This article is continuing a two-part monthly series called Dynasty Stock Market that discusses which players I am buying or selling on my Dynasty rosters. The March installments can be found here (buys) and here (sells). The February installments can be found here (buys) and here (sells). The January installments can he found here (buys) and here (sells).
THE DRAFT IS HERE
Call me weird, but I think people obsess about the draft just a little too much. The fun really begins when the draft is over. Specifically, because the last major set of hypotheticals surrounding player values are eliminated, at least prior to the preseason and final NFL 53-man roster cuts. In the final buy version of this article before the draft takes place, I want to emphasize buying players who are very unlikely to have the draft adversely affect their value and likely opportunity. No position has greater price volatility tied to the draft than running back, and investing across several of them makes it likely to capture those positive value spikes.
UNPOPULAR STARTING RUNNING BACKS
First and foremost, I want to reiterate continuing to acquire some running backs I’ve talked about previously.
They all fit an undervalued archetype that combines three things:
- People not liking them for any reason (mainly low draft capital, prior injuries, and/or inefficiency)
- Their price being below expectation for a starting running back
- Being unlikely to lose their role
In January, I talked about Matt Jones, and last month about Ryan Mathews and Isaiah Crowell. I also mentioned in February trying to acquire Melvin Gordon, LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Hill, or Carlos Hyde as possible ways to divest from the overvalued Mark Ingram. Some other players who also fit the archetype right now, albeit I am less bullish on, are Jonathan Stewart, Jeremy Langford, and Latavius Murray.
They can’t all draft Zeke Elliott and Derrick Henry.
Instead of avoiding one or two situations in an extreme way, we’re better off just admitting we can’t predict where guys will be drafted, and spreading our bets across several situations. By holding even small pieces of assets with that implied positive price volatility, we give ourselves the likelihood of profiting broadly. Don’t be scared of holding a share or two of the guy Elliott usurps — that’ll be easier to overcome if you’re also holding ten shares of guys that he didn’t.
Some quick notes on other situations that aren’t quite as clear:
- Dallas – Alfred Morris might not even be ahead of Darren McFadden on the Cowboys’ current depth chart. If you can acquire either or both for next to free, they’re certainly worth holding in hopes they don’t draft a back with significant capital, but I strongly advise against investing any real material assets into either. Lance Dunbar suffered the unholy knee injury trinity of a simultaneous patellar, ACL, and MCL tear, and while the Cowboys re-signing him may seem like an indicator to be optimistic, it’s only for one year, and is heavily tied to him being active in every game.
- Baltimore – I’d love to plant a flag and say spend with reckless abandon acquiring Buck Allen, because he would most likely thrive as the primary back in Marc Trestman’s fantasy-running-back-imaginationland offense. The problem is a healthy Justin Forsett or even Lorenzo Taliaferro could play ahead of Allen, in addition to a potential draft pick. His price is somewhere around a late first round pick, and that’s just a little too ambitious for me at this point.
- New York Giants – As perhaps the most popular team to have either Elliott or Henry mocked to them, it’s not surprising Giants starter Rashad Jennings is dirt cheap right now. While he played 425 snaps last season compared to just 242 combined for Andre Williams and Orleans Darkwa, it was actually Shane Vereen who led the team with 431. As I will get to below, I think the situation makes Vereen the one to own, and while Jennings may be cheap, he’s unlikely to be consistently helpful even if he keeps the role he currently has.
- Miami – Between showing public interest in C.J. Anderson, Chris Johnson, and Arian Foster, it’s obvious that the Dolphins aren’t satisfied with their current situation. Jay Ajayi probably can’t be acquired for a price that fairly captures the likelihood Miami makes a significant change to their stable. Who knows, they may finally see the light with long-time Oracle crush, workhorse superstar, and one time Fantasy Douche dream Damien Williams. Oh, you don’t think we actually have three articles written about Damien Williams already? Go ahead, click away if you think I’m bluffing.
LAST YEAR’S RECEIVING BACK HEROES
Above is a one year chart showing the Dynasty startup average draft position of the ten most targeted running backs in the 2015 season. Missing is Devonta Freeman because his value is so high that it makes the rest of the graph harder to see, and makes him fairly irrelevant to this conversation because his situation and value is so dissimilar from all the others. In a world dominated by the principles of Zero RB, these are the kind of sneaky plays that can buttress rosters with their assets mainly invested in wide receivers. What sticks out to me on the above chart is a gross undervaluation of Vereen and Bilal Powell.
If Giovani Bernard is indeed the pedigree of this cohort, as value suggests, I think the way he contrasts to Vereen and Powell shows they appear to be incredibly overlooked arbitrage plays.
|Giovani Bernard 2015||Shane Vereen 2015|
|Snaps Per Game||36.3||27.0|
|Rushes Per Game||9.6||3.6|
|Targets Per Game||4.1||5.1|
|Yards Per Target||7.2||6.1|
|Scrimmage Yds Per Game||75.1||47.2|
|FPS Per Game||11.3||9.9|
|FPS Per Snap||0.3124||0.3678|
|Overall PPR Finish||RB16||RB26|
As the table illustrates, Bernard is on the field more often than Vereen, yet the contrasting game flow creates similar fantasy situations at drastically different prices. As Rich Hribar talked about two years ago, Vereen was seeing most of his work in New England while the team was trailing, and because the Patriots didn’t trail often, he had trouble achieving sustainable, relevant value. In New York, Vereen continues to see most of his work with the team trailing, with 53.7 percent of fantasy points last season being scored when the team was down, and 77 percent of his fantasy points being scored when the team was trailing or tied. Fortunately, at least if you aren’t a Giants fan, they are trailing or tied often.
The Bengals allowed the second fewest points, and eleventh fewest yards in the league last season, while the Giants allowed the third most points, and most yards. Conversely, the Giants had the sixth most passing attempts, and the Bengals had the seventh fewest.
While Vereen is a significant 32 months older than Bernard, he is also under contract for one year longer. Jennings and Williams are also under contract through 2017 with Vereen, and Darkwa, as well as newly signed Bobby Rainey, are also under contract for 2016. That makes for a crowded backfield of five running backs, meaning it’s unlikely that the draft significantly alters Vereen’s role. The Giants are just as likely to wait until that loaded class next year instead, and use this year’s picks on a defense that has more holes than Jason Pierre-Paul’s hand.
|Giovani Bernard 2015||Bilal Powell 2015|
|Snaps Per Game||36.3||33.4|
|Rushes Per Game||9.6||6.4|
|Targets Per Game||4.1||5.7|
|Yards Per Target||7.2||6.2|
|Scrimmage Yds Per Game||75.1||63.7|
|FPS Per Game||11.3||12.3|
|FPS Per Snap||0.3124||0.3681|
|Overall PPR Finish||RB16||RB34|
I don’t think you would find too many people to argue with you that Bernard was in fact better than Powell last year. The issue here seems to be what people are expecting from newly signed free agent Matt Forte.
While the one dimensional Chris Ivory has moved on in free agency to be T.J. Yeldon‘s backup, the Jets have brought in Forte, and Ivory’s replacement in New Orleans, Khiry Robinson. While Robinson will probably assume some of Ivory’s rushing work, and be a very valuable piece should Forte go down, I really don’t think Forte’s well-roundedness will make Powell irrelevant. In that Ivory/Yeldon piece, I talked about how Ivory’s workload plummeted in volume and value once Powell returned to the lineup Week 11. From that game through Week 161, Powell actually outsnapped Ivory 221 to 179, and outscored him with 98.3 fantasy points compared to Ivory’s 60.7. I understand if you want to argue that Forte’s receiving ability is so far beyond Ivory’s (it is light years better, for the record) that it will keep Powell off the field, but there are two reasons I don’t think that’s likely.
First, Forte is one of the most accomplished running backs in league history. Yeah, you read that right.
The only player other than Forte since 1970 to be RB24 or better every season of his career, with a minimum of four seasons played, is Barry Sanders. Forte has had 200 carries and 40 receptions seven straight seasons – the only players to do that eight straight are Ladainian Tomlinson and Curtis Martin. Similarly, Forte has 1,400 scrimmage yards in seven straight seasons – the only players to do that in eight straight are Tomlinson, Martin, Jim Brown, Tiki Barber, and Brian Mitchell.
And, incredibly, he hit both that RB24 milestone that he shares with Sanders (he finished the season as the overall RB7), and the 200 carry, 40 reception milestone he now shares with Tomlinson and Martin.2 In the season following his eighth consecutive year hitting those thresholds, Martin had a career season at 31 years old, finishing as the overall RB5 in 2004, with a 1,900 scrimmage yard, 400 touch year. He would retire after an injury shortened 32 year old season the following year. Tomlinson, meanwhile, after his eighth consecutive year hitting those thresholds, had three middling seasons where he finished as RB24, RB15, and RB35, consecutively, before retiring after his 32 year old season in 2011. Forte will be 31 this season, and after posting career lows in rushing yards, scrimmage yards, and yards per target in 2015, the cliff is either coming quickly, or is already here.
Second, Jets offensive coordinator Chan Gailey has always showed a propensity to spread his running back touches around in a way that creates value for more than one of them. If we look at 2011 and 2012, which were the two years Gailey was in Buffalo that were not both his and C.J. Spiller‘s first year there (2010), we see two fantasy relevant running backs for the 20 games when both of them were active:
Those paces would have made Fred Jackson the overall RB2 last season and Spiller the overall RB31; Spiller’s pace in the twelve games Jackson didn’t play would have made him the overall RB1. Those teams also kind of sucked, being 14th and 21st in points scored in those two years, and 14th and 19th in yards gained. Compare that to the 2015 Jets, who were 11th in points, and 10th in yards, despite having a new head coach, offensive coordinator, quarterback, and leading wide receiver. They also attempted 117 of 604 passes to running backs, which is a 20.7 percent team market share.
Forte would be doing something only Curtis Martin ever has to record 200 rushing attempts and 40 receptions this season. Even if he somehow miraculously accomplishes that, there will be plenty left for Powell to feast. If something should happen to Forte… watch out.
As the offseason rolls on, be sure to check the Dynasty ADP App, including the Trade Calculator tab, in order to help gauge the current market value of players. If you are in a Dynasty league on MyFantasyLeague.com, please make sure the word DYNASTY in in your league name so that it is counted in our data. Be sure to keep up with our super scout Jon Moore (@TheCFX), The Oracle (@MattFTheOracle), and the rest of the RotoViz prospect and scouting team to learn about all the rookies before your leaguemates. If you are participating in a Startup draft for a new Dynasty League, this primer by high stakes Dynasty player Jacob Rickrode (@ClutchFantasy) is fantastic. If you have specific Dynasty trades, or questions about strategy/player values, always feel free to reach out to your favorite Rotoviz writer at any time, either through the site, or on Twitter. If you are looking for contract information, we use and recommend Rotoworld.com and overthecap.com.