Overvalued Players: Running Backs - Footballguys

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 4 Votes

Kenyan Drake, Miami

Hester: Drake ended 2017 with a surprise, but heading into this year, his prospects don't look promising. Much of his success last season came due to a lack of competition at the running back position. This year, University of Miami alum Frank Gore is coming home to play for the Dolphins. While Drake is clearly the more explosive player at this point in their careers, Gore will get enough usage to limit Drake's upside -- particularly in what should be a bad offense. Ryan Tannehill is scheduled to return, but the team's receivers are Kenny Stills (never a No. 1), DeVante Parker (still looking to justify his draft position), and Albert Wilson (new to the team and an average slot man at best). They also "boast" a rookie starter at tight end in Mike Gesicki. Bad offenses aren't fertile ground for fantasy running backs.

Holloway: The discussion about Kenyan Drake must include consideration of Frank Gore who almost ran for 1,000 yards last year at the age of 34 for the inept Indianapolis Colt offense. The presence of Gore will take some carries away from Drake. The Dolphins also drafted Kalen Ballage, a solid four-year player at Arizona State, who is also a decent receiver. A running back by committee approach seems realistic for the Dolphins capping the value of Drake, who has only a short history either at the collegiate level or in the NFL as a lead back.

Parsons: Kenyan Drake was a glaring dynasty sell this offseason (if not before the deadline in 2017) and now presents a player to avoid at his ADP cost for 2018 redraft. Drake enjoyed life without Jay Ajayi down the stretch last year, posting 90+ total yards in six out of nine games. A good approach to measuring a player's value to the team is to see what the franchise does the following offseason to gauge believe and support. Miami brought in Frank Gore in free agency and drafted Kalen Ballage. Gore has logged at least 250 carries in each of the last seven seasons and has more than 14,000 career rushing yards. While well into his 30s, Gore was not brought in to merely be a position room player/coach. At worst, Gore is a strong 1B to Drake's lead status, pecking away at Drake's ceiling. Ballage, while on Day 3, was one of the few backs remaining on the board to be a challenger to significant work on an NFL depth chart. As a prototypically-sized back with strong athleticism and receiving skills, Ballage profiles as the closest thing to David Johnson since the Northern Iowa product entered the NFL. Drake's ADP assumes neither Gore or Ballage will be a challenger to Drake's workload, which is a risky bet.

Simpkins: Drake’s current ADP reflects last year’s success, but doesn’t account for the new dynamics of this backfield. Drake’s skills have certainly improved from his college tape, but the situation is a bit different in Miami this year. Last year, Drake’s primary competition, Jay Ajayi, was traded away in season, creating a situation in which Drake had an abnormally large share of touches and targets. The Dolphins don’t seem to be satisfied with rolling with just Drake this year, bringing in 1,000-yard rusher Frank Gore in free agency and the very underrated Kalen Ballage in the draft to help Drake split the load. Knowing that there will be more of a split should discourage owners from taking him at his current price point.

Player Receiving 3 Votes

Saquon Barkley, NY Giants

Hester: Barkley's talent is incredible. But careers aren't made in rookie seasons, and Barkley could follow a path similar to a 2017 draftee who was drafted in the Top 10 -- Christian McCaffrey. Draft capital spent suggests plenty of usage for early picks, but it also demands that the player is effective in the long term. Running back is a difficult position to grasp and become a three-down player immediately. Add to that the size concerns and questions about being a 275-touch player, and the risk is suddenly unaccounted for in Barkley's draft price. The Giants also tipped their hand by acquiring Jonathan Stewart. He was signed before the draft, but the team was hot and heavy for Barkley well before mid-March and still brought in Stewart. Draft Barkley if you like; just make sure you don't throw your remote control into your TV every time Stewart vultures a touchdown.

Howe: This isn't to talk you out of taking Barkley midway through Round 1. But you shouldn't value him any more than you do Melvin Gordon III, Kareem Hunt, Dalvin Cook, or Leonard Fournette, and all of those guys are NFL-proven to some degree. Barkley’s presence should be a fantastic thing for the Giants in general, but his 2018 fantasy outlook isn’t quite as rosy as some of the recent top-drafted backs. Despite his size, Barkley never showed much of a blocking-independent power game, and he landed behind an awfully shaky line for an east-west maneuverer to thrive in. And while he’ll drop jaws as a receiver, he’ll joust with plenty of supporting talent for targets; Don’t see an 80-catch debut on the horizon.

Pasquino: Taking a rookie early at tailback is a risky play even if he winds up on a top-notch offense, but when he is on a subpar offense it gets even dicier. Barkley is a very good prospect, but the Giants were terrible on the ground last season and not much has been done to improve the offensive line. Barkley has next to no upside as a top-10 running back fantasy pick. Pass.

Players Receiving 2 Votes

Jay Ajayi, Philadelphia

Bloom: Ajayi’s days of rampaging to 200+ yard games aren’t that small in the rearview mirror, but that doesn’t mean that there are big days ahead. LeGarrette Blount is gone, but the Eagles still have Darren Sproles and Corey Clement. And they could keep Matt Jones or UDFA Josh Adams to cut into Ajayi’s work as the best power back. The Eagles found a good recipe with a three- or four-headed committee last year. Drafting Ajayi as if they will give him a feature back role will only lead to disappointment.

Holloway: Ajayi was acquired by the Eagles at the mid-point of last season. He never had more than 15 carries in a game and caught only 10 passes as an Eagle. He leads their depth chart, but the team brought back Darren Sproles on a one-year contract. Sproles had averaged almost 50 receptions a year before being injured early in 2017. Corey Clement played sparingly as a rookie, but he shined brightly in the Super Bowl and should see increased opportunities in his second season. Ajayi is a talented runner, but the Eagle’s other running back talent will limit his opportunities to carry the load.

Derrick Henry, Tennessee

Alexander: Some people are still drafting Henry as if the Dion Lewis signing doesn't matter, which is just silly. Henry finished as the RB26 in standard leagues last season, splitting carries with DeMarco Murray. Why should we expect a different outcome now that he's sharing the backfield with Lewis -- a veteran of the offensive scheme Tennessee's new coaching staff is implementing, a superior talent to Murray at this point in their respective careers, and the recipient of a rich free-agent contract? It's not like the Titans can run the ball much more than the 27.2 times per game they did last season. We're in the same spot we've been in with Henry since he entered the league -- waiting for an injury to pave the way to the workload he needs to become a reliable fantasy starter.

Hindery: Why is a committee back in what is likely to be a mediocre offense being drafted in the early rounds? After the Titans signed Dion Lewis to a rich free agent contract, the Tennessee front office and coaching staff made clear that the vision was for a committee backfield. "That (role) may change every week. One guy may get 20 carries one week because of the defense we’re facing, and one guy may get 25 carries, whatever it may be," said new head coach Mike Vrabel. "How the pace of the game is going, how the style of the game, how the defense is playing us (will determine when which player is on the field)," noted GM Jon Robinson. It will be tough to trust Henry as a starting fantasy back on a week-to-week basis, which is a scary prospect for a player with such a lofty ADP.

Carlos Hyde, Cleveland

Bloom: If the Browns hadn’t taken Nick Chubb, Hyde would be a value at ADP, but unfortunately, there’s a younger and more talented back on the roster now that can do all of the things the Browns signed Hyde to do. Duke Johnson Jr is there to take up most of the targets out of the backfield, and Chubb is there to breathe down Hyde’s neck for carries between the tackles. The Browns also had the lowest volume of carries to running backs last year. While the team and offense will improve this year, it won’t do it enough to support three fantasy-relevant running backs, so that means Hyde should be off of our target list at an ADP that requires him to be an every-week contributor.

Gray: With Isaiah Crowell leaving for the Jets, the Cleveland backfield looked like a good landing spot for Carlos Hyde. Sure, Duke Johnson Jr is a great receiving back, but the Browns have plenty of room for two backs in their offense. But they don't have room for three. Hyde successfully dodged Saquon Barkley early in the 2018 Draft, but that respite was short-lived with the selection of Nick Chubb. Hyde should still be the starter this season, but Chubb is talented enough to get a lot of looks. That makes Hyde overvalued at his current ADP.

Ronald Jones II II, Tampa Bay

Howe: Jones is likable as a prospect, and it's easy to love the Buccaneers offense for 2018. But it's hard to see much of a path to 225+ touches off the bat, which many seem to be drafting him for. Jones is a slight back at 5’11” and 205 pounds, with relatively small hands and arms; scouts expressed these concerns predraft, and it’s fair to wonder whether Tampa Bay envisions him less as a featured back and more of a replacement for Charles Sims. Jones has the upside to rack up 150 carries and catch 40-50 balls, but don’t value him as highly as rookie counterparts Derrius Guice, Rashaad Penny, or Royce Freeman.

Waldman: Jones is a talented runner, but the Buccaneers offensive line has struggled for a few years. His athletic ability isn’t the likely cure-all for the problem. It wasn’t for Doug Martin, who authored two top-five seasons when the line performed reasonably well but tried to do too much with his high-end athletic ability when the unit struggled. Peyton Barber is a better runner than many realize, and he’s proven that he has the judgment to create efficiently under difficult situations. Until the line displays improvement, Jones is getting drafted on athletic ability and few running backs overcome their line play.

Dion Lewis, Tennessee

Miglio: Somehow, a part-time, third-down back with an injury history who only found success after he landed in New England is going to have a huge fantasy season. That is the thinking-at-large on Dion Lewis, anyway, who finds himself drafted within a few spots of starter and running-mate Derrick Henry. Lewis will have some PPR value, but his ADP is too steep a price to pay.

Wood: What is the obsession with Dion Lewis? NO ONE in the league presently can touch Lewis in the oft-injured department. In seven seasons Lewis has appeared in 54 out of a possible 112 games. Before last season, his career-best was 644 yards from scrimmage, and he had never been a top-40 fantasy back. Last year, Lewis was finally the player everyone thought he could be when he managed 896 yards rushing, 32 receptions, 214 receiving yards, and nine touchdowns on the way to an RB13 finish. And then the Patriots let him walk. When is the last time the Patriots let someone go in free agency only to see them match or exceed their value in New England? We’re supposed to believe a 5=foot-7, 193-pound veteran that’s missed more than half of his career, and had one solid season for the Patriots is now going to be an every week fantasy asset?

Marlon Mack, Indianapolis

Holloway: Mack was drafted in the fourth round a year ago and had only 93 carries as a rookie. He had ten or more carries in only two games. He averaged only 3.8 YPR and scored only four touchdowns. The Colts running game has been bottom third the past three seasons. The Colts drafted a running back, Nyheim Hines, in the fourth round and signed a talented undrafted free agent, Jordan Wilkins who rushed for over 1,000 yards in the SEC a year ago. This depth chart seems nowhere close to being locked down at this point.

Wood: Mack is just another guy. Yes, Frank Gore is now in Miami, which frees up 250+ touches. But if Mack were anything special, wouldn’t he have commanded more than 114 touches as a rookie? A 34-year old Gore got three times the workload, on a team that was rebuilding and assessing the future. Now with a new regime in place, Mack finds himself in competition with not one, but two talented rookies in Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins. Nothing about Hines' or Wilkins' college film suggest they can’t be as good if not better than Mack with an equivalent workload. What’s most likely is Mack, Wilkins, Hines, and possibly Robert Turbin share a committee on a team that could struggle for relevance. The last place I’m looking for RB3 value on draft day is a middling talent stuck in a committee on a lousy team.

LeSean McCoy, Buffalo

Waldman: In general, these value plays all have a good offensive line. In contrast, these overvalued backs all have lines with serious question marks. As great as McCoy is, the Bills lost three starting offensive linemen during the offseason, and there’s no proof they have suitable replacements. Combine these losses with a quarterback depth chart that lacks a veteran with significant starting experience and it poses several challenges for a run game. The replacements will be less effective with one-on-one assignments. The unit’s lack of cohesion will struggle with teamwork in the running and passing games. Veteran quarterbacks are skilled at reading the defense and getting the offense into optimal plays before the snap. It’s likely that the lack of veteran experience in Buffalo will lead to the offense putting McCoy in a lot more bad situations than in the past. Expect more penalties, tackles for losses, and down-and-distance situations that will limit McCoy’s opportunities.

Wood: McCoy has been fantastic for nine seasons, and he’ll get every opportunity to deliver in his 10th. But fantasy owners need to avoid anchoring bias – the tendency to assume what came before is going to happen again. McCoy’s prior achievements are notable, but his circumstances pose a grave risk. The Bills project as one of the league’s worst teams. The Bills offensive line, already a question mark, lost three starters. The quarterback situation, already a question mark, is now built around a weak-armed backup from Cincinnati and an overdrafted, bust-in-the-making rookie. The new offensive coordinator, Brian Daboll, is arguably the least impressive offensive mind of the Belichick tree and lacks creativity. In other words, Buffalo could be a train wreck. Betting on a 30-year old with 2,500+ career touches trying to overcome questionable coaching, line play, and quarterbacking is too much to ask.

Rashaad Penny, Seattle

Bloom: It’s a good idea to reserve a mid-round pick for a rookie running back with a high ceiling, but Penny might not be a wise choice to fill that spot in your draft plan. The Seahawks had the worst running game in the league last year, Chris Carson is no slouch and is healthy again, Penny was one of the worst pass blocking running backs in this year’s draft, and the Seahawks defense is retooling and might not create many run-friendly game scripts. There are too many obstacles to Penny providing a reasonable return on his ADP with so many things working against him despite the Seahawks renewed commitment to the run.

Waldman: Several years ago, Seattle drafted Robert Turbin in the fourth round but was more excited about sixth-round pick Spencer Ware until two DUI-related arrests cost Ware his opportunity. Three years ago, UDFA Thomas Rawls thrived as a surprise starter down the stretch of 2015. In 2016, C.J. Prosise was a third-round pick who flashed as a rookie before getting hurt but couldn’t beat out seventh-round pick Chris Carson in 2017. The Seahawks don’t stick to the high-pick or priority free agent privilege that most teams follow, which means Penny isn’t an automatic starter this year. Carson and Mike Davis performed well despite a struggling offensive line that remains unproven in 2018. In addition, Penny’s pass protection needs a lot of improvement. At this point, his likelihood of thriving immediately is a significant projection.

Players Receiving 1 Vote

Tarik Cohen, Chicago

Hindery: Cohen is a talented player and will certainly have a role to play in the Bears offense. However, it probably won’t be as large a role as it needs to be to justify his ADP, which has soared to where he is now being drafted alongside some other backs who are likely RB1s for their teams. There are suddenly a lot of mouths to feed in the Bears offense. Jordan Howard should dominate the carries and early-down snaps, leaving just the third-down role for Cohen in the backfield. While Cohen should see some snaps at wide receiver, the Bears actions this offseason do not indicate that the new coaching staff has a big role in mind for Cohen at receiver. Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, Taylor Gabriel, and Trey Burton each have defined roles in the offense and the Bears have invested major capital to bring them to Chicago this offseason. Robinson ($14M per year), Burton ($8M per year), and Gabriel ($6.5M per year) will earn a combined $28.5M per season in their multi-year deals. The Bears traded up in the second round to add Miller and have anointed him the starter in the slot. Even in PPR scoring, there probably aren't enough targets available for Cohen to be anything more than a low-end RB2 or RB3.

Alex Collins, Baltimore

Hicks: Alex Collins wasn’t even on the Baltimore roster at the start of the 2017 season, but after being cut by Seattle, he caught on with the Ravens. He quickly did well with limited touches and performed strongly for the remainder of the season, finishing as the 15th-ranked running back. The asking price for Collins this year will expect similar results to last season, which is not how it always works out. History is littered with one-season wonders at running back and while the alternatives aren’t that appealing, it is hard to see a repeat of Baltimore ranking in the Top 3 again for rushing attempts. Fewer touches will impact Collins if he holds onto the job. At the moment the safe play would be to draft both Collins and Kenneth Dixon. The best play would be to avoid Collins altogether.

Devonta Freeman, Atlanta

Alexander: Freeman had only one top-five weekly finish in 2017 and was as a top-12 back just four times. While he has performed as an RB1 sharing a backfield with Tevin Coleman in the past, those seasons were tied to Kyle Shanahan's offensive scheme. In his first year under current Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, Freeman was less involved as a receiver. His targets per game dipped from a two-year average of 5.6 with Shanahan calling plays to 3.4 last year -- a decrease of nearly 40%. Unfortunately, Shanahan isn't walking back through the doors of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which caps Freeman's ceiling in fantasy RB2 territory for as long as he's sharing a backfield with Coleman.

Melvin Gordon III, LA Chargers

Hicks: What do Cedric Benson, Ron Dayne, and Anthony Thomas have to do with Melvin Gordon III? Of players with at least 700 career carries, they are the only backs this century to have worse yards-per-carry average than Gordon. After three years we know who Melvin Gordon III is. He scores significant fantasy points primarily to a large number of touches the Los Angeles Chargers provide him. Gordon is likely to see a similar workload again in 2018 but will fall behind in fantasy stats to players of a superior skill set who can do more with less. He makes for a nice second fantasy back, but he will be drafted as the anchor back on all but a few rosters. Simply put his upside is minimal, but the downside is significant.

Alvin Kamara, New Orleans

Pasquino: Kamara cannot possibly keep up the insane numbers he had last year with over six yards per carry and 10 yards per reception along with 13 touchdowns. Kamara’s production of over 1,500 yards with just 202 regular season touches is beyond remarkable. His present draft value is more of a reflection of those numbers than his likely regression to more realistic stats this season, making his upside next to nonexistent as a top-five fantasy running back.

Marshawn Lynch, Oakland

Haseley: Some doubted Marshawn Lynch's ability last year, and while he did have a top-25 finish, he wasn't the same level of player he used to be. Now he's another year older with more wear on his body (+200 carries last season), and he'll have competition in Doug Martin. Other running backs like Rex Burkhead, Chris Thompson, or Aaron Jones are better fantasy options than relying on a veteran back like Lynch, whose play is declining.

Christian McCaffrey, Carolina

Pasquino: Christian McCaffrey is not built to be a lead back in the NFL. He offers shiftiness and speed, but he is best utilized with fewer touches and as part of the mix rather than as a feature part of an offense. McCaffrey will put up solid numbers, but he will be pushed for touchdowns by both C.J. Anderson and also Cam Newton near the goal line. McCaffrey has solid receiver value, but his ceiling is not high enough to warrant a top-25 pick overall.

Jerick McKinnon, San Francisco

Hicks: There is no doubt that the signing of Jerick McKinnon to the 49ers has generated a lot of buzz in fantasy circles. The reality, though, is that it will be hard to live up to the expected draft price. In McKinnon's favor is the lack of alternatives on the San Francisco roster, but expect one of Matt Breida, Joe Williams, or a free agent to be the dominant ball carrier. McKinnon does catch a lot of balls out of the backfield, but as a pure runner, his history is poor. He has an average of 3.5 yards a carry over the last two years in Minnesota, despite seeing more than 150 carries in each season. His value will be catching the ball, but he will struggle for touchdowns and the rushing attempts needed to threaten the borderline RB1 price he currently attracts.

Chris Thompson, Washington

Brimacombe: Before getting injured, Chris Thompson turned into a fantasy running back darling in 2017. In 10 games, he piled up 804 total yards and six touchdowns with limited touches in the offense as he averaged 10.3 total touches a game. Thompson was never supposed to be the type of running back who saw more than 10 touches a game, and with Washington drafting Derrius Guice in the second round the looks for Thompson will likely decrease back to the 6-8 range per game. Thompson is also coming back from injury - breaking his fibula a year ago - which means the team could look to ease him back slowly.

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