll be in New England at all? It’s clear that when he’s given a high volume of carries, he can make something of it. But will he ever be fed to the tune of 37 carries in a game ever again? The needle points toward “no.” His complete lack of PPR upside also hurts his projections for 2015.
Joseph Randle, meanwhile, came recommended in Week 16 as a precaution—mainly because star Dallas Cowboys running back and eventual Offensive Player of the Year DeMarco Murray had suffered a broken hand, putting his Week 16 status in doubt. Murray indeed did play, but in the days leading up to that decision being made, there was zero harm in picking up Randle on a just-in-case basis.
Randle, for what it’s worth, didn’t have a terrible season as far as backup running backs are concerned. He had 51 carries for 344 yards and three touchdowns. But he’s certainly not a third-down back—he caught just four passes on five targets, for 23 yards. He earned 53.7 fantasy points in standard-scoring leagues and 57.7 in PPR leagues, but he does have the opportunity to do even more in 2015. It’s looking like Murray is going to become too expensive for the Cowboys to re-sign, giving Randle the fast track to take over his starting job.
Finally, there is Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller. Spiller has typically been a fantasy football must-start, with considerable receiving upside to go along with his fast and shifty running style. However, a collarbone fracture suffered in Week 7 sent Spiller to the waiver wires in many leagues, making him a good candidate to pick up upon his return in Week 16.
Unfortunately, Spiller made little impact in his final two games, with nine carries for 13 yards, five catches for 16 yards and zero touchdowns. On the season, Spiller had 78 carries for 300 yards and no scores, as well as 19 catches on 21 targets for 131 yards and one touchdown, earning him 47.6 standard-scoring fantasy points and 66.6 PPR points. Further complicating matters is Spiller’s status as an unrestricted free agent. He could land with the New York Jets, which gives him considerable fantasy value in 2015 though his PPR value could take a hit—this is a team without a quarterback, after all.
The Big Buts
There are a number of factors that must be considered about many of the running backs in this series. Here they are, by player, in easy-to-follow bullet points:
- Justin Forsett is an unrestricted free agent. Though both he and the Ravens have mutual interest in having him back, his landing spot will dictate his fantasy value in 2015. If he re-signs in Baltimore he’s a fantasy must-draft—he most certainly won’t be waiver-wire fodder in deep leagues. There are other places he could land that would give him fantasy upside, like Jacksonville, Dallas (if DeMarco Murray does not return) or even Oakland. But if he’s part of a committee, he won’t come close to his 2014 production. Should Forsett land with the Atlanta Falcons, who reportedly have interest in him granted he reaches free agency, his fantasy forecast is much better.
- Forsett’s impending free agency could impact C.J. Anderson, as well. If Forsett reunites with Gary Kubiak in Denver, the Broncos could steer toward running-back-by-committee in 2015, which would hurt both Anderson’s and Forsett’s fantasy values.
- Roy Helu is also an unrestricted free agent, however his huge upside as a receiver could make him palatable as a fantasy running back, especially in deep leagues. It will just depend on the running backs depth chart of whatever team he signs with. A return to Washington can’t be ruled out.
- Branden Oliver could be the biggest beneficiary of Ryan Mathews’ impending free agency, but the running back draft class is quite deep. If the San Diego Chargers bring in a young back, that player might get the nod over Oliver in terms of number of carries. Oliver remains on a PPR watch list, however
- Other unrestricted free agents in this series include C.J. Spiller, Antone Smith, and Jacquizz Rodgers. Matt Asiata, Dan Herron and Bobby Rainey are all restricted free agents.
- On paper, Joseph Randle would be the presumed starter for the Dallas Cowboys if they are forced financially to move on from DeMarco Murray. However, his recent legal problems could take a hit to his fantasy value and could put him in Dallas’ doghouse in the long term. Arrested for shoplifting during the season, Randle also faced marijuana possession and domestic violence charges. The marijuana charges were dropped, but the domestic violence charge could result in at least a six-game ban to start the 2015, pending adjudication.