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7 Running Backs to Target in Your Draft

LamarMiller

My running back targets will be pretty fluid as we continue to get more news1 out of training camp, but I’m updating ranks right now so I wanted to get out an initial target list. These RBs are also going to be key parts of my plan to have a balanced draft strategy this year where I just pound away at both RB and WR for about 10 rounds.

Note that I don’t include any first round RBs in my target list. In the first round I think most of the RBs are acceptable and should return value subject to staying healthy. Out of those first round RBs, only Montee Ball really has non-health question marks and it’s possible due to the offense he’s in that he has the most upside of any back in the first round. So you might say that Ball has some risk but that it’s priced in to his draft spot.

Also note there are some RBs that I could have put on this list but didn’t. I like Stevan Ridley but will feel a lot better if we get through a few weeks of training camp and he’s still at the top of the depth chart. Ridley’s ADP prices in some fumble/playing time risk, but that equation changes sharply if Ridley is already out of the starter’s job.

I like Bishop Sankey, who has a set of ridiculous comparables, but I want to see him get to the top of the depth chart before I make him a target. I also like Zac Stacy but the case for Stacy has been covered by Shawn Siegele.

Le’Veon Bell (2nd Round ADP)

While some have criticized Bell’s pedestrian yards per carry from 2013, I think you almost have to let him off the hook because he came back to the team mid-season after a foot injury. Note that Bell’s yards per carry actually got better over the last half of his season. He also scored about 2.6 more fantasy points per game down the stretch.

bell2

My evaluation framework for Bell is fairly simple and it’s that he’s a young, big, pass-catching RB.  James Todd also gave you three reasons to like Le’Veon Bell.

Should you be worried about LeGarrette Blount in PIT? How many RBs don’t have a single other RB on the depth chart that you could be worried about? All of the guys that don’t have another RB to worry about are being drafted in front of Bell. In fact I think I would rather have Bell than Arian Foster, Montee Ball, and DeMarco Murray. All of those backs are going in front of Bell. In Murray’s case he’s screwed if Romo misses time and Romo is currently only practicing about 70% of training camp days. In Montee Ball’s case I don’t think he has the pass catching upside that Bell does. In Foster’s case I’ll just respectfully decline to draft the guy coming off back surgery who also needs to get tackled about 300 times in order to score fantasy points.

Is it possible that Bell could go the way of Trent Richardson and Doug Martin, other players that my young-pass-catcher framework would also like? It’s possible. Even Matt Forte had a down 2nd season. But I think it’s fairly silly to pin regression on a sophomore slump when there isn’t a reasonable explanation for that slump. If a rookie can be good, then I think it’s totally reasonable to expect the same out of a 2nd year player.

While some backs like TRich, Martin, and Forte have had disappointing second seasons, other players from that mold (large, young, pass catchers) have excelled in their second seasons. Some positive examples are Frank Gore, Steven Jackson and Ronnie Brown.

It’s also worth remembering that the RB Prospect Lab gives Bell one of the highest scores of any prospect ever. In fact Bell is up in the Steven Jackson/Matt Forte tier as a prospect.

Lamar Miller (7th Round ADP)

The case for Miller is roughly:

  1. The Dolphins are likely to be a run heavy team in 2014 based on the hiring of Offensive Coordinator Bill Lazor.
  2. Knowshon Moreno is currently on the PUP list and camp reports suggest that Joe Philbin likes Miller over Moreno anyway.
  3. The seventh round is cheap to get what is now a starting RB.
  4. The discount will persist because Miller disappointed people last year.

Even if you don’t think Lamar Miller can be Shady McCoy, you should be excited about a run heavy identity coming to MIA.

One word of caution on Miller is that he reportedly missed some practice time this week. If something happens to Miller I actually like Damien Williams as a really late flier in deep leagues.

Chris Johnson (5th Round ADP)

Chris Johnson may be a shell of the running back that electrified every fantasy league in 2009, but his price has also dropped to reflect that fact. If you take Johnson in the 5th round you’re getting the best pass-catching back on the team, and probably its most reliable runner as well. Johnson hasn’t finished with fewer than 1000 rushing yards or 35 receptions in any season that he’s been a pro.

Pulling the trigger on Johnson in the 5th round doesn’t mean that I expect him to bounce back into the top 10. Rather, it’s just an acquisition of touches.

I’m injury prone agnostic, but I do pay attention when a player has an existing injury. Chris Ivory aggravated his hamstring during the offseason, and while he should be fine to start the season, it’s an injury he really battled last season. Here’s a table which shows Ivory’s injury history from the great Sports Injury Predictor.

SEASON LEAGUE INJURY ANALYSIS
2013 NFL Leg Ivory succumbed to the same hamstring injury that kept him out of training camp. He has no scheduled date to return
2013 NFL Leg Chris Ivory opulled his hamstring in the offseason resulting in him missing all of the preseason
2012 NFL Leg Ivory pulled his hamstring and missed 3 games.
2011 NFL Leg Missed 1 game with hamstring tightness
2011 NFL Groin Ivory underwent a sports hernia procedure to repair his injured groin
2011 NFL Foot Ivory suffered a lisfranc fracture to his left foot in the last game of the 2011 season. Missed the first 10 games of 2012 as the surgery and rehab kept him on the PUP
2010 NFL Leg Left a game against the Rams with a pulled hamstring and missed 2 games afterwards
2010 NFL Shoulder Left the game against Carolina Panthers with sprain on his left shoulder.
2010 NFL Head Left the gameagainst the Steelers early after suffering a concussion
2010 NFL Knee Sprained MCL on right knee in a game against the Titans and missed 3 games. Later on in the season he aggravated the MCL against Falcons and had to leave that game too
2009 College Knee Tore meniscus vs Eagles and missed next 6 games
2008 College Leg Had to leave a game after tearing his hamstring and missed the next 8 games
2007 College Head Chris Ivory suffered a severe concussion and missed the next three college football contests
2007 College Shoulder Ivory missed 2 games with a bruised right shoulder
2006 College Ankle Ivory sprained his ankle, had to leave the game and missed the next one

If all you get out of Johnson is a timeshare back, that’s kind of what you paid for. But if he either becomes the team’s go to receiving back rolling up 60 receptions (possible even if not likely) in the process, or if Ivory stays hurt, then you’ll get more than you paid for.

Toby Gerhart

I’m pretty sure you could look up about 80 different Toby Gerhart articles on the internet. In fact, at some point the internet may be just be cats and Toby Gerhart articles. While those articles have pushed him into the 4th round, I still think that qualifies as value for a player on a team that will want to run a lot, and where there are no clear backups. When you pay fourth round prices for Gerhart you’re getting the “Jacksonville stinks” discount baked right in. Maurice Jones-Drew was going in the 2nd round of drafts last year and was coming off an injury filled season. So in Gerhart’s case if Jacksonville is just as bad as everyone thinks they are, then you got what you paid for. But if they’re better, or if Gerhart is better than the white-RB discount that’s being applied now, you got a bargain.

DeAngelo Williams

I can see the look in your eyes. I know that look because it’s the same look I get when I suggest The Olive Garden for date night2. But I just can’t pass up those breadsticks and I can’t pass up free running back touches. Also, I stopped trying to impress people in about 2003.

Anyway, Williams is the starting RB on his team and is going in the 10th round. Some defenses will be taken before DWill. Somebody might take their backup QB while DWill is on the board.

Is DWill a low volatility pick? Or, to put it another way would you be better using that pick on a potential league winner like Christine Michael? Maybe. It depends actually. If you’re just looking to get something – anything – out of your RB slot because you’re stacked elsewhere, then DWill can still be a league winner for you. I mean he’s not actually going to be the league winner, your army of receivers will be the league winners for you.

Also, while DWill looked like he might have competition for touches from Jonathan Stewart and Tyler Gaffney, Stewart is injured again and Gaffney is now a Patriot.

The only thing more exciting than drafting DWill is the Olive Garden.

Mark Ingram

Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson are roughly the same age. Ingram out-produced Robinson in 2013 both on a gross basis and on a per carry basis. Ingram out-touched Robinson in the playoffs.

Ingram is also going three to four rounds after Robinson in ADP. It’s very possible that by picking the Saints cheapest RB in fantasy, you could also get the guy that eventually leads them in fantasy scoring. I wouldn’t say it’s a lock, but the pot odds are correct to take Ingram in 2014.

Carlos Hyde

I’m not even sure that I like Hyde that much, although I’ll roll with pretty much any RB that’s getting touches.

I wanted to add Hyde to my list to point out what I think is a faulty bit of logic being applied to Frank Gore’s fantasy stock. It goes as follows: Every year we think it’s the year Frank Gore falls off, but he never does, so we should stop betting against Frank Gore.

That doesn’t make any sense.

In fact each year only makes it more likely that Frank Gore falls off. People are feeling the most confident in Gore at exactly the wrong time. It’s like Taleb’s Thanksgiving Turkey example.

Gore just turned in his worst yards/carry number of his career and SF has been pounding RBs in the draft like I pound Tecates at a pool party where I never once get out of the pool to use the bathroom3

Gore and Adrian Peterson illustrate the fact that our thoughts about which RBs have the potential to fall off don’t get any more sophisticated than “Has this guy burned me lately?” Gore hasn’t burned anyone lately so he’s good. Peterson puts up big games when he does play, so no one puts him on the “stay away” list. But both backs are inching closer and closer to the day when their time is up.

To the extent that RB Zero is an anti-fragility strategy, Carlos Hyde might be one of the premium picks this year. He’s gliding up the depth chart due to injuries and he’s sitting behind a 31 year old running back that just logged his lowest fantasy point output in three years.

The comments I’ve made about Hyde and Gore probably also apply to Steven Jackson/Devonta Freeman and Marshawn Lynch/Christine Michael as well. Michael has the highest upside of the handcuffs but he’s also behind the youngest RB. Freeman may see almost immediate work although I would be worried about an SJax/Freeman/Jacquizz Rodgers timeshare emerging.

As this target list changes I’ll try to provide regular updates. If you think I’ve missed a player or disagree with one I’ve chosen, let me know in the comments.

  1. read:injury news  (back)
  2. easy ladies, I’m taken  (back)
  3. easy ladies, I’m taken  (back)

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