The Running Back Position
The running back position is always volatile. It's why I preach all offseason to make sure you load up on runners at the draft. There will be turnover due to injury. You can count on that (SJax, Martin etc). There will be some out of nowhere youngsters who emerge (J. Bell). There might even be some veterans signed off the street who can help out (Jacobs, Hillis, McGahee). In this piece I'll review how the position has played out to this point while keeping an eye on preseason ADP. Oh boy have things changed, and we're not even half way into the season 2013 season yet.
ADP Numbers – Were We Right?
Here are some ADP numbers from The National Fantasy Football Championship (12 team, PPR setup --- 232 drafts surveyed). How have the players performed relative to their draft day cost?
Before game action Monday Night in Week 7, here are the top-40 PPR performers to date. How closely do the charts match up – our preseason expectations to the current on the field performance?
AD, if he has a normal night in Week 7, will move up to 6th, still well below his universal draft spot as the best guy in fantasy football. He's been slightly disappointing, but that's a totally relative statement.
Oh boy does it get dicey after that.
Jamaal Charles has gone for 100 yards from scrimmage an a score in every game this season. The only player in football history to have a longer streak to start the year was O.J. Simpson who started out the 1975 season with 9-straight efforts.
Matt Forte is no longer being removed at the goaline for Michael Bush. He now has to deal with the loss of Jay Cutler though.
LeSean McCoy is what he is – dynamic. Simple as that.
Knowshon Moreno as the #4 back in fantasy football. What? No one saw that coming as he was barely taken inside the top-50 on draft day (#47). He's scored eight times this season, including six times in his last four games, but I may be the only one telling folks to be careful. Why? He's been held to less than 50 yards in his last two games an in four of his seven games he hasn't gotten to 45 yards rushing. Those aren't the numbers of an RB1.
C.J. Spiller was supposed to get the ball until he puked (according to his OC before the season began). The only puking going on is by Spiller owners who have had to choke back vomit all year as an ankle issue continues to hobble him. Fred Jackson has been hurt virtually all year as well, but he's powered through it to have an amazing season. In six of seven games he's caught four passes, and Fred's run for five scores on the ground as well. Not bad for a guy who had an ADP that was, literally, 40 spots behind Spiller.
Danny Woodhead was a top-25 RB last season in a PPR setup. He was barely drafted as a top-50 RB. This season he should have been looked at as a top-25 option in a PPR setup. He wasn't (see his #39 ADP). Right now he's been a top-10 RB, and that is truly shocking. Think of it. The guy has yet to have a single game of 10 carries... and he's a top-10 RB. Ryan Mathews has gone for 100 yards in each of his last two games, and he's really looking pretty sharp, so it's hard to think that Woodhead will continue his scoring pace, five scores in the last six games, but he's getting goaline work and boy does he catch passes – 38 over his last six games.
Joique Bell was drafted as an RB4 (#42). He's been an RB2 even though he's battled some injury issues. Given that Reggie Bush is so dynamic, it's really pretty shocking that Bell has been able to be a top-20 RB this season.
Andre Ellington, and to blow my own horn he was the back outside my top-50 preseason rankings that I told people to draft, has become this year's Danny Woodhead... a guy who was vastly underrated on draft day who has stepped up with some significant production. Ellington is currently the 24th runner in a PPR setup, even though he's scored only two times. He's also yet to carry the ball eight times in a game. The 20 catches for 190 yards are nice, but even though he's been able to produce the 24th most points he's still a borderline flex play each week. I mean, are you really starting him over Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy, Darren McFadden or Spiller, guys who have point totals well below his current mark? And this situation brings up a point that deserves to be discussed.
We just don't have three down backs anymore, so losing a guy like Doug Martin is a killer (his shoulder injury could potentially keep him out of the season, so you had better be grabbing Mike James). There are only thirteen runners in the NFL who have 100 carries thus far. That's a shockingly low number. Guys just don't touch the football enough anymore in this age of specialization. Think about it for a moment. Here are some shocking bits of info.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis has 99 carries. Sure he's played in seven games while Alfred Morris has only been on the field for six, but how shocking is it to hear that BJGE has eight more carries than Morris right now? BJGE also has nine more carries than Spiller (seven games) and 13 more than Ray Rice (six games). Shocking ain't it? Getting those every down runners on draft day is just so important. The others, the guys who end up as top-30ish runners in terms of overall points, the guys like Ellington, are great plays one week and killers the next. Eighteen points and six is an average 12 points a week, and you'll take that. Still, the week that guy gets six points makes it pretty tough in that matchup since you're falling a TD behind the other guys RB2.
Let take on this situation differently. Here are the players listed inside the top-30 at the position whose draft day cost was nowhere near they current level of production – these guys have been tremendous bargains.
Knowshon Moreno (47th pick, #4 in points).
Fred Jackson (#44 pick, #6 in points).
Danny Woodhead (#39 pick, 8th in points).
Joique Bell (#42 pick, 15th in points).
Jacquizz Rodgers (#45 pick, 16th in points).
Pierre Thomas (#41 pick, 18th in points).
Bilal Powell (#50 pick, in 20th in points).
Andre Ellington (#82 pick, 24th in points).
Roy Helu (#51 pick, 27th in points).
Here are some runners who were drafted inside the top-30 but who have failed to match their draft day cost.
Steven Jackson (#14 pick, 59th in points).
Maurice Jones-Drew (#15 pick, 32nd in points).
David Wilson (#17 pick, 63rd in points).
Stevan Ridley (#18 pick, 31st in points).
Lamar Miller (#22 pick, 40th in points).
Shane Vereen (#26 pick, 64th in points).
Daryl Richardson (#27 pick, 45th in points).
Montee Ball (#29 pick, 72nd in points).
Steven Jackson gained a year in age, pushing him to 30 years old, and people didn't care. He was coming off a moderate season in St. Louis but the move to Atlanta excited everyone so SJax saw his ADP rise like 20 spots from 2012. He was never going to live up to that. At this point his leg injury, which he suffered a setback with last week, has him without a target date for a return though he is expected back at practice this week. He could still be out for weeks, but even if he comes back hard, he's not living up to his draft day cost.
MJD was drafted too highly (I tried to warm you). He's not the player he once was and he's lost his short area burst. Still, he's been healthy and he continues to get the looks as the uncontested top dog for the Jags. He's averaged 16 touches a game this season and that number is more likely to increase than decrease the rest of the way.
David Wilson is a tremendous talent. I think the Giants totally bungled how they dealt with him making the kid so nervous about making a mistake that he... kept making mistakes. He's currently out with a neck issue and it's likely to be weeks before he's back in game action which means he'll end the 2013 season as one of the most disappointing players at the position.
Stevan Ridley can share some tears with Wilson as the Patriots have stubbornly decided not to give the ball to Ridley like they did last season. In 2012 he averaged 18.5 touches a week. This season that mark has shrunk to 13.7. He's been effective per touch, but unless the Pats do more than have him sit out whole series of action as they have been doing it's going to be difficult for him to be a top-20 runner the ROTW (he does have three scores the past two weeks, so perhaps the Pats are finally waking up).
Lamar Miller should be seeing more snaps and touches. However, the only people on the planet who seem to think that Daniel Thomas should see a lot of work are the Dolphins coaches. Alas, their point of view is the only one that matters. The end of this little tale is this – Miller is still the more talented back, but the Dolphins seem committed to a shared backfield. As such, Miller is nothing more than “a guy” who you can use in the flex spot.
Shane Vereen only touched the ball in one game, and was he every something. He caught seven balls for 58 yards an also torched the Bills for 101 rushing yards on 14 carries. He should be back for Week 11.
Daryl Richardson was the most ineffective starting runner in football before losing his starting spot to Zach Stacy. DRich has carried the ball 61 times leading to 25.1 yards a game at 2.9 yards a clip. Just awful.
Montee Ball... really folks? On draft day we were pretty sure Moreno was going to lead the Broncos' backfield in Week 1. Guess everyone just thought that in do time Ball would win out of Moreno and Ronnie Hillman. Be careful not to fall for rookie excitement as it's pull is strong each draft season with the result rarely being as positive as most think it will be.
In the end, as it always is and always will be, the running back position is a total mess. Remember this next season. When you're tempted to take that QB or TE in the second round pause and think to yourself --- what happened last year at running back? There was turnover, injury an ineffective play everywhere. Build that depth at running back and constantly work the waiver-wire so that you can grab the next up and coming guy because the running back position is filled with danger every single year.
Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87, Monday through Thursday at 7 PM EDT & Friday's at 9 PM EDT. For more of Ray's analysis you can check out BaseballGuys.com or the BaseballGuys' Twitter account where he tirelessly answers everyone's questions.
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The co-host of The Drive on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (Sirius 210, XM 87: Mon-Fri 7-10 PM EDT), Ray also hosts his own show Sunday night (7-10 PM EDT). Ray has spent years squirreled away studying the inner workings of the fantasy game to the detriment of his personal life. Specializing in baseball, football and hockey, some consider him an expert in all three.
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