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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.

 

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Hidden Gems (RB)

Evcrowellery year we spend our fantasy prep time pouring through periodicals and compiling statistics based off of “expert” analysis. And while this information is invaluable, we often times ignore the most important players to a championship team: The Bench.

Finding these hidden gems can be difficult but rewarding when your first and second round picks start experiencing the injuries that come with playing as often as elite NFL players do. We’ll examine who from the bargain barrel section of the drafts can help you when they inevitably enter the fray.

Surest Thing – Isaiah Crowell: With an ADP around the 10th round, Crowell (at this point in the offseason) is due the largest workload of any RB behind him. Despite the noise surrounding his boneheaded internet presence this summer, he’s still in line for at least half of clevelands touches. Duke Johnson averaged slightly fewer yards per carry and had 80 fewer touches. If you think it goes closer to 50/50, you can still expect 130 touches and 600 yards and the lions share of goal line touches. If Johnson gets hurt or fades? Crowell could be a steal in round 10.

Highest Risk Reward – Alfred Morris: The whole world seems to be sold on Ezekiel Elliot in Dallas, and where there’s smoke there’s fire. If he struggles early, veteran RB Alfred Morris stands to gain the most. Running behind that line, and with his ability to help on 3 downs, Morris only needs the door to open to have some big games. His ADP of around 150 means he’s a handcuff or at best a late round flier, but one that could be gold if he gets the touches.

Big Ole’ Bust – Justin Forsett: Entering his age 30 season, Forsett is likely in for a big drop off. Added to the mix is Kenneth Dixon, the fourth round pick in this years NFL draft. There’s some chatter out of Baltimore that he’s pushing for some playing time. As Forsett continues to wain, he’s likely to find himself out of a starters spot by the end of the year.

Bonus – Jay Ajayi: For a while after Lamar Millers departure, it looks like Ajayi would find all three downs to himself. The addition of Arian Foster dulls his prospects for the 2016/17 season, but don’t let it disuade you from stashing him in the later rounds. Foster hasn’t been healthy in years, and Ajayi is a dynamic runner who can help in the passing game, and he should be viewed with a decent amount of upside for this year.

 

Top 10 (Running Backs)

  1. Adrian Peterson – Peterson is still the king and will be until the numbers say otherwise. 1700 total yars and 11 TD’s and enough in the passing game to plant him at the top even in PPR leagues, he’s the most likely of the top 10 to finish the season atop the most volitile position in Fantasy Football.
  2. Todd Gurley – He average more per touch than anyone not named Doug Martin (that carried the ball a significant amount). With a new QB in martinrookie Jared Goff, it will be interesting to see what he’ll do with more informed defensive schemes. I expect he’ll be just fine, but don’t be surprised if he has stretches where he disappears.
  3. Jamaal Charles – Every year he could be number one, but his injury history isn’t promising. If there was ever a handcuff candidate, it’s the ultra talented Jamaal Charles.
  4. Lamar Miller – I’m firmly on the hype bandwagon surrounding Millers move to Houston. A team that knows how to run the football will use him as their bellcow… a rarity in the NFL these days. It’s not a stretch to see him approach the league lead in combined yards by the end of the year.
  5. David Johnson – Carson Palmer was healthy all last year, and Johnson emerged as the Cardinals lead back. Now he has to prove it as the starter that it wasn’t just flash and smoke. If healthy, he’ll be a top 5 back.
  6. Le’Veon Bell – The only back in the Gurly/Peterson level of fantasy production, Bell did his owners a disservice by being suspended to start the year a second season in a row. Even missing 4 games, he’s nearly a top 5 RB.
  7. Mark Ingram – Will he be 100% to start the season? Who knows, but the New Orleans offense will put up points, and Ingram has proven that he can do what the coaches ask of him in both the run and the pass game.
  8. LeSean McCoy – Is Reggie bush an insurance policy or motivation? There’s some question marks with McCoy, and adding Bush to the backfield added just one more to consider when making that late 2nd round RB pick.
  9. Doug Martin – I feel like I’m being a bit harsh with the “Muscle Hamster” – after all he put up a top 3 season last year. But he’s always been mercurial and he’s just as likely to return to earth as he is to continue at the top of the position.
  10. Eddie Lacy  – I haven’t seen a lot of lists that have Lacy in their top ten, and I can say honestly that I’m excited about getting him later in drafts than he should be going. Lacy clearly heard the chatter surrounding his awful season last year, and he’s put the work in over the offseaon to come into camp ready to go. If it’s one thing Mike McCarthy is, he’s loyal to the players who do what the team asks. Green Bay is still a top 5 offense, and Lacy is likely to get the bulk of the work early on to see if he’s indeed the same player they thought he was when they drafted him.

Missed the cut

Ezekial Elliott (I don’t care that Dallas has the best O-line in football, he’s done nothing at the NFL level to justify a top 10 pick), Devonta Freeman (Whether or not he’ll put it together for 16 strong games remain to be seen. Freeman is gifted and could be a steal if he gets it together), Latavius Murray (A monster, Murray touched the football more than all but a handful of NFL backs. He’s likely to get even better as the youthful offense in Oakland gels) Thomas Rawls (This is a player I’m intrigued by. He’s quietly accepted the mantel from the departing Beast Mode, and we all know how stubborn Pete Carroll is. They’ll run the ball a ton and he’ll have a chance to put up huge numbers if he can run the offense beside Russell Wilson).

How long is too long? A Keeper Conundrum

bellCasual fantasy fans be damned, the most fun you can have playing fantasy sports (in this humble bloggers opinion) is by building your team not just for this year, but for years to come. Dynasty and Keeper leagues are becoming more popular every year even as daily fantasy sports like Draft Kings and Fan Duel are soaking up the spot light.

But what’s the right way to do it?

Now, for those of you who haven’t experienced the joy of keeping the top ranked RB in the 6th round, a keeper league (or dynasty league) is simply put: A fantasy league that you keep a certain amount of players. I’m not hear to discuss the best way to run one of these, instead we’re going to decide when it’s time to throw a player back.

I play in a competative Keeper league that allows a limited number of years on a players “contract”. After said time they are thrown back into the draft pool and will find their way to a new home (unless your Lamar Miller… then I’ll draft you every single year). Some people don’t put limits, while others have a sliding scale that moves the pick closer and closer to the top of the draft as the years tick by.

It’s all well and good in year two when you have to decide who to keep and who to throw back, but when you’ve had a player for several years and they haven’t quite reached the promise of the first campaign, you face a difficult choice.

How long is too long?

I’ve had Le’Veon Bell since year one, and I’ve enjoyed every minute he’s been on the field for my squad (sure… it’s been rough going the last two years but still). But our format only allows me to keep him for one more year. The value is right even with the suspension (I have him currently in the 6th round). But do I sacrifice one of the three keeper spots for a player I’ll have for 10-12 more weeks? Or do I dump him and commit that to a player for a longer term?

Now, the beauty of fantasy sports is this: It’s all up to you! Rankings be damned, if you love a player and think he’ll help your team, draft em when you want em. (You think the buddy of mine who drafted Brady/Moss in 2007 remembered the ball busting by the end of the year?) The same concept applies here. For a reference, I decided against keeping Bell. Not because the player I traded him for was better, but because I’d rather have Latavius Murray late in the draft for the next 3 years than 3/4 of a season out of Bell.

My suggestion to you is don’t hold onto players too long. They may have helped you last year, or the year before, but don’t get too caught up in what they did instead think about what they can do in the future.

Way Too Early Rankings: RB

Lets now take a look at my WAAAAY too early RB rankings.

  1. Marshawn Lynch
  2. Jamaal Charles
  3. Adrian Peterson
  4. DeMarco Murray
  5. Le’Veon Bell
  6. Eddie Lacy
  7. Arian Foster
  8. CJ Anderson
  9. LeSean McCoy
  10. Lamar Miller
  11. Jonathan Stewart
  12. Alfred Morris
  13. Mark Ingram
  14. Jeremy Hill
  15. Latavius Murray
  16. Melvin Gordon
  17. Joique Bell
  18. Darren McFadden
  19. Justin Forsett
  20. Frank Gore
  21. Andre Ellington
  22. Isaiah Crowell
  23. Giovanni Bernard
  24. Carlos Hyde
  25. Rashad Jennings
  26. Todd Gurley
  27. Doug Miller
  28. LeGarrette Blount
  29. TJ Yeldon
  30. Bishop Sankey
  31. Chris Ivory
  32. Reggie Bush
  33. Devonta Freeman
  34. Shane Vereen
  35. Ryan Mathews
  36. CJ Spiller
  37. Stevan Ridley
  38. DeAngelo Williams
  39. Tevin Coleman
  40. Tre Mason
  41. Joseph Randle
  42. Khiry Robinson
  43. Montee Ball
  44. Andre Williams
  45. Zac Stacy
  46. Alfred Blue
  47. Ameer Abdullah
  48. Jonas Gray
  49. David Johnson
  50. Knile Davis

Three Up

  • Lamar Miller – After it was apparent that Miller had lost his job to Knowshon Moreno prior to the 2014 season, fantasy owners soured on the often over valued Miller. He rewarded his owners with a solid, consistent fantasy year. Confident in his starting position and with new weapons in the Miami offense, Miller should have more room to run.
  • Latavius Murray – The Raiders coaching staff has been vocal in the off season that they want to taylor the run game to Murray’s strengths and use him as a way to protect their young upstart QB in Derek Carr. Murray could be a middle round workhorse.
  • Jonathan Stewart – The once crowded backfield in Carolina has shed it’s dead weight and the onus will be on Stewart to tote the rock. When he’s played a larger role, Stewart has been an elite fantasy option in the past.

Three Down 

  • DeMarco Murray – If you’re looking at a RB to regress significantly, there’s no better candidate than Murry. Whether you point to the Dallas O-Line for his success or at LeSean McCoys inability to churn out yards despite toting the ball 340 times, there’s so many questions and not a lot of answers.
  • Darren McFadden –  The man tasked to replaced Murray, McFadden has begrudgingly been moved up many draft boards, but his injury history doesn’t bode well with the fact that Dallas likes to use their RB’s. Joseph Randle ran the ball well in limited exposure last year, so I’d worry that McFadden won’t finish the year in the top spot.
  • Jeremy Hill – The excitement around Jeremy Hill had in part to do with how easily he fished the starting gig from Giovanni Bernard. Still, the numbers don’t bear out that he’s worth where he’s being drafted. In fact, his numbers look similar to Bernards when set side by side, don’t expect him to have an outrageous amount of touches.

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.