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Rankings Update: Marlon Mack on the Move and More

AFC South depth charts underwent a thorough shakeup this week with D’Onta Foreman’s surprise release by the Texans and subsequent waiver claim by the Colts. This caused a seismic rankings shift for at least three running backs. I look at that and more as I update my redraft rankings to reflect the latest camp news.

Marlon Mack Continues to Impress as a Runner, And Yet …

Marlon Mack has picked up where he left off last season, exploding through holes on a daily basis in Colts camp. Mack was one of our favorite dynasty sleepers in 2017, and he paid off handsomely in 2018, finishing as the overall RB21 but delivering more value on a per game basis.

Beginning with his healthy return in Week 6, only Ezekiel Elliott, Saquon Barkley, and Chris Carson created more expected fantasy points in the running game (ruEP). And Mack outscored expectation. The list of backs to generate more rushing fantasy points over expectation (ruFPOE) is a murderer’s row of fast-finishing stars: Derrick Henry, Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, Aaron Jones, Phillip Lindsay, Barkley, and Joe Mixon.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said in the passing game. Mack finished outside the top 30 in reEP and underperformed his expected points. Those same reports that praise Mack’s camp elusiveness also reiterate that Nyheim Hines continues to siphon most of the passing responsibilities. Hines is one of the most explosive passing-down backs in the NFL, making it unlikely anything changes on that front.

* Cort Smith’s RB ADP research picks Hines as back to target as the less expensive member of a small-gap committee.

This is a relatively straightforward problem from a fantasy scoring perspective, but it may be worse than it seems on the surface. In his excellent series on emerging NFL trends, Ryan Collinsworth points out that the RB1 tier has been become the haven for 50/50 backs, runners who score half of their points in the receiving game. By contrast, Mack falls into the risky RB2 tier, a group that gains more than 70% of their points as rushers.

If Mack is being drafted as an RB2, what’s the problem? Well, we know that RBs are structurally overvalued in this range, and that goes directly back to Ryan’s research and exaggerated injury rates. As a result, Mack made my list of RB Land Mines to Avoid in 2019. Despite being one of the league’s most exciting runners – who also gets to perform in one of its most explosive offenses – his particular scoring profile offers more risk than reward at ADP.

Unfortunately, that was the case even before the Colts claimed Foreman. Prior to the move, Mack’s workload was solidified by the lack of rushing talent behind him. Jordan Wilkins and Jonathan Williams are break-glass-in-emergency types you’d rather leave on the bench. The threat to his attempt totals was nonexistent, and you could dream of a Henry-like rushing explosion.

Foreman doesn’t change the calculus that much. If his rumored discipline problems carry over, his impact will be minimal. On the other hand, there’s at least a longshot possibility that he does split some of the work. Foreman was a major talent coming out of Texas. There’s a reason Houston drafted him and put up with him as long as they did. His gaudy prospect projection underlines the reason many fantasy owners considered him a serious threat to Lamar Miller.

The Change: Down from 37 to 63

This isn’t necessarily as big a move as it looks on first blush. At RB he slides below Aaron Jones, Leonard Fournette, Josh Jacobs, Devonta Freeman, Tarik Cohen, David Montgomery, Lamar Miller, and Tevin Coleman. The continued absence of receiving touches combined with the small threat to his rushing workload lowers the ceiling and introduces too much risk to prioritize him over more well-rounded players.

Lamar Miller

Miller finished last season at RB22, but he was the prototypical RB to avoid.

The Texans were No. 9 in RB carries last season as they subjected fans to a season long kill-the-clock approach on offense. That provided Miller some cover in the form of 211 attempts, even as he struggled to separate himself from Alfred Blue (-20.5 ruFPOE), one of the least efficient backs in football. Miller caught only 25 passes a season ago and has lassoed only 92 since joining the Texans three years ago. If anything were to go wrong, Miller’s value would drop to zero.

Or at least that was the case when the Texans seemed to have a viable alternative.

The Change: Up from 95 to 60

Devy guru Jordan Hoover tells us what to expect from the trio of Damarea Crockett, Karan Higdon, and Buddy Howell, but Miller now faces little threat to his workload unless the Texans make an unexpected acquisition.

Miller has averaged only 4.1 yards per carry and accumulated -17.8 ruFPOE during his three years in Houston,1 but the 2019 scoring environment promises to be ridiculously good. With Will Fuller ready to set the world on fire in his return from ACL surgery, the Texans should pass more. Extra passing attempts and more total plays would be good news for a back who has scored only 13 TDs on over 700 carries in Houston.

D’Onta Foreman

Any time your coaching staff goes from raving about your explosiveness and praising your work ethic in the recovery from a brutal Achilles injury to cutting you due to maturity issues, that’s going to leave a mark. The aforementioned laundry list of reasons to be excited about Foreman still applies to his theoretical talent, but his chances to unseat Mack are miniscule compared to what he faced in Houston. And that’s before we consider the change in perception – and thus opportunity – when you go from being a third-round pick to a scrapyard pickup.

The Change: 95 to 198

As a Foreman owner in dynasty, I’ll be monitoring his progress with Indianapolis. This may still be far too charitable a ranking, but Indianapolis is a best-case landing spot. Most other teams have more competition for the role of early-down backup. If Foreman can change his work habits,2 then he could end up better off down the line. If not, his value will quickly go to zero and the team fit will be irrelevant.

Image Credit: Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Marlon Mack.

  1. He does have some untapped upside in the passing game. He’s posted +20 reFPOE in Houston and notched 85 catches over his final two years in Miami.  (back)
  2. If that was indeed why he was released.  (back)

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