Post-Draft Volume Shifts: Running Backs
Yesterday we looked at five not-so-sexy receivers who have seen their values altered as a result of the recent NFL draft. Today we’ll take a gander at a group of running backs who have a considerably higher fantasy football pedigree …
We know that yards per carry is an imperfect measure of rushing prowess, and is dependent on things beyond a runner’s control. Still, we can use it as a jumping-off point because if any running back is particularly reliant on copious carries, it’s one with a meager per carry average – no matter the reason for his modest matriculating.
Of the top 24 running backs, based on current ADP, six finished 2013 below the very modest baseline of 4 yards per carry. If we increase it to fewer than 4.5 yards, another six top 24 backs join the group. Several of those 12 stand out as having values that were at least potentially affected in a negative way based on this past weekend’s proceedings.
This does not mean that they should tumble down rankings lists. Every player has pros and cons. The tricky part is properly weighing pertinent items. In this case it means more closely monitoring their situations during the run-up to training camp, in addition to the rabid obsessing that will still kick off with preseason games.
Doug Martin (3.6 ypc: ADP: RB6) is coming back from a lost season due to early team-wide ineffectiveness and a season-ending shoulder surgery. In 2012, when he was the second best running back in fantasy, he ranked fourth in carries and sixth in targets. New offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford’s offense calls for plenty of handoffs, but the question is how many passes his lead back will catch. That situation got even murkier when the Bucs used a third round pick to add West Virginia’s Charles Sims to an already crowded backfield. Sims reminds new head man Lovie Smith of his former stud back Matt Forte, whose passing game prowess is well known.
Giovani Bernard (4.1 ypc; ADP: RB8) has shot up draft boards on the assumption that he will approach feature back status with BenJarvus Green-Ellis plodding closer to the glue factory. Enter LSU’s Jeremy Hill, or BJGE 2.0, in the second round. He’s a large, powerful back who can catch, and his draft price leads you to believe he will see the field sooner rather than later. Bernard cracked 20 touches just twice in 2013, and landed in the top 10 of fantasy backs both weeks. During the nine weeks he reached at least 50 percent of snaps, he was fantasy’s eighth best PPR running back. So his ADP is probably about right, but his upside appears more capped than just one week ago.
Zac Stacy (3.9 ypc; ADP: RB11) jumps out since his Rams used a third round selection on Auburn’s Tre Mason. Stacy, a fifth rounder in 2012, received 21.7 carries and 3.1 targets per game after surpassing 80 percent snaps for the first time in Week 6, from which point he was second in the NFL in rushing attempts. He ranked 27th in Breakaway Percentage among backs with at least 25 percent of their teams’ carries, and had just one run of at least 15 yards for every 25 attempts. Mason is an explosive, decisive runner who is faster than Stacy, albeit about 15 pounds lighter at this point. He will spell Stacy, who suffered several nagging injuries down the stretch in 2013 – including hip, ankle, and head.
Ben Tate (4.3 ypc; ADP: RB22) finally escaped Arian Foster’s shadow. He landed in a nice run scheme with a strong offensive line but then promptly welcomed two interesting rookies into “his” running back room. Cleveland traded up for Terrance West in the third round, and then scooped up rookie free agent Isaiah Crowell, who many believe to be the most gifted runner in his class. Attempts will not be in short supply considering their suddenly-muted passing game, but neither will defensive attention on Browns’ running backs. The oft-injured Tate is tough to bring down (11th in Elusive Rating), but ranked just 34th in Breakaway Percentage – behind noted home run threat Daniel Thomas. For more on this quagmire, check out Rich Hribar’s excellent take.
Since we’re optimists here, let’s end with a couple positive notes. Andre Ellington (5.5 ypc; ADP RB17) remains relatively unchallenged atop the Cardinals’ rushing depth chart and has even more going for him than when he led the league with a ridiculous 47.9 Breakaway Percentage as a rookie. Arizona revamped their league-worst offensive line and drafted hulking rookie combo tight end Troy Niklas. Ellington, who also finished fifth in Elusive Rating, will see a spike in the touches that he has little competition for (although keep an eye on Tim Cornett). Do not be surprised to see his ADP edge up over the coming weeks, as it will be warranted.
Few top 24 running backs, let alone top 36, are looking at the volume of touches that Toby Gerhart is gearing up for. Gerhart has an ADP of 38th at his position and can be plucked in the eleventh round in early drafts. He will certainly move higher as the season approaches, but he has a long way to go. The Jaguars are “hoping” to start Chad Henne all season while first round quarterback Blake Bortles learns on the bench. In the unlikely event that does happen, Henne’s receiving corps will be marked by inexperience. That’s a recipe for handoffs. When the rookie passer eventually takes over, that’s a recipe for handoffs. Jacksonville’s game plan to lean on an ascending defense is also a recipe for handoffs. The Jaguars running back depth chart dictates that the vast majority of those handoffs will go in Gerhart’s direction, and he has a solid enough all-around game to take full advantage. Fantasy owners would be crazy to not do the same at his dirt cheap price.
- All ADP data courtesy of MyFantasyLeague.com
Pat Thorman is a Lead Writer for PFF Fantasy and was named 2013 Newcomer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. You can follow him on Twitter at @Pat_Thorman
Editor’s Note: Be sure to check out our new Mock and Companion Draft Tool! Utilizing our updated player projections, run a quick mock draft and see where this year’s crop of free agents are coming off the board in early fantasy football drafts.