R-E-L-A-X: Five fantasy RB fears you don't need to worry about
Aaron Rodgers famously told Green Bay Packers fans to “R-E-L-A-X” on his ESPN Milwaukee radio show back in 2014 when the Packers were 1-2 and he failed to reach the 200-yard mark in two of the three games. Later that year they barely lost to the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game.
Today, I’m bringing that sentiment to you, and asking you to chill out. It’s the height of draft season and everyone is running around like the sky is falling.
The panic is at an all-time high with regards to the running back position. In fact, people are so freaked out about running backs, many are ignoring the position until late into their drafts.
If you still want to get a running back in the first five or six rounds, here are some scary narratives that need to be debunked:
1. Devonta Freeman will lose touches to Tevin Coleman.
Back in July, I sort of lost my mind and went on a tirade on the PFF Fantasy Slant Podcast about a report that Devonta Freeman was going to get less touches and therefore should be moved down the draft list and considered a fantasy RB2. To me, it was a gross over-exaggeration of the sentiments that running backs coach Bobby Turner was trying to relay. Here’s the quote:
“Free had a good year, but I’m expecting even a better year. Well, you’re saying, how can it be better? It can be even better with less carries or less catches because I’d obviously like to get Tevin (Coleman) more involved and that also keeps Free fresher.”
Uh… am I the only one who thinks the point of this statement is that Freeman could do more with less because they overused him last season?
Freeman out-touched Coleman 7-4. They both played 15 snaps, but the talent disparity is evident. Tevin Coleman has great open field speed, but between his ball security issues and his lack of usage in the passing game he is not a threat to Freeman. In the third preseason game, Coleman carried the ball three times for six yards and then lost five yards on his one reception.
The real concern for the Falcons is their lack of production in the red zone. Last season the offense was seventh in total offensive yards, but tied with Houston for 21st in total points. And like clockwork, Matt Ryan threw a pick in the end zone this week. It’s the lack of offensive scoring that could hinder Freeman’s fantasy production, not keeping him fresh by rotating in another back from time to time.
2. Ezekiel Elliott needs to drop in the rankings now that Dak Prescott is the starting quarterback in Dallas.
The real question is this: In a year when everyone is going zero-RB, why is the entire fantasy industry sold on a rookie, Ezekiel Elliott, being an undisputed first-round pick? Personally, I’m considered a leper because I have him as a second-round pick.
If you believed that Elliott was a first-round pick prior to Tony Romo’s back injury, you should feel the same way today.
Ezekiel Elliott still plays behind the best offensive line in the league. The Cowboys still want to run the ball. Elliott is still one of the best blocking backs to come out of college in the PFF era who earned the highest overall PFF grade in his draft class and was one of only two backs coming out of college this year to gain over 1,000 yards after contact in his final collegiate season.
Dak Prescott is a better quarterback than all of the guys the Cowboys had to trot out last season when Romo was out. Prescott impressed me most during the third preseason game when he put up his least impressive statistics. The team prepared for Tony Romo to play against Seattle’s first-team defense, but Romo hurt his back on the third offensive play of the game. Prescott went in and the offense didn’t skip a beat. In fact, his command of the two-minute offense at the end of the half removed any doubt I had about him as a starting quarterback.
Was he perfect? No. Who is perfect against the Seattle Seahawks defense?
Over the course of the preseason, Prescott scored seven total touchdowns and never turned over the ball.
There will be rookie quarterback moments that will make people cringe. That’s part of being a rookie. But that also means they will need to lean on the run game even more in those situations. There’s no reason to back off of Ezekiel Elliott now.
3. Matt Forte is done.
For two weeks Forte was hindered by a hamstring injury and missed some valuable practice time with his new team, the New York Jets. This sent panic waves throughout the whole fantasy community and signaled to many that Forte was officially done. No go. Do not draft.
But if the New York Jets were nervous as an organization, they certainly didn’t show it in their third preseason game versus the New York Giants. Todd Bowles told the media prior to kick off that he looked forward to Forte getting a hit a few times and getting out there on the field. Well, that certainly happened.
The Jets decided to focus on using Forte in a “ground-and-pound” manner. He carried the ball 10 times for 28 yards and caught two of his three targets for an additional nine yards. Five of those carries happened in the first drive of the game.
Certainly, you don’t love 2.8 yards per carry, but when you go with the “ground-and-pound” method, those two- or three-yard gains are supposed to wear down the defensive line so you can break one off later in the game. It was a preseason exhibition, so Forte and all of the starters were pulled before they could see the fruit of that particular labor. One thing was clear: this team will use Matt Forte. They are dedicated to the run game.
You can stay nervous about third down, at least for now. The Jets did pull Forte in favor of Bilal Powell on third down a few times. However, when you look at the tape, pulling Forte didn’t seem exceptionally effective. There is a chance that they will eventually decide to keep Forte on the field more based on his varied abilities, but even if they don’t, the workload is there and he looked healthy. If you’re waiting on running back but still want a semblance of balance on your fantasy football team, Forte is volume play.
4. It’s a bad sign that Adrian Peterson isn’t playing in the preseason.
Adrian Peterson hasn’t played in a preseason game since 2011. For the most part, there is nothing to see here.
However, it’s worth noting that Peterson kept telling the press he wanted to play in the preseason. If you’re reading this while scratching your head wondering why a 31 year-old veteran running back would decide this is the time to get back into a preseason exhibition outing, the answer is actually encouraging.
Over the off-season Adrian Peterson worked on running the ball from the shotgun formation. He ran 32 times from that formation last season, but only 19 of those carries came after Week 2. He is much more comfortable behind the quarterback, but Bridgewater is more comfortable in shotgun. It’s a compromise, and one that Peterson is willing to make.
Ultimately, both Peterson and head coach Mike Zimmer decided to wait until the regular season to test out the changes. If you think this back and forth over formations means less work for AP, you can relax, again. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner went on SiriusXM NFL Radio and said, “He got 327 carries in ’15. That’s a good number. 20 per game is our goal this year.”
5. Jeremy Langford isn’t a three-down back and will lose his starting job to rookie Jordan Howard.
Tell that to the Bears. Even after spending time in a walking boot after his foot was stepped on in the second preseason game, Langford served as the three-down back with the starters in the third preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Over the course of the preseason, he carried the ball 18 times for 79 yards and one rushing touchdown and caught both of his two targets for an additional 11 yards.
Are those great numbers? No, but they do indicate that Langford is one of the few running backs in the league with a chance of getting 250 touches this year. Touches are opportunities, even if his overall metrics are lacking. According to Fantasy Football Calculator, Langford is still a late fourth-round pick. Considering the workload, you have to consider him at that spot.
As far as Jordan Howard is concerned, he didn’t come into the last preseason game until late in the third quarter and seems to be behind Langford, Ka’Deem Carey and Jacquizz Rodgers. Fantasy players came into the season excited about this rookie out of Indiana, but it seems the “John Fox hates rookies” mantra will hold true until further notice.