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Dion Lewis is a Bargain in the Fourth Round

It seems simple to say that what team a player is on matters for fantasy purposes. For example, when targeting running backs, you should generally follow teams with a winning record and teams that score a lot. And specifically for PPR, you should follow running backs that catch passes.

Ben Gretch talked about the change in top scoring for running backs over the past decade, and that change is why that’s why it’s such a shock that Dion Lewis has become a value in the 2016 season. And while he’s still a fourth round pick, he’s a player that should be targeted in early MFL10s. Because he’s going to be a league winner.

What Made 2015 Different

Dion Lewis has been an internet darling since he was drafted in 2011. Unfortunately, that did not translate into playing time, as he found himself mostly riding the pine during his first few years in the league. After signing with New England in 2015, most expected Lewis’s opportunities to continue to be limited. Even after the team announced that he would see substantial playing time, people still did not expect Lewis to get on the field, instead viewing the announcement as an attempt by the Patriots to deceive opponents.

It was a little bit of a surprise when Lewis was lined up as the lead back for New England when the season began. The Patriots did not give Lewis all of their carries (far from it actually — Lewis was second in rushing attempts through eight weeks, trailing LeGarrette Blount), but he was still able to see substantial playing time. It was Lewis pass catching and pass blocking abilities that helped put him on the field for the majority of snaps.

Before injuring his knee last year, Lewis played in seven games and averaged 17 PPR points in those games — good enough to make him the seventh-best overall running back in PPR scoring (his 2015 game splits can be seen below). And with an average of seven targets per game, Lewis offers a tantalizing baseline that should be sought out in PPR formats.

Week Snaps Snap Pct Rushing Attempts Rushing Yards Targets Receptions Rec. Yards TDs PPR Fantasy Points PPR Finish
1 46 75.00% 15 69 5 4 51 0 16 RB14
2 73 85.00% 7 40 8 6 98 1 25.8 RB3
3 35 44.00% 8 37 5 5 30 1 17.7 RB15
5 42 71.00% 6 34 10 8 59 1 23.3 RB6
6 39 57.00% 4 21 5 3 0 0 5.1 RB42
8 39 54.00% 5 19 8 6 93 1 23.2 RB2
9 24 30.00% 4 14 5 4 39 0 9.3 RB26
AVG 42.5 59.40% 7 33.4 6.5 5.1 52.8 0.57 17.2

2016 Projection

If you extrapolate Lewis average of 17 PPR points per game out over a full season, he would finish with 272 fantasy points. Compared to 2015 season totals, those 272 points would be good enough to see Lewis finish as the second overall running back.

However, it would be best to take a conservative approach when projecting Lewis’s 2016 totals, as the running back is coming off of a season-ending torn ACL injury (and I would be remiss if I failed to mention this injury. But based on the recent trends of running back recovery times, along with favorable offseason reports, Lewis is more than likely going to be available to start Week 1).

If we assume that Lewis will see reduced usage in 2016 to help maintain his health, he still has considerable value. Assuming he will see approximately 85 percent of his 2015 workload, Lewis’s 2016 projection is as follows:

Year Snaps/Gm Snap Pct Rushing Attempts Rushing Yards Targets Receptions Rec. Yards TDs PPR Fantasy Points PPR Finish
2016 37.25 44.20% 95 455 89 70 719 8 234 RB5

As you can see, Lewis safely projects to be a top-10 running back in PPR leagues this season — much better than his current ADP would suggest. Using the RotoViz Best Ball ADP App, he is currently being drafted at 44th overall, and is the 18th RB off the board (his ADP has held relatively steady over the past month as well):
So the lead running back for the Patriots who was a top-8 PPR back before his injury is being drafted as an RB2, sign me up now!

Conclusion

Dion Lewis is currently undervalued because he missed the end of the 2015 season, and he’s a player that I am targeting in my MFL10s for that reason. His versatility was a large part of the Patriots offensive success, as their total points per game suggest (with Lewis in the lineup the Patriots scored 35.1 PPG, as compared to 26.1 PPG without him).

While I do believe that Lewis workload will be slightly reduced to help maintain his health, he will still see the field enough to have a successful 2016. And in PPR formats, his value as compared to his current ADP is too great to pass up.

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