As we inch closer to our draft days, the Doctor is aiming to make sense of all the training camp news we’ve seen drop in the last few days. While this past weekend hasn’t given us as much high profile news as the last, there’s plenty here to unpack on a Monday.
Antonio Brown Day to Day
Originally, I wasn’t too concerned when I’d heard Antonio Brown missed practice with a heel ailment. After all, this early in the year teams are doing their best to mitigate causing injury to their big off season acquisitions. My concern grew slightly when news became available reporting that Brown sought the advice of a specialist for the lingering issue.
While the news isn’t exactly damning at this point, it’s something we should really keep an eye on as Brown is on the wrong side of 30 and has been one of the leagues most heavily involved receivers for the last five seasons. I don’t anticipate we’ll get resolution on this right away, so bear this in mind if you draft early in August.
Damien Williams Out with Hamstring Issue
One of the more polarizing RB1 candidates this off season, Williams is expected to be the lead back in a Kansas City offense that has churned out league winners at an alarming rate. Now, after missing a handful of practices with a hamstring injury, the headlines are beginning to read favorably for newcomer Carlos Hyde.
At this point, I’m only mildly concerned, as Carlos Hyde has been anything but impressive during his most recent stops in Jacksonville and Cleveland. He profiles as a fantastic handcuff, but until I hear Williams’ injury is serious, I’m not changing my outlook on his three down workload. Of course, if you own Williams, Hyde is worth reaching a bit in order to mitigate any potential disasters.
D’Onta Foreman Placed On Waivers By Texans
A long time breakout candidate, Foreman apparently has worn out his welcome in Houston. Coming about a week after Texans’ Head Coach Bill O’Brien praised Foreman for bouncing back from his injury, this release comes as a bit of a surprise. The motivating factor seems to be Foreman’s work ethic, but the truth could be anything at this point.
Where Foreman will end up is anyone’s guess, but the former third round pick should find a home sooner than later. More interesting is the move’s affect on the Houston backfield. Lamar Miller’s grasp on the starting gig seems all but secure at this point, with a shallow roster filled with fliers and low ceiling role players. While Miller’s own ceiling remains far lower than other NFL lead backs, he can be drafted with more confidence following this move.
Andrew Luck’s Calf Injury Lingering
Any time you read Andrew Luck’s name and the word “injury” in the same sentence, it’s sure to send your stomach in knots. The truth is, we’re not sure exactly how severe the injury is, as Luck and the team are maintaining that his absence in practice is more precautionary.
Still, there’s a lesson to be learned here. We’ve experienced the “will be ready for week 1” line before with this team and player specifically. While I haven’t heard anything that makes me worried he’ll miss a sizable amount of time, there is a chance that Luck isn’t 100% right out of the gates. I’m not considering moving him down in my rankings just yet, but similar to AB’s situation in Oakland, this is one to consider on draft day, especially early August drafts.
Honorable Mention – Kalen Ballage Playing With The Ones: The albatross that was Adam Gase is no longer on hand as an excuse for Kenyan Drakes lack of support. At this point, we have to seriously consider that Drake may not be suited for lead back work. Ballage certainly profiled more as a pass catching back following his college career, but with Drake’s proficiency in that area, this current backfield usage is anyone’s guess. I’ll be avoiding both of them at this point, but if I was forced to chose between the two, I’ll take Ballage at his current draft price vs. the price for Drake.
We’re going to take a little different approach to the Committee Report this year. Instead of one giant article covering each team, we’re going to do a Monday Committee Report that focuses on a different NFL team expected to employee a Running Back By Committee approach in 2019.
Miami may not be the first team on your “backfields to avoid” list, but with the addition of former Patriots coaches Brian Flores at Head Coach and Chad O’Shea at Offensive Coordinator, things could get muddled really quickly. Even with the departure of Frank Gore, this backfield features several players with the type of on-the-field skill that leads to a clear split in carries and targets.
Atop the depth chart is Kenyan Drake, a classic boom or bust running back who’s highlight reels often make owners forget about when he disappears for games at a time. It could have been a function of Adam Gase’s offense and the ineptitude at QB in the past, but Drakes history as a part time runner leaves a lot of question marks. Can he handle 200+ touches? Does he have the kind of consistency that elevates him above the Jay Ajayi’s of the world (who’s big games act as fools gold to trick you into accepting too many weak outputs)? Can he keep Ballage off the field?
That last question may be the most important one, as Ballage was expected to eat into the passing downs after being drafted in the fourth round last year. Big, fast, and with sure hands, Ballage could be the kind of weapon a Patriots coach would love to employ in certain instances. While I don’t expect Ballage to steal too many carries from Drake, he may eat into the targets Drake assumed last year.
My gut is telling me, though, it may be wiser to expect both players to be useful in 2019. With O’Shea likely morphing a version of Josh McDaniels offense, Ballage and Drake may be best suited on the field together. I don’t expect 70+ targets for Drake again this year, I DO expect him to be used more heavily in the red zone than Ballage. In Standard leagues, Drake is easily the only back worth drafting in normal snakes formats, but PPR may allow for a flier on Ballage. Don’t over draft either player, but expect Miami to use both of these backs a good deal more than Gase did in years past.
Kenyan Drake, 170 Attempts, 715 Rushing Yards, 50 Receptions, 475 Receiving Yards, 9 Total TDs.
Kalen Ballage, 145 Attempts, 665 Rushing Yards, 18 Receptions, 145 Receiving Yards, 2 Total TDs.
While you may see the word “beginner” in the title and deem this beneath you, but the truth is that we should always be learning; honing our skills and getting better at the game. The PPR format has exploded in years past, and like any non-standard scoring format, it presents fantasy drafters an extra wrinkle in their quest for greatness.
Of course, it’s important to understand the fundamentals. If you’re a point per reception veteran, skip this section; we’ll see you down below when we highlight some PPR strategies for the 2018 season. For those of you who aren’t familiar, buckle up and we’ll take you on a crash course.
PPR leagues differ from standard leagues in one very easy to understand facet; they award points to any player who records a reception. Whether it’s one full point, or a half a point, a player who has a higher volume of receptions becomes far more valuable than his standard league counter parts.
The first thing one should do is adjust your rankings. If you’re using a fantasy football magazine, or printing them off the internet, make sure you’re using PPR rankings. We always suggest doing the research and ranking your own players, but if you neither have the time nor the desire, ensure you’re not using rankings that don’t address your format.
A great example would be Duke Johnson as he’s primarily an after thought in standard, non-PPR leagues; and for a good reason. His highest single season rushing attempts total was 104 in his rookie year. Last year his 83 carries was good for 55th in the NFL, which we shouldn’t have to tell you isn’t enough volume to warrant much excitement.
In PPR leagues however, his 74 receptions was the 26th highest total in the NFL, and 4th highest among running backs. When you consider that he finished as the 11th highest scoring running back despite his average draft position of 97th overall in PPR leagues last year (data courtesy of Fantasy Football Calculator.com) then it’s painfully clear that recognizing these pass catching backs can be fantasy gold in the right format.
Of course, that’s not to discount how it affects the wide receiver position either. Most of the elite players (regardless of position) are elite in either format. Volume and opportunity trump much of what you can dredge up in an argument, but in those middle rounds there’s plenty of players who have higher floors thanks to a larger share of targets.
Last year, Jarvis Landry was being ranking as the WR27 and was selected with the 78th pick on average. The value there was undeniable, especially considering that his 260 PPR points finished for 5th most at the WR position and 12th overall among skill position players. While his situation may require re-evaluation of his opportunity, the example rings true nonetheless. These players, who many discount because they build their rankings based off of the wrong data, are the targets that will help you win your league.
Players to Target
As always, we’ll use the ADP data compiled over at Fantasy Football Calculator to make our analysis. Finding these PPR gems isn’t as easy as it seems, though. Simply targeting player A because he led the position in receptions last year doesn’t ensure success this year. There is far more subtly when highlighting players to target in the middle and late rounds.
In the early rounds, you’ll ignore PPR vs. Standard debates; Jordan Howard and Melvin Gordon are still elite fantasy commodities even if they don’t catch the ball a ton. It’s in the middle rounds we can start the shopping list.
- Kareem Hunt (ADP 11): Unlike the Gordon/Howard example, Hunt has legitimate regression concerns after a monster rookie season. With Spencer Ware returning and pass catching specialist Charcandarick West still on the roster, there’s going to be fewer opportunities for the game breaker. While he’ll still be valuable, I don’t expect him to factor into the passing game as much this season, damaging his ability to be the top 10 player he’s being projected as.
- Derrick Henry (ADP 36): While Henry has never been the most adept pass catcher, the signing of Dion Lewis pretty much relegates him to a 1st and 2nd down role. Without the benefit of the passing game, Henry’s 200 carries won’t do much to support a RB2 finish, and with his talent, drafters are still betting that he’ll break out. While Lewis certainly is an injury risk, he’s also good enough between the tackles to keep Henry from being elite.
- Jay Ajayi (ADP 45): I really like Ajayi’s talent, but I don’t like his situation in Philly. With Darren Sproles returning, and Corey Clement still on the roster, the idea that he’ll continue to the be the bell cow is a bit misleading. He will likely lead the team in rushes, but his involvement in the passing game will be minimal barring any major injuries.
- Kenyan Drake (ADP 47): There is a lot of buzz after Drake finished 2017 strong, but Frank Gore should eat into his carries, and rookie Kalen Ballage is a far superior pass catching back who should eat targets up early an often. While he’s a safe bet for him to finish at the top of the committee for rushes, like Ajayi, he’ll figure into the scoring far less than his ADP provides for.
- Duke Johnson (ADP 97): Mentioned above, Johnson still figures to make an impact in the passing game, but with Carlos Hyde also a capable pass catcher (88 targets last year were only 5 fewer than Johnson), there’s reason to be concerned that the volume could dip. His ADP is beginning to represent this, but don’t swing early on Johnson and expect 70+ catches again.
- Dion Lewis (ADP 61): I’m not predicting him to completely overtake Henry in the rushing game, but his floor his immensely high. In the 7th round, he’s the kind of back that can secure you 50 receptions and 1,000 total yards without impacting the incumbent start too much. His ceiling is far better than that, creating a wonderful target to return heavily on his investment.
- Chris Thompson (ADP 81): Not to discount the effect that Derrius Guice will have on the Washington Backfield, but Thompson was on pace for 1,200 total yards, 60+ receptions, and 9 TDs last year before missing the final 6 games due to a broken leg. Even given a reasonable amount of regression, he figures to be one of the most valuable 3rd down backs in fantasy.
- Ty Montgomery (ADP 111): He’s not going to impress anyone on the ground, but the converted wide receiver has the pass catching ability to provide plenty of value; especially in the 12th round. Prior to his injury, Montgomery was targeted heavily in the passing game, averaging nearly 8 targets and 6 receptions a game. Expect a return to the third down role for the sure handed Montgomery, and reap the rewards this late in the draft.
- James White (ADP 165): The forgotten man in New England, White continues to fly under the radar despite securing 90 targets and 56 receptions last year in an over crowded backfield. With Sony Michel still a rookie, and Dion Lewis leaving for greener pastures, Tom Brady’s safety blanket is in line for another big year in terms of PPR production. At 165, I’ll take the chance that the 26 year old continues to produce in the passing game for one of the best QB’s of all time.
- Kalen Ballage (ADP 213): I’ll continue beating my drum for Ballage who enters the season firmly behind Kenyan Drake and Frank Gore on the depth chart. But the speedy big man possesses the kind of silky smooth mitts that coaches game plan around, and while Drake was effective down the stretch in 2017, the moves made in the off season scream of available opportunity for the guys they brought in. If he carves out a portions of first and second downs, Ballage could be a monster for basically a waiver wire stab.
- Adam Thielen (ADP 29): With an upgrade at QB, you’d think Thielen is in line for the same kind of statline that saw him win leagues in 2017, but think again. History shows that Cousin’s is a bit of a gunslinger, and while Thielen will probably continue to be a contributor, he’s primed for regression yet being drafted as though he’s regression proof.
- Golden Tate (ADP 48): You may look at the bottom line and suggest that he’s a PPR gold mine; after all he’s recorded 90 receptions for 4 straight years. I’d implore you to dig a little deeper. Aside from the emergence of Marvin Jones, it’s important to note that Tate was wildly inconsistent last year. In 6 games last year, Tate failed to record more than 4 receptions, and in four of those games he had less than 6 PPR point. That amounts to nearly 40% of the season that Tate is a bust player.
- Brandin Cooks (ADP 53): Don’t get me wrong, Cooks is a nice little player. The issue is that with the Rams being a run first team, there’s about 10% or more opportunity lost in targets (550 pass attempts in LA to 600 in New England). Cooks is a deep threat that won’t command the kind of target share that other elite PPR receivers will. With Robert Woods returning as the slot man, Cooks is in line for major regression, especially in the PPR format.
- Jarvis Landry (ADP 59): This isn’t a knock on Landry the player, but expecting the kind of volume that he had in Miami is to ignore the fact that he’s not the most talented receiver on his current team. With Josh Gordon figuring to command the highest percentage of targets, Landry’s expectations should be limited, even if his ADP suggests otherwise.
- Julian Edelman (ADP 69): It pains me to include the New England slot receiver, but the reasons for his inclusion here are fairly straight forward. On top of missing 25% of the season due to suspension, he’s 32 years old and coming off a major knee injury that cost him the entirety of last season. With real competition for the slot position, it’ll be very difficult for Edelman to be more than a spot start, and at his current price, there’s a ton of other guys I’d rather have.
- Cooper Kupp (ADP 94): I was wrong about Kupp last year, and while I think Cooks and Woods eat up a lot of targets, it’s important to note that Kupp quietly led the Rams in targets last year with 94. With a floor around 60 catches and 800 yards (tack on around 5 TDs), and you’re looking at fantastic value in the 10th round.
- Marquise Goodwin (ADP 104): Goodwin looked great in the five games that Garoppolo started, averaging nearly 9 targets a game. With Jimmy G as the every day starter, I expect Goodwin to continue to elevate his game, and a WR2 ceiling (65 receptions, 1,000 yards, and 4 TDs) is well within reach.
- Kenny Stills (ADP 148): Many expect Danny Amendola to fill the role vacated by Jarvis Landry, but I find myself coming back to Stills as the perfect candidate to inherit those targets. Already one of the Dolphins most targeted receivers, his familiarity with the system and quarter back Ryan Tannehill are great catalysts for an increase in production. Perennially Stills has inhabited the 80-100 target mark, so bumping him to 130-150 feels right, and puts him firmly in the break out column on draft day.
- Keelan Cole (ADP 174): I don’t typically get excited about guys with as small a sample size as Cole has, but the 25 year old out of Louisville was impressive when called upon late in the season, and seems to continue to be overlooked with Marqise Lee and Donte Moncreif sitting above him in the depth chart. Neither of those players has done anything over their careers to keep Cole from taking their jobs, and with a solid rapport developing between he and Bortles, he’s a breakout candidate you can have for pennies on the dollar.
- Michael Gallup (ADP 212): I don’t expect Gallup to come out of the gate blazing, but with a mediocre group of receivers ahead of him, he’ll likely carve out a large share of the targets in Dallas. With much of the buzz surrounding him positive, I expect 100+ targets for the rookie, and a floor that most players in the 200’s don’t have.
32. New York Jets
It’s low hanging fruit to bash on the listless Jets, but the relative lack of fantasy fire power is hardly a surprise to anyone. Aside from deep sleeper lists and waiver wire conquests, the Jets boast a roster devoid of much except late round fliers.
Worth Drafting: Isaiah Crowell (ADP 102), Robby Anderson (ADP 104), Bilal Powell (ADP 169)
While none of these players should be selected with anything but serious flyer considerations, Powell may offer the most upside in PPR leagues only. Crowell, on the other hand, doesn’t project to work much with the passing game, so it all depends on how you think he’ll be used. I expect this team to pass a lot, similar to how last years team found themselves training early. Anderson could out perform the 11th round price tag, but I expect Quincy Enunwa (undrafted in ESPN leagues at this point) to return to some relevance in terms of offensive workload. Every target he steals from Anderson is a massive hit to his fantasy value.
Deep Sleeper: While Sam Darnold has his work cut out for him behind both Bridgewater and McCown in front of him, it’s only natural that the best QB of the bunch get some consideration. He probably won’t play, but in dynasty leagues he’s worth a late round pick, and as waiver wire fodder he should be on your radar until the team finally names it’s starter.
31. Buffalo Bills
This could be even worse, pending the fallout from LeSean McCoy’s domestic violence accusations. Even if he remains on the team, though, I expect a decline across the board as this team is littered with youth and raw future talents. With the pending media firestorm, I’m out on Buffalo unless it’s dealt with sooner than later.
Worth Drafting: LeSean McCoy (ADP 17), Kelvin Benjamin (ADP 91), Charles Clay (ADP 145)
Obviously McCoy’s inclusion on this is difficult, as the ADP data hasn’t caught up to the fall I’m expecting. If he’s found guilty, he’ll be gone from the league post haste, making this team even worse. Unfortunately for Benjamin and Clay, the prospects working with AJ McCarron and Josh Allen are nebulous at best. While Taylor didn’t have as massive a year statistically as we expected last year, this team should struggle to find consistency.
Deep Sleeper: Zay Jones’ rookie year was a disappointment to those, like me, who had him pegged as a high end rookie option. His 10 starts only yielded 27 receptions and 316 yards; not good enough. Still, the talent is there, and Jones is a downfield threat who may work well with Allen’s monster arm. It’s a long shot, and a player I only look at in the deepest of drafts, but Jones could be a contributor by the end of the season.
30. Baltimore Ravens
A common theme among the teams named to this point are the potential quarterback controversies. While I fully expect Flacco to start when healthy, it’s important to note that Lamar Jackson has the potential to unseat Flacco, especially if he’s awful again this year. To combat that, the Ravens brought in free agent receivers Michael Crabtree and Willie Snead, so expect a bit of an uptick in Baltimore’s overall numbers.
Worth Drafting: Alex Collins (ADP 53), Michael Crabtree (ADP 72), Kenneth Dixon (ADP 180)
One of the more interesting competitions is going to be Collins and Dixon in the Baltimore Backfield. Dixon was labelled as the heir apparent last year before an injury ended his season. Collins was fantastic in relief, giving many the impression that the team had moved on. But even after several off the field issues, Baltimore expects Dixon to be a part of it’s offense. The leash will be short, but this may start as a committee and coaches will likely ride the hot hand.
Deep Sleeper: It’s been a while since Willie Snead has popped up on the fantasy radar, but in Baltimore, he’ll have every opportunity to show the talent that flashed in New Orleans. With John Brown no safe bet to see the field, Snead should be heavily involved in the passing game, and Flacco does love to fling it.
29. Miami Dolphins
A team that maybe deserves a bit more respect than they receive annually, the Dolphin’s roster is a who’s who of mediocre players. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is back, so it’s possible he and Davante Parker rekindle the magic that made them both trendy picks a few years ago, but I’m not going to go that far just yet. Likewise, the questions in the run game need to be answered before I invest heavily in a run game that’s actually produced some fantasy relevant backs in recent years. While Kenyan Drake has the inside track, don’t count out Frank Gore as he will likely see a healthy dose of carries early on.
Players Worth Drafting: Kenyan Drake (ADP 41), Devante Parker (ADP 91), Kenny Stills (130), Mike Gesicki (ADP 165), Frank Gore (ADP 172), Albert Wilson (ADP 182)
It was a strange development that saw the Dolphins bring in an aging Frank Gore via free agency, and Kalen Ballage in the draft. If the team believed in Drake, then I’d argue that at least one of them would be elsewhere. As a 5th round pick, that scares the hell out of me, and may force me to look elsewhere. That elsewhere, in this offense, are the 160 targets vacated by Jarvis Landry. While Parker will get his, Albert Wilson is a sneaky pick to slide into the slot. If the Dolphins like his game more than Amendola’s he could be a monster producer out of the 19th round.
Deep Sleeper: I should probably stop screaming his name from the rooftops if I want to secure him in the later rounds, but Kalen Ballage is an intriguing player in that he possesses all the skills necessary to become a 3 down back in the league. Possessing impressive speed for his size, and above average hands in the passing game, Ballage could easily see his timeshare expand to a level that supports a roster spot.
28. Denver Broncos
The addition of Case Keenum elevates this team from dead last, to near last. That’s not to say there’s no one worth drafting, because I do like some of the talent on this roster, but the days of Denver popping out top 30 players is in the past. While Demaryius Thomas still possesses the skill to overcome sub-par quarterback play, the question is can Case Keenum’s arm support multiple fantasy receivers in Denver like it did in Minnesota? Given the age of guys like Emmanuel Sanders, and the inexperience at TE and in the backfield, and I’m cautious when drafting a Denver player.
Players Worth Drafting: Demaryius Thomas (ADP 38), Royce Freeman (ADP 58), Emmanuel Sanders (ADP 68), Devontae Booker (ADP 151), Case Keenum (ADP 157)
Case Keenum went from draft bust to hero last year as he brought the Vikings to within one game of the superbowl. Cashing in on that success, he’s slated to take over the starting gig and I’m not so sure that he’s the franchise cornerstone that last years performances convinced Denver he was. If he reverts back to the player he was before, and I’d argue it’s far more likely that he does, then this offense could continue to struggle beyond Demaryious Thomas.
Deep Sleeper: 2nd Round pick Courtland Sutton has a steep hill to climb with fantasy stalwarts ahead of him in Thomas and Sanders. Expect him to be up to the task. With Sanders coming to the end of a sparkling career, Sutton may see enough of the field to warrant a roster spot after a few weeks.
27. Dallas Cowboys
Oh how the mighty have fallen. I’m sure there’s plenty of Dallas fans shaking their head at the ranking, but the bottom line is that aside from Ezekiel Elliott, their roster is middle of the road at best. When you consider the talent that walked out the door in Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, it’s easy to see why this roster doesn’t inspire much confidence in the fantasy community.
Worth Drafting: Ezekiel Elliott (ADP 4), Dak Prescott (ADP 122), Allen Hurns (ADP 128), Michael Gallup (ADP 164)
A whole lot of mediocre pretty accurately describes the Dallas passing game. While the bulk of the offense is going to run through the run game, it’s a burning question as to where the passing game will trend. It’s clear that fantasy players are out of Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley, the two incumbent receivers of note, but I think Hurns isn’t talent enough to be a true number one receiver. At his current cost, he’s a low risk option, but I’d ignore him at any steeper a price.
Deep Sleeper: I doubt it will be this way when drafts come along, but Gallup is the best chance Dallas has to replace Dez Bryant with a player on it’s roster. He’s not as talented as Bryant in his prime, but Gallup has all the tools to eat up a ton of targets. It might not happen right away, but he has #1 written all over him.
26. Indianapolis Colts
It’s amazing how poorly a franchise can manage it’s star players, but the job the Colts did last year with Andrew Luck’s injured shoulder takes the cake. By not properly handling the injury, they set back the franchise years and forced fantasy owners to look elsewhere for production. The Jacoby Brissett experiment wasn’t all bad, but it didn’t produce much in the way of fantasy points.
Worth Drafting: T.Y. Hilton (ADP 31), Andrew Luck (ADP 91), Jack Doyle (ADP 97), Marlon Mack (ADP 98), Jordan Wilkins (ADP 185), Eric Ebron (ADP 191), Nyheim Hines (ADP 193)
It’s got to say something for how important you are as a player when the success of everyone on this list comes down to if you play or not. For Andrew Luck, that scenario is very real, and could affect who and when you draft. With Hilton especially, the cost is so high that any doubt you have that Andrew Luck is healthy should dissuade you from drafting him. With half of his yards in only 2 games, he’s a massive bust candidate with Brissett under center.
Deep Sleeper: Ryan Grant may not be a sexy name, but the disregard may work in your favor if Luck is back on the field. A healthy Luck is a safe bet for 550 attempts and someone other than Hilton is going to get involved. Grant is likely to be that guy as the tight ends and depth receivers aren’t great options.
CJ Anderson | CAR – ADP 92 – RB43|
Never finishing a season at less than 4 yards per carry, Anderson’s career best 1,000 yard season last year seems to be a distant memory for drafters as he’s being disrespected to the tune of a RB4 ranking. He won’t see many passing down plays, but Carolina signed him to compliment McCaffrey on the ground and in the red zone. With RB2 potential even if McCaffrey is healthy, this is a player I’ll have my eyes on.
Bilal Powell | NYJ – ADP 160 – RB51 |
The addition of Isaiah Crowell in New York has many in the fantasy community souring on Powell’s upside. Not the Dr. With Crowell proving to be no more than a between the tackles plodder, Powell will likely return to the complimentary role that landed him on fantasy radars to begin with. A return to 60 or so receptions and a time share in the backfield that should see him hit 100-125 rushes, he may not be a weekly start, but he’ll be a valuable flex piece with plenty of upside should Crowell prove ineffective on first and second down.
Kalen Ballage | MIA – ADP Undrafted – RB61|
You may ask yourself why I’m so high on a player who’s at best third on his teams depth chart. The short answer is that I think he’s the best back they’ve got. He’s got the surprising speed for his size, turning in a 4.46 at 6’2″ 230lbs, and he’s far and away the best pass catcher on the team, giving him the best opportunity to steal plays if he can work his way into the third down role exclusively. While he’s beginning to creep onto the communities radar (Matthew Berry lists him with sleeper potential), the potential to grab a bell cow back late in drafts is too good to pass up.
Honorable Mention: Kenneth Dixon was supposed to be the guy in Baltimore, but a series of injuries and off the field issues opened the door for Alex Collins to succeed in his stead. Still, the Raven’s unwillingness to move on from Dixon signals to me that they still believe in the back, a great low risk play in round 13 of your draft.
Using current ADP and positional ranking data, 6/15
It’s become increasingly clear over the years that NFL clubs are employing their first year backs with greater frequency. In response, the fantasy community has finally gotten over it’s own unwritten rule of ignoring rookie backs, and the practice of uncovering those middle and late round gems has become an important task.
The obvious name that sits on top of the list is Giants first round pick Saquon Barkley (ADP 7) . An otherworldly talent, Barkley is an obvious choice to be first off the board among rookies in fantasy drafts as well. Beyond that, the waters grow murkier.
Derrius Guice – Washington (ADP 41, RB21)
Hailing from LSU, rookie back Derrius Guice fell out of the draft’s first round due to concern surrounding off the field concerns. What isn’t a concern is the talent level of the potential three down back. Of course, navigating the perennial backfield changes in Washington can be difficult, but given how ineffective the run game has been over the past few years, the opportunities on first and second down should be there for Guice. If he can carve out 150-200 touches and goal line responsibilities, it’s not a stretch to see Guice finish in the top 20 at the position.
Rashad Penny – Seattle (ADP 46, RB 23)
Penny, the San Diego State product, falls onto the board right behind Guice at 46th overall. While the talent is certainly there, the major concern surrounding the poor offensive line remains. Some of our fears have been smoothed over after Pete Carroll publicly stated his desire to run the football a ton, but efficiency could be a problem. If Penny can carve out a three down role, he can be a valuable fantasy asset, but if he has trouble finding room, he could be frustrating to own.
Sony Michel – New England (ADP 53, RB 25)
New England surprised everyone by selecting a running back in the first round of this years draft, but boy did they get a good one. A very capable receiver out of the backfield, he fell into an ideal situation in the wake of Dion Lewis’ departure. Further impacting his ability to play meaningful stats is his ability to pass block. Of course, New England could take another approach all together and use him as a change of pace, but not much stands between Michel and the 200 touches vacated by Lewis.
Royce Freeman – Denver (ADP 61, RB 27)
When Denver moved on from productive back C. J. Anderson prior to the draft, the first reaction was that they planned on giving Booker the reigns. That quickly changed when the Broncos added Oregon running back Royce Freeman in the third round. Freeman represents a potential upgrade on early downs, but is currently listed 2nd on the depth chart behind Devontae Booker per CBS Sports. Take that information with a grain of salt as Booker has managed a mere 3.6 YPC across 250 career touches. It’s only a matter of time before Freeman is the lead back in Denver.
Kerryon Johnson – Detroit (ADP 83 – RB 33)
It’s tempting to look at Detroit trading up to select Johnson in the 2nd round and think “where there’s smoke there’s fire” but the truth is that there’s very little security in year one for any of the backs currently rostered by the Lions. A quick prognostication reveals that Theo Riddick, if healthy, is going to dominate passing downs, leaving three capable backs fighting for first and second downs. LeGarrette Blount is as good a short yardage back as there is in the league, but he’s not a bell cow. Neither is Ameer Abdullah, who’s athleticism has kept him relevant in fantasy circles for years now, but isn’t enough to force Johnson further down depth charts. As 9th round flier, there’s still some risk, but Johnson is the kind of back that could erupt into fantasy stardom with an injury to any one of the backs blocking him from extra work.
Ronald Jones II, Tampa Bay (ADP 88, RB 37)
It seems that thanks to Doug Martin’s on-again-off-again years of inefficient production has finally soured the world to Tampa Bay running backs, otherwise Ronald Jones would be valued far higher than he is now at 88th overall. Of course, there are concerns about his size, at 5’11” and roughly 200 pounds, but Jones held up just fine with nearly 300 touches his senior year (totally 2000+ yards). Even more telling is that only undrafted Peyton Barber is blocking him from meaningful snaps, and I expect that to be remedied in short order. At his current draft position (in the 9th round) he’s a no-brainer to surpass many that sit higher on this list.
Nick Chubb, Cleveland (ADP 96, RB40)
Unfortunately for Chubb, one of the more highly touted prospects in this draft class, he finds himself lagging behind his contemporaries for opportunities thanks to Cleveland’s depth at running back. Carlos Hyde was impressive with a bad San Fransisco team last year, and Duke Johnson is one of the most proficient pass catching backs in the league, leading many to ask, “where are Chubb’s touches going to come from?” It’s not an easy question to answer. Sadly, barring an injury, Chubb is nothing more than a handcuff. With an offense full of weapons, the odds of him performing well enough to roster are slim to none.
Nyheim Hines, IND (ADP 159, RB 54)
A broad look at Hines’ situation in Indianapolis may lead you away from him as a potential late round steal, but if one takes a closer look things get far more clear. Head Coach Frank Reich has long employed a jack of all spades type back in his offenses, and Hines has the look of a Darren Sproles/Danny Woodhead type contributor. I’ll stop short of saying he can be this year’s Alvin Kamara, but in terms of potential contributions, he’ll be a PPR sleeper for me.
Kalen Ballage, MIA (ADP 214, RB 66)
It’s likely that Ballage will be a total after thought in drafts this summer, but keep in mind that Alvin Kamara wasn’t drafted in many leagues last year either. Ballage is large for a back, and didn’t run the ball nearly as much as the others on this list. In fact, the 157 carries he saw as a Senior at Arizona State was the highest number of his collegiate career. That hardly inspires confidence, but neither Kenyon Drake nor Frank Gore have the passing game ability that Ballage possesses. As a third down option, Ballage will likely earn some looks early on, and his draft stock will depend on what he does with those looks. Either way, he’s a back to flag as a potential dark horse for big passing game contributions.