Overvalued Players: Running Backs

Footballguys staff members discuss running backs who are overvalued

The flip side of succeeding with value players is failing with overvalued players. These are players that will not put up stats commensurate to their draft spot, and avoiding them is another of the important keys to a successful fantasy team. In an attempt to point out these players, we asked our staff to look through the top 150 players and identify players that should underperform their draft position.

Player Receiving 5 Votes

Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville

Sigmund Bloom: The Jaguars have been among the league’s worst teams in creating value through efficiency and rushing scores for their running backs since David Garrard was deposed as their starting quarterback. That includes the later years of Maurice Jones-Drew, and last year’s team, which made a heavy investment in running back between Chris Ivory’s contract and the 2015 second-round pick spent on TJ Yeldon. The offensive line is also far from a strength, although the defense could keep them in more games. Betting on Fournette with an early pick as your RB2 is betting on the Jaguars to turn into a good running team after years of futility, and it’s a bet you shouldn’t be willing to make.

Ryan Hester: Many are making a comparison of Fournette to Ezekiel Elliott because both were drafted fourth overall. That’s unfair to Fournette (and to your fantasy team if it’s the main reason you draft him). First, Jacksonville’s offensive line is not Dallas’. Second, Fournette isn’t as dynamic a playmaker as Elliott. The biggest similarity is that Fournette won’t play on all three downs. With T.J. Yeldon and his 50 receptions returning, Jacksonville has a capable receiver who is two years ahead of Fournette in terms of NFL pass-blocking skill. Elliott didn’t dominate the field on all three downs, but he dominated volume because his team gave him great game scripts. Drafting Fournette at this price is asking Jacksonville to do the same. That’s too big of a gamble.

Jeff Pasquino: Rookie running backs are always viewed as the shiny, new toy in the fantasy store each year. The question is, how likely are they to meet or exceed lofty expectations for their first year at the top level of football? Fournette has talent, no question, but he is not the only option in the Jaguars backfield with T.J. Yeldon also back this year. Jacksonville has a history of falling behind in contests and then having to throw their way back into the game, which leads towards more action for Blake Bortles and a receiver-friendly backfield with Yeldon. Fournette could become a three-down back and prove me wrong, but given his lofty pricetag on most draft boards, I will be looking elsewhere unless Fournette starts to slip into the lower RB2 range of the draft.

Matt Waldman: I’m a fan of Fournette’s long-term outlook. I have also touted his receiving skills well before the “pleasant surprise” reports from OTAs that the rookie has better hands than reported in many outlets. However, I would be surprised if T.J. Yeldon doesn’t earn passing down responsibilities and shocked if the Jaguars make significant strides with its offensive line this year. I’m hopeful that new offensive line coach Pat Flaherty will remain as flexible to matching scheme to players and run more gap plays for Fournette with its current personnel that seems well-suited to the switch. However, Fournette will have to run more from shotgun and that will require some acclimation on his part that doesn’t play to his strengths. He’s a boom-bust pick this year due to his stylistic fit and surrounding talent.

Mark Wimer: Fournette was drafted by a 3-13 team that ranked 24th in the NFL in rushing attempts last season, and 29th in rushing scores punched in as a team. Neither of their main running backs, T.J. Yeldon (3.6 yards per carry on average) or Chris Ivory (3.8) cracked 4.0 yards per carry playing behind the Jaguars line. There is a lot of potential for improvement from this lowly place, yes, but I think it is overly optimistic for Fournette to be drafted before guys like Spencer Ware, Isaiah Crowell, and even fellow rookie Christian McCaffrey (who is in a much better situation in Carolina, in my opinion). Fournette is too expensive at his current ADP.

Players Receiving 3 Votes

Todd Gurley, LA Rams

Ryan Hester: The same cons still exist for Gurley that hindered him from fulfilling his preseason potential last season. He’s still mired in what looks like one of the worst offenses in the league. And he’s still not likely to be used on all three downs. The team acquired Lance Dunbar in the offseason, who is known for his passing down acumen. On what looks to be one of the league’s worst teams, game script will also continue to be an issue for Gurley.

Dan Hindery: Gurley is being overdrafted again this season due to name recognition. Looking at the bigger picture, it’s hard to see how Gurley has a RB1 season. He is in one of the league’s worst offenses and could see a role as more of a two-down back. It’s been reported that Gurley will see fewer targets in the passing game with Lance Dunbar now in Los Angeles. That’s bad news for Gurley’s fantasy prospects. Remember, 38% of Gurley’s mediocre PPR fantasy output in 2016 came through the passing game, and that production could see a decrease.

Mark Wimer: Gurley is currently valued as a contender for top-ten status - that is a wildly optimistic ADP for a player who finished near the bottom of the top-20 running backs last season (while averaging a pathetic 3.2 yards per carry). Yes, there has been a coaching change, but in my opinion Jared Goff (who didn't look remotely ready for the NFL stage last season) has to present a credible threat to pass the football or Gurley is doomed to another season of frustration while facing stacked boxes all the while. I am letting other owners roll the dice on Gurley this season - I like the offenses/situations of many other running backs much better.

Carlos Hyde, San Francisco

Ryan Hester: Reports say that Hyde is struggling mightily to pick up Kyle Shanahan’s offense. Shanahan also banged the proverbial desk to draft Joe Williams in the fourth round. Hyde isn’t exactly in a game script-friendly situation either and will go from Colin Kaepernick to Brian Hoyer at quarterback. Running quarterbacks have proven to aid their running backs, and Hoyer is a turtle to Kaepernick’s cheetah.

Jeff Pasquino: The 49ers made a change at head coach, bringing in Atlanta’s offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, to improve upon the beleaguered San Francisco offense. Early reports have Hyde struggling to pick up the new offense, and it certainly does not help that the 49ers just drafted Joe Williams to push Hyde this season. Hyde may have value before Halloween, but it could prove quite likely that he is just holding the lead spot in the backfield until Williams is ready to take over.

Jason Wood: Carlos Hyde is the easiest fade in fantasy drafts this year. The 4th-year runner is the perennial tease who never meets expectations. Last season – his best – ended with an RB14 ranking because he missed three games. Hyde is no stranger to missing games; he's only played in 34 of 48 regular season games so far. With a new coach (Kyle Shanahan) and general manager (John Lynch), changes are afoot in San Francisco including a transition to the zone-blocking scheme. New coaches are full of empty praise for incumbent veterans, which makes Shanahan’s unabashed skepticism about Hyde’s role with the team particularly damning. Even if you think Hyde can finally stay healthy, he’s an ill fit on a team that owes him no loyalty with a roster in complete rebuilding mode. Stay far, far away.

Latavius Murray, Minnesota

Phil Alexander: Murray is currently being picked ahead of at least 15 running backs he shouldn't be. Believers in Murray will tell you the Vikings didn't pay him $4 million this year to back-up a rookie, but teams dole out bad contracts all the time. Murray isn't the best runner (Dalvin Cook) or pass-catcher out of the backfield (Jerick McKinnon) on the Vikings roster, and he'll be playing catch-up to both backs in training camp due to a recent ankle surgery. Even if the ankle ends up being a non-issue and the other backs on the depth chart don't impress in his absence, Murray's general ineffectiveness is a major concern. Playing behind one of the best offensive lines in the sport last year, Murray barely averaged 4.0 yards per rush attempt and ranked 23rd out of 25 qualifiers in carries that went for 10 yards or more. Those numbers don't figure to improve behind a Vikings line Football Outsiders ranked 30th last season.

Sigmund Bloom: Murray was already having to absorb a net downgrade in situation going from Oakland to Minnesota because of the quality of the offensive line and passing game. When the Vikings traded up for Dalvin Cook, a threat to Murray as the lead back was introduced. Murray is missing the offseason program, and he only expects to be available at some point in training camp. Cook and the underrated Jerick McKinnon will assert themselves in the meantime, and Murray will likely be the least dynamic back in a three-back committee. He’s only a wait-and-see bench back and not worth an investment in the first half of your draft.

Darin Tietgen: As you may expect based on my value plays, my overvalued running back is Latavius Murray. I wouldn't touch this guy in any formats. The guy was right at 4 YPC behind one of the best offensive lines in football the past two years. He is a taller back that tends to run upright. Guys like Eddie George and Steven Jackson made this work, but Murray is a liability in terms of injury potential and just poor production behind a weaker line. Especially with a dynamic rookie in Dalvin Cook likely to win the job.

Players Receiving 2 Votes

C.J. Anderson, Denver

Justin Howe: There's no way I'm even sniffing around Anderson as a top-15 back. To me, he's looking more like a dart throw in the RB25-30 range - and even that may prove too high. Post-Peyton Manning, he's looked more like a rotational back: dating to Week 10 of the 2015 season, he's averaged a ho-hum 14.2 touches and 74.6 scrimmage yards per game. Those are borderline RB2 numbers, but even they don't factor in the presence of three-down prospect Devontae Booker and end-of-the-line Jamaal Charles. It doesn't help that new running back coach Vance Joseph is already touting a committee approach, which probably fits Anderson's talent level better. Anderson is generally ranked near his absolute ceiling, though the downside is enormous and could cripple a roster that invests in him as a RB2.

Matt Waldman: If Anderson was in the same blocking scheme as last year and the Broncos weren’t openly stating the offense will operate with a committee approach, I’d be much higher on the talented, but oft-injured Anderson. However, Devontae Booker’s strengths are better-suited to a gap scheme and the circumstances surrounding Anderson’s re-signing in 2015 gave a lot of us the impression that John Elway had a significant case of stink face when making the offer to its UDFA-turned-starter. I’m not as concerned about Jamaal Charles until he proves his knees are truly right—and I’m unfortunately betting they won’t ever be again---as I am Anderson staying healthy and earning enough touches to deliver top-20 running back production.

Mike Gillislee, New England

Stephen Holloway: Gillislee is getting far more attention this preseason than he deserves. He will likely be the featured short yardage running back for the Patriots, but they have three additional running back options in James White, Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis. These three are all excellent receivers out of the back field, but they are also capable runners. There simply will not be enough opportunities for Gillislee in the four man RBBC to justify his current ADP.

Jeff Pasquino: I find it hard to believe that a backup from Buffalo is going to take over the backfield for the Patriots. New England has four viable options now that can line up behind Tom Brady – Gillislee, James White, and even third down options Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis. LeGarrette Blount is now in Philadelphia, which will open up goal line opportunities, but it remains to be seen if Gillislee will get the majority of those chances – or if Brady will just decide to use their multiple options in the passing game instead.

Mark Ingram II, New Orleans

Ari Ingel: Major running back committee in New Orleans, and his stock will rise or plummet depending on how well Adrian Peterson runs and rookie Alvin Kamara adjusts to the NFL game. Unfortunately for Ingram, so far it looks like Kamara is the real deal and Peterson is drawing rave reviews in OTAs. His stock could skyrocket if he ends up being traded to a team where he would be the unquestioned starter. Ingram averaged 5.1 yards per carry last year and has caught more than 45 passes each of the past two seasons, but it all comes down to usage. If he was in Dallas, we would be talking about him as a top five pick. He's that talented. Unfortunately, his situation is as murky as they come. I'm letting other people take him at his current ADP.

Jeff Pasquino: I just cannot trust Mark Ingram II to be a fantasy starter at this point. Drew Brees is the key to this offense, and the running backs in New Orleans are going to be a total committee now that Adrian Peterson is in the mix. With rookie Alvin Kamara added to a crowded backfield, Ingram will struggle to get consistent touches (and thus production) on a weekly basis, so he is off the table for me.

Lamar Miller, Houston

Andy Hicks: Fully expecting to be the number one ball carrier in Houston, it has to be said that Lamar Miller proved why Miami were reluctant to let him be their full time back. He wasn’t poor, but you would expect more from a player who touched the ball 300 times last season. Only one player, Todd Gurley, had more touches and did less with them. Ten of the backs listed ahead of him in fantasy rankings had less, some significantly, touches than Miller. The drafting of D’Onta Foreman has to be a warning to Miller to up his game or be passed by. The Texans can get out of their free agent contract with Miller after this season with little damage. Beware of Miller this season.

Daniel Simpkins: Miller has not been one to show he can hold up to the rigors of a full load. Last year, Miller missed two full games and played through many more with limited effectiveness. He’s being selected before backs that can take the majority of carries for their teams, such as Isaiah Crowell, Leonard Fournette, and Frank Gore. Also consider the fact that Houston added D’Onta Foreman in the Draft to help spell Miller and take some of the load off his shoulders. All these things in mind, it’s best to leave Miller on the shelf at his current price point.

Adrian Peterson, New Orleans

Chris Kuczynski: This offseason was a very interesting journey for the 32-year-old Peterson: he was released after missing almost the entire season due to injury because he was due to make $18 million in 2017 if they picked up his option, which might have been the biggest no brainer personnel decision in modern history. He then visited several teams who all seemed to show little interest in signing him, until he finally agreed to terms with the Saints almost two months after free agency started. His role and usage in the offense is certainly murky at best, considering the Saints are known to pass the ball over 50 times a game, and they already have a very good starting running back in Mark Ingram II whom they already under-utilize. Peterson has never been known for catching passes even in his prime as a bell cow for Minnesota, so he would be limited to a two-down role. He might pick up the carries of departed Tim Hightower, but that was only 550 rushing yards if you exclude his receiving. Overall, I’m not sure I’d want to take the chance on drafting Peterson because of age, injuries and questions on just what it is he would do in this offense.

Jason Wood: Stop the insanity. Adrian Peterson is 32 years old. He’s had a massive career workload. He looked awful in his spot duties last year. He’s joining a team that perennially ranks near the bottom of the league in run/pass ratio. He has to contend with Mark Ingram II as the starter and powerhouse rookie Alvin Kamara for backup touches. Last, but not least, Peterson was never an above average receiving back even at his prime, which makes his current ADP in PPR leagues all the more bewildering. Your best hope – outside of a Mark Ingram II injury – is for Peterson to push for 1,000 yards and a half-dozen rushing touchdowns. There are higher upside RB2s to target at the same point in drafts.

Spencer Ware, Kansas City

Sigmund Bloom: After the Chiefs traded up in the third round to get Kareem Hunt, it’s very difficult to imagine Ware as an unquestioned feature back. His play dropped off after a concussion last year, and Hunt is a clear upgrade from Charcandrick West, whom the Chiefs attempted to pair in a committee with Ware in 2015. There’s no reason to take a back who is destined for a committee role so early in your drafts, especially when he didn’t do enough to help fantasy teams win when he was the featured back last year.

Jason Wood: Spencer Ware toiled in relative obscurity on the Seahawks roster but emerged as a contributor in Kansas City in 2015 after Jamaal Charles’ injury. The debate over Charcandrick West versus Spencer Ware was put to rest early in the season; Ware became the Chiefs top running back with 1,368 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns. He finished as RB16 in standard leagues. This season, some expect Ware to cement his role as the Chiefs lead running back; but I expect Ware to be no better than a committee contributor because of rookie Kareem Hunt. Hunt may not displace Ware as a rookie, but there’s no reason to think Andy Reid won’t use both liberally as he’s done for most of his coaching career in Philadelphia and Kansas City.

Players Receiving 1 Vote

LeGarrette Blount, Philadelphia

Justin Howe: In a less crowded backfield, Blount would look like a boring-yet-shrewd, back-end RB2 pick. Unfortunately, he's mired in a timeshare in Philadelphia, an offense that didn't run much last year and didn't create many scoring chances for its backs. Blount has virtually no chance at even sniffing last year's 18 touchdowns; his ceiling looks like 8-10. The fact that he's devoid of even a shred of receiving-game help bumps him down even further in PPR formats. All told, there's virtually no upside to this pick, yet plenty of downside - Smallwood flashed a bit as a rookie and could eat more and more into the 30-year-old Blount's workload as the season wears on.

Jamaal Charles, Denver Broncos

Dan Hindery: The risk/reward doesn’t add up for drafting Charles at his current ADP. The risk is extreme. He is no lock to even make the team as he continues to struggle to come back from a serious knee injury. We are now over 18 months out from the original injury and Charles still isn’t 100% and it was reported recently that Chiefs doctors recommended that Charles should retire. The risky nature of the pick would potentially be worth it if there was also the potential of a huge reward. But best case is that you get a committee back in a mediocre offense. The Broncos boast a below average offensive line and plenty of questions at quarterback. Plus, even if Charles comes most of the way back, C.J. Anderson and Devontae Booker are still likely to have roles.

Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland

Andy Hicks: Every year there is a running back or two who looks better in retrospect from a fantasy point of view. This year that guy is Isaiah Crowell. His numbers received a significant boost by a 150-yard game in a Week 17 game against Pittsburgh. His early game against them saw 8 carries for 10 yards. Crowell benefitted by actually playing all 16 games, no small feat sure, but it elevates his performance above what he will be worth this year. He had less than 200 carries and had multiple games where he did almost literally nothing due to the ineptness of the Browns. Expecting Crowell to perform to the level of an RB1 is his maximum upside ceiling. He will more than likely provide a poor return on a fantasy owners investment this year.

Melvin Gordon III, LA Chargers

Mark Wimer: Gordon is a solid NFL back playing on a powerful NFL offense - but there is a plethora of talent competing for touches on the football among the Chargers' offense entering 2017. I think he'll be on the cusp of top-10 production this season, but his current ADP around the Top 5 makes him too expensive in my book - he's being priced at his ceiling of production.

Frank Gore, Indianapolis

Andy Hicks: Frank Gore has to be considered a desperate pick for fantasy owners this year. His upside, at age 34 has to be slight, while his downside is as low as it gets. He has been a marvellous player in his lengthy career, but it is over. The Colts have four other backs to step in at a moment’s notice and while it is difficult to determine who is the primary backup at this stage, Gore is on a hiding to nothing this year. There has been fewer than one player a decade who performed at age 34 or older as a running back, and 3,000 career carries is the end of the line for almost every back in NFL history.

Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati

Dan Hindery: There is a narrative that the Bengals don’t like to play rookies. However, the Bengals have been in the upper half of the league in rookie snaps by offensive players five of the past six seasons (and ranked top-7 three times in the past six seasons). If Joe Mixon is the best back, he is going to get the snaps. It would be a surprise if Mixon doesn’t emerge as the main guy at least by mid season (and likely earlier). He has more tools in the box than Hill and with Hill set to leave as a free agent after the seasons, the Bengals have basically already made the decision about how their backfield is going to look in the future by extending Giovani Bernard and using a premium pick on Mixon. Speaking of Bernard, all reports have him well ahead of schedule in his rehab and on pace to be ready for action in early September.

Eddie Lacy, Seattle

Matt Waldman: There are too many reasons to bet against Lacy even if he meets incentive-laden contract with Seattle that focuses a lot on his physical conditioning. Thomas Rawls is capable of top-12 fantasy production when healthy, and C.J. Prosise had a three-game stretch last year where he showed that he’s a big-play, every-down weapon in development. Seattle encourages competition for starting jobs, which means that Lacy could have the best name on the depth chart but not necessarily the best game. Expect a committee approach where Lacy’s current ranking is based more on his realistic ceiling than his mid-point or floor.

Dion Lewis, New England

Chris Kuczynski: The Patriots backfield is always difficult to predict which player will have a successful week in fantasy football, and Lewis really looks like he could be the odd man out in this four-man running-back-by-committee. The team has two other running backs that have a similar skill set as him in James White and Rex Burkhead, and these two just got larger contracts than Lewis this off-season. Add in the fact that White had a very impressive performance in last years Superbowl, while Lewis got hurt again and has been struggling with injuries, it makes sense the team would look at other options to boost the position.

Marshawn Lynch, Oakland

Stephen Holloway: Lynch has been out of football for almost two years and many expect him to return to his old self, even as a 31-year old. The problems with this are that the Raiders have two very talented running backs already familiar with the Oakland offense. The allure of a Marshawn Lynch return is strong, and his many fans have elevated the expectations for Lynch too far. The combination of his long layoff, his hard charging running style (2,144 NFL rushes), and his age will be too much for him to overcome and meet expectations in 2017.

Ryan Mathews, Philadelphia

Chris Kuczynski: Mathews has been battling injuries and when healthy he has not made the most of his opportunities to show he can still be a starter in this league. Two seasons ago, he fit the offense in Philadelphia better than his running mate Demarco Murray, but when left with little competition last season, players like Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood were stepping up because he couldn’t stay on the field. This offseason, the Eagles drafted Sproles eventual replacement in Donnell Pumphrey, and signed free agent LeGarrette Blount for short yardage duties, which really leaves Mathews without a defined role in this offense. I don’t see him getting much playing time due to the depth chart and his injury history- that is if he starts the season on the roster at all.

Christian McCaffrey, Carolina

Ari Ingel: This one is a bit contrarian since he is one of the most hyped fantasy players to come on the scene in quite some time. McCaffrey plays bigger than his size, standing 5’11 and 202 pounds with 4.48 jets. He runs as tough up the middle as he does outside. He’s also elusive in open field, has great patience and could easily play receiver in the league if he wanted to. As you can see, I love the talent, but he is destined to be over drafted this year in season long leagues. Cam Newton is not great at checking down balls, loves to take it in himself near the end-zone and Jonathan Stewart is still a living human being. There is lots of talk that they want to turn Newton into more of a pocket passer and to check down the ball more. While I think that is the team's goal, Newton has been playing one way his whole life and coming off of shoulder surgery, he won’t even be able to start throwing until mid-June. Oh, and per Pat Thorman of PFF, Newton had the worst passer rating in the league last year on passes going 5 yards or less. All of this means that the great Newton change will probably take two or three years, and not a few months. Once again, I love McCaffrey in dynasty leagues, but people are going to take him too high, as they do every year with some of the rookies.

LeSean McCoy, Buffalo

Jeff Haseley: The mastermind of the Bills rushing offense, Anthony Lynn, is now the head coach for the Los Angeles Chargers. It's unclear how his absence will affect the running game, but you have to think there's a possibility that we could see a drop in rushing volume, which would have a negative effect on LeSean McCoy. I liked McCoy more when he was a late second or third round selection. This year he's going in the first round or early second despite questions about the Bills offensive philosophy. I like McCoy, but taking him as the fourth running back off the board is bit risky.

Joe Mixon, Cincinnati

Chris Feery: There’s no question that Joe Mixon brings a world of talent to the table, but he also carries some tremendous baggage with him as he begins his NFL career. While we sincerely hope that his problems are a thing of the past, there’s plenty to be said for waiting to see how that plays out. Optimism is high that Mixon will hit the ground running and make his red flags an afterthought, but we’ll let someone else take the risk this season.

Theo Riddick, Detroit

Jeff Haseley: Theo Riddick had a top-25 finish in 2016, but that was mainly due to the early season injury to Ameer Abdullah and later injury to Dwayne Washington. Both are healthy now, most notably Abdullah who should see the majority of touches this year. Abdullah's development and usage will mean less snaps and touches for Riddick. Unless another barage of injuries strikes the Lions backs, I don't see Riddick reaching top-30 numbers.

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