When it comes to making a decision in a big spot, I generally feel that “going with your gut” is an easy way to avoid overthinking a pick. If you’re drafting late in the third, though, you may want to stop and think for a moment before making your pick.
This particular “Either Or?” Article came about during my research into Leonard Fournette. There has been no shortage of rumblings about the much-maligned former first round pick, and it seems that my opinion on the player is ever changing. With this in mind, I found myself mocking the first four rounds to see how many draft positions would be impacted by Fournette, and I found myself questioning my early fade on the Jacksonville Jaguars running back.
For the sake of argument, I drafted from the 7th spot, and went wide receiver heavy in the first two rounds. This was in part to set up the conversation we’re about to have; who do I target as my RB2 in the fourth round.
I went D. Adams and J. Jones at 1.07 and 2.04, leaving me with a pretty easy decision in the 3rd round to take Kansas City starting RB Damien Williams as my top RB option. I understand there are questions there, but the opportunity he has to be the top back in one of the leagues best offenses makes him a much safer play here than it may seem otherwise.
In the fourth round, I’m presented with the question of the day. Do we take Fournette as our RB2? These are the backs available to me at this point in the draft (4.04):
- Marlon Mack (RB 14)
- Leonard Fournette (RB15)
- Devonta Freeman (RB17)
- Kerryon Johnson (RB 19)
Considering what I’m trying to do with this draft strategy, I have a pretty good group of backs here to fill out my core. I’ll remove Kerryon from consideration, and this despite my love for the player… his comments about not being a workhorse back and the Lions insistence involving less talented backs in both the rushing game and through the air make me think his ceiling is moderate compared to the others here.
There’s few backs that illicit the kind of love/hate reaction that Devonta Freeman seems to be receiving lately, and that’s simply because of his injury history. Some point to the departure of Tevin Coleman to suggest that Freeman will resume his three down workload, but there’s no evidence that the team is expecting Freeman to carry a huge workload. Ito Smith filled in admirably last year and should be used to spell the aging Freeman in an attempt to keep him healthy. Couple that with the history Dirk Koetters’ offenses have of burying their running backs, and you can see how I’m not convinced that Freeman can bounce back in any capacity in 2019.
That leaves the real decision; Marlon Mack or Leonard Fournette?
Mack, of course, is an interesting case. After being selected in the fourth round in 2017 NFL draft by the Colts, he missed significant portions of his rookie year due to injuries, and continued that trend only playing in 12 games last year (starting 10). Still, he profiled as an above average NFL starter, and his workout metrics painted a picture of a solid running back who’s only knock was his lack of usage in the passing game at UCF. That trend has continued into his NFL career as he’s taken a back seat on passing downs to Nyeim Hines, but that didn’t keep him from rushing for 908 yards on only 195 touches in 2018.
I expect his usage to increase on the ground in 2019, and a rushing total of 250 is a good start. Even slight regression in efficiency leaves me projecting 1,100 yards a 9-11 TDs. He’ll be a valuable fantasy asset despite a low receiving total (think in the 20 reception range), which makes this decision difficult.
Fournette on the other hand, has shown a decided lack of durability since being selected fourth overall in the same 2017 draft. Considered at the time more of a generational talent, Fournette was considered a can’t-miss fantasy prospect, and while he started off strong, he finished with disappointing results. His 3.9 yards per carry number and inability to fight off a lingering injury were the tip of the iceberg.
Off the field issues crept into the picture, and his 2018 was a mess of bad publicity and worse play on the field. He regressed to 3.3 yards per carry, and missed 8 games for a litany of reasons. Still, the pedigree that saw him drafted that high is lurking, and despite having major question marks, feels like a value in the fourth round in 2019.
The Decision: Leonard Fournette
Marlon Mack is a fine player, and we’d be happy with him here if that’s how the draft shook out, but in the fourth round, a player like Leonard Fournette could win you your league. Despite T.J. Yeldon being the primary pass catcher, Fournette managed nearly 3.5 targets per game. Already we’re hearing Jaguars beat writers suggesting that Fournette may be more involved in the passing game in 2019. Even if he has a modest uptick in targets, you’re talking 60-70 targets in a full season. That’s a ceiling that even Mack can’t match. If the reports are true and a motivated Fournette is looking for make up for lost time, he may be an absolute steal at his current ADP, and if you’re trying to fill out your starting RB group after going WR heavy early on, Fournette may be worth a gamble.
Our second installment in the Either Or series take a look at the 7th round of the draft. If that number sounds arbitrary, it’s because it is. As usual, we’ll be using a 12 team PPR league, and our random draft position is 11th.
6 Player Roster (So Far)
- Leonard Fournette
- Alex Collins
- Derrius Guice
- Julio Jones
- Corey Davis
- Pierre Garcon
At this point in the draft, I’m feeling pretty comfortable with my team, although there’s a bit of a gap from my top back and receiver and the guys below them. In
a 12 team league I suggest waiting on a QB as the player pool is significantly shallower at running back and wide receiver, so in the 7th round, you’re decision should be which position to bolster before moving on to the QB and TE positions.
Top Players Available
As always, adjust your rankings to suit your preferences. The players below are targets that I’d be interested in that should be going in this range of the draft.
- Dion Leis
- Marlon Mack
- Rex Burkhead
- Cooper Kupp
- Robby Anderson
- Jamison Crowder
- Davante Parker
What you’ll notice is that all of these players have significant question marks but expect to factor in heavily to their respective offenses no matter their position on the depth chart. A quick glance at our roster and my personal belief is that we’re far stronger at the wide receiver position with proven commodities in Julio Jones and Pierre Garcon, and a young top 5 draft pick that should take over the top receiver duties in Tennessee.
I love Fournette, as he’ll have the kind of volume that should make him an easy top five running back, but Collins and Guice both have committee questions that can’t be answered until the season starts.
While I like both players, Collins has to fend off Kenneth Dixon (who Baltimore refused to cut bait with despite his off field issues AND Collins success) and Guice is a rookie who’s talent is undeniable but has a floor that could see him sitting on my bench before long.
For this scenario it comes down to the running back position, and I’ve narrowed it down to two: C.J. Anderson and Marlon Mack. It’s important to note that I like Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead, but their roles are more difficult to define so I’ll ignore them at this point in the draft.
The Case for Anderson
Replacing Jonathan Stewart as the primary “early” down back, Anderson expects to play a solid number of snaps this year despite 2nd year pro Christian McCaffrey’s presence on the roster. As a team, the Panthers ran the ball nearly 500 times, and 198 of them went to the 30 year old Jonathan Stewart over his 15 games (only 10 starts). Expecting a similar share for Anderson sits him firmly in the 200-220 touch mark (12-15 per game). Now, it’s important to note as well that Anderson has never rushed for less than 4 yards per carry, and should improve on the numbers Stewart posted last year. My (conservative) prediction is 900 yards and 6 TDs on the ground.
The Case for Mack
Unlike Lewis and Burkhead, Marlon Mack sits atop his team depth chart as the number one back, and only has to beat out rookies Nyheim Hines (a gadget back) and Jordan Wilkins (a 5th round pick who grades out as a special teamer). While you may feel Mack was underwhelming last year in his limited touches, but it was revealed he played through a torn labrum for much of the season and is expected to be 100% for the start of training camp. Equally important to note is that Mack was effective in the passing game, hauling in 63% of his targets for 21 receptions and 220 yards. Even with a healthy Luck, the Colts have a history of giving their starting back between 250-275 rushes, something that can’t be overlooked here. Providing another conservative projection, I can see 1,200 combined yards and 7-9 TDs for Mack.
Summary – Marlon Mack
While I’m tempted to take Anderson based on his track record of performing well in similar committees, Mack’s inside track at 15-20 touches a game is too good too pass up. While other backs in this area are firmly entrenched in committees, Mack should be an NFL starting back right out of the gates.
Do you disagree? Share in the comments below!
While the season still sits firmly on the horizon, fantasy nerds like myself help prop up the early season ADP data by grinding mock drafts despite having very little information to work with. While I’ll still examine each position with the “hidden gem” feature articles later in the summer, we’re going to provide sleeper updates on a monthly basis until the season begins.
Ryan Tannehill, MIA: Don’t confuse his inclusion on this list as a suggestion that the Dolphins are a team on the rise; because they’re not. What he is, though, is a potential top 15 fantasy quarterback available in the last few rounds of your draft. Ignoring last season, Tannehill has finished 13th (2013), 7th (2014), and 15th (2015), and turned in a dud in 2016 as the QB25 (he did miss 3 games). Those aren’t world beater numbers, but considering the relatively easy schedule he’ll face, and his ability to generate surprising yards on the ground (he averages around 200 yards per season) his floor is well above what we may expect from a player being drafted currently in the 21st round of deep drafts. As a bench player, he costs very little draft capital, but provides more upside than the other QB’s being drafted in a similar spot.
Matt Ryan, ATL: A massive drop off from his QB2 finish in 2016, Ryan’s 2017 has scared off potential suitors and saw him drop to the QB16 spot per current consensus ADP data. No longer playing with the pressures of the QB who blew the biggest super bowl lead, Ryan is poised to bounce back. Atlanta returns it’s superstar backfield, still has Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu, and added Calvin Ridley at the draft, marking a very clear focus on surrounding Matty Ice with weapons. A return to the high flying offensive numbers of 2016 may be a stretch, but I’d find it hard to believe if Ryan turns in another dud this year. I fully expect a top 10 QB finish, and one that can be added in the 11th round of your draft.
Ty Montgomery, GB: I know I was derisive of Montgomery last year, but in spite of that, his current ranking (RB59, ADP – 100) is criminally low for a back that many viewed as a top 20 back last year before injuries derailed his season. While he remains an injury risk, a health Montgomery should resume his lead back role in 2018, especially in the passing game. It doesn’t hurt that he’ll be catching passes from the best QB in the game right now. If you need to add depth at the RB position, or punted on early round backs, Montgomery may help bail out a roster.
Marlon Mack, IND: While Mack was a trendy sleeper pick last year behind the aging Frank Gore, his performance over the season left a lot to be desired. In 16 games Mack garnered double digit touches only twice (in week 1 and week 8) otherwise he was an after thought in a terrible Colts offense. Now, he’s in line to be the lead back with Gore leaving for Miami, and the news that he’s fully recovered from surgery to repair a torn labrum he played the season with further cements his “sleeper” status in my mind. Even if Andrew Luck remains on the shelf, in the 8th round of drafts (ADP of 77th overall), Mack provides a solid floor while presenting plenty of upside.
Devante Parker, MIA: Last year, Parker was drafted with the expectation that he’d take a leap into the positions top 20; instead he was saddled with horrendous quarterback play and inconsistent targets following the season ending ACL injury suffered by Ryan Tannehill. While Tannehill doesn’t present much of an upgrade over Jay Cutler and co in terms of real football, he does have a great rapport with Parker. Coupled with a relatively easy schedule, an Parker is a steal at 104 overall.
Cole Beasley, DAL: Another tumultuous offseason for the Cowboys saw franchise corner stone Dez Bryant leave via free agency and Jason Witten retired. Despite the addition of Allen Hurns, the player who stands to gain the most from the absence should be Cole Beasley. After leading the team in targets in 2016, Beasley felt the effects of the Elliott suspension hard as the season saw him finish with only 36 catches on 63 targets. Let’s not forget, though, that the diminutive slot man led the team in targets in 2016 and saw a healthy 75 targets the year before. Expecting 80+ targets shouldn’t be too difficult a prediction considering that Dak Prescott has to throw to somebody and Beasely represents the best option for slot work on a run first team. Basically an afterthought in drafts so far, Beasley can be had for the low low price of nothing.
David Njoku, Cle: Coming out of college Njoku seemed like a lock to contribute right out of the gates, but as we so often find out, rookies are a crap shoot in fantasy. Now, the word is that targets are going to be scarce for the talented tight end, thanks to three very good receivers and two capable pass catching backs on the roster. I’d argue that with Tyrod Taylor’s propensity to scramble with the football, Njoku could be a nice target for owners looking to add TE depth late in drafts. While he likely won’t finish in the top 15 at the position, he’ll probably see a healthy number of targets in the red zone, giving him value regardless.
Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, Jac: One of these days my Sefarian-Jenkins take is going to pay off in spades, and this year looks like it’s the year. Uber talented, Sefarian-Jenkins toiled away on a Jets team that couldn’t get consistency on offense no matter how hard it tried. It was recently revealed that ASJ suffered from substance abuse issues that he’s since sought help for and claims that he’s sober and focused on football for the first time as a pro. Color me intrigued as an involved Sefarian-Jenkins could be a monster in fantasy, especially given the lack of top tier weapons in Jacksonville following Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns departures. A late round target, he’ll cost you next to nothing to acquire but could be a massive piece of a championship run.
While it sounds logical to protect your early investments by targeting their backups as handcuffs, I’d argue that it may impede your ability to draft the best team possible in the middle to late rounds.
Now, before you think I’m advocating the idea of skipping handcuffs all together, I’d like to qualify this by saying there’s a handful of backs every year where the situation dictates having a backup plan and often the best backup plan is the backup themselves.
Still, I’d argue that drafting a middling to poor NFL back because they sit 2nd in the depth chart is a bad strategy. If the backup makes sense, then sure, pull the trigger, but drafting the best available player depending on your needs is always the best plan.
DeAndre Washington – Oakland Raiders (ADP 202): Washington excelled in a limited role behind Latavius Murray and now finds himself playing second fiddle to the un-retired Beast Mode himself: Marshawn Lynch. At his age and after a full season off, Lynch owners are going to want to protect themselves and Washington offers starting caliber skills at the end of the draft. A very small risk, but would be relevant immediately following a Lynch injury (or re-retirement).
Joe Williams – San Fransisco 49ers (ADP 157): I don’t personally buy into the negative buzz surrounding Carlos Hyde and new coach Kyle Shanahan but it pays to be prepared. In Atlanta, Shanahan managed to feed both of his running backs, lending fantasy value to Tevin Coleman via 1,000 total yards. While Williams is doubtful to accomplish this much his rookie year, it’s possible he contributes even if Hyde doesn’t flounder. If he does? Then Williams could be a steal.
Jonathan Williams – Buffalo Bills (ADP 164): Drafting LeSean McCoy can be nerve wracking thanks to the poor offense in Buffalo and his age and usage. Identifying who will be his back up is one of my goals every off season. Williams is the clear cut #2 behind McCoy and if Mike Gillislee’s usage last year is any indication, he should touch the football a bit more than most #2’s do. If McCoy goes down, don’t expect the same level of production, but he’d be valuable regardless.
D’Onta Forman – Houston Texans (ADP 193): Lamar Miller is a fantastic fantasy running back when he’s healthy, but as last year taught us, he gets a bit dinged up with how often he’s asked to run the football. As it turns out, D’onta Forman looks to be a better backup than Alfred Blue, and he could find himself with a larger number of touches should Houston’s season look similar to last years.
Marlon Mack – Indianapolis Colts (ADP 182): For the record, I love Frank Gore the football player, but his time is nearly up and Mack offers the best value in the Indianapolis backfield when the inevitable happens. If you’re drafting Gore yourself, then Mack makes a lot of sense to stash if you have a deep enough bench, because it’s only a matter of time before Gore is on the shelf.
Latavius Murray – Minnesota Vikings (ADP 111): The consensus is that thanks to Murray’s injury this is now Dalvin Cook’s team; and I tend to agree. Still, Murray has freakish athletic ability and Minnesota gave him a pretty penny in the off season so I expect at least a time share with Murray having the inside track should Cook look like a rookie early on.
Jamaal Williams – Green Bay Packers (ADP 142): Williams is my pick to emerge as a one of the biggest late round steals as we enter draft weekends. I’m convinced the Ty Montgomery is poorly suited to be a starter in the league and his inability to pass block is going to see him on the sidelines on early downs. Williams is likely to grab those early downs and has the type of game to fit the scheme in Green Bay.
Jacquizz Rodgers – Tampa Bay Buccanneers (ADP 128): One could argue he belongs in the “best” category as he’ll start the year as the starter, but all signs point to Martin taking back the gig when he returns. The fact remains that predicting Martin’s performances when he returns is a difficult prospect, and should injury or inefficiency become an issue again, Rodgers, and not Sims, will be the guy to step in and run the backfield.
Kareem Hunt – Kansas City Chiefs (ADP 96): While I put him on this list because he has some fantasy upside in the KC offense, I’m not personally drafting him where he’s currently being drafted. Ware was very effective before his concussion and he should return to form this year as a RB1. Of course, there’s always a chance that he doesn’t in which case Hunt has the ability to match other backs in the 2nd and 3rd tiers.
Samaje Perine – Washington Redskins (ADP 109): It’s dangerous to draft a backup as early as Perine is going but unlike Hunt, I’m not sold on Robert Kelley as a starting RB. He was dreadful for long stretches last year and by all accounts Perine is looking like a lock to usurp the role. Of course, if he does win the job then his ADP would skyrocket and he’d come off lists like this, but for now he’s a no-brainer backup to target.
C.J. Prosise – Seattle Seahawks (ADP 128): The depth chart may disagree with me, but the crowded Seattle backfield has everyone doing mental back flips trying to figure out the pecking order. Everyone seems to be in love with Rawls, but should Lacy stumble (and it’s looking like it may already be happening) Prosise has far better skills in the backfield and would looks really nice leading this attack.
Darren McFadden – Dallas Cowboys (ADP 117): While it may feel like cheating as Zeke faces down a possible suspension, the fact remains that even suspended, Elliott is going to be drafted in the first 3-5 rounds and McFadden is a must have for those first 6 weeks as it appears he’ll get the first crack at starting duties. Even if Elliott’s suspension is reduced or rescinded, McFadden is one of the safest handcuffs due to the production he’s had in that offense previously.
Adrian Peterson – New Orleans Saints (ADP 70): The future hall-of-famer takes over the backup role from Tim Hightower and figures to play a prominent role in the high flying New Orleans offense. Even if Mark Ingram is healthy and retains the number one spot, it’s a real possibility that Peterson sees 150 touches as a backup with the very real potential to fill in when Ingram inevitably gets hurt. In truth, he may just steal the starting gig all together making for a potential RB1 in the 8-10 round range.
Duke Johnson – Cleveland Browns (ADP 131): While he’s not your prototypical lead back, Johnson has the goods to be effective should Crowell go down, but the news in Cleveland is that the backs are going to handle the ball a lot this year. Expect Johnson and Crowell both to have a bump in usage on the ground and for Johnson to continue to push the top of the league in terms of RB targets. In the 14th round he’s one of the safest picks in the draft.
Derrick Henry – Tennessee Titans (ADP 86): I’m not convinced that DeMarco Murray is going to fall apart due to age and milage, but Henry’s ability as a three down back is undeniable and his timeshare should increase this year and eventually he’ll take over lead back duties. If you bet on him this year and it doesn’t happen, don’t be discouraged as he’ll likely touch the ball more than any other RB2 we’ve already named.
Tevin Coleman – Atlanta Falcons (ADP 61): While Coleman as a backup is a bit of a stretch, the bottom line is that he’ll contribute significantly even if Freeman plays in all 16 games. Last year Coleman managed about 1,000 combined yards and finished in the top 25 of all running backs despite being a 2nd stringer the entire season. He’s fantastic in his role but his potential as a top 10 RB is what plants him firmly at the head of this list.