Last week marked the beginning of a summer-long series of weekly or bi-weekly fantasy football articles aimed at providing value for you in upcoming fantasy football drafts. Drafting is really fun, but it’s even more fun when you do it well and confidently gaze at your screen after drafting an awesome well-balanced roster. So have fun with it! And feel free to tell me on Twitter (@eweiner_bball) why these are terrible suggestions.
Click here to find wide receivers I believe are undervalued at their ADP.
As a refresher, the purpose of these articles is to find value relative to ADP, or average draft position. The goal of drafting in each round should be selecting the player that provides the most value at that draft position, not simply the player who will score the most points. This concept helps explain why owners are opting to draft quarterbacks later and later; the gap in point scoring is smaller for quarterbacks than it is at other skill positions. Often, these will not be sexy picks or players you are super excited about drafting. And that’s probably why they’re valuable. There is typically something at play, whether a common misconception, recency bias or something of the like, that causes a player’s draft slot to fall unfairly low. With that in mind, here are some running backs I believe are being drafted too low based on July ADP.
Running back value picks based on current ADP
*Note: All ADP data is from Fantasy Football Calculator and is based on 12-team PPR leagues unless otherwise noted.
Frank Gore (PPR ADP: 82, RB34; Standard ADP: 78, RB33)
Would you believe me if I told you Frank Gore finished 12th in running back scoring last year? Crazy, right? In fact, since 2006 Gore has been an RB2 or better every single season, with his lowest seasonal finishes coming in 2014 (RB17) and 2010 (RB19). Last year, Gore could be had around the 65th pick in standard leagues (76th in PPR!) as the 27th running back off the board, and he finished as a low-end RB1. He was drafted behind guys like Arian Foster, Jeremy Langford, Matt Jones, DeAngelo Williams and Ryan Mathews. Not a single one of those backs is even draftable this year. And yet this year his price has dropped by a full round! Simply put, all Frank Gore does is finish above expectations.
His reduced cost likely has to do with his age. Gore just turned 34 in May and the track record of 34-year-old running backs is, er, not great, Bob. But Gore has been an exception to the rule for his entire career, enjoying a Hall of Fame career despite tearing his ACL in college and subsequently losing much of his top line speed. Gore has not missed a game in seven full seasons. Seven! Does that sound like someone who’s about to display a precipitous fall from grace? Because Indy is a pass-first offense loaded with weapons, defenses will likely focus on stopping Andrew Luck, TY Hilton, Donte Moncrief and company. Meanwhile, with a slightly improved defense and offensive line, Gore will continue chugging along to RB2 numbers. That’s quite the steal at an RB34 price tag. He’s one of the perfect targets for this year’s zero RB crowd.
Danny Woodhead (PPR ADP: 65, RB27; Standard ADP: 89, RB37)
As one of the better receiving backs in the league, Woodhead obviously provides more value in PPR leagues than standard leagues, although his price tag is intriguing in either format. Woodhead’s price tag is likely this low due to running back competition in the form of Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon, along with his injury history. Though it’s true Woodhead missed most of last year and the 2014 season with injuries, he also played in all 16 games in 2012, 2013 and 2015. He finished as an RB2 in standard leagues in each of those seasons. Is it even that scary taking someone who’s a supposed injury risk in the sixth – ninth rounds? This is where you should be drafting for upside, which Woodhead provides in spades.
Let’s discuss the RBBC (running back by committee) brewing in Baltimore this season. Kenneth Dixon, who figures to be Woodhead’s biggest competition for targets, is suspended for the first four games of the season, his second year in the pros. This provides Woodhead with incredible value in his first four games of the season (@ CIN, vs CLE, vs JAX, vs PIT) while he develops chemistry with quarterback Joe Flacco. While Terrance West is the incumbent starter for first and second down, he’s JAG (just a guy), a journeyman back who finally managed to latch on with his hometown team. Woodhead has actually averaged 4.3 yards per carry over his career and is an underrated between the tackles runner. Baltimore is an average team in a tough division that likely won’t win more than eight or nine games, and Woodhead will get plenty of snaps any time they are losing.
Most importantly, the Ravens are replacing more targets (345) from 2016 than any other team in football. Volume is one of the most important and predictive metrics for fantasy scoring – especially for a player like Woodhead – so he will need a ton of targets to be valuable. Thankfully, he came into the best possible situation for volume, as Baltimore was second to only New Orleans with 119 running back receptions last year. Baltimore throws a lot and needs to replace the short to intermediate targets that Kyle Juszczyk (49) and Dennis Pitta (121!) have vacated. Woodhead is capable of lining up in the slot and will likely still be used in two-back sets when Dixon returns. He is a sneaky candidate to lead Baltimore in receptions this year considering the wide receiving corps is full of vertical threats like Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman, and Jeremy Maclin. At minimum, I expect Woodhead to return high-end RB2 numbers in PPR and low-end RB2 numbers in standard leagues, health permitting.
Mike Gillislee (PPR ADP: 70, RB29; Standard ADP: 53, RB23)
This pick may not be as valuable in August, as Gillislee’s standard ADP has soared from 70 to 53 over the past month. Even still, Gillislee presents immense value as one of the few running backs available after the fourth round with a clear path to RB1 numbers. Last year, LeGarrette Blount served as New England’s big back and stumbled his way to a league-best (and career high) 18 rushing touchdowns and an RB7 finish despite a meager 3.9 YPC average. Gillislee, meanwhile, averaged 5.7 YPC across 148 carries the last two seasons in Buffalo despite facing stacked boxes in an obvious rush-first offense. Now with Tom Brady under center, Gillislee will have the benefit of defenses game planning to stop the pass, which should open up plenty of holes underneath.
Gillislee tallied an impressive 9 touchdowns as LeSean McCoy’s backup last season, and now he’s the big back in the most ideal situation in the NFL. The Patriots have ranked top-ten in rushing touchdowns every season since 2005. On top of that, there should be plenty of opportunities to salt the clock away with huge fourth quarter leads on the team with this year’s highest Vegas win total (11.5). The biggest knock against Gillislee is likely the RBBC competition he faces in New England. This shouldn’t be a problem; James White is entrenched as the passing back and will compete with Dion Lewis for catches, while Rex Burkhead is a tweener with an undefined role. Even if he only receives 70% of Blount’s 299 carries, Gillislee has an easy path to roughly 800 yards and 10 touchdowns with room for much, much more. In drafts last year, Blount was going around the 7th/8th round turn in a very similar situation. In hindsight, he was an obvious value with the most valuable rushing-touchdown role in the league. I expect similar value from Gilislee this year.
Matt Forte (PPR ADP: 102, RB41; Standard ADP: 100, RB41)
Look, I get that there is literally nothing sexy about drafting Matt Forte. But he’s a starting running back available in the ninth round. Aside from Terrance West, who is nowhere near Forte’s talent as a runner or receiver, this amount of opportunity is simply too hard to pass up at this point in the draft. It simply doesn’t make sense that Derrick Henry, Kareem Hunt, Latavius Murray, Jamaal Charles, and CJ Prosise are going ahead of him without close to Forte’s guaranteed volume. Though he is 32, Forte has never missed more than four games in a season and rarely fumbles the ball, which should keep his role secure.
Forte’s age and his running back mate Bilal Powell are likely depressing his current ADP. Though he is 32, Forte has never missed more than four games in a season and rarely fumbles the ball, which should keep his role secure. It’s easy to forget, but Forte finished as the RB20 last year despite missing three games, and yet his ADP is more than double this. Although Powell is an equally capable runner and receiver out of the backfield, not much has changed about the situation from last year, which means Forte should be in line for roughly 215 carries and 30 catches again. He’s still arguably the best offensive weapon the Jets have. While I wouldn’t expect anything more than mid RB2 numbers, Forte’s volume is simply unheard of at his ADP. He’s another perfect target for the zero RB crowd.
Darren Sproles set a career high in carries last season and has averaged 49 catches per season in Philadelphia. Sproles finished as the PPR RB24 last year despite a similarly crowded backfield. He has a defined role that rookie Donnel Pumphrey will struggle to win as a first-year player who needs to learn pass protection. He simply catches way too many passes to be the 55th running back off the board in PPR drafts. James White (RB44) is similarly going too low in drafts despite a clear path to 55+ catches. He was the PPR RB26 in 2016 and clearly has entered Tom Brady’s circle of trust, a pretty nice place to be as a receiving running back. The Patriots rewarded White’s game-saving Super Bowl performance with a three-year contract extension, making him the highest paid running back on the team. It’s just a boon that Dion Lewis and Julian Edelman have extensive injury histories. He should provide RB2 value in PPR leagues and flex value in standard leagues at a very cheap price tag.
Although Forte is the better value, Bilal Powell (RB26) also offers value on the heels of a PPR RB16 finish. If you are in the camp that thinks Forte will succumb to the 30-year+ running back wall in 2017, Powell should be very high on your list. In 2016 per game scoring, Giovani Bernard (RB58) finished as the PPR RB24 prior to his week 11 ACL tear. His ADP is severely depressed by this late-season and the addition of second-round rookie/woman hitter Joe Mixon. While Mixon is a fluid runner and very capable receiver, at 228 lbs. he figures to hurt Jeremy Hill’s projected volume more than Bernard’s. Bernard has solid pass blocking skills and an established pass-catching role in this offense that should remain static. After scoring a combined 15 touchdowns in his first two seasons, Bernard is a solid touchdown regression candidate after only recording 5 in his last 26 regular season games. Per Rotoworld’s Evan Silva, the Bengals have finished top-ten in red-zone carries and rushing attempts in each of the past three seasons. With Cincinnati losing two of its best offensive linemen in the offseason, there will likely be more opportunities for short, high-percentage throws that should benefit Bernard. I’ll be surprised if Bernard finishes any lower than RB30 in per-game scoring.
With a full offseason to learn the nuances of running back, Ty Montgomery (RB17) is a darkhorse RB1 candidate in Green Bay’s high-powered offense. If he improves his pass blocking skills (which were so poor he received several in-game benchings from botched assignments) he could be in line for 50+ catches considering his effectiveness as a receiver. Montgomery averaged an eye-popping 5.9 YPC and ranked first in Pro Football Focus’ Elusive Rating from week 7 on, despite transitioning from receiver to running back in the middle of the season. In his two seasons as a true workhorse in Green Bay’s offense, Eddie Lacy (RB30) finished as the RB6 both times. If you don’t believe in Montgomery’s skills as a runner, rookies Jamaal Williams (RB50) and Aaron Jones (undrafted) are both solid late-round options with potential.
New Orleans consistently ranks in the top five in backfield receptions and traded up for rookie Alvin Kamara (RB56), a pass-catching wiz. Last year was Mark Ingram’s (RB32) first full 16-game season as a starter and Adrian Peterson (RB21) has played 20 total games over the last three seasons combined. Did you realize Travaris Cadet caught 40 passes and four touchdowns in a similar role last season? In an offense that is always near the top in pass attempts with an elite quarterback, Kamara offers weekly PPR flex value even without an injury to either Ingram or Peterson.
While I advise against handcuffing your running backs, as the backup to the injury- and suspension-prone Le’Veon Bell (RB2), James Conner (RB67) is the cheapest and yet most needed handcuff around. If you really must handcuff, then it is imperative to find someone who also provides flex value like Jonathan Williams (RB59) does. LeSean McCoy has plenty of mileage on his body, and even when healthy his backup has been a flex option every one of his seasons in Buffalo. If you whiff on running backs early, I’d try and pivot to Jacquizz Rodgers (RB52). He can be had in the 12th round and will likely start the first three weeks while Doug Martin (RB20) serves his suspension, which should mean three weeks of solid RB2 production at basically no cost.
Statistics courtesy of rotoworld.com, pro-football-reference.com and footballguys.com