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Cracking the Top 10: Running Backs

080714-carlos-thumbEvery year there is significant turnover amongst Fantasy’s top 10 Running Backs, and drafters spend numerous hours pouring over data and stats to find the next guy who’ll slot in where others have failed.

It’s a grueling process, but when a gut pick is right, the feeling of success is second to none. The Running back position is especially volatile due to the injurious nature of the position.

There’s a reason why Backs tend to retire young.

So who can you target outside of the first 10-20 picks that may return first round value?

Least Risk: Lamar Miller, RB – HOU

While it sure feels like Miller has been in the league a long time, the fact is that when the season starts he’ll still only be 26 years old. Houston may not have improved much in terms of the QB situation, but Miller still managed to average over 11 points per week in standard formats, and his 160 points were good for 17th amongst RB despite only playing 14 games and often being limited due to injury. Miller is being drafted currently at 22nd over all (3rd round) as the 13th back off the board, but his ceiling is firmly in the top 10 and possibly as a top 5 back.

A little Risk: Carlos Hyde, RB – SF

Workload has never been an issue for running backs in San Fransisco, but the prevailing question about who’s lining up around him continues to be a cause for concern. In 13 games last year Carlos Hyde average 12.7 points per game (standard scoring) which was good for 10th amongst RBs. But it’s a look at his game log that reminds one just how consistent he is. Over the season Hyde averaged 70 or more yards on the ground 8 out of 13 weeks, while sprinkling in at least one TD in more than half of the games he started. In the 3rd round, Hyde provides a monster ceiling as the only real weapon in San Fran’s offense.

Most Risk: Isaiah Crowell, RB – CLE

The Crow, as he’s affectionately referred to by fans, has the dubious distinction of being the best offensive player on a pretty awful offensive team. This is the main reason his numbers last year were so wildly inconsistent. Despite averaging 4.8 yards per carry, Crowell finished 7 weeks with less than 40 yards on the ground. This is a testament to how ineffective the offense was last year. If the offense around him can improve even slightly, there’s reason to believe Crowell can crack the top 10 and push even further.

 

Sparknotes: NFC West

The NFC West has undergone major changes in terms of success. With the 49ers looking to enter a multiyear depression and the Rams still struggling to get out of their own, it’s up to the Cardinals and Seahawks to bring respect to the West.

Seattle Seahawks

Notable Fantasy Stars: Jimmy Graham (TE6), Russell Wilson (QB8), Doug Baldwin (WR11), Eddie Lacy (RB20), C.J. Prosise (RB41), Thomas Rawls (RB48), Tyler Lockett (WR59)

Synopsis – The Seahawks will go only as far as Russell Wilson will take them, and an effective run game will go a long way in keeping him healthy. With Prosise and Rawls proving to be injuried or ineffiecient, the Hawks added Eddie Lacy who hopes to bounce back with the new club. Doug Baldwin should garner the bulk of Wilsons attention between the 20’s but Jimmy Graham finally achieved symbiosis in Seattle and can be relied upon as a top 5 TE again.

San Fransisco 49ers

Notable Fantasy Stars: Carlos Hyde (RB12), Vance McDonald (TE29), Brian Hoyer (QB32), C.J.Beathard (QB39), Pierre Garcon (WR39), Joe Williams (RB54), Jeremy Kerley (WR80)

Synopsis – Barring a miracle, this San Fransisco team is looking like an abject disaster. Brian Hoyer as a starting QB isn’t the worst thing that could happen to this team, but between Pierre Garcon and Jeremy Kerley, there isn’t much to work with in this offene. McDonald may be a servicable backup TE but only Carlos Hyde is worth investing in as he proved last year he can be effective despite a crumbling organization around him.

Los Angeles Rams

Notable Fantasy Stars: Jared Goff (QB31), Todd Gurley (RB10), Robert Woods (WR60), Tavon Austin (WR73), Cooper Kupp (WR74), Tyler Higbee (TE27)

Synopsis – Things went sideway on the Rams last year as Gurley faced too many stacked boxes to show the burst we expected of him. With Goff likely to start this year, no one knows if they’ll actually be improved or not, but Gurley should still garner attention thanks to the high volume of carries. Robert Woods will outperform Tavon Austin, but not by much, with Tyler Higbee being the true sleeper candidate on a roster devoid of much fantasy bright spots.

Arizona Cardinals

Notable Fantasy Stars: Carson Palmer (QB23), David Johnson (RB1), Larry Fitzgerald (WR26), John Brown (WR48), J.J. Nelson (WR63), Jermaine Gresham (TE36)

Synopsis – David Johnson returns as my number one fantasy player this year, and this season could be the perfect record breaking scenario following the obvious decline to aging Carson Palmer and the lack of weapons not named Larry Fitzgerald to compete with. John Brown is an underwhelming option and J.J. Nelson has more questions than answers. This is David Johnson’s team.

5 Players I’m Not Drafting (And Neither Should You)

080714-carlos-thumbIt’s easy to go into a draft with a simple plan, and maximizing value is a great way to start your preparations. It’s also important to recognize players that may be overvalued going into draft day in an attempt to avoid wasting valuable picks on players that may not reward you with anything but headaches. It’s especially to remind ourselves that drafting a player because we like them is not the same thing as drafting them based on their value. Below are the five players that at this very moment are valued far to high for my tastes and as a result I will be crossing off on draft lists before the bell to begin even rings.

Rob Gronkowski – TE | New England Patriots

I’ll preface this first player by saying that as a life long Patriots fan, it pains me to include one of my favorite players on this list. The fact remains that his ADP (currently around 10-12) will result in Gronk being drafted near the end of Round 1 and his value begins to become a question mark. There are pro’s to Gronkowski’s fantasy game; he’s the clear-cut number one at a position with a very small top tier, and when he gets going he puts up consistent points week to week. But the Con’s for me outweigh all of this. At his draft position, there are 6-10 players who will likely out score Gronkowski by a measurable margin. It becomes preference if you’d rather target a 6-10th round TE like Martellus Bennett that may score 40 points less than Gronkowski to target a top 5 WR or RB that will likely out score Gronk by the same margin. Sure it seems like a wash in the long run at the TE position, but what you’re doing is hamstringing your other skill positions, especially RB, considering how shallow the elite pool is and how many of those will be drafted in the first two rounds. If it’s me, Gronkowski is out of the question in the first round, and likely in the second. If by some miracle he drops into the 3rd, he provides excellent value, but at his current ADP, he’s on my Don’t Draft list.

Alshon Jeffery – WR | Chicago Bears

With Brandon Marshall gone, everyone bumped Jefferey up due to higher expectations as the clear-cut number one in the Chicago offense. This in spite of the fact that Jay Cutler is the epitome of inconsistent and that Jeffery isn’t known as a crisp route runner. In fact, his biggest asset is his size, which rookie WR Kevin White brings in spades. While White may not usurp the starting job from Jeffery right away, the plan in Chicago is to mold White in to an elite WR, and the expectation is that he’ll steal a good chunk of red zone targets. As talented as Jeffery is, over a complete season he’ll likely under perform his ADP, and the inconsistencies would be infuriating and if poorly timed, could cost your team BIG.

Mark Ingram – RB | New Orleans Saints

When Ingram came into the league, he was expected to step in and contribute right away. He had the skill, and he had the pedigree. Unfortunately he didn’t have the success. It took him three years of under whelming play on the field for him to finally put up numbers that represented the pick the Saints invested in him. Granted, much of his struggles can be attributed to health issues, the fact remains that Ingram is being targeted as a RB2 because of a small sample size of success. With a poor defense that may result in a lot of passing plays, and a better 3rd down back in CJ Spiller on the field, I sense a recipe for disaster. Ingram could be one of the biggest busts of the draft, and I’m determined to not let it be on my roster.

Carlos Hyde – RB | San Fransisco 49ers

Carlos Hyde is a fine player, but a player we’ve seen very little of in a backfield dominated by Frank Gore. The news in the offseason has been tumultuous to say the least, and if you expect San Fransisco to run the ball often, you’d be wrong. I expect a defense decimated by departures to provide for plenty of passing opportunities for a supposedly improved Colin Kaepernick. The fact that Kaep likes to run the ball as often as he does and that Kendall Hunter is still in the fold to steal rushes will impact Hyde’s ability to be anything but a depth pick for bye weeks and injuries. I’d rather draft Frank Gore who has a later ADP in Indy than bank on a player who is just now getting his chance.

Todd Gurley – RB | St. Louis Rams

We all know Gurley’s recent injury history, which is why he’s being drafted in the 4th round despite his immense talent. The issue that I take with even an ADP around 47 is that Gurley will see very little of the field in year one. The team has a capable back in Tre Mason who will get the starts until Gurley returns. To expect that Gurley will suddenly touch the football 20 times a game when he does is plain irresponsible. St. Louis knows what they have in Gurley, and they’ll work hard to limit his exposure as he continues to distance himself from a potentially devastating injury. Unless you’re in a keeper or dynasty league and you can get him with a pick later in the draft, let him be an albatross on someone elses roster.

Best Keeper Candidates

With the NFL draft complete and most of the big time trades and free agent moves in the rear view mirror, the ultra dedicated among us have started our fantasy prep work. If you’re playing in a keeper league, there are so many things to take into account when deciding who you need to have on your roster next year. Using 2014 ADP numbers, we evaluate who are the best candidates to be kept in your leagues.

  • Le’Veon Bell – ADP 27: In all likely hood due to his DUI arrest, Bell was drafted later than the back end of the 2nd round. All Bell did was turn in a top 5 RB season and show up as the top pass catching back in the league. Bell is  a 1st round target this year, and if you’re lucky enough to have drafted him later in the draft (like I did in the 4th round) he’ll be a heck of a keeper.
  • TY Hilton – ADP 56: It’s rare that a player exceeds the pre-draft hype like Hilton did last year. Finishing near the top ten for WR’s in fantasy scoring, Hilton is a volume reciever in an elite passing offense. The only concern here is that recently aquired Andre Johnson may eat into his numbers a little bit. Still, I expect Hilton to be a 2nd round pick.
  • Emmanuel Sanders – ADP 67: When Eric Decker left and Sanders came in, we figured he’d slide in as the 4th option behind the two Thomas’ and Wes Welker. All Sanders did was finish with 100 catches, 1400 yards and 9 TD’s. With Julius Thomas gone, it’s a good bet that Sanders will continue to see elite numbers.
  • Sammy Watkins – ADP 73: The hype surrounding Watkins was for real as Watkins caught 65 balls for 900+ yards and 6 TD’s. This is even more impressive when you consider he’s the only weapon in the Bills offense. If the parts around him improve, he’s a safe bet for 70-80 catches and 1100 yards.
  • Russell Wilson – ADP 84: It’s amazing to me that in Fantasy circles Wilson still doesn’t get any respect. Sure, he may not have the aqumen under center to be mistaken for a Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, but combine his skills on the ground with an efficient passing game, and Wilson finished in the top 3 for Fantasy contributions among QB’s. Not bad in the 8th round.
  • Greg Olsen – ADP 94: Olsen has always been an above average TE in the passing game, but he became a true threat this year in Carolina’s offense. With a healthy Cam Newton, expect Olsen to finish at or near the top of the TE rankings again this year.
  • Mike Evans – ADP 96: The knock on Evans was that his game played a lot like Vincent Jackson’s and with a lack of QB skill, he may not live up to the hype. Flash forward and Evans finished as the #1 rookie WR in terms of fantasy contributions. A freakish athlete, should continue to produce with Jameis Winston likely being better than the rotation of QB’s the Bucs used last year.
  • Carlos Hyde – ADP 103: It was bound to happen at some point. Frank Gore is no longer a 49er, leaving the door wide open for the talented Hyde to run away with the job… pun intended.
  • Lamar Miller – ADP 124: Knowshon Moreno arrived from Denver prior to the 2014 season and many thought it signaled the end of Miller in Miami. When the Fins lost Moreno for the year due to injury, Miller stepped his game up and contributed nearly 1100 yards and 8 TD’s on the ground, and was a factor in the passing games for PPR owners. With the passing game getting better through the draft, expect more room to run.
  • Jeremy Hill – ADP 134: Hill had to battle for playing time from Giovanni Bernard who was expected to be a 3 down back for the versatile Bengals offense. Instead it was Hill who put up great numbers and enters the year firmly entrentched as the number one option in Cincy.
  • Jordan Matthews ADP 150: 67 Catches and 870 yards made for a great season for Matthews. The departure of Jeremy Maclin means that Matthews can expect a bump in production. The only cloud over his 2015 season is that Sam Bradford holds the keys to the car now, and an injury could throw a wrench in the gears.
  • Odell Beckham ADP 154: This one shouldn’t surprise anyone, down the stretch Beckham was the most devestating fantasy player, racking up 20+ points (even more in PPR leagues) in 5 of the final 6 weeks of the season. There’s no reason to believe that he won’t perform at the top of the WR rankings.
  • DeAndre Hopkins ADP 168: When you’re performance is enough for a team to send Andre Johnson packing, odds are you wowed some people. Hopkins finished 12th in yards (1210) and 20th in receptions (76) all while hauling in 6 TD’s. Now that Johnson is gone, Hopkins is a bonafide #1 and will likely go in the top 30 picks of your draft.
  • Mark Ingram ADP 186: Ingram did what other first year busts like Trent Richardson and Darren McFadden couldn’t. He finally came through for owners. Running away with the starting gig, Ingram has 980 yards in 13 games for the Saints. An offseason that saw the Saints look to balance out the offense, Ingram stands to gain the most from the changes and could challenge for a top 15 RB spot.
  • Derek Carr ADP 200: I hesitate to put QB’s on here because they are a dime a dozen in the middle of the pack, but Carr was drafted near the end of most standard drafts, and with the addition of Amari Cooper and finally having a competent back means that Carr could be a breakout in his sophomore season.
  • Ryan Tannehill ADP 215: Tannehill had a coming out party in 2014, quietly leading an efficient offense in Miami that only got better in the offseason. He may never approach the elite status, but he’s a safe bet to put 4,000 and 25-30 TD’s along with a few hundred yards on the ground.
  • Darren McFadden ADP 218: It would take a strong stomach to keep a guy like McFadden, but with DeMarco Murray gone and no RB’s coming in through the draft, McFadden will be the guy running behind the best O-Line in football. If he stays healthy (a big if) he’ll WAY outperform his ADP from 2014.
  • Travis Kelce ADP 248: There was a lot of hype surrounding Kelce coming into the season. A massive and athletic TE who can catch, block and score he was drafted criminally low. Drafters won’t be fooled this year as Kelce has very little competition to catch passes in KC from the TE spot.
  • Sam Bradford ADP 245: Similar in situation to Darren McFadden the oft injuried but talented starting QB of the Eagles should benefit from having a much better team around him in Philly than he ever did in St. Louis. Just like how Foles and Sanchez had great performances in the Chip Kelly offense, I expect Bradford to finally return the investment that drafters made when taking him.
  • Steve Smith Sr. ADP 248: Even at his advanced age and with the addition of Perriman in the draft, Smith should continue to be a PPR machine. He may not command a top 30 pick, but he’ll go well before his 2014 ADP.
  • C.J. Anderson ADP – : Anderson was likely a waiver wire guy in your league, and now he’s the stud in an offense full of them. With the Broncos looking to protect Peyton Manning, Anderson could finish as a top 10 RB.
  • Brandon LaFell ADP – : There was speculation the Patriots could try to bolster it’s offense in the draft, instead LaFell gets the vote of confidence as he will be the main WR target for Tom Brady in 2015. Gronk and Edeleman will have a lot of touches, but LaFell should finish inside the top 30 WR’s.
  • Delanie Walker ADP – : Undrafted, Walker was a beast early in the season. He has the tools to be a top 5 TE in the league, and with Tennessee improving on offense with the addition of Marcus Mariota, a healthy Walker could be in for a bump in production even over a successfull 2014 campain.