Throughout the offseason, RotoViz writers will be sharing with you our favorite picks in each round of fantasy drafts. This is my pick available at the end of drafts that looks like he could secure a big role.
When constructing your rosters, you always want to include players with league-winning upside — guys who can significantly outperform their ADP. By the time you’re nearing the end of your draft, the players available all have low chances of hitting, and you want to target players that have an opportunity to improve their value as the season approaches.
With the resurgence of the running back position, RBs are being drafted earlier than they have been in years. If you don’t go RB early, you can find yourself near the end of your draft with only a few on your roster wondering, “Where the hell did all the good RBs go?” You need to add a back that has a decent floor to get you through the lean weeks, and the upside to have some great weeks if things break right.
One RB sleeper has been consistently flying under the radar. He made it through the NFL draft without any competition being added to his backfield, and he’s in a position to potentially serve as a 3rd-down back with the opportunity to become a starter with just one injury in front of him. I’m talking here about Kenneth Dixon.
The Baltimore Ravens like to use their RBs. In fact, over the past two season, only two offenses have produced more expected points for their RBs.
The Ravens revamped their wide receiver corps this offseason, but even if more plays end up being passes to WRs, an improvement in overall offensive efficiency should help the RBs as well. The Ravens ranked 27th last year in total yards and tied for dead last in yards per play at just 4.6. That didn’t stop the Ravens from from fielding two top-24 RBs last year.
So where does Dixon fit in? Both Terrance West and Danny Woodhead are gone from the team, with Woodhead retiring and West an unsigned free agent. That leaves just Alex Collins, Javorius Allen, and Dixon as the only RBs of note on the Ravens roster.1 Collins burst on the scene last year, and is the clear lead back in the Baltimore attack.
What about Allen though, wouldn’t he reprise his role from last year? That doesn’t seem to be a sure thing, and Allen’s rise last year provides the blueprint for how Dixon might usurp him. Let’s travel back in time to the summer of 2017, when the beers flowed, the sun shone bright, and West was being drafted as the RB32 while Allen was a frequently undrafted afterthought.
West was coming off a 2016 season where he led the Ravens in rushing and receiving and looked poised to reprise his role as Baltimore’s lead back. Allen’s 2016 was a disaster. In my post-cut dynasty article, I laid out the case for Allen being a smart pickup at the end of dynasty benches.2
After a decent rookie year, Allen was only active for eight games in 2016, and the team clearly preferred Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon. Buzz has been positive for Allen this offseason though, and he was able to fend off competition from Taquan Mizzell and Lorenzo Taliaferro on his way to making the active roster. Allen has the pass-catching prowess to step into Woodhead’s role and some experience as a 3-down back if West should get injured. With Alex Collins and Jeremy Langford signed to the practice squad, there is more competition waiting in the wings – and Dixon should return in 2018 – but Allen has a clear path to relevance. Allen may not have the ceiling of some other backups, but he’s still basically free and could benefit from either of the backs in front of him being injured.
Allen went on to finish as the RB24 after Woodhead was injured and West was alternately nicked up and ineffective. Some of that scoring came before Collins had cemented himself as a starter, but it still shows how much opportunity is available in the Baltimore backfield. Collins only once exceeded a 60 percent snap share.
Wait, So Shouldn’t I Just Draft Allen?
No. Allen hasn’t been very good.
When Dixon was last an option for the Ravens, they gave him the start while deactivating Allen for multiple games.3 And although Allen was a great value in fantasy last year, he did little to show that he deserved the role he was given. Out of 68 RBs with at least 30 carries and 15 targets, Allen ranked 67th in yards per reception, and 43rd in yards per carry. Efficiency can be variable, but Allen has yet to achieve 4.0 YPC in a season, and his 2016 benching does little to overcome the perception that he’s just a marginal talent.
Allen also lost his receiving workload once Woodhead was healthy again. Yes, the Ravens decided that a 32-year-old Woodhead, coming off injury and inches from retirement, was a better option to catch passes than Allen.
With the lack of depth on their roster and the fact that he’s still cheap on a rookie deal, Allen should still have a role on the team this year. However, that role is unlikely to include the six targets per game he was seeing without Woodhead in the game.
Here’s where it gets a little tricky. We know Dixon was a prolific pass-catcher in college, but is he actually any better than Allen?
They looked pretty similar as prospects, so what about their NFL careers thus far?
I made fun of Allen’s 5.4 YPR last year, but here we see that Dixon wasn’t any better as a receiver when he got his shot.4 Dixon has also dealt with injuries and a suspension that he served last year while recuperating. Though he was a superior rusher over a small sample, it’s hard to make a strong case for Dixon over Allen based solely on their production.
What we do have though is a fairly large sample of mediocre play from Allen, and a history of his coaching staff giving his job away. Dixon’s sample of touches is small, but according to Pro Football Focus, Dixon was the most elusive back in the league over those touches in 2016. Last time both players were healthy, Allen was made inactive or rarely used while Dixon was on the field. Combined with Allen losing his job to Woodhead, it’s not a stretch to think that he was being used as a last resort.
Despite the Ravens not drafting an RB, Dixon is currently being drafted in the 19th round of MFL10s. In some drafts, he’s not being picked at all. While it’s probable the Ravens add another RB through free agency, they do not have abundant cap space,5 so it would be surprising for them to bring in any of the top options on the market. And even if you’re not convinced that Dixon will be able to usurp Allen, just ignore all the shade I’ve been throwing at him and snatch up Allen who is going a mere 2 picks ahead of Dixon in post-draft MFL10s. One of the two backs is likely to vastly outperform expectations and help you win your league.
- Unless you’re a big John Crockett fan, in which case, my condolences. (back)
- In doing research for this piece, I noticed that Brian Malone came to a similar conclusion after Dixon was injured. (back)
- Allen had just nine carries over eight games in the 2016 season. (back)
- Though this might indicate the Ravens just run a scheme with some very short RB dumpoffs for small gains, rather than both RBs being bad. (back)
- Note: This article also serves as an excellent breakdown for how rookie contracts effect the salary cap. I highly recommend it if you’re looking to understand the process. (back)