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Are We Drafting the Denver Running Backs in the Right Order?: Fantasy Football Multiverse

After watching Avengers: Endgame, I couldn’t stop thinking about the multiverse. Then, my mind drifted to the Projection Machine, which acts as a fantasy football time machine. Every little tweak in the timeline of fantasy football can have a wide range of repercussions that echo across the league. So, in this series, I’ll dial up that Projection Machine to examine players who could experience big swings in fantasy value if certain things break the right way. 

Vic Fangio’s “Tenure”

The next time that Vic Fangio is the head coach of the Denver Broncos will be the first. He was the defensive coordinator for the Bears most recently. Rich Scangarello is the new offensive coordinator who’s coming over from San Francisco. He’s a bit of a coaching lifer but was most recently the quarterbacks coach for the 49ers. He’s been back and forth between the NFL and college ranks, and we don’t have a ton of data on him as a play-caller. 

One thing that is clear: Scangarello is enamored by the running back room. He’s spoken at length this offseason about how he likes the way that Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman complement each other. Scangarello talked about how it reminds him of the dynamic between Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman when he was the offensive quality control coach for the Falcons in 2015. Reading between the lines, it seems like there is a spot for both of these running backs to have fantasy relevance. 

What Will Probably Happen…

Their current ADPs don’t necessarily match up with that conclusion. Freeman is going in the eighth round of FFPC drafts while Lindsay is inside Round 5.

I came across something that Fantasy Douche said way back in 2015 regarding second-year RBs. “Draft position was actually more explanatory for a RB’s second-year carries than it was for his first year carries.” That caught my attention when trying to look for value in this situation. Draft capital isn’t the be-all, end-all – just ask the folks in Seattle. But, it does matter to an extent. Freeman was a Top 100 pick while Lindsay was a UDFA. Lindsay emerged last year despite the deck being stacked against him and finished as the RB13. Freeman was barely usable, finishing as RB47. 

The Broncos are currently sitting at 7 wins for their Vegas total right now. Since we don’t have that much data on the coaching staff, we’ll roll with the historical pass-run splits and play volume of teams projected for 6.5 – 7.5 wins as our base1.

Let’s say that Lindsay splits carries but doubles Freeman’s target output. That base projection would put Lindsay as the RB12, based on last year’s scoring, with a respectable 231 points. Freeman, on the other hand, would score 151 points, or good enough for an RB30 finish. Lindsay is clearly the solid investment at that price. Turning RB25 by ADP into an RB1 at year’s end is something we’d all take as drafters. Freeman would also beat ADP in this projection but wouldn’t exactly be a league winner. 

What Could Happen… 

The path to Freeman’s relevance doesn’t have many roadblocks. If Lindsey retains his work in the passing attack but Freeman is the goal-line back and sees a majority of the carries, he would be very valuable. Assuming a 50% rush share with a bumped up TD rate gets Freeman all the way up to 185 points.2 The power of the receiving load still leaves Lindsay as an RB14. 

The uncertainty surrounding Denver’s coaching staff could mean that we’re off on the base projections though. If that’s true, then the most likely scenario is that the Broncos lean on the run more than expected. Since 2013, 15 of 53 teams projected for 6.5 – 7.5 wins heading into the season passed at a 53% rate or less. Giving the RBs those numbers paints an even better picture for Freeman. 

This scenario would have Freeman with a true breakout season. Those 207 points would’ve been good for RB14 last season. It seems unlikely given their current prices, but we get these situations wrong all the time. With a new coaching staff in town and just a slight tweak in philosophy, we may be getting Freeman for pennies on the dollar.

Image Credit: Russell Lansford/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Royce Freeman.

  1. 56-44 and 970 plays  (back)
  2. RB20 in 2018  (back)

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