Last week I created a complete projection of the Top 20 backs using my favorite RotoViz app: the Running Back Sim Score Lab. Essentially, this app allows you to create hypothetical players and adjust for changing situations. In generating these projections, I used the actual weight and age for each of the players named and tried to create a more accurate picture of usage. There are some problems with this approach, but it allows us to create more realistic projections for players like David Wilson and Lamar Miller among others.
These are my rankings for the runners who are currently being drafted between 21 and 50. Close readers will note a few of the projections are actually higher than the projections for the runners at the tail end of the 1-20 piece, but the added risk involved in drafting these young players is enough to balance that out. (You don’t have to be a particularly close reader to note that I’ve actually included David Wilson on both lists. When you’re the Most Important Man in the World you get to be No. 16 and No. 22. I’m going to leave the two lists they way they are since it provides context for where he would fit relative to both groups.) I have not included any rookies, but at the bottom of the article I’ll point you in the direction of some research on those players if you’re interested.
As I noted in the original article, I haven’t adjusted these rankings to fit my personal intuition because that defeats the purpose. There’s no reason to use the apps just to confirm prior biases. The genius of Sim Scores is helping to locate possible blind spots – not to pretend they don’t exist.
21. Lamar Miller
I still have fond memories from the seasons I owned Chris Johnson, Rashard Mendenhall, Jamaal Charles, Darren McFadden, and C.J. Spiller at draft costs representing only a sliver of their final values. Lamar Miller is never going to generate such pleasant nostalgia. He disappointed drafters who took a shot on him in the final rounds last season and now has jumped into Round 3 without having accomplished anything at the NFL level. That means he’s never going to be one of the players where you look back and think, “I won that one year because of Lamar Miller.” The No. 1 breakout candidate in my FanSided RB preview, he comes with one gigantic caveat. He’s suddenly in the position where he has to have a huge season to generate any excess value over the cost drafters are paying. But he probably doesn’t truly qualify as overvalued either. Check out Ryan Rouillard’s excellent Miller article to find out why.
22. David Wilson
Wilson is similarly frustrating. He burned all of his owners last season and now appears mildly overvalued. My detailed breakdown of the Giants’ second year player explores Wilson’s historical NFL comps, the conflicting nature of his physical profile, and placed him within a set of similarly explosive college runners. The results are surprising. Wilson probably fits best for drafters who go WR-WR-RB. (The median projection is slightly less enthusiastic than in the previous article because it appears Andre Brown could siphon a few more carries than I originally accounted for.)
23. Chris Ivory
Ryan Gilmore recently lavished praise on the Jets’ new bellcow, arguing Ivory was the perfect excuse to start RB-RB-RB. While I think Ryan is correct in asserting Ivory could have a big season – I like to think of him as Better Beast Mode – the oft-injured playmaker might be a better fit for a different contrarian strategy. Ivory’s ADP is locked in around No. 45 overall, and I definitely wouldn’t take him any higher than that, especially since he couldn’t even make it through a couple of practices healthy. If you like Ivory and have a gunslinger mentality, you could attempt a Megatron-Green-Wilson-Ivory start.
24. Bryce Brown
Very few players represent such a wide range of potential results. If you like Chip Kelly and the Eagles offense, then Brown is a screaming bargain in Round 7. Should the warp offense translate to the NFL, Brown could carry 200 times without even impacting LeSean McCoy’s touches. On the other hand, it’s difficult to generate a lot of plays if you’re going 3-and-out every drive. Philadelphia probably has one of the five most talent deficient offenses in the entire NFL, so that’s a real possibility.
Moreover, we know very little about Brown’s true talent level. After a nonexistent college career, he authored several schizophrenic performances to finish the year for the Eagles. Brown could finish as the No. 1 runner in all of fantasy if McCoy gets injured early, or he could lose his job to Chris Polk by the end of training camp.
Further Research: Bryce Brown, Bernard Pierce and Some Second Year RB Sim Scores
25. Ahmad Bradshaw
I emphasized Bradshaw’s injury woes in putting together my hypothetical version of the new Colts back. Unlike Bryce Brown, there’s no question about Bradshaw’s talent, but it will cost you a lot to acquire a guy who’ll just be a weekly headache.
26. Mark Ingram
The app doesn’t particularly care that Ingram is slow and inefficient. It just sees his size, age, and likelihood for goal line touches and suggests the possibility of a mini-breakout. We recommended Ingram quite a bit here at RotoViz early in the summer but have cooled a bit lately. Pierre Thomas is the better player and the New Orleans coaches finally seem resigned to that fact. (The latest reports out of Saints’ training camp are again very positive on Ingram.)
27. Ryan Mathews
A lot of the same arguments against Mathews also apply to Adrian Peterson – not enough trips to the red zone, not enough catches – and Mathews can overcome some of those concerns in the same way. San Diego’s erstwhile bellcow averaged more yards after contact per carry in 2011 than AP. (There’s a reason Mathews was still drafted in the second round last year even after the collarbone injury.) Unfortunately, Mathews’ talent doesn’t inspire drafters to eschew logic and ignore numbers quite the same way. Losing a big chunk of receiving touches to Danny Woodhead essentially takes him out of the mix for RB1 status. That’s why Mathews is the headliner in How To Lose a Fantasy League in 10 Picks.
Further Research: The Mass Exodus from the Ryan Mathews Hype Train Makes Him a Bargain
I’m surprised by this result, but the Fantasy Douche recently reported how the “Joes” are making the Law Firm a priority target in high stakes leagues. While Green-Ellis isn’t the same caliber of player as Steven Jackson, there’s a lot more potential for Gio Bernard to have an Isaiah Pead-type rookie season than most are admitting.
29. Andre Brown
It’s possible the Giants jettisoned Ahmad Bradshaw more as a result of their confidence in Brown than due to their feelings about Wilson. As a runner with size, efficiency, and goal line touches on his side, the app loves Brown’s breakout potential. He could easily end up with more value than David Wilson at a fraction of the cost.
Further Research: The Giants Backfield Part II
30. Bernard Pierce
Pierce was another great mid-round selection by Ravens’ elite GM Ozzie Newsome, but fantasy owners are expecting him to take a bigger bite out of Rice’s value than seems realistic. Rice now owns four consecutive seasons of 1,600 yards from scrimmage, two of which went over 2,000 yards. For fantasy purposes, Pierce is an elite handcuff but not one with stand alone value.
Further Research: Running Back Upside Ratios
31. Isaiah Pead
Few players inspire more disagreement heading into 2013 than Isaiah Pead. Inaccurately compared to Chris Johnson upon being drafted by St. Louis last season, Pead should have gone in the fourth round like Johnathan Franklin. Had he done so, his rookie season wouldn’t have been so disappointing and his second year hype would be almost nonexistent. With slightly more bulk and a better draft pedigree, Pead should get a chance to unseat Daryl Richardson at some point in the season. The app sees some scenarios where he emerges as a star. Unfortunately, the low projection foreshadows a season buried behind Zac Stacy.
32. Rashard Mendenhall
Even though Mendenhall is sitting out of camp with tendonitis in his knee, his outlook is improving with the news that Ryan Williams may be done. Arizona’s offensive line isn’t as bad as it’s been in recent seasons, and the vertical offense should open more space for the running backs. Mendenhall is a low end RB2.
33. Darren Sproles
Sproles is one of the headliners for my 10 Most Overvalued List. Our Sim Scores love backs who do damage in the passing game but hate backs who make their entire living there. At the same time, I’ve been arguing for several years that in-space backs are undervalued and that the NFL is about to undergo a paradigm shift in this area. Sproles is simultaneously the archetype of and catalyst for that change. So I’m obviously of two minds on this projection.
34. Daryl Richardson
Richardson is a cheaper version of Shane Vereen and probably packs more ability onto his tiny frame as well. Unfortunately, the Rams offense isn’t nearly as good. Because of his physical profile, it’s unlikely Richardson truly explodes as a Top 10 back. Without that upside, it’s difficult to like the fantasy prospects of one of the league’s more intriguing players.
35. Ronnie Hillman
Ronnie Hillman is the perfect back for upside-down drafters. He’s still got plenty of upside at his Round 7 ADP. He plays in a high-powered and up tempo offense. He’s got the experience lacked by one of his competitors (Montee Ball) and perhaps has the talent lacked by the other (Knowshon Moreno). Unfortunately, that’s a pretty big perhaps.
36. Pierre Thomas
Thomas is one of my favorite reality players, and he finally looks like he may get his due in the Saints backfield pecking order. His yards after contact numbers consistently rank with backs in the elite tier. Intuitively, I’d place Thomas higher, but the app sees a combination of age and touches that rarely leads to a breakout.
37. Danny Woodhead
A lot of very smart people are targeting Woodhead in early drafts. I don’t exactly understand the fascination. Woodhead was RB23 a season ago playing in an offense that was simultaneously efficient and prolific. More importantly, his 10.4 ppg in ppr leagues screams replacement level. He was a RB2 in name only. Even if Ryan Mathews cedes a huge percentage of the touches to Woodhead, the scatback remains barely rosterable.
38. Mikel Leshoure
This is way too high for Leshoure now that he’s down to No. 3 on the depth chart, but it’s worth noting that his age/size profile remains very good. That’s why he stays with a solid projection, even though the hypothetical back I created didn’t receive anything close to starter touches.
39. LaMichael James
Most people seem to have forgotten James is actually in the NFL. Few former second round picks have been marginalized so quickly.
40. Kendall Hunter
Hunter supposedly has the edge on James despite his Achilles injury. One of these two players will end up with some value this season. Hunter will come cheaper and have more upside.
41. Shane Vereen
Vereen’s ADP rose quickly from Round 7 to Round 5 following the Aaron Hernandez situation, but it’s hit a brick wall in that area. Drafters may be seeing the same issues the app sees. Vereen is small, lacks true explosiveness, and couldn’t dispatch Danny Woodhead last year. Is there room for such a player to carve out value in the Patriots offense? Of course, but, as I mentioned in my RB Sleeper article, it’s not enough to move him beyond low end RB2 status.
42. Vick Ballard
Ballard’s lack of starting caliber athleticism played a big role in Ryan Grigson’s decision to acquire Ahmad Bradshaw. He’s still a feisty runner who should fill in admirably when the starter inevitably goes down.
Further Research: Vick Ballard – Fantasy Sleeper
43. Jonathan Stewart
After excellent seasons on a per play basis in 2009 and 2011, Stewart has been undone by injuries. He wasn’t able to manage even 100 carries last season and isn’t a good bet to hit that benchmark this year either. The app likes his age and size but hates his lack of health.
With Stewart on the shelf and Cam Newton at the helm, I like Williams’ chances to hit his high projection. The app isn’t particularly thrilled with his age or lack of recent production.
45. Jacquizz Rodgers
With Steven Jackson likely to soak up most of the touches in the passing game, Rodgers has no fantasy value in 2013.
46. Joique Bell
Charles Kleinheksel dissects the Lions running game and makes the case for Joique Bell as one of the most undervalued players in all of fantasy. The app responds with this demoralizing outlook. Bell is actually quite a bit older than you might think.
47. Fred Jackson
Even though Chan Gailey has never been considered a paragon of personnel self-evaluation, there’s a reason he liked to play Jackson ahead of C.J. Spiller. Jackson is one of the most underrated players in the NFL. Or at least he was until mid-way through 2011 when injuries started to sap his explosiveness. He’s being drafted at fair value in most leagues, but “experts” have been surprisingly silent about Jackson’s prospects as the No. 2 in Buffalo’s up tempo offense.
48. Shonn Greene
The Titans had a strong offseason, but the decision to add Greene was strange to say the least. It should only take a couple of high profile stuffs for them to simply leave CJ on the field in short yardage.
49. Knowshon Moreno
Moreno lacks the physical tools to be an NFL player. While some like him as a stealth entrant in the Hillman versus Ball battle, he’ll need an injury to be truly rosterable.
50. Ben Tate
I’ve referenced Bill Connelly’s work in several of my recent posts, and he was very down on Tate coming out of Auburn. A great athlete, Tate often struggles to translate his natural talent into on-field production – even when he’s healthy. And he’s never healthy. If you’re looking for a high upside handcuff in Round 7/8 range, I strongly recommend Brown or Pierce.
And a few more great pieces by other members of the staff:
- Zac Stacy (Jon Moore)
- Knile Davis (Matthew Freedman)
- Marcus Lattimore (Coleman Kelly)
- Latavius Murray (Davis Mattek)