On Second Thought: Running Backs

A discussion of how my early preseason expectations have changed as we near the start of the regular season

On Second Thought…Running Backs

It's hard to believe that we're just a week away from the start of the NFL regular season. For many fans, they're just now starting to pay attention. But for fantasy owners, for FOOTBALLGUYS, we're already many months into our preparation. As one of the contributors to the site's projections, I have had the entire league modeled and projected since late April. Needless to say, a LOT of things happen between then and the beginning of September. I, along with the other staff, tweak our projections and expectations as we go along. But it occurs to me that very little is ever said about the way our opinions change. This article, and others like it, will highlight in a qualitative manner the assumptions that went into my initial projections that have since changed considerably. Enjoy.


On Second Thought...

 

Eddie Lacy (GB) IS a Top 5 fantasy running back

I’m sure most of you have viewed Lacy as a Top 5 option from the start, but I was more circumspect. I was concerned about Lacy’s lack of touches relative to other top options, and believed that without double-digit touchdowns he could slip down into the lower end of the Top 10. As the preseason has unfolded though, I’ve come back in-line with the consensus. Jordy Nelson’s injury and the lack of a compelling tight end means Lacy is going to see more touches. More touches means Lacy will deliver on the ADP you’ve all been drafting him all summer.

DeMarco Murray (PHI) will be very good, but he won’t be great

Murray remains in my Top 10, but there’s a difference between drafting him as the 10th running back and viewing him as an early 1st round option. This is no condemnation of Murray’s talents, it’s a recognition that Chip Kelly plans on using Murray, Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles regularly. Murray isn’t going to see enough touches to push for Top 5 honors.

Lamar Miller (MIA) can be your linchpin

Rookie Jay Ajayi has posed no threat this preseason and Miller has looked great. The coaches have acknowledged they underused Miller in 2014 and plan on remedying that situation in 2015. With the Dolphins offense looking stacked from top to bottom, I expect Miller will have more sustained drives and red zone opportunities. If you opt to wait on running back, I’m 100% comfortable with Miller being your RB1.

Joseph Randle (DAL) is worth drafting as a high upside RB2

Entering the preseason, I expected the Cowboys to bring in a veteran running back or two as competition for Randle and Darren McFadden. That never happened. With McFadden a complete non-threat (injuries and ineptitude), I’m left to conclude that Dallas is 100% ready to give Randle the opportunity to replace DeMarco Murray as the team’s workhorse. I wouldn’t bet my season on Randle, but as a RB2 with upside – he fits the bill.

Chris Ivory (NYJ) is a compelling RB2

The Jets had a bevy of alternatives entering the preseason, most notably Zac Stacy and Stevan Ridley. Yet, Ridley has been on the PUP all preseason and Stacy has been a forgotten man buried deep on the depth chart. Meanwhile, Ivory has been excellent in practices and preseason games.

Melvin Gordon III (SD) isn’t a slam dunk in 2015

When the Chargers selected Gordon in the 1st round of the NFL draft, I saw an explosive runner capable of playing three downs. The issue I’m having now is a combination of Gordon’s struggles with pass protection (not insurmountable but notable) and the healthy return of Danny Woodhead. Woodhead was a Top 25 running back in PPR leagues in 2013, based entirely on his receiving skills. It seems the Chargers will make liberal use of Woodhead; which means Gordon will only see opportunities on obvious running downs.

Doug Martin (TB) has come back from the (fantasy) dead

After a monstrous rookie season (1,926 yards and 12 touchdowns), Martin barely topped 1,000 total yards in the last two seasons combined. With a new offensive system in place, and new coaches, it seemed like Martin’s days as a relevant fantasy producer were gone. Yet, Martin has been the brightest spot in an up-and-down preseason for the Buccaneers. He’s 100% healthy, the coaches have given him the starting job, and he’s been dominant throughout the preseason. At his current ADP, Martin makes a fantastic option as your RB3 who could easily deliver RB1 value by season’s end.

Alfred Morris (WAS) should be avoided

My initial projections had Morris comfortably slotted in the middle of the RB2 tier; someone capable of giving you 1,300-1,400 total yards and 8-10 touchdowns. While that outcome remains possible, there are two issues that have me abandoning ship. One, Washington looks awful. There’s no clarity at quarterback, the offensive line has questions, and the defense remains one of the league’s worst. That’s not a recipe for a ball-control, rushing attack. Two, rookie Matt Jones has been electric this preseason and will take away snaps. Combine those two worries with a transition to a power-blocking scheme (Morris thrived in a zone-blocking scheme), and I want no part of Morris at his ADP.

Arian Foster (HOU) is fool’s gold

Foster gained redemption in 2014 and vaulted back into the RB1 range entering training camps. I was comfortable rostering Foster in the late 1st round as one of your team’s cornerstones. But the groin injury has completely turned me off Foster, yet again. I realize many of my colleagues think Foster is a value now that his ADP has plummeted and he MAY return in a few weeks. I’m steering clear. Even if he comes back, how can we expect he’ll stay healthy beyond this groin injury?

David Johnson (ARI) isn’t going to displace Andre Ellington, yet

When the Cardinals drafted Johnson, I saw a player that could do everything Ellington can, only do it better with more durability. That’s still true, but Johnson dealt with a hamstring injury in the preseason and has to regain his coaches’ confidence. The addition of Chris Johnson muddies the depth chart waters, to boot. By season’s end, I still think Johnson can be an elite fantasy asset, but I’m no longer advocating a bet in that direction.


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