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Best Ball Running Back Outlook

Jon Kelly

Best Ball Running Back Outlook

Because of the volatility at the running back position, it is crucial that you nail the right picks more so than at other positions. Multiple running backs are going undervalued due to a combination of things. On the flip side, there are a few RBs that have an inflated ADP that I will be avoiding at all costs.

The public not keeping up with offseason coaching and personnel changes, the lack of strategy tailored to Draft scoring format and the false narratives formed by groupthink are all reasons why I have compiled a list of some of my top running back targets and players to avoid this season.

Target – Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans, Draft (ADP 29.5)

Derrick Henry was a disappointing fantasy pick through the first half of last season. However, he did his best to make up for it over the last four weeks as he averaged nearly 22 carries per game which resulted in 585 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in that span. That is the type of monster upside that Henry possesses and it was baffling to see the coaching staff take that long to recognize it.

What is encouraging though is that the team leaned on Henry when they were in must-win situations and making their playoff push. Now that he has proved what he is capable of, we can expect them to do more of the same in 2019.

I understand the concern with Henry in that he averaged just over 10 carries per game over the first 12 games of the season which just isn’t going to cut it for a back that has minimal involvement in the passing game. But with them building off his phenomenal run down the stretch, big things could be in store for Derrick Henry this upcoming season.

The Titans promoted Arthur Smith to offensive coordinator and he has repeatedly talked about making Henry the focal point of the Titans offense. There is room to grow for Henry in terms of volume as the Titans gave Dion Lewis 10 or more carries in eight games last season so this type of coach speak holds weight.

The best part is that Henry is being drafted as RB16 on Draft despite finishing as the RB14 in half-point PPR scoring formats even with the minimal touches through the majority of the season. Because of all the aforementioned notes on Henry and the proven league-winning upside that he has, Henry is one of the best values at the running back position through the first four rounds.

Fade – Le’Veon Bell, RB, New York Jets, Draft (ADP 10.2)

Lev Bell is being drafted as the RB6 overall on Draft right now which I have a big problem with. It seems as though the public is banking on the name value of Bell and entirely ignoring the importance of his new scenery in New York.

What people seem to be overlooking is the fact that Bell is going from the third highest-scoring team in the NFL with Pittsburgh in 2017 to the New York Jets who were the 29th team in that category last season. He also sees a massive downgrade in offensive line as pro football focus projects the Jets as the 28th best offensive line this season. That doesn’t seem to bode well for a patient runner like Bell that waits for holes to develop.

Additionally, the coaching change is a significant concern as well with Adam Gase running the show in New York. Bell was used as a workhorse in Pittsburgh but Gase typically doesn’t feature one running back as he failed to use Drake as much as he should have in Miami. Gase also had Miami running the second slowest pace of play in the entire NFL last season.

Lastly, Bell has been on the couch after missing all of last season due to the holdout and barely participated in Spring practices this offseason. It will likely take some time to build chemistry with his new team but regardless we shouldn’t be investing a first-round pick on him in any format.

Target – Devonta Freeman, RB, Atlanta Falcons, Draft (ADP 32.4)

This is one of the more obvious values in all of fantasy football for those that are paying attention. Fantasy football players seem to have the ‘What have you done for me lately’ mentality so it’s no surprise that Freeman is being undervalued after missing the majority of last season.

Credit to Ian Hartitz at the Action Network for pointing out that in the games that Tevin Coleman has missed since 2015, Freeman has averaged nearly 23 touches per game and has finished RB1, RB1, RB12, RB11, RB5, RB15, RB17, RB4 in PPR formats.

With Coleman now in San Francisco, that is going to open up around 150 carries and 40 or so targets for the Atlanta backfield. I don’t see Ito Smith or anyone else filling that void aside from a significant usage upgrade for Freeman.

Freeman is being drafted as the RB18 on Draft despite being on pace for a top 10 season in 2017 and that was with Coleman still in town. Because of the expected uptick in usage, improved O-line after investing two first-round picks and the proven upside of Freeman, I’m targeting him as much as possible in the third round.

Fade – Phillip Lindsay, RB, Denver Broncos, Draft (ADP 49.1)

This one is sure to ruffle some feathers but I want no part of Phillip Lindsay at his current price. I’m not going to deny his talent but as explained with the Lev Bell piece, situation trumps talent in most cases when it comes to fantasy football running backs.

Lindsay finished as the RB12 in half-point PPR scoring formats which is pretty strong for his end of fourth/early fifth-round ADP. That being said, Royce Freeman was supposed to be that guy coming into last season. He was outplayed by Lindsay who seemingly came out of nowhere but Freeman now has a full year of the system and playbook which I expect to make a big difference.

The coaches have already come out this offseason and said they expect to get Freeman a lot more work this year and I believe them. Freeman was so talented coming out of Oregon and that is why people were drafting him as early as the fourth round last season. He is the bigger body of the two and the back that they will lean on to grind clock and around the goal line this season.

Lindsay was also freakishly efficient as he put up those numbers despite not topping 200 carries. He had seven runs that were 20+ yards which were more than Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey and tied with Todd Gurley.

I still think Lindsay could have some good weeks but the expected drop in volume and efficiency regression have me avoiding him as one of my top running backs this season.

Target – Kenyan Drake, RB, Miami Dolphins, Draft (ADP 43.5)

There are so many reasons to be bullish on Kenyan Drake at his current ADP in best ball on Draft. For starters, Frank Gore is no longer in Miami to give Drake owners a headache and that’s a pretty significant factor.

Last season, Adam Gase, who I consider to be the worst offensive coordinator in the NFL (See Lev Bell), gave Frank Gore more rushing attempts than Kenyan Drake. With old man Gore now out of the picture, that opens up 170 carries from last season with just Drake and Ballage to fill the void as I don’t expect either late seventh-round rookie to garner any touches this season.

Aside from the extra usage opening up, the Dolphins fired Adam Gase and replaced him with former Patriots WR coach, Chad O’Shea. O’Shea is a bit of an unknown but anything will be an upgrade from Gase.

Only 12 running backs had more targets than Drake last season who totaled 73 and with Miami likely to be playing from behind in many games, I don’t expect that to change as he is the pass-catching RB in Miami. There are very few three-down plus goal-line back running backs left in the NFL but it appears we have that situation with Drake who can be had as a late fourth-round pick in most drafts.

Even if you ignore all the reasons to expect a bigger fantasy performance from Drake, he is being drafted as the RB21 despite finishing as the RB17 in half-point PPR formats.

Fade – Sony Michel, RB, New England Patriots, Draft (ADP 53.4)

Sony Michel did have some big weeks last season which was encouraging to see from the rookie. That being said, he’s being drastically overvalued right now.

In half of Sony Michel’s games last season he failed to top 60 yards rushing. This wouldn’t be a huge concern if he wasn’t an absolute zero in the passing game which he is.

Additionally, there are durability concerns with Michel as he was banged up last season and missed a few games. He now has another knee issue that has placed him on the PUP list to start training camp. The Patriots don’t seem to be too confident in his health being that they invested a third-round pick in Damien Harris.

Because of all these factors, Michel is more likely to bust his RB25 than he is to exceed it. I would much rather take shots on his teammate James White or the rookie in Damien Harris who are both being drafted after Michel.

Target – Chris Carson, RB, Seattle Seahawks, Draft (ADP 56.8)

Chris Carson is without a doubt, my favorite value running back pick in any format right now. He was one of the top late-round running back picks coming into last season and is still not getting enough respect from fantasy owners despite the big performance last season.

Carson rushed for 90 or more yards in seven of his 14 games last season. He is the featured back on a Seattle team that averaged over 32 rushing attempts per game last season which was second in the entire league.

Additionally, Mike Davis is now out of the picture and he accounted for 112 carries last season. If Rashad Penny is good enough (I still don’t know if he is) to see more volume then the majority of it will come from the carries that Davis is leaving behind.

The top-selling point on Carson is that you can get him towards the end of the fifth round which makes him a top target for teams that drafted elite WR and TEs through the first four or five rounds.

He is being drafted as the RB27 which is embarrassing for a guy who finished as RB15 in just 14 games last season and now has a realistic shot at more volume. Don’t make the mistake of passing on Carson this year.

The Fantasy Bros

Jon Kelly