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Player Spotlight: Dion Lewis

A detailed look at running back Dion Lewis and his prospects in 2016 as he comes back from ACL surgery.

From Journeyman to Stud

It was all coming together for Dion Lewis and his owners in the 2015 NFL season. While not perfect, Lewis was putting up a nice run of points most weeks and adding some extra juice in PPR leagues due to the amount of targets he was racking up.

Then Week 9 happened, and he tore his left ACL and was done for the season. Train off the rails, and a lot of happy fantasy owners had to find another solution.

Now we are closing in on the 2016 NFL (and fantasy) season, and the question fantasy GMs have to ask themselves is: can Lewis pick up where he left off?

Does the ACL Derail the Breakout?

As of this article, Lewis is looking good for an early appearance this season and if things go right, he will be good for Week 1. There is still need for caution though, because while he has been practicing without a brace and was making cuts in minicamp, we still have quite a ways to go before the season. A setback could be disastrous for both his NFL and fantasy value. He’s only about eight months removed from surgery, and while rehab time has improved for ACL injuries, they still need a significant time to heal fully.

While we have at times heard he might be ready for camp, we hope the Patriots will take their time with someone they believe will be a critical piece of their offense.

Added Value

Lewis was targeted 50 times in the first nine weeks of the season, third most on the team at that point. That includes missing a game in Week 7 as well. Clearly, quarterback Tom Brady, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and head coach Bill Belichick trusted him and were happy to throw to him early and often. Only Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman had more and the next closest player to Lewis was Danny Amendola with just 37 targets.

Lewis was likely heading towards a massive total of targets, given that his replacement, James White, totaled 44 throughout the rest of the season.

While not all of those would have gone to Lewis, you could imagine most would have given the difference in explosiveness that Lewis has compared to the more lackluster White.

There’s every chance he would have had the third most targets on the team after Gronkowski (and because Edelman also got hurt) by the end of the season had he not been injured.

It’s great when a back is going to get opportunities to carry the ball. It’s even better when that back is also getting the chance to catch passes as well. While it’s incredibly good for PPR leagues, it still gives him the opportunity to contribute some extra yards through the air to your total in regular leagues as well.

What’s the Damage?

We know he’s healing well. We know he is going to be a significant part of the offense.

What we don’t know is what the impact of a torn ACL will be to his explosiveness and speed.

Will the injury sap the 25-year-old of either? Lewis isn’t a big, bruising back, so if he loses the speed or quickness, his value will definitely take a hit.

Another concern is how long it will be before he gets his confidence back and doesn’t flinch when he gets hit. Will he hesitate for a while, like many players do coming off of a big injury like this? And if he does, will that hesitation hurt his upside?

These are concerns you have to have heading into training camp, and why, while we want the Patriots to be cautious with him, we also really want to see Lewis have some game action so we know what to expect.

Positives

  • Plenty of targets in the passing offense, big role overall
  • Dynamic Speed and Athleticism with big play potential
  • Built-up trust with core individuals—Brady, Belichick, McDaniels

Negatives

  • Impact of ACL injury on ability
  • Durability a concern—has never played a 16-game season
  • Was last year a fluke?

Final Thoughts

There’s a certain amount of risk when it comes to Dion Lewis, given his history and the severity of his ACL injury. If he has lost any of his dynamic ability, his effectiveness in the passing game could be impaired, which would ruin fantasy value.

Now that we have acknowledged the risk, let’s be frank: it’s minimal. As of this article, Lewis is going off the board as RB18, or the 44th player overall. That’s somewhere in the fourth round or so and completely manageable. His upside is much higher than that ranking. Further, we have seen a huge increase in players coming back from much worse injuries to be just as effective as they were in the past. Lewis is reportedly ahead of schedule in his rehab and as we pointed out, already cutting and running without a brace.

While caution is always good to have when it comes to a player coming off of an injury, let other owners panic about that. Know that you will be getting a running back with a ton of upside who will outperform his ADP most weeks.

Projections

 

Games

Carries

Yards

TDs

Targets

Receptions

Yards

TDs

Fumbles

Garda

15

115

525

3

80

65

625

4

1

Other Viewpoints

Despite barely being back to work post-injury, Dion Lewis continues to expect nothing but perfection according to ESPN’s Mike Reiss.

"I should have caught the ball. I definitely should have caught the ball," he said, recapping the moment of practice. "Just getting back in the swing of things -- I have to get used to catching from quarterbacks and stuff like that. I still have a lot of time and a lot of work to do to be where I know I can be."

CBSSports.com’s Jamey Eisenberg points out that Tom Brady’s history with pass-catching backs should give us reason for optimism.

Lewis scored double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league five times, he had at least four catches in six games and he became a reliable threat for Brady, which is important given his history with running backs out of the backfield like Kevin Faulk, Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen. Lewis will again share playing time with Blount, but he's the running back to own in this tandem.