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Single RB, Part II: The Players You Should Be Targeting

The players who will help you execute the Single RB strategy in 2016

In Part I of the Single RB strategy, we discussed placing middle-to-low-round running backs in specific categories in order to best execute the Single RB strategy and create a mix of ceiling, floor, and early season starters. Those categories are Guaranteed Carries; Early Season Upside; Flex Floor, Starter Ceiling; and High Upside Handcuffs. You'll see into which group(s) the players fall in the following tables.

Allow me to preface this player list with the following assumptions:

  • I'm assuming a half-PPR league in terms of a scoring system. If your scoring system is different or if your personal preferences vary, alter the order of this list as you wish.
  • When I rank these players, I'm not factoring in their prices. If I have a player whose ADP is 79 ahead of a player whose ADP is 65, it means I think the 79 player will outscore the 65 player outright. The reason for this is because once we pass the first five or so rounds in a draft, longshots are being taken and flags are being planted with less risk.

Rounds 6 and 7

Name ADP Carries Early Upside Flex Floor Handcuffs
DeAngelo Williams 83   x   x
Matt Jones 54 x x    
Jeremy Langford 58 x x    
Melvin Gordon 71 x x    
Ryan Mathews 62 x x    
Duke Johnson 58     x  
Giovani Bernard 67     x  
Frank Gore 78 x x    
Jonathan Stewart 65 x      
Danny Woodhead 67     x  
Ameer Abdullah 74 x      
T.J. Yeldon/Chris Ivory 86/90 x   x  

We Interrupt This Column for a Philosophical Discussion on When You Should Draft DeAngelo Williams

Williams is still being drafted at the end of Round 7. That's way too late. With every single player on this list, we'd be thrilled to get at least four weeks of RB1 production. Williams already has four cracks at that built into his prospects. Sure, his superior backfield mate should return in Week 5. But Williams will be ranked inside the top-six backs every week in the first month of the season. That same sentence can't be said with certainty for any other player on this list in any four weeks. I would pick Williams as high as the late fourth or early fifth round and then figure out my RB2 slot when I turn my calendar to October.

Jones' ADP is in the mid-50s, so he would have to fall to really qualify for this strategy, but he's a player worth noting anyway in case he does.

In the interest of time and your attention span, we'll do these in quick-hit style with pros and cons. These guys all have "warts" (it's why they're being picked this late), so we'll start with their cons first.

Langford

  • Cons: He lacks talent, and his offense isn't projected to be very high-scoring.
  • Pros: His coach likes to run; his coach doesn't play rookies; his competition is a rookie. He's a home favorite in three of the first six weeks, a circumstance favorable for running backs, and he's probably game script-proof as the passing downs back too.

Gordon

  • Cons: He didn't score a single touchdown last season. He had offseason microfracture surgery. Danny Woodhead will siphon away work on passing downs.
  • Pros: He was a recent first-round pick of a team that traded up to get him. If San Diego expands his role significantly in an effort to prove themselves right, it wouldn't be the first time a team had done so. Also, there's basically nobody else to carry it for them.

Mathews

  • Cons: Reports say he doesn't fit his new coach's scheme.
  • Pros: His main competition is a fifth-round, small school rookie in Wendell Smallwood. As Phil Alexander so astutely pointed out in his analysis of Week 1 FanDuel pricing, Philadelphia is a home favorite of about a touchdown in Week 1 against Cleveland. Being drafted at RB24, he should be at worst a top-20 ranking in Week 1, which could be a high water mark for him on the year.

Yeldon

  • Cons: He's being considered second fiddle (or at best equal) to his newly-arriving backfield mate.
  • Pros: He has a little "this year's Devonta Freeman" in him. See the "con" above, and he's being drafted well into the middle rounds a la Freeman in 2015. If Ivory is injured for a chunk of the season (not a terribly far-fetched scenario given his history), Yeldon will return a big profit on his draft position.

Rounds 8-12

Name ADP Carries Early Upside Flex Floor Handcuffs
Charles Sims 92     x  
Rashad Jennings 95   x x  
Arian Foster 91   x x  
Justin Forsett 91 x      
Tevin Coleman 118       x
Bilal Powell 129     x  
DeAndre Washington 146     x  
James Starks 143     x  

Regarding the "Flex Floor" column, it's worth noting that all of these players could fit into multiple classifications. Simply being in this classification implies that the player is a part of a committee, and if that committee mate is injured or ineffective, the player will become significantly more valuable.

Jennings

  • Cons: Most of these guys are "just guys" and in a committee.
  • Pros: He has shown RB1 weeks in his past, and this offense should score in bunches. He also has upside in the form of a Shane Vereen injury or if the Giants decide to increase their pace, which would imply no-huddle and fewer substitutions.

Foster

  • Cons: His ADP will continue to rise as long as reports like this one keep surfacing.
  • Pros: If the report is true, he hits his ceiling, though it's probably more RB2 than RB1

Forsett

  • Cons: Kenneth Dixon was drafted; Javorius Allen performed well last year; Even Terrance West is generating buzz suggesting he could be the team's starter.
  • Pros: Everything that made him an early-round selection this time last year is still in place, particularly Marc Trestman, who loves using backs as receivers. This year, he costs almost nothing. That seems like it's worth a shot.

Coleman

  • Cons: Devonta Freeman still exists.
  • Pros: I cited Yeldon as "this year's Devonta Freeman" earlier. But maybe it could actually (and ironically) end up being Coleman if Freeman's wearing down at the end of 2015 signals injury on the horizon.

Washington

  • Cons: Washington is raw. And perhaps the very early OTAs reports that handed him the passing downs work were more motivation for Latavius Murray than pumping up Washington.
  • Pros: Maybe the team meant it when they were lukewarm on Murray. If the reports were true, Washington is "Charles Sims Lite" at this point.

Late Dart Throws

Name ADP Carries Early Upside Flex Floor Handcuffs
Javorius Allen 150     x x
Devontae Booker 136       x
Jerick McKinnon 155       x
Chris Johnson 174       x
Jordan Howard 145       x
Spencer Ware/Charcandrick West 186/154       x
Chris Thompson 196     x  
Paul Perkins 167       x
Josh Ferguson 206       x
Tim Hightower 203       x
Wendell Smallwood 199       x
Tyler Ervin 241       x
Shaun Draughn 259     x  

The cons here are obvious. These guys are young and/or unproven, and they don't start. So we'll stick with pros only here.

Allen

  • He is still the most versatile option behind Justin Forsett. His pass-catching prowess boosts his production when he sees the field.

Booker

  • When Cecil Lammey loves a running back, pay attention; when Cecil Lammy loves a deep-on-the-depth-chart Bronco, pay attention; when Cecil Lammey loves a deep-on-the-depth-chart Bronco running back, I'm all ears.

C. Johnson

  • For all the talk of limiting David Johnson's ceiling in Arizona, there's little talk of actually drafting the elder Johnson. If Chris is respected enough by the team to fan the flames of those pesky committee and "hot hand" rumors, they'll obviously give him carries if David were to miss time

Thompson

  • He is Washington's clear passing downs back; he has one of the cheapest price tags for any player with a defined role in the entire NFL - cheaper than anyone except...

Draughn

  • ...who is also a passing-downs back and even cheaper (no, I'm not convinced Carlos Hyde can play all three downs).

Ware/West

  • I prefer Ware due to his goal line ability

Ferguson

  • He will be popular due to Gore's age. He should be popular due to his quickness and the receiving ability he displayed in college

Ervin

  • This is a crazy deep pick, but he's your Lamar Miller backup if you don't believe in Alfred Blue. And why would you at this point?

Single RB in Practice

Using our outstanding Draft Dominator app (available for Desktop this year!), I did a mock where I started with the fourth overall pick and used half-PPR scoring.

Single RB Mock Draft

Takeaways:

  • The "big three" receivers went first, so I snagged an elite RB1, then continued the WR-heavy approach, and ideal Single RB start.
  • Williams at 4.09 might be considered a reach, but as discussed earlier, it's one I'm willing to take since it will give me two elite RB1s for a month. RB2-by-committee for nine weeks is better than RB2-by-committee all season - even if it "costs" a fourth round pick. Admittedly, this somewhat contradicts the Single RB theory because of the small opportunity cost of a receiver in Round 4, but a) Williams will likely be available a bit later -- I selected him here to prove a point -- and b) it does keep the RB2-by-Committee strategy in tact, with an enhanced version for four games.
  • This strategy isn't for the faint of heart, especially because it leads to selecting quarterback and tight end late. I could have had Kirk Cousins in the ninth round, but that would have left me with little depth behind my main receivers. Jones was also the last player before a big drop-off in in tiers at wide receiver.
  • The panel on the right only shows six running backs, despite my selecting eight, because I didn't pick a kicker or defense. This particular league allows waivers before Week 1. If you have an early draft in a league like this, it's even more opportunity to take fliers on running backs. If Latavius Murray or Jamaal Charles suffer an injury in the preseason, this team is even stronger.

Questions, comments, suggestions, and other feedback on this piece are always welcome via e-mail hester@footballguys.com