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Don’t Pay for the Buzz: 3 Workhorse RBs With Hidden Upside

I’ve written at length about the Top 15 RBs to Target if you employ a Zero RB strategy in 2016. One of the fundamental tenets is to emphasize pass-catching backs who could become bell cows with injury or under performance from the starter. It’s perhaps easy to forget that this can also work the other way.

In a bit of serendipity, Jeremy Hill fell to me at the top of the ninth round of the Apex Experts draft. The overall RB10 from 2014 and last year’s co-leader with 11 rushing touchdowns1 fell out of the first 30 RBs, and I was still reluctant to take him.

But I shouldn’t have been. Just like his committee partner, Hill possesses a hidden source of potential opportunity.

3 Workhorse Backs Who Could Catch More Passes Than Expected

Jeremy Hill

Hill was one of my favorite undervalued prospects coming out of LSU, and he paid off instantly, exploding down the stretch for 16 fantasy points per game over the final 10 weeks of his rookie campaign. He then floundered in 2015, averaging only 3.5 yards per carry and losing touches. Even at his ADP of RB24, he’s not among my preferred players for 2016, in part because his receiving upside appears capped in the committee with Giovani Bernard.

Of course, in the same way that Hill could fall victim to injury and launch Bernard into the fantasy stratosphere, an injury to Bernard would make Hill an even bigger value. Hill is a capable receiver who averaged 1.6 receptions per game in his final season at LSU and reeled in 27 passes during his rookie season.

The 24-year-old’s receiving upside forces a reconsideration of his general situation. The Bengals own one of the league’s better offenses and better defenses, the perfect environment for an early down workhorse. Cincinnati’s bell cow also enjoys plenty of similarities to Doug Martin before his 2015 re-emergence. Runners with rookie years like Martin and Hill almost always return to form at some point in the future.

Chris Ivory

After catching only five passes during his first four years in the NFL, Ivory expanded his repertoire with 48 receptions over the last two. He caught 30 passes last year despite the presence of Bilal Powell.

Ivory splits

Ivory actually performed better in 2015 when Powell played, and that’s one of the reasons I recommended pouncing when Ivory was signed by the Jaguars. On the other hand, these splits are almost certainly misleading as we can expect T.J. Yeldon to earn a sizable passing down role based on his 2015 campaign. Yeldon appeared in my recent Updated Zero RB Targets for this very reason.

This flip-flopping is probably an example of looking at the Jacksonville backfield from the wrong perspective. At current prices, we really should be targeting both Jacksonville runners. Instead of choosing between them, we should take the value that’s presented on a draft-by-draft basis.

Ivory’s ADP as the current RB39 looks like a bargain. It certainly fails to price in the possibility of a Yeldon injury. We can help calibrate by comparing him to Eddie Lacy, a back with a similar situation who finished 23 spots below him in the PPR RB rankings a year ago and yet comes off the board 28 RBs earlier.

Ivory v Lacy


The situations Lacy and Ivory face in sharing touches with James Starks and Yeldon aren’t nearly as dissimilar as the ADPs of the four players suggest.

Latavius Murray

It’s easy to forget that Murray caught 41 passes last year or that the Central Florida product caught 44 passes for over 473 yards and two TDs during his final two college seasons. We currently have Murray projected for 33 receptions according to the staff Projection Machine composite, a number which fits with my results in A Secret Source of Opportunity for 3 Pass-Catching Backs.

Unfortunately, Murray’s 2015 efficiency level was atrocious. He only averaged 5.7 yards per reception and came in among the worst backs in football with -0.06 receiving fantasy points over expectation. Justin Winn convincingly argues that DeAndre Washington – a player who caught 124 passes at Texas Tech – may have been drafted with the intent of juicing up those RB receiving numbers.

Murray is currently being selected at RB18 according to the Best Ball App, but he’s a candidate to free fall with a good preseason from the rookie. Washington is going at RB45 amid high expectations. The rest of the roster is bereft of RB talent. An injury to Washington – or any hiccups in adjusting to the NFL – would leave Murray with a massive workload in an improving offense.

4 Who Might Not Benefit

  • Thomas Rawls owners are in no hurry to see a healthy C.J. Prosise back on the practice field, but the second-year player’s lack of receiving prowess is a big part of the reason he’s overpriced at his current ADP. Rawls caught only nine passes last year despite earning 147 carries. He only caught 11 passes during his college career.
  • Matt Jones caught 19 passes as a rookie, the same number he managed through three years at Florida. He did turn those receptions into 304 yards, 64 more than Chris Thompson even though the scatback lassoed 16 more passes. Jones has the type of athleticism that could make him a poor man’s Le’Veon Bell, but he probably needs injuries to both Thompson and Keith Marshall to make real inroads in this area.
  • The aforementioned Lacy and Martin would see their receptions rise if Starks or Charles Sims were sidelined, but both players are already priced as though their running mates will not steal touches.

  1. He tied with a Who’s Who of fantasy stars in Adrian Peterson, Devonta Freeman, and DeAngelo Willilams.  (back)

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