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 and identify players that should underperform their draft position.

Player Receiving 5 Votes

Mike Gillislee, New England

Andy Hicks: Mike Gillislee moves from a stable position as backup to LeSean McCoy to one of the guys in the New England Patriots mix. Now the Patriots really wanted him, offering 4 million in his first year, but with Dion Lewis, James White and Rex Burkhead also around, who gets the carries in any given week? All will have specified strengths and weaknesses, but fantasy owners will be in the dark. He seems to be the back of choice among the New England backfield, but at his current price represents significant risk on a week to week basis.

Stephen Holloway: Gillislee is getting far more attention this preseason than he deserves. He may be the lead running back in short yardage situations for the Patriots, but they have James White, Rex Burkhead, and Dion Lewis, three excellent receivers on their running back depth chart that will all have opportunities to run as well as to catch passes. There simply will not be enough chances for Gillislee in the three-man or perhaps 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.

Matt Waldman: A high-effort runner with the potential to become an every-down player, Gillislee is in a crowded backfield playing for a coaching staff that has higher standards than much of the league when it comes to tolerance of errors. There’s also a tighter margin for opportunity, which an injury like Gillislee’s can exacerbate. Dion Lewis and James White as splitting that lead role at this point. Lewis is the most talented back on the Patriots, but it took him a year to fully rehab from his injury. Bill Belichick said he was anxious to see Lewis in training camp after Lewis demonstrated that he was physically back to his old self this spring and has remained as such this summer. Even if Gillislee earns the role, the Patriots have two healthy tight ends to earn red zone targets. That was not the case last year, which contributed to LeGarrette Blount’ strong totals last year.

Jason Wood: Mike Gillislee has the chance to replace LeGarrette Blount in the Patriots offense, but that’s not a foregone conclusion. As much as the Patriots prioritized Gillisless, they also made a point to sign James White to an extension and to acquire the versatile Rex Burkhead. Every running back on the roster has potential value depending on the game script. Even if you think Gillislee gets all of Blount’s touches this year, there’s almost no chance he scores more than eight to 10 touchdowns (versus Blount’s 18 scores). In PPR formats, both White and Dion Lewis are dynamic receivers, so it’s difficult to see Gillislee playing on obvious passing downs. When Gillislee was an afterthought in early June and July drafts, it made sense to roster him for the shot at 800+ yards rushing and 8-10 touchdowns. Now that he’s going as an RB2 in the first half of the draft, he’s an easy player to avoid.

Player Receiving 3 Votes

Joe Mixon, Cincinnati

Chris Feery: The Joe Mixon bandwagon is jam-packed as we head into 2017, but I’m resisting the urge to buy a ticket. There’s no question that 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 I’ll let someone else take the risk this season. Add in the fact that Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis has made it clear that Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard will still be quite involved, and Mixon’s current ADP seems a bit too rich for my blood.

Stephen Holloway: Mixon’s off-field issues are well publicized and he is a polarizing player, both in regard to past discretions as well as potential performance. He was drafted in the second round and should get an opportunity to play early. However, the Bengals still have Jeremy Hill, who has been a decent running back who has excelled scoring touchdowns (30), in his first three seasons. Giovani Bernard seems to be fully recovered from his ACL and he has been productive both running and catching passes (187 career receptions) out of the backfield. There may not be ample opportunities for Mixon in a two or three-way RBBC.

Daniel Simpkins: Mixon is being drafted as if he’s the unquestioned starter in this backfield for the entire year. The Bengals are giving every indication that it will be Jeremy Hill leading the way to start the season. Giovani Bernard’s role may be smaller, but he’ll still be given touches in this backfield. Cincinnati has one of the worst offensive lines and little margin for injury after the departure of Kevin Zeitler and Andrew Whitworth. These issues could create additional problems for any running back tasked with succeeding behind such a line. Even if he does have the starting role before season’s end, his current cost doesn’t price in all the risks that year one doesn’t go as planned.

Players Receiving 2 Votes

Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville

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 price tag on most draft boards, I will be looking elsewhere unless Fournette starts to slip into the lower RB2 range of the draft.

Eddie Lacy, Seattle

Jeff Haseley: Thomas Rawls getting first drive snaps, which may or may not continue, but the writing is on the wall that Lacy isn't the definite starter in Seattle. Lacy has always benefited from his abilities and talent and less his eagerness and drive to excel further. If his talent and ability diminish, I'm not sure he'll ever get back to the level he once played at in his time in Green Bay.

Matt Waldman: Perhaps the early August depth chart is another motivational play to get the most from Lacy, but Thomas Rawls is an excellent talent that never was fully healthy last year. The Seahawks offensive line wasn’t healthy, experience, or cohesive. This year’s unit has some upgrades and the existing personnel should be better. A healthy Russell Wilson should also open running lanes because of his skill as a ball carrier. Even if Rawls and Lacy split time, C.J. Prosise should also figure into the equation as an active receiver and big-play option from the backfield. Prosise has the upside to earn the job outright. In fact, all three players have that talent. It’s a fantasy quagmire and the fact that Lacy’s ADP is the highest makes him the worst value.

Marshawn Lynch, Oakland

Ryan Hester: Old running backs don’t have a good track record of success. Lynch may be a great “real football” asset for his team full of up-and-comers, but his carries will likely be limited – both due to his age and to the second-year tandem of DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard. Oakland also is prime for regression, having overachieved last season and seeing the Vegas win total drop four games from last year’s final result. Game script is huge in fantasy football, and if Oakland isn’t leading as many games, Lynch isn’t getting as many carries. I’d rather roll the dice with a wide receiver at this point in the draft – or with younger running back talent such as Ty Montgomery or Isaiah Crowell.

Stephen Holloway: Lynch has been out of football for almost two years and returns as a 31-year old that has not played in over a year and a half. Oakland already has two talented running backs with familiarity with the offense. The allure of a Beast Mode Return is strong and has elevated his expectations a little too much. The combination of Oakland’s solid passing game, Lynch’s long layoff, his age and the potential for injury is too much for him to overcome.

Christian McCaffrey, Carolina

Phil Alexander: All it will take is one flashy preseason run to send McCaffrey's ADP soaring even further, which spells trouble. Given the Panthers run-heavy offense and McCaffrey's skillset, there should be enough room for him to carve out about 150 carries and 50 receptions. He could easily parlay those touches into 1,200 total yards, which would be great, but where are the touchdowns coming from? McCaffrey is third on the goal line pecking order behind Cam Newton and Jonathan Stewart so his touchdowns will have to come through the air or from distance. He's got the game to score a few long ones, but barring an injury to Stewart, it's hard to project McCaffrey much higher than the RB18-20 range. He's already being drafted earlier than that, and his stock rises with every glowing practice report. McCaffrey may be a great player, but without a clear path to even a half dozen touchdowns, he's being drafted too early.

Chad Parsons: McCaffrey as a high RB2 in price is too rich. With Jonathan Stewart firmly in the Carolina committee plus a bounce-back of the passing game likely from Kelvin Benjamin, betting on McCaffrey to profit from his draft position mandates a Reggie Bush-like rookie season to produce in RB1 territory. The margins are small for McCaffrey outside of historically strong receiving production and optimal touches for red zone touchdowns.

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 was 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 1 player, Todd Gurley, had more touches and did less with them. 10 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 using an early pick on 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. With all these things in mind, it’s best to leave Miller on the shelf at his current price point.

Ty Montgomery, Green Bay

Matt Waldman: While I considered Montgomery a more promising running back prospect in the Rookie Scouting Portfolio when he was at Stanford, Montgomery understandably struggled last year as a pass protector. It was essentially a trial-by-fire, rookie year for him as a running back. However, Montgomery is still struggling in training camp with his pass protection and rookie Jamaal Williams, a better all-around prospect, is standing out as a blocker. Montgomery also fumbled during the preseason and Williams has been effective and secure with his attempts. Even if Montgomery keeps his starting job, the Packers offensive line was a weak unit last year and not much has been done to address it.

Jason Wood: Montgomery was a feel-good story last year. After Eddie Lacy ate his way out of productivity, and the Packers appeared lost offensively, the team turned toward little-used receiver Ty Montgomery as its primary running back, and he acquitted himself well. The former Stanford Cardinal demonstrated great hands and, more importantly, an ability to make tacklers miss in the open field. It’s entirely possible we’ve just seen the tip of the iceberg of Montgomery’s abilities as a runner since he’s just now dedicating himself to the role. However, the Packers used not one, but two rookie draft picks on incredibly talented runners: Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones. Both Williams and Jones have the all-around game to earn starting roles in the league eventually. More importantly, Williams asserted himself immediately in the preseason and is earning 1st team reps in practice. There’s no reason to think Green Bay is committed to Montgomery as anything more than a committee contributor. That’s not worth the current price tag.

Players Receiving 1 Vote

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 Jamaal Charles, Devontae Booker, and impressive rookie De'Angelo Henderson. It doesn't help that new RB 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 an RB2.

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.

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 including 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 team as a whole. 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.

Todd Gurley, LA Rams

Ari Ingel: He knows he played poorly last year, but he’s still the man here and they upgraded their offensive line, at least a bit. Last season, per the NFL's NextGen Stats, Gurley had -.07 yards before a defender was within 1 yard of him, which means that defenders essentially lived in the Rams backfield. Additionally, per PFF, 68.5% of Gurley's yards were gained after contact, meaning he had to work for every yard gained. It’s a make or break year in real life for Gurley, while in fantasy, he at least has a pedestrian RB2 floor with a huge ceiling if he can live up to his rookie year hype and this offensive line can get their act together. After loving his tape coming out of college, right now, I'm just not sure if he is very good. I'm hoping he proves me wrong.

Derrick Henry, Tennessee

Ryan Hester: Henry has one of the highest possible upsides of any handcuff running back in the league, but his draft price is far too high for a lottery ticket player who has little standalone value and all “conditional” value. Drafting Henry means occupying a bench spot just waiting for an injury to DeMarco Murray. Worse yet, it means doing so at the opportunity cost of drafting other running backs with both “conditional” RB1 upside and standalone flex value. At other positions, a low-end QB1 or TE1 could be had around the time Henry is being selected as well.

Carlos Hyde, San Francisco

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.

Adrian Peterson, New Orleans

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.

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