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Contract Year RBs: Fantasy Appeal of the Walk Year Stars


We’re back again to offer our thoughts on prominent contract year players at one of the fantasy footballs most important positions, namely running back. Yes, I know the popular theory is that they don’t matter. But getting a good one can be the reason you take home a fantasy crown. Drafting a bad one can be the reason you are swearing angrily at your TV in Week 16, especially when the player you pinned your hopes on during the draft has just finishing up a four-month dirt nap. Our look at quarterbacks and wide receivers are highly recommended reading so I would check them out if I were you.

But with that all said, let’s make a start. Leading us off is one of the most productive players at the RB spot over the last three seasons. That man is Melvin Gordon of the Los Angeles Chargers.


Among the Best

The first RB taken in the 2015 NFL Draft tends to dominate the attention of the average NFL fan. Whether it’s for his deeds on the field or concerns about his long term health, Todd Gurley is one of the marquee names at his position. But just because we gaze in awe at the moon doesn’t mean we have to ignore the stars. Over the last three seasons, Gordon has been among the leagues most productive RBs in both rushing and receiving.

Rush Atts 713 5th
Rush Yds 2987 4th
Rush TDs 29 2nd
Targets 206 6th
Recs 149 8th
Rec Yds 1385 7th
Rec TDs 10 5th
PPR Points 820.2 3rd

Gordon is one of only three RBs with at least 400 receiving yards in each of the last three seasons too. As the numbers suggest, he has been one of the true workhorses at the RB spot, which was evident in 2018. According to PlayerProfiler, Gordon’s Opportunity Share last season was 63.9 percent, No. 11 at his position.

Opportunities Aplenty

The Chargers have been fairly balanced in their playcalling in the two seasons Anthony Lynn has been at the helm. In 2017, they had the 13th highest pass to run ratio with 1.43. Last year, this had dropped to 1.37, 19th in the NFL. However, Gordon is an established part of their passing arsenal, so retains value even if his attempts fall. This dual usage should come in handy in 2019, when the Chargers face the 13th hardest schedule in terms of rush defense, according to Sharp Football.

Gordon is a surefire first-round selection in redraft formats this season, as he looks to join Gurley in the megabucks class of earner. Drafters are in agreement, given his current Fanball ADP is the middle of round one. One possible concern would be whether or not he plays the whole season. Gordon has played all 16 games just once in his four seasons and has missed games due to a variety of injuries. But if he’s healthy, he’s a “set and forget” player all year long.


Just Hanging Around

Teflon Lamar Miller continues to reign supreme in the Texans backfield, despite his having done very little of note to warrant such dominance. Now, I will grant you that he has compiled some decent numbers during his time with the Texans. But these numbers haven’t really translated to fantasy success. This is especially true over the last two seasons, during which he has averaged just 12.2 PPR points per game.

Rush Atts 449 6th
Rush Yds 1861 6th
Rush TDs 8 26th
Targets 80 30th
Recs 61 28th
Rec Yds 490 28th
Rec TDs 4 14th
PPR Points 368.1 14th

It’s obvious why, in the modern era, Miller is not seen as a top-level fantasy performer. He doesn’t score touchdowns, and he’s not particularly active in the passing game. Not even having a consistent and mobile QB in Deshaun Watson beside him has especially elevated his game.

Miller is not particularly well regarded by the folks at RotoViz ahead of the new season, as befitting his place at RB36 in our redraft rankings. Drafters over at Fanball aren’t especially interested in him either, taking him on average as the 31st back off the board.

Reasons to be slightly more cheerful

He shouldn’t be discounted entirely, as several factors are in his favor despite an absence of high leverage work. He is, as made mention previously, more or less alone atop the Texans depth chart. His only real competition is D’Onta Foreman, who carried the ball only seven times last season for a net loss of one-yard. There is also the Texans willingness to establish the run.

The team ranks first in rushing attempts in the NFL since Bill O’Brien became the head coach in 2014. As a result, they have amassed the fifth most rushing yards (2,399 carries for 9,611 yards). The fact that 27 teams have scored more rushing touchdowns than their 47, and 23 have averaged more yards per rush attempt than their 4.0 seems irrelevant. Miller will get opportunities but will do very little with them. Don’t be in a rush to get him onto your roster, especially not when you factor in the Texans facing the sixth toughest rush defense schedule in the NFL.


Finish Strong

Derrick Henry may well have won a lot of people a fantasy title in 2018, after an incredible final few weeks of the season. From Week 14 onwards, he led the NFL in rushing yards and touchdowns, posting a 585-7 line. Unsurprisingly, he was the RB1 in PPR points for the seasons final month. But truth be told, he had done very little in 2018 leading up to this grand finale.

Henry did suffer from the Titans inability to set their hearts on which of him or Dion Lewis to hitch their running game to for the first 12 weeks of the season.

The pair enjoyed a similar rushing workload, but Lewis’s work as a pass catcher seemed to make him a better option. After Week 14, however, it was clear who was owning the Titans backfield.

The Titans have been making noises suggesting that Henry will be the guy as they head into the 2019 season, but no one seems to think that he can transfer his end of season form to cover a full 16 game schedule. He’s the RB22 on RotoViz rankings, while Fanballers are a little higher on him. Those drafters are taking him at RB17.

Volume a Concern

There are a number of knocks to Henry that the fantasy community should take into account when drafting him. First and foremost is his complete lack of a receiving profile. Henry was one of 14 RBs with 200 or more rushing attempts in 2018. He was 13th in terms of receptions, with a mere 15. The Titans also face something of a murderers row in terms of rush defenses, with the fourth hardest schedule in the entire league.

Another key factor, however, is just how low volume the Titans have been for pretty much the entirety of Henry’s career. It has been often stated how reliant on their ground game the team has been in recent years. They’ve finished ninth, 14th and fourth in rush attempts in the last three seasons. But in terms of total offensive plays, the Titans have finished 30th and 29th in the last two. No one really knows how different they’ll look in 2019 under new offensive coordinator Arthur Smith. But if the best we can hope for is more of the same from last season, then it’s hard to get too excited about Henry, or anyone on the Titans offense, to be honest. Henry may have touchdown boosted weeks to remember this season. But when he doesn’t find the end zone, he’s unlikely to be more than an RB2.

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