The No. 1 question about Zero RB is a simple one. Where do you find running backs?
- The NFL Draft. Rookies tend to be overvalued in fantasy, but inefficiencies in the draft process tend to balance that equation.
- Breakout RBs. I examined my process for finding breakout runners in Zero RB, Breakout Runners, and Having More Fun Drafting. In comparing my previous Zero RB breakout targets with FD’s 2014 RB Projection algorithm, I found incredible overlap between the two systems. This leads me to believe that, far from impossible or merely lucky, it’s instead very reasonable to think you can land RB starters in the middle rounds.
- Waivers. More on this in the future.
We’ve already covered rookie RBs at some length, so here’s a closer look at some recent second- and third-year breakout RBs you could have landed by combining the above philosophy with the RotoViz projections.
|2009||Ray Rice||89||Year 2||RB29||RB3|
|2009||Rashard Mendenhall||94||Year 2||RB42||RB16|
|2009||Jamaal Charles||71||Year 2||RB53||RB11|
|2010||LeSean McCoy||78||Year 2||RB16||RB3|
|2010||Darren McFadden||98||Year 3||RB39||RB8|
|2011||Ryan Matthews||78||Year 2||RB46||RB7|
|2012||C.J. Spiller||65||Year 3||RB31||RB6|
|2012||Stevan Ridley||51||Year 2||RB28||RB15|
|2012||Mikel Leshoure||77||Year 2||RB46||RB18|
|2014||Lamar Miller||81||Year 3||RB33||RB9|
Miller was the latest in a long line of breakouts. It’s true that an injury to Knowshon Moreno opened the door for Miller’s ascension, but we’ve quickly reached the point where his talent is rarely questioned. Viewed now through the lens of history, it’s difficult to believe that just 11 months ago drafters were so skeptical Miller often fell into Round 9.1
We know the types of RBs we want to land, and Fantasy Gumshoe has demonstrated that runners often break out at just the moment we’re tempted to give up. Here are your 2015 breakout candidates with the numbers used to generate their original RotoViz projections.
Now that they’ve played in the NFL that performance is also relevant, but if these players were already stars, then this would be a different type of article. The point here is that players with excellent projections can struggle for one or two seasons and still remain tremendous breakout candidates. They wouldn’t be available at these ADPs if risk didn’t also exist.
In this piece I reference our efficiency stat from the Fantasy Efficiency App. ruFPOEPA refers to rushing fantasy points over expectation per attempt. It’s calculated using the average fantasy point value of a touch with the same line of scrimmage.
1. Latavius Murray ADP RB20
Considering Murray’s elite score in the RB projection algorithm, we were not surprised when he burst on the scene against Kansas City last season. In fact, we expected more of this earlier.
It’s important for a player to know the scheme and execute the fundamentals of the position, but sometimes the emphasis on these traits comes at the expense of the team. Often talent matters more than execution. Murray was underdrafted out of Central Florida, and then had foot problems as a rookie that sent him to IR. Of course, the Raiders coaching staff has little excuse for the 2014 season. They’ve now been fired, and Murray appears poised for a breakout.
Ignoring Lorenzo Taliaferro’s goal line TD-fueled numbers, the next four backs behind Murray in ruFPOEPA were DeMarco Murray, Le’Veon Bell, Arian Foster, and Eddie Lacy. Of course, when you compare Murray to his Oakland competition, it gets pretty ugly.
If there’s a problem for Murray, it’s probably related to his receiving stats in PPR leagues. Heith Krueger explains why Roy Helu is also a big, and previously underutilized, talent.
2. Andre Williams ADP RB61
Williams was one of my favorite prospects from the 2014 Draft, and I wrote a profile on the Boston College star where his comps even included Adrian Peterson. He then averaged 3.3 yards per carry as a rookie, or Trent Richardson territory as it’s come to be known. Some of this was probably due to New York’s atrocious offensive line.
It’s easy to look at his yards per carry and assume the worst, but sometimes it helps to consider some other efficiency numbers as well.
Williams averaged 0.05 rushing fantasy points over expectation per attempt, not good numbers, but better than backfield mate Rashad Jennings in the same offense and also better than trendy acquisition Shane Vereen. Many believe the fantasy value in this backfield will be found with Vereen this season – and he could be useful in a Danny Woodhead type role – but the former Patriot looks like a niche player based on his results and usage patterns.
As a result, Williams ranked No. 9 on my list of the Top 15 Zero RB candidates.
3. Bishop Sankey ADP RB42
Here are the rookie numbers in yards after contact per attempt for a handful of recent high profile prospects. Blind resume:
The former Washington star entered the league with a ridiculous combination of athleticism and production, a resume that placed him in the same company with players like Jamaal Charles, Ray Rice, and LeSean McCoy. It’s become trendy to suggest he wouldn’t have been one of the first 10 backs selected in the loaded 2015 class, but this is a revisionist fiction.
In labeling him my No. 4 Zero RB candidate, I pointed out the narrative comparisons to C.J. Spiller and Darren McFadden, two spectacular prospects who struggled initially but exploded in Year 3. Hopefully the entrance of Marcus Mariota will help Sankey fend off David Cobb and arrive a year earlier.
And the results . . .
I’ve long argued against yards after contact as the end-all in RB evaluation, but generating after contact yardage is certainly a useful skill. The perception of Sankey as a soft, change-of-pace back is not remotely supported by actual results. For a little more context, ultimate bruiser Marshawn Lynch averaged 2.31 YCo/Att as a rookie.
4. Joseph Randle ADP RB18
I’ve been operating this offseason as though Lance Dunbar is the back to own in this offense, perhaps even becoming the 2015 Justin Forsett. And that’s where it pays to continue to research players from different angles and fight against confirmation bias.
Randle doesn’t fit any of the draftable profiles, a fact reinforced by his three closest comparables: Vereen, Jacquizz Rodgers, and James White. Moreover, a 54 isn’t a score that screams big time talent – it rarely leads to a high draft pick or immediate opportunity – but it’s in the range where we often see success if opportunity materializes. It’s also worth noting that Randle broke out during his sophomore season at Oklahoma State with a 24-touchdown, 43-reception explosion in his age-20 campaign. Altogether he caught 108 passes in college, perhaps a harbinger of serious receiving totals in Scott Linehan’s scheme.
Randle hasn’t played a lot through two seasons in Dallas, but, as Jake Richmond pointed out, he was incredibly efficient with limited touches last year. The PFF database also reports that these touches didn’t come in overly favorable situations as many assume.
Most of Joseph Randle's carries (72.5%) came against base defense and just 5 of his 51 carries were in garbage time https://t.co/OdOO16o21d— Jeff Ratcliffe (@JeffRatcliffe) June 1, 2015
5. Charles Sims ADP RB48
Sims looks like a poor man’s DeMarco Murray, but even a year ago you might not have needed to add the qualifier in order to get people to take you seriously. The perception of RB talent can change just that quickly. Murray caught 157 passes at Oklahoma before tearing up the 2011 Combine. Sims caught 203 passes across stints at Houston and West Virginia before generating a 74th percentile SPARQ score last year.
Some are labeling Sims a passing-down back in the aftermath of an abysmal 2014 season, but his poor results aren’t a surprise for a rookie trying to come back early from a broken ankle. Murray faced similar questions after an injury-plagued 2012 where he managed only 4.1 yards per carry, 663 rushing yards, and 4 touchdowns for Dallas. Over the next two seasons he exploded for 3,732 yards from scrimmage and 23 touchdowns.
I’ve been agitating for both Sims and Doug Martin this offseason, but it’s hard to argue against targeting the cheaper player.
Finally we move to two longer shots . . .
6. Tyler Gaffney ADP RB74
Gaffney finished No. 4 on my list of the Top 10 Sleepers for 2015.
Gaffney was one of my favorite 2014 draft prospects due to his excellent production, measurables, and comparables. In fact, Ridley pops up on the comp list, with the biggest difference being that Gaffney has a much better Speed Score (108 to 96). More recently, Patrick Kerrane argued that the time to acquire Gaffney is now and offered a tantalizing possibility. Gaffney is a big back with a favorable receiving profile, so if the Patriots employ a true bell cow in 2015, the one real candidate would be Gaffney.
The aforementioned comps really were extraordinary. A look from the Box Score Scout also provides some familiar names.
7. Knile Davis ADP RB44
Davis is more of an elite handcuff than a breakout player, but I mention him here because he finished as RB32 last year with only 150 touches. From a narrative perspective, Davis looks poised to follow in the footsteps of Larry Johnson and Jamaal Charles. Johnson sat for two seasons behind the incomparable Priest Holmes before an injury opened the door to a season with 2,093 yards from scrimmage and 21 touchdowns in 2005. As hard as it is to believe, Charles was nailed to the bench for a season-and-a-quarter while a swiftly fading Johnson alienated an entire city. Finally freed, he exploded to a 1,417-8 line in only 10 starts in 2009. The rest is history.
Unfortunately for Charles, RotoDoc sees the cliff approaching rapidly. If he struggles with injuries again in 2015, Davis could be the beneficiary. No back in the NFL boasts the former Arkansas star’s blend of size and athleticism.
As was the case with some of our previous candidates, it’s tempting to look at Davis’ poor yards per carry and assume poor performance, but we can use some other measures to round out our perspective. Here’s a look at the closest players to Davis in 2015 in terms of fantasy efficiency per play.
If you’re looking to build an All-Breakout Roster, this post works best in concert with The 8 Breakout WRs You Must Own in 2015. You can also find candidates to fill out your Zero RB roster in The Top 15 Zero RB Candidates or intriguing sleepers in The Top 10 Sleepers for 2015.
- Meanwhile Miami coaches are under the microscope for their inexplicable usage patterns. (back)