Gut Check No.342: Upside Down Draft Strategy

Upside Down Drafting. High Stakes winners have used it, there's a book on it, and it has even earned a different name. Waldman coined the original name. Learn about his UDD approach for 2015. 


If you aren't familiar with the UDD Strategy here's the basic explanation of the philosophy, the strategy, and its execution:

  • Average Draft Position is largely based on the previous year's stats. 
  • The difference between the RBs with preseason ADPs or RB1-RB2 and their end of season performance is significant. 
  • Although generally lower than RBs, WRs sometimes have a turnover rate this high. However, the decision to draft RBs early is an ingrained process among many fantasy owners and this also matters when formulating strategy.
  • Turnover rates for the top handful of TEs and QBs is also generally lower than RBs and WR, which factors into strategy. 
  • If a fantasy owner in an RB-centric environment opts to take non-RB positions in the opening 4-6 rounds of a draft and then focus heavily on mid-round and late-round RBs, he has a good shot of building a top-scoring team -- even if his RB picks have mediocre outcomes.

There are several reasons why the outcome of the RB picks isn't an integral part of the strategy. The quality of talent and production at the elite tiers of WR, QB, and TE is one. UDD Strategy relies on maximizing the opportunity to have the "pick of the litter" at these positions while most fantasy owners are focused on RB.

Another is the depth of talent a UDD team can generate at these non-RB positions. It helps the fantasy owner leverage his depth to build a better team during the season. I've found that my depth at WR, QB, and/or TE helps me make trades for at least one quality RB during the season and without losing an advantage at other positions in my starting lineup. 

Developing trade depth should not be regarded as an accident -- or at the very least, your strategy should be sound enough to encourage "happy accidents." Some seasons, I've drafted UDD and acquired enough RB talent to upgrade positions where I was already strong. When this happens, your UDD draft created a significant deficiency of RB talent across your league and it generated a gap of production between your squad and potentially all but 3-4 teams in the league. 

UDD works in PPR, non-PPR, and many flex leagues where fantasy owners can start 3-6 WRs or 1-3 TEs. If the starting lineup rules of a league allow a fantasy owner to field a crew of players where the non-RBs can vastly out-number RBs, then there's a good chance UDD is a viable strategy. 

For an in-depth explanation of the strategy, the number of years I have studied turnover at the positions, and the philosophy behind it, you can read the min-tome

This post will examine the RBs I like for a 2015 UDD strategy. I'll also supply three mock drafts in a 12-team PPR league with a 20-round draft and starting lineup of 1 QB, 2-3 RBs, 3-4 WRs, 1-2 TEs, 1 PK, 1 DEF.


Mid-Round UDD RBs

The UDD mindset includes eliminating from your mind the idea that the first back taken in the block of backs between rounds 5-10 will be your RB1 and the subsequent backs will be your RB2, RB3, etc. Even if a fantasy owner eventually uses his fifth RB drafted as his RB1, the mindset of drafting with any other strategy is like shooting an arrow at a target. Drafting a block of RBs one after the other is like casting a net into the water.

Approaching UDD with this mindset will help you avoid the trap of getting too finicky about your choices. Volume of picks and talent of picks are both important.  Listed below are the backs in order of my confidence in their ability to provide at least RB2 production. 

RB2? Why not RB1? In case you forgot, or you haven't read the UDD strategy in depth, many successful UDD teams--even those that lead their leagues in total points do it with one top-24 scorer at RB and often an RB2. It's why I'm giving you a conservative estimate. 

I'd rather under sell and over deliver than sell you a dream and leave you with a nightmare. 

Special Cases

Andre Ellington (ADP 42): There are two scenarios where Ellington is a viable UDD prospect to lead your block of RB picks. The first is if Ellington falls to the fifth round and you've selected some combination of 4 WRs or 3 WRs and either a QB or TE. The second scenario is if you plan to take a starting tight end and a pair of committee QBs between rounds 10-13. Under those conditions, I fully endorse the selection of Ellington. 

Let's get something out of the way: I'm skeptical of "injury prediction." There are too many variables involved with the process and many of those variables aren't available to the media unless they've got the hookup with an NFL analytics consultant involved in studying things like GPS data. I can't tell you whether there are increased odds that Ellington gets hurt and I doubt anyone on the Internet selling a product can do so either.  

What I do know is that Ellington was good last year despite playing with an injury, playing behind a below-average offensive line, and playing a fair amount of time behind a reserve quarterback out of his depth in the starting lineup. Ellington was 19th among fantasy RBs in PPR scoring despite playing 1-4 fewer games than his 18 peers ranked above him.

When filtering 2014's rankings to the 12 weeks Ellington took the field, the Cardinals back was the No.9 fantasy RB overall despite an ugly-looking 3.3 ypc. I've also seen mixed reviews of Ellington's decision-making. Cian Fahey believes Ellington makes poor decisions and doesn't know how to make line reads indicative of a good starter. Merril Hoge--and yes diehards, I know he's not a favorite and has his share of inflammatory takes--used a film room segment to show how much Ellington's decision making advanced in 2014, including compelling tape that showed Ellington's skill at pressing a crease. 

I found a piece of All-22 on against the 49ers last year that illustrates Hoge's point. This is an interior run where Ellington has a clear opening to the right shoulder of his center at the the line of scrimmage as he approaches the crease. Instead of hitting the crease immediately to that right shoulder, Ellington does a beautiful job of setting up the block by approaching the left shoulder of the center.

This press not only sells the lineman's approach to Ellington's left so the center has an easier job with his block, it also sucks the safety further inside and sets up an easier block for receiver. The receiver misses the block, but he runs enough interference to enhance Ellington's bounce to the right flat after he emerges from the crease that he did a great job of setting up. 

I saw more plays of this caliber last year than I saw evidence of bad decision-making. And for full disclosure, I wasn't a raving fan of Ellington's decision-making when he was at Clemson. With two upgrades to the Cardinals' line and holding out hope that Jonathan Cooper is healthy enough to play to his vast potential, my confidence in Ellington is high.  

Make sure that your confidence in a QBBC and the tight ends available after your RB block is high enough before you consider Ellington before the fifth round. If so, Ellington's size, agility, vision, and versatility places him in the skill range of Ahmad Bradshaw and Jamaal Charles. That's good company.

Latavius Murray (ADP 49): I'd only take Murray if he falls to me in the fifth round and Joseph Randle isn't available. The jury is still out on this offensive line and I wasn't impressed with their performance last year. This year, the Raiders face some difficult opponents on paper. Murray has the physical skills, but his decision-making has some spotty areas with crease choice, patience, and footwork. If Randle is gone and I'm faced with Murray in the fifth round, I pull the trigger because I don't have to be dead-on accurate with the choice.

My Top 6 

RB Joseph Randle (ADP 51): The Cowboys' runner is a perfect example why you can't get too finicky about backs early in your block. There are enough reasons to doubt this underwear bandit: The media has been on a free agent RB watch all offseason, Randle has never carried the load in the NFL, and he hasn't always played nice off the field. 

Randle entered the league a competent runner. It's a lukewarm assessment, because most runners on an NFL depth chart are competent. Many free agents looking for jobs are competent. Competent doesn't hold down a starter role long-term. 

Justin Forsett entered the league as a competent runner. He was persistent enough to stick with his craft while bouncing around the league. Baltimore is Forsett's fifth team in seven years. As football players age two things generally happen: 1) Their physical skills erode from the years of punishment and 2) They become conceptually savvier about the game. 

Forsett is one of those rare players who got to mature at his craft without getting the wear and tear that comes with it. It's a rare intersection of two things that don't happen often. In a sense, this also happened with Steve Young.

Randle hasn't been in the league half the time of Forsett and he hasn't seen enough game reps to know for sure how much his conceptual skills have improved. Neither of those things concern me much. The Cowboys line is good enough that I'm sold on Randle if Dallas names him the lead back and plans to give Randle 17-20 touches per game. 

Remember Steve Slaton's great rookie year in Houston? The Texans had a good offensive line and Slaton's decision-making between the tackles had flaws. Some of Slaton's better runs were the product of defenders initially closing the gaps at the line of scrimmage, but failing to wrap the runner. Slaton's game--and good fortune--was exposed a little more the following year and he failed to sustain a career. 

Even if you're skeptical of Randle's skill compared to most starters, the Cowboy's line and surrounding talent is as good or better than that Texans offense that helped Slaton author a 268-1282-9 rookie year. Unless the Cowboys have a change of heart and sign Ray Rice or trade for a talented reserve, I'm confident Randle can at least give UDD drafters a solid RB2. 

If Randle fails to meet my expectations, there are still 5-6 more backs in your block. Based on the makeup of successful UDD rosters, you often need just one RB. The current situation in Dallas and the potential upside far outweigh the potential negatives.

Ameer Abdullah (ADP 68): Of the committee backs on this list most likely to see a split in carries, I have the most confidence in Abdullah. There were two concerns about the Nebraska runner before the draft: An extraordinarily high career fumble rate and his pass protection skills. 

Although Abdullah has put the ball on the ground during his final two seasons, I dispelled that career fumble rate with a deeper look into his career progression. Abdullah's mistake ratio during the past two years--where he earned most of his feature workload--are on par with productive players we all know and trust. Will he fumble as a rookie? I'll bet on 3-4 fumbles and naysayers telling the world that they knew it. At the end of the year, I don't think most people will be talking about the fumbles as much as the production. 

Pass protection was Abdullah's true weakness at Nebraska. Thus far, the reports from camp describe Abdullah as holding his own and developing confidence in his skills. Abdullah commented that he likes how straightforward the pass protection scheme is for a running back in Detroit. 

My confidence is in Abdullah's intelligence, work ethic, and skills with the ball in his hands. He lacks great top-end speed, but he has phenomenal burst and control of his feet. The rookie can bend the corner on perimeter runs at a pace that's difficult for most backs to do. 

Not a power back, Abdullah has functional power to bounce off glancing hits, run through wraps to his legs, and push the pile with good leverage. He won't earn the red zone looks over Joique Bell this year, but I do expect Abdullah to earn a feature role in Detroit by the end of 2016. This year, I anticipate a split in carries between Abdullah and Bell. Look for Abdullah's workload to increase as the year progresses and watch Theo Riddick's projected role in the passing game to stall, because Abdullah is a fantastic receiver with route running skills that surprised the Lions' coaching staff. 

Want more on Abdullah? 

Don't get too excited about the buzz, I'm not expecting RB1 stardom this year. The talent is there for it to happen, but keep expectations to RB2 production (15-24 in your rankings) and you'll have weeks where he'll do much more.  

Doug Martin (ADP 91): The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the worst fantasy team in the league last year when it came to RB scoring, averaging 12.8 fantasy points per game. The Buccaneers only managed to give one of its running backs at least 15 carries 5 times last year. Martin had two of those games, Bobby Rainey had the other two, and Charles Sims had one.

The Buccaneers were also bottom dwellers in RB fantasy production in 2013 with a slightly better average of 14 points per game. In this case, Martin missed the final 9 games of the season and the team's average points per game actually picked up with Rainey as the lead back. 

The past two seasons were a far cry from the team's No.10 ranking in this productivity stat in 2012, Martin's rookie year. The runner earned at least 15 carries 13 times that year and 5, 100-yard efforts (no less than 128 yards in those games, including a 251-yard, 4-TD pounding of the Raiders). 

The common tie among these three seasons has been upheaval. The team has started three quarterbacks in as many years; the 2013 offensive line shuffled its center position from 2012; and the 2014 offensive line didn't have a single starter from it's 2012 or 2013 unit. 

There has been zero continuity along the offensive line and there will be changes in 2015. Rookies Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet will likely start at left tackle and right guard, respectively. Arguably, the most important position for line continuity is center and Evan Dietrich-Smith returns at that position, which should help. So will having veteran Logan Mankins beside him at left tackle for a second season. 

This discussion of the offensive line does lead to a question that's common about the run game: Does the line make the back better or does the back make the line better? I've heard arguments for both. 

If you're arguing for the line making the back, the main point is the caliber of creases opened that even the average running back should have enough productive runs to keep an offense on schedule. If you're arguing for the back making the line, you're citing great players who thrived behind mediocre or poor units because they had the power, agility, and vision to make that first defender miss and create big gains from bad situations. 

I believe there are compelling examples of both arguments at play throughout the history of the league depending on the team, year, and back. If pressed, I side with the back making the line. Let's use Ray Rice's dismal 2013 season as an example.

Rice averaged 3.1 yards per carry--his worst season as a pro. Bernard Pierce, a back who earned a 4.9 ypc with 108 carries as a rookie in 2012, didn't even perform as well as an injured Rice in 2013, averaging 2.9 ypc with 152 carries. Those are enough touches to gauge Pierce's effectiveness compared to Rice. While YPC is a blunt tool for analysis, it's indicative of what I saw in 2013 from a healthy Pierce vs. a far less healthy Rice. 

But it's not that simple of an argument. Center Matt Birk was still heading this unit in 2012 and the combination of Birk and Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda isn't anything to shrug off. Especially when Birk retired at season's end and the Ravens replaced the veteran with first-year starter Gino Gradkowski and moved Michael Oher from left tackle to right tackle.

Although the Buccaneers will start two rookies, there is some continuity at center and guard, and Doug Martin is back to his 2012 level of conditioning. I'm willing to take the chance on Martin for these two reasons as well as the improvement of the receiving corps.  Bobby Rainey was the No.22 fantasy RB after Martin was lost to injury in 2013, despite this shuffled offensive line.  I think a healthy Martin behind a line with a little more continuity can match or exceed that ranking for the length of the 2015 season, even if Charles Sims earns a part-time role on passing downs. 

I'm no strength of schedule scholar, but I like the match-ups Tampa will have with Atlanta and New Orleans (twice), Tennessee, the New York Giants, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Philadelphia and Chicago. These eight defenses were among the most fantasy-friendly versus the run last year. We're talking about 10 games where Tampa faces 8 of the easiest 13 fantasy run defenses. I like my chances with an invigorated Martin.

Chris Ivory (ADP 96): The news from Jets camp gives strong indications that they'll lean hard on Chris Ivory this year. This breaks from the previous years where the Jets took a cautious approach with the runner. The biggest question is health. Can this fleet-footed, big back with a penchant for hard cuts and punishing runs stay healthy?  

Like I said earlier, everyone has an opinion about injuries but few really know. What we do know is that Ivory has earned few opportunities to carry the ball more than 15 times in games. He appears built for it.

When Ivory has earned a high volume, he's been pretty good. Examining the nine games Ivory exceeded 14 touches, the back averaged 19.4 carries for 94.67 yards (a 4.86 ypc) and almost a touchdown every other game. We're talking about a fantasy points per game average of 12.5. 

If Ivory can maintain that kind of productivity over the course of a 16-game season, we're looking at a back who would have been the No.12 runner in 2014, the No.13 runner in 2013, and the No.12 runner in 2012. That's RB average value. 

How confident am I that Ivory earns that kind of workload? The Jets used him in goal line looks, they aren't projecting a pitch count for Ivory, Zac Stacy is on the bubble, Stevan Ridley isn't healthy yet, and Bilal Powell probably remains a change of pace. Add that up, and I'm game. Taking Ivory as one of my block of 5-7 backs.

Jonathan Stewart (ADP 55): This selection depends a lot on Joseph Randle. If the Dallas back's value climbs and fantasy owners remove the caution flag, you might nab Randle and Stewart in the same draft--if you're confident enough in using Randle as your fourth pick with the same considerations I gave Andre Ellington. If Randle's value remains steady, you're effectively choosing between the Dallas run game and Stewart. 

I choose Dallas, but it's a closer choice than it appears. Stewart is a vastly more talented runner and he looked more like the early-career player I saw before the slew of foot and leg injuries that drove us to distraction. The Panthers schedule down the stretch of the 2015 season also looks pretty soft if you can accurately base the SOS on last year's production, which I've said is dicey. 

The reason the gap is narrow between Carolina and Dallas is that I think there's a more clear-cut reserve in Carolina. Cameron Artis-Payne is a competent runner with power, pateince, and enough versatility to take over for Stewart and do so with the possibility of a good stretch-run schedule ahead of him. If you can't get Randle, or you can't get with trusting Randle, Stewart is a worthy consolation prize as long as you target Artis-Payne as a handcuff between rounds 15-17.

Isaiah Crowell (ADP 83): The current state of the Browns' running back situation will scare people away. Duke Johnson Jr and Terrance West are dinged and RB Coach Wilbert Montgomery (a good lead back for the Eagles when I was growing up) is bemoaning the fact that his backs aren't in tip-top shape. Crowell is the only healthy option and Montgomery doesn't like that Crowell hasn't put his foot on the neck of his competition and taken the feature role that the team wants to award one of these backs. 

Crowell is the best bet to earn this job as a talent--and I believe Duke Johnson Jr should at least earn a shot to prove he can do the work before he's written off as a high-upside committee back. The recurring theme of Crowell's college and pro career is the perception of coaches that he doesn't want to bust his tail in practice or play through pain. 

Crowell had a reasonable excuse for the past two years: He screwed up so badly at Georgia that if he wanted any chance of getting signed by a team last year, he would have to be healthy enough to impress at the combine. Getting hurt at a small school and then not being able to work out for scouts would have taken Crowell completely off the NFL's radar. At the same time, it earned criticism from his coach Reggie Barlow who said that he tried to impress upon Crowell that he'll have to play through pain and do the dirty work to maintain a roster spot, much less earn a starting role. 

If Crowell hasn't learned his lesson, look for Duke Johnson Jr to earn a larger share of the role if he can physically handle it. If Crowell has turned the corner but Montgomery is using the press as an extra motivational push (and don't say great backs don't need it--Bill Parcells rode Curtis Martin through the press early on), don't just take it from me that Crowell could become a top feature back in this league. Earnest Byner believes the same thing

Considering that I can get Crowell and Duke Johnson Jr--or more accurately, the biggest share of the Browns' offensive line-- in consecutive rounds, I'm game. Crowell probably has the best chance to maintain a red zone role even if he fails to nail down the feature job and relegate Johnson to third-down and change of pace duty. 

No Man's Land

Arian Foster (ADP 65): If Foster and Abdullah's ADPs remain stable, the draft-day question you'll be asking as a UDD strategist is "Do I want Abdullah who will be in the offense half of the time (at best) this year or do I want Foster who will be in the offense full-time for (at best) half of the year?" There will be leagues where Foster's value is lower based on the injury and you could nab both. 

If you embrace a risk-tolerant strategy, Foster could be ready for the opener. A healthy Foster at a steal of a value? Sounds great on paper. I think skepticism is a good thing to have right now. 

This valid skepticism of Foster begins with the sports hernia surgery. Adrian Peterson and Andre Ellington had offseason sports hernia surgeries in the past and rebounded fine. Both had the surgeries at the end of their seasons after playing with the injury. Then they had 3-4 months to rehab before mini camp.

Here's Jene Bramel's take:

Dr. Meyers quotes a return from his core abdominal surgeries within 3-8 weeks, depending on the exact location. Some guys have had the procedure during the season and have done ok within 6 weeks. When athletes take enough time to rehab they should do fine. The ones that worry me are repeat injuries or those that struggle and have a reconditioning injury immediately. 

The interesting thing here is that these core muscle injuries are not usually acute; they take time to grow more annoying. The groin tear should also be ok to recover from. It means we should be monitoring two potential red flags with Foster's rehab: 

  • Does he come back in the four-week range when it really should be 6-8 weeks? 
  • Will he have yet another muscle strain as he reconditions?
The best case scenario for fantasy owners is that Foster takes his rehab slow enough to phase in his return to the field and a full-time role over a 2-3 week period AFTER a six-week rehab from surgery. It probably won't concern me if Foster actually takes longer to rehab. 
If the Texans declare Foster ready Week 1, Foster better have two weeks of reassuring work that includes consecutive practices as part of the evidence. 

My take from Bramel's assessment: While September is a possible return date, I don't like Foster's history of soft tissue issues to his legs. 

I don't mind taking a risk on Foster if he drops below his current ADP and the backs I'm more confident about are gone, but I need to find more evidence that Foster isn't getting fast-tracked back before I bump him up my confidence rankings for UDD. 

He could fit into any of the three main categories of my confidence ratings depending his IR designation. Right now, he's in No Man's Land. I'll consider him as part of my RB block if I land two of my first three on the top-6 list and my draft spot gives me a good chance of landing at least two of the final three. If not, I don't like the risk-reward. 


I would not want my block of 5-6 backs loaded with these players, but if I needed to take 1-2 of the players below, I'm game. 

T.J. Yeldon (ADP 52): If the Jaguars' schedule looked a little easier and more important, the offense hadn't changed coordinators this offseason, I'd have more confidence in Yeldon and he'd make my top-6. He's close enough that I won't hesitate to take Yeldon if my preferred options in his range are sniped. There's an underlying fear that Alabama's line made Yeldon look better than he is, because of the outcomes we've seen with Glenn Coffee and Trent Richardson.

Coffee was never a great prospect and he clearly had a larger passion for the military than he did pro football. I've been told that Richardson's issues have been emotional in nature. I'm not referring to mental health, but a lack of desire to play the game.

Compared to Ingram, Richardson, and Lacy, Yeldon may seem like a lesser athlete in some regards, but don't fall into the trap that Yeldon lacks the physical skills of an NFL starter. The rookie is a physical, agile runner with excellent decision-making, control over his feet, and versatility on passing downs. Yeldon should earn the full-time job in this Jaguars offense that is transitioning to a simpler scheme.

I don't expect RB1 upside for Yeldon this year. I do expect low-range RB production and consistent production each week. That's good enough for a place in my UDD RB Block.  

LeGarrette Blount (ADP 78): If it were only about ability, Blount would be in my top six. Opportunity concerns me whenever I think about New England's running back depth chart. Although there was a negative MRI returned on Blount's knee injury, Jonas Gray is in good shape and the coaching staff claims there's a clean slate for the back who only lost the job to Blount in the first place because of tardiness. If you're not keen about the Browns backfield, Blount makes a worthwhile substitute for Crowell and you still earn a decent chance at Martin or Ivory.

Giovani Bernard (AP 60): There's a remote chance Bernard can crack the top-15 of fantasy backs this year, but it will take the Bengals offense hitting on all cylinders. Everyone is healthy enough at this stage of training camp to remain hopeful about the upside. I prefer looking at worst-case scenarios. 

Barring injury, Bernard's worst case is probably RB3 production and as a UDDer I can live with that possibility if I select Bernard as my starter. My concern is whether Bernard earns that best-case scenario of RB1 touches if Jeremy Hill gets hurt. The Bengals like Rex Burkhead enough that they might pair him with Bernard if Hill goes down. 

I believe in Bernard's skills to take on a feature role if necessary. Think Brian Westbrook. But I'm not the party that needs convincing.

Duke Johnson Jr (ADP 98): The rookie factor and a lack of work in pads during training camp due to a hamstring injury drops Johnson a little more than I'd have him based purely on his skills. I think of Johnson as an updated version of Clinton Portis. I don't think he's as good between the tackles as Portis was as a rookie, but the potential to become a full-time back is there. Johnson runs tough, makes good decisions, and like Abdullah, his skill at accelerating while cornering is impressive.

If I'm betting on the Browns offensive line, which I've done this summer in my fair share of mock drafts, I'm putting chips on the duo of Crowell and Johnson and letting someone else day dream that they'll have the last laugh with Terrance West. It might happen, but I might also find myself on ESPN's First Take with a 20-day old beard, a cap on backwards, and a pair of jeans with a hole in the knee.

I wouldn't hold your breath for either, David Blaine.

If I had to chose one Brown's runner, it's Crowell this year. If I had to chose one Brown's runner as a dynasty pick, Johnson is my guy.  Their talents are comparable even if their styles, strengths, and weaknesses are different. It's Johnson's life smarts and work smarts that   

Rashad Jennings (ADP 72): I don't think we're going to see Jennings reach Jeremy Hill-like upside in New York. Shane Vereen and Andre Williams probably earn enough playing time to make Jennings a solid bye-week option, but an infrequent RB1 or consistent RB2. The injury factor doesn't concern me, or does his age. The tread is pretty light on these tires and Jennings is the best all-around talent at the position on this depth chart. I'd imagien that a lot of the practices where he's working with the two's has as much to do with getting Shane Vereen acclimated and helping Williams' learning curve and conidence than anything about Jennings' skills.

Devonta Freeman (ADP 99): Before getting hurt, Freeman was having a strong camp. As Kyle Shanahan said, the second-year back is a perfect fit for the outside zone scheme. Many people believe the selection of Tevin Coleman was an indictment of Freeman's rookie year. I don't see it this way. 

Coleman's selection was an opportunity to land an explosive player in the third round and solidify a depth chart that had Freeman and a scat back (Antone Smith). Jacquizz Rodgers and Steven Jackson were sent packing. 

Both Freeman and Coleman are dealing with hamstring issues, which has opened the door for Terron Ward to see practice time and possibly earn a spot on the depth chart. Ward, a former Oregon-State runner, has good balance and capable passing game skills. He's an average NFL athlete at best and he won't threaten Freeman or Coleman's pursuit of the playing time this year.

I anticipate Coleman will have a wide range of boom-bust moments this year. Freeman lacks the combine wow-factor of Coleman, but he's an Ahmad Bradshaw-like option: quick, decisive, versatile, and skilled at picking his way through traffic. If Atlanta can improve it's line play, Freeman has 1000-yard potential if the Falcons stick with him. 

I fear Atlanta ramrods Coleman into playing time, doesn't give Freeman opportunities to get into a rhythm, and the offensive line fails to do consistent work during it's first season with a new scheme. I'll pick Freeman this late in the draft because his upside is clear-cut RB2 production. The realistic expectation is low-end RB3.

Joique Bell (ADP 66): I've seen Bell drop to the 98th pick in drafts. At this point, I'll cuff him to Abdullah if that happens and Duke Johnson Jr is gone. Bell is still a good back and if Abdullah gets hurt, Bell could be in for a top-20 year. I'd even consider Bell over Johnson in many cases. 


These runners are worth an investment. They have starter ability and potential opportunity for late-round picks. I recommend having a total of 6-8 backs on your 20-man roster, 1-2 from this list should help you reach that total.

Jonas Gray (ADP 192): In shape, clean slate, Blount suspended, and Belichick fickle? It all sounds like ripe conditions for Gray to earn back the lead role for a fine offense. 

David Cobb (ADP 124): Cobb has impressed Ken Whisenhunt when the pads came on and I think Cobb eventually overtakes Bishop Sankey. I'll put the over/under at Week 5. Cobb isn't fast, but he has enough burst, great hands, and the power to lead his rushing attack.

DeAngelo Williams (ADP 150): I'll take a reserve piece of this Steeler ground game, especially when it's in the form of a proven talent who is still young enough to have upside for 2015.

Khiry Robinson (ADP 237): C.J. Spiller might be a slow learner. I see a potential pattern that points me to that conclusion: Spiller was an immature decision maker between the tackles at Clemson. Chan Gailey limited Spiller's playing time as a rookie when the runner displayed too great of a predilection for bouncing plays outside. Spiller regressed to these types of decisions later in his Buffalo career. And now, Spiller is third on the depth chart behind Ingram and Robinson. 

In Spiller's defense, this depth chart rating could be parlance Spiller having the change of pace role in the same way that Darren Sproles or Pierre Thomas could have been ranked third when they were with the Saints. What I do know is that Bill Parcells liked Robinson and compared him favorably to Curtis Martin. 

If Robinson's skills were truly as favorable as Martin, I don't know if we'd be seeing a potential three-headed committee. Considering the injury histories of Ingram and Spiller, I'm game for taking a late-round shot on Robinson. 

Mock Drafts (From the 1, 6, and 12-Holes)

Team 1-Hole

Getting Foster in the 11th round was surprising and once the news breaks on his surgery and rehab estimations, it might be a temporarly steal. I'm a DeAndre Hopkins believer, but you certainly could have grabbed T.Y. Hilton, Brandin Cooks, or Jordan Matthews to pair with Mike Evans to round out your trio. None of my reserve receivers are fantastic upside picks with great physical potential, but they're capable of solid WR2 production and I'm seeking that kind of skill and consistency behind my starters. I don't think Jacob Tamme consistently goes it he 20th round in Footballguys staff leagues, but in other formats, I have seen it. 

Team 6-Hole

Once again, Foster was available later (9th round) than I expected and I couldn't resist. Grabbing Murray and hoping I'd still land Abdullah in the sixth round at this spot paid off, but it's a risk. Yeldon was a tougher choice than I expected because I could have reached a two rounds for Ivory and still took Martin, But after seeing Foster fall to the 11th round in the last mock, I took a shot on Yeldon and landed Foster late enough to feel ok about missing Ivory or skipping the Crowell-Johnson duo. I also had a shot at Giovani Bernard, Joique Bell, and Todd Gurley at this seventh-round spot. Gurley was a tempting pull on the heartstrings, but I've been skeptical all a long about him being ready for the opener. What made this draft click into place for me was landing Rivers and Smith in rounds 10 and 11 after my RB block.

I think this is a balanced draft build with quality depth at RB, WR, and TE. I'll take my chances with the rookie QB Winston as my QB2. I like my WRs corps and TEs more with this squad than the first, but I'm more confident about my RBs from the one-hole. Remember that  I could have taken Ivory or Crowell in the 7th round in this mock so overall, I like this draft spot's potential. 

Team 12-Hole

Another Foster grab in the 9th round highlights this RB block with Abdullah, Ivory, Martin, and Johnson. Grabbing Cobb a little early in the 11th was tough to resist because I wanted to try for more high-risk upside with my receivers instead of leading off the second half of the draft with Steve Johnson.

Receivers were difficult for me to choose. Personally I have A.J. Green and Jordy Nelson [Author's Note: Article published prior to Jordy Nelson's season-ending injury.] a little higher than Calvin Johnson and Julio Jones, but for the sake of showing what ADP possibilities could provide from the 12-hole, my more conventional choices were Jones, Johnson and Odell Beckham. Not bad.

I liked taking Kelce and Keenan Allen at the 3-4 turn. I didn't expect to see Russell Wilson at the end of the fifth round, so I began my RB block a round later than I prescribe. I think I made out well. Knowing that Foster would be there didn't hurt my confidence. 

I love the upside of this team even if my WR depth chart has some risk. I opted for Nick Foles because I think he'll be an upgrade for the Rams. I think his upside is the QB11-QB16 range, which is something I can work with if Wilson gets hurt--at least until I figure out whom to deal for a better option.

Next Week: Adding to the ADP Desirability Rankings discussion with a set of my own, including some adjustments to the process. 


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