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The New Reality No.94: Recalibrating Running Backs

Navigating the ever-changing landscape of dynasty fantasy football

With two weeks in the books, dynasty owners enter a critical month span where they declare their 2017 season fate. Early injuries may have already pushed some teams into thinking about 2018 with multiple cornerstone players out for the season (or close to it). Rising producers may have boosted the outlook of building squads to a 1-1 or 2-0 record out of the gate. Here are key players and situations for value heading into Week 3 for dynasty owners:

Injured or Underperforming Running Backs

This list comprises a good chunk of projected starting lineups to start the season and be impactful for dynasty owners. LeVeon Bell and Ezekiel Elliott are the two standout names who are most likely to be fine when looking back in a month or two, but even their lackluster games early have led to unexpected fantasy losses. 

In terms of the dynasty marketplace, DeMarco Murray is available for cheap. Still less than 30 years old, Murray is a quality investment (even if loses steam as the unquestioned Tennessee starter) when the price is in the zone of a future second round pick. As a potential buyer, explore with offers of later seconds or a combination of a future third and a short-term producer type (or flip player) to stash Murray.

Jordan Howard is one where I advise to sell. The market still supports a future first round pick or the equivalent. With Tarik Cohen sapping his short-term PPR upside and a mid-Day 3 pedigree securing little long-term, I would be shopping while the first round market is still available.

David Johnson is the classic 'do not trade your studs when they get hurt' example. Most of the deals I have seen in the past week or two with Johnson have been sell lows. Johnson will be in his prime in 2018 and back to his high status. At a minimum, the centerpiece of a deal selling Johnson needs to be a top-15 type startup player. Many times I have seen Johnson owners bail for a collection of mid-round, quasi-core level assets.

Flip or Ride Running Backs

With the running back landscape shifting dramatically through two weeks, here is a list of backs with elevated stock post-Week 2:

My take on Kareem Hunt is not a popular one. While I have no problem riding Hunt as the No.1 producer at the position through two weeks, his stock is through the roof. Hunt was traded for David Johnson straight up for example. Also, Hunt returned multiple 2018 firsts and seconds and Tevin Coleman in another deal. As a Hunt owner, at least explore the market. My advice is always to 'make the other owner say no'. Owners like to get the email alert of a trade proposal in their box. While many offers are not appealing, it is like an unopened Christmas present - this could be the great deal they have been waiting for the past few weeks. Seek a stud in the deal like Amari Cooper or Mike Evans or Leonard Fournette. Aim high, but explore the market.

I am warming to Ty Montgomery. He added some weight this offseason and his snap count is that of a workhorse back early this season. He is easily drawing future firsts in trading and with a small second piece, some are pivoting to Todd Gurley, which I like. The play of the Packers backfield, however, is buying Jamaal Williams. Montgomery is the unquestioned lead back, but Williams is the unquestioned No.2. Williams was a mid-second type rookie pick in the summer and his value has sagged a bit now. Williams is the perfect player to throw onto a bigger deal as a buyer when negotiations are nearly complete. If Montgomery were to miss time, Williams would be an easy first-round valuation in the market.

Chris Carson has surged since early in the preseason, continuing to gain market share in Seattle. Eddie Lacy was a healthy scratch in Week 2, C.J. Prosise was lining up as a wide receiver, and Thomas Rawls' return did not impede Carson's snap count rise. I mentioned on my UTH Film Notes podcast after Week 2's games Carson will be worth a first soon. When I said it, it seemed like a bold statement. However, once I reconnected with the twitter-verse on Monday, the market seemed to be there (or close to it) already. However, the executed deals I've observed have still been short of the future first valuation. Another week or two of quality market share of the backfield (and finding the end zone), will get Carson there. He is the perfect flip for the a 2018 first.

Chris Thompson has one of the unique stat lines of the season-to-date with 162 total yards on 13 touches and three touchdowns. Thompson has six carries through two games, yet found the end zone twice and is averaging 20.6 PPR PPG. Washington has already come out and say they need to manage Thompson's usage. Thompson is carrying a solid amount of trade value, returning future second (roughly) value when he was at or beyond future third picks in the offseason. In PPR formats, Thompson offers quality depth for injuries and upcoming bye weeks, but rolling him out as a regular weekly starter is not a positive sign for strong contenders. Shoot to use Thompson as a stepping stone to clinch a bigger trade if needed or seek to acquire a team's 2018 second if the pick looks on the early side, even if throwing in a mid-to-late third to get the deal done.

Javorius Allen, like Chris Carson, is another surging running back. Allen rose up with Kenneth Dixon being out. Then Danny Woodhead's injury boosted Allen into the No.2 role. With strong play and Terrance West being dinged up himself, Allen is one of the rising backs in terms of opportunity in the NFL. Allen's market value has been topping out in the future second range, a valuation I would continue to hold (and start as an RB2/flex type) until further growth. With wide receiver struggles for Baltimore, expect the running back(s) to be focal points in the run and pass game this season. Opportunity for Allen will not be an issue to grow his stock.

Tarik Cohen is a strong sell. His usage has been optimal thus far with Chicago lacking perimeter playmakers and Jordan Howard's underwhelming start to the season. However, Cohen will not be confused with an up-and-coming workhorse option in terms of usage. This week alone, Cohen has been traded for an 18 1st, Mike Williams straight up, Brandin Cooks, and other deals in the dynasty space which are long-term windfall transactions. While in the Darren Sproles mold as a running back, Cohen lacks the power with which Sproles possesses for an undersized back. Cohen is a satellite player who, even if producing in PPR this season, will be on the hot list to lose value with more prototypically-sized options brought in to solidify the position in the 2018 offseason.

Mike Gillislee is a strong hold. The market is skeptical of Patriots running backs in general - from going all in on them at least - and Gillislee is hovering in the future second type zone of market value. Gillislee is my pick to lead the NFL in rushing touchdowns. Gillislee has 33 carries in two games and has been the clear-cut option around the goal line for New England. Unless someone is offering at least a 2018 first, continue to roll out Gillislee, especially in games where New England is a hearty favorite.

The Cardinals backfield is a limited one in upside appeal, but all were available in a decent chunk of dynasty league waiver wires at one time or another over the past month. Chris Johnson was cut, then resigned. Kerwynn Williams looked like the obvious No.2 to David Johnson and now his role is in doubt with Andre Ellington involved, at a minimum, as a passing option, and Chris Johnson back on the active roster. Once resigned, Chris Johnson has been my recommendation. Kerwynn Williams is returning, at best, a future second in the market, which I would gladly accept (and explore) as an owner. Johnson is a hold for now as the market appeal is minimal. Once (if) he takes the clear lead role in snaps and carries, I project a future second to be obtainable in the market. Ellington, like Johnson, has minimal interest via trading and is worth holding for a flash game. I would not deal for a future third if that is the best of the market in your league as of today.