Second year running backs are all the rage. Forget the rookies, let’s focus on the Ronnie Hillman‘s and Bryce Brown‘s of the world. Comparatively, when discussing cost, these players offer RB1 upside if a few things break their way.
Guys like Brown, Hillman and Pierce are all being drafted in the same general cluster. A good way to compare upside is to look at our own Rotoviz Sim Score’s. Looking at the Sim Scores is a good way to determine which back has the most upside, and therefore, which one you should target. The purpose of this exercise is to explore the players going in the middle rounds of your fantasy draft, and it’s a valuable exercise. While we all like to debate who should go #1 overall, or who the top 5 running backs are, in the end those discussions have little value. Unless your first round pick gets injured or is replaced due to poor play, they probably aren’t hurting your team, and they certainly aren’t winning you your league. Rather, leagues are won in the middle rounds, by targeting players on the cusp of a breakout and riding the crest of said breakout to the fantasy promised land. Using the Sim Scores as a vehicle, this is a discussion of backup running backs; both in the literal, ‘real football’ sense, and those being selected as bench players in fantasy leagues.
The usual caveats apply: the Sim Score doesn’t know that these players are back ups, or about coaching changes, or general shifts in personnel. Also, the Sim Scores perform better when the player has lots of previous usage. Some of these guys don’t, so the projections should be taken loosely. In cases where a player’s usage is expected to change, applying a bit of logic is often more valuable. Unlike some past Sim Score pieces, I didn’t adjust these at all. They are simply based on every game that these players played in 2012.
As expected, Brown looks pretty solid here. When Brown got the chance to touch the ball last season, he was beyond effective. He’s a young, big running back and in general, the app is predisposed to like players of that mold. Playing beyond McCoy, the ceiling of these projections is going to be hard to reach, but as I’ve been saying all offseason, if Kelly really does implement something similar to his Oregon system, the Eagles are going to be close to the Patriots in total plays ran. Kelly’s system is completely predicated off the run and given all of the extra plays, there is a potential for 10-12 touches a game for Brown, even with McCoy healthy. Given that week-to-week flex value, Brown is pretty close to Bernard Pierce in terms of value.
The app doesn’t like Hillman nearly as much. He’s a smaller, scat back type player that wasn’t efficient or explosive on the carries that he did get. But at his current ADP, Hillman is a pretty attractive option, given that he could get 60% of the carries in one of the NFL’s best offenses. However, as we get into the dog days of August, if he starts to creep up into the 5th round, the price becomes a little too rich. Montee Ball has been exclusively working the red zone, and the fact that the Sim Score likes him so much less than other options with comparable cost is apt to lead me to select other players, especially with the threat of Knowshon Moreno lurking.
Way back in the infancy of Rotoviz, I wrote about Pierce being the best handcuff selection in redraft and several months later, I stand by it. The Pitta injury makes it even more likely that Pierce sees extra snaps and the Sim Score App puts him in the same territory with Brown as a big, fast, capable running back. Given the dumpster fire potential in Philly (with the Maclin injury, are Brown and McCoy the only above-replacement level offensive skill players? Seems kinda likely, given D-Jax’s route-running and red zone struggles), I prefer Pierce.
Alright, not technically a back up. News came out yesterday that Wilson and Andre Brown are co-number 1’s for the New York Giants offense. I still like Wilson as a long term dynasty play and believe that if he gets a clear hold on 70% of the carries for Giants, even ceding goalline work, he’ll be a top 10 running back. However, the app again provides us with some valuable pause. Wilson was certainly a workout warrior, but as the Douche wrote, owning Wilson could very easily be a frustrating feeling in 2013. The talent is obviously there, but Tom Coughlin doesn’t care about our fantasy teams. While he may have the ceiling range of Jamaal Charles, C.J Spiller and Lamar Miller, his floor is lower than any other running back being taken as a starter in 12 team leagues, due to usage concerns.
“We’re expecting it to be a three-way committee throughout the entire year”. Things you don’t want to hear about a mid-round running back target for 800, Alex! Despite being generally high on Zac Stacy as a prospect, it’s not looking like anything good is happening in the St. Louis backfield. The coaches have given the neccesacry praise to Stacy to assert that he’ll be given a few cracks, the suspended Isaiah Pead is listed as 2nd on the depth chart behind Richardson himself, and even Terrance Ganaway is drawing some praise. There are up to 5 legit candidates to lead this backfield in carries, if you believe in Benny Cunningham. Point being, if the beat writers think it’s going to be RBBC, if the coaches have said they are open to RBBC, and none of the backs are doing anything great in camp, it may just be a situation to avoid. That being said, the Sim Score doesn’t exactly hate Pead, especially compared to Hillman, but it doesn’t love him either. At an ADP of RB36, I’m taking the guy directly behind him instead.
Not enough is said about this plodding running back. We all like to pile on the guy with a 4.6 40, a 4.2 yards per carry, who needs 3 cracks at the endzone before loafing in over 3 collapsed lineman; that guy, however, can make your fantasy team better. Consider Shonne Greene, whose name at this point is synonymous for plodder. In standard fantasy leagues last year, Greene finished as RB15. That’s not a joke. That actually happened. Given that Ahmad Bradshaw still isn’t practicing, and has feet apparently are made of the finest silk of the New Indies, Ballard’s precipitous drop doesn’t make much sense. The Colts appear ready to jettison Donald Brown, and Ballard is a better fit for Pep Hamilton’s system than you might think. Ballard caught 17 passes in a non-RB friendly system last year and finished with a 92.4 Pass Block Efficiency rating, per PFF. On 135 pass blocks, Ballard only allowed 13 total pressures playing behind a porous O-line. In the event that Bradshaw is injured (Which, c’mon, is as inevitable as former teammate Hakeem Nicks pulling up with a lame groin at some point…), Ballard is the clear-cut replacement. Given that the Sim Score app doesn’t hate what the young plodder did last year, I think we’re shoveling dirt on Ballard’s fantasy grave a little too early.