Football is a TEAM Sport and a TEAM Game. Each side of the ball, every snap, there are eleven pieces dependent on one another moving with organization and reaction around an oblong ball. Football is also a team sport in the truest sense of the word because every play relies on those patterns of teamwork, organization, and communication. It is not a “fake” team sport, like the sport I cover most often, Baseball. Baseball is an individual sport masquerading as a team game. Yes the Fielders work together at times, but almost everything in baseball comes down to an isolated 1-v-1. Performances, therefore, are considerably “individual.” Basketball is more of a team sport in terms of having unitary movement and “team-play,” but a Basketball Player can dictate far more of the game than a Football Player. At best in Football, you are one QB at the helm of a 10-Man offense who you still need to block, run, separate, or whatever else the play may dictate. No single Football player, not Rodgers, not Brady, can be a fifth of the team’s fielded offense AND defense in the way that LeBron James can.
Why is this relevant and how does this apply to evaluation? This is my first Football article for this site, and I think it’s important to show bits of procedure. This article is going to deal with some great individual football players. But being a great individual football player doesn’t necessarily equate production. True elite Production typically can’t come from a lackluster talent or situation. For Running Backs in particular, there are many predictors of value that aren’t necessarily due to personal skill, the least of which is the simple concept of “volume.” A scheme that heavily utilizes one back (like Melvin Gordon and the Chargers the last few years) is going to likely do better than a committee, like the typical mess that occurs in New England. Some coaches love to see RBs catch. Carlos Hyde had 50 Receptions in 34 Career games headed into 2017, but managed a whole 59 Receptions in 2017. Was that Hyde or was that Shanahan? The team influences so much. The line must block, the passing game/QB must help dictate the pace of play, and when push comes to shove the HC/OC of the football team still may not put out the guy you want on the field. That’s a Team Sport for you.
The objective of this article is to evaluate HIGHLY drafted players who are in danger of not just slightly underperforming their ADP, but really the type of highly drafted players that could have a season that falls far short of expectation. In most instances, it will be due to something I don’t like about the team situation.
Overdrafted (Early) RBs
Pt. 1: NOT the Top Four (and why)
I don’t have any of the big four in my “beware” list, despite that being probably the “grabby” way to take the article. I just sincerely don’t believe, barring injury, in a majorly disappointing season for any of the Big 4.
Todd Gurley (Biggest Issue: 2016) — Gurley’s biggest knock is that he was very unproductive just a year ago in the Jeff Fisher system, and some may argue whether he’s “that good” or if he’s a product of McVay. But the entire fact that the latter point doesn’t really matter is the whole reason I’m not even getting too deep into it. Gurley’s a locked in RB1 in the McVay offense.
Le’Veon Bell (Biggest Issue: Hold-Out) — Bell’s knock most often comes from his lack of reps. For many players, a full season hold-out would bother me a great deal. But Lev Bell has been in the midst of a contract dispute for more than just one or two offseasons at this point. Am I happy about the dispute? No. But I’m not willing to write-up Bell as a bust due to it either.
Ezekiel Elliott: (Biggest Issue: O-Line post Frederick and Other Weapons) — The Dallas Cowboys are clearly not looking at having as dominant an O-Line as they expected as All-Pro Travis Frederick works to recover from an Auto-Immune disorder. That said, the downgrades on the offensive line matter far more to me in my evaluation of Dak Prescott than they do Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott may suffer a slight loss in YPC due to these factors, but I also believe that he’s the only RB in the NFL who has a legitimate shot at seeing an absolutely obscene TD number in 2018, and I don’t believe any Running Back, not named David Johnson, is as big a part of their team’s offense.
David Johnson: (Biggest Issue: Surrounding Cast) — Despite what some have borderline requested, David Johnson is NOT one of my High-End Busts. At the end of the day, this is a volume game, and not a single RB is a greater proportion of their team’s offense. The last time we saw David Johnson he had almost 300 Carries AND 80 Receptions. He’ll survive awful efficiency, if the Cardinals do create it. If David Johnson gets 250 Carries at 3.5 YPC (very low), he still gets 875 Rushing Yards. If David Johnson gets 65 Catches at 8 YPR (again, low), he still gets 520 Receiving Yards and 1395 Total Yards. With 6 Total TDs, David Johnson would finish as the RB9 last year in ½ Point PPR leagues. Every single figure in this analysis with the potential exception of carries (Yards Per Carry, Receptions, Yards Per Reception, and Total TDs) I expect to be higher. I don’t believe there is a single non-Quarterback who will be a greater proportion of his offense, so even if that offense is bad I still can’t foresee David Johnson finishing much lower than the 6th or 7th best Running Back. That’s an RB1 Floor.
Pt. 2: Beware of Running Back!
Alvin Kamara (ADP: RB5 or RB6 on most Websites)
This is the first key example where the game of Football being a team sport causes me to knock a player, and that is due to the finite volume there is to go around. If this were a sport like baseball— with standardized, isolated opportunities— or basketball— where one player’s talent can consistently shine and control the court— Alvin Kamara would have a greater opportunity to only let skill talk. However, Kamara is dependent on his team and Coaching Staff to get him the ball, and he has competition for that ball after Week 4. Alvin Kamara may be my #1 Running Back in all of football on a per-touch basis, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I have him anywhere near the top-tier of Running Backs. My leagues don’t play per touch.
Let’s first look at his 2017 Volume of 120 Carries and 81 Receptions. The latter number in particular is very encouraging. Kamara saw slightly more opportunities in the second half. Let’s scrap the game he had a concussion (Week 14) and take 8 of the 9 last games of the season. That pace bumps him up to 154 Carries and 94 Receptions. This is a very favorable sampling for Kamara. While the potential for 80-90+ Receptions could single handedly keep him in the first round / RB1 conversation, there is just much less margin of error when you’re accepting 100+ Less touches from a RB in the first round. Take two heavy volume backs being drafted behind Kamara, Melvin Gordon and Leonard Fournette. Gordon saw 284 Carries and 58 Receptions while Fournette saw 330 Carries and 44 Receptions per 16 Games in 2017. In terms of total touches, that leaves Kamara behind Gordon (using that favorable split) by 94 Touches and behind Fournette by 126 Touches. The simple fact is that by drafting Kamara over Gordon and Fournette, you are saying confidently that Kamara will be vastly better on a per-touch basis. I’m confident Kamara will be better on a per-touch basis, but I don’t know if I’m 90-150 Touches confident.
Kamara’s going to get a potentially larger workload and maybe even be a true, top 5 RB during the first four weeks of the season with Mark Ingram out, but I care a lot less about the first 4 Weeks than the last 4 Weeks. Unless your league greatly rewards the regular season title, it’s all about Playoffs. I’m having a hard time looking at draft boards and justifying Kamara’s slot with the postseason in mind. In Fantasy Football, I always invest with the playoffs in mind, and one question continually persists when I consider Kamara in the 1st: Will Alvin Kamara even be the best Fantasy RB on his own TEAM during the Fantasy Playoffs? He wasn’t in 2017, and while he gets a concussion to excuse him from Week 14, in ½ point PPR Mark Ingram was the RB3 and Kamara the RB10 in Week 15, and Ingram again edged Kamara out RB15 to RB20 in the “Fantasy Finals,” Week 16. I’m not saying Ingram will be the better fantasy running back after Week 5. From Weeks 5 to 13 in 2017, Kamara was the RB1 in all of fantasy. But Ingram was the RB3. And the chances of them being top 3 for a nine week stretch again is just preposterous to me. Maybe I’m wrong, and maybe Kamara makes the most of every touch he gets this season, but I’ll leave this subject by repeating that question I keep asking myself over and over:
Am I willing to draft a Running Back in the First Round that may not be his own team’s best Running Back in the Fantasy Playoffs?
Dalvin Cook (ADP: RB10)
Sometimes I find the response to players somewhat shocking. Not necessarily from the fantasy perspective, but from the sport of football as a whole. I find the reception of Dalvin Cook to be a little shocking, and I like the player a lot. I just didn’t really expect ESPN to call him the 97th Best Football Player (all positions) nor do I agree with it. People are just sold on Dalvin Cook being not just a great back, but an exceptional back, after 74 Carries, a 4.8 YPC, and a torn ACL.
The ACL is potentially concerning. It wouldn’t cause me to draft a less talented player, but it could serve as an easy tiebreaker if I felt all else were equal. What worries me quite a bit more than that ACL though, and why he’s on this list, is Latavius Murray. I’ve never been a particular fan of Murray’s skill set, but you don’t have to appreciate the skills of a player to appreciate their potential to vulture opportunities from players that you are a fan of. In 2017, Murray was on the PUP recovering from an ankle injury until about the 2nd week of the preseason. The argument can be made that Murray’s potential role as a Free Agent acquisition would have been greater with a healthy camp. Then you consider Murray’s own performance from last year, running 20 times multiple games, having a solid YPC, and proving once again to be adept at the Goal Line, with 8 TDs in the 11 Games he had double-digit carries. That latter role is the one that concerns me the most.
I don’t think that if Cook got hurt Murray would be better than the RB2 he was last year, I don’t believe Murray has enough talent to produce stand alone value on limited touches above a TD-Dependent Flex, but I do believe Murray will exist simply to destroy the Carry dreams and wreck the Goal-Line aspirations of Dalvin Cook owners. A good player, a lot of upside, but between Latavius and the ACL, the Current ADP is too rich for me.
Kareem Hunt (ADP: RB8)
By draft position, it makes the most sense for Kareem Hunt to be between Kamara and Cook for this piece, but I wanted to talk about Hunt after Cook. I just covered why I believe Latavius Murray, someone not in the same zip code as Dalvin Cook in terms of talent, may be a thorn in Cook’s fantasy side. Now what happens if you think that the Back-Up with a potential role is actually talented? Unlike Murray, I’ve always been a huge fan of Spencer Ware. Ware didn’t match Hunt’s level of success in 2016, but if you take the 13 Games he played throughout and look at a 16 game pace, it is not all that different from Hunt’s 2017. Let’s compare what Kareem Hunt did in 2017 with what Spencer Ware did in 2016.
|Carries||Ru. Yards||YPC||Rec||Re. Yards||YPR||Total TDs|
*16 Game Pace
I’m not trying to spin the argument that Spencer Ware performed as well as Kareem Hunt, but these aren’t the metrics of just an average Joe or a loser. His 13.6 YPR is actually considerably better than Hunt’s. I don’t expect Ware to become the starter, but could he dig into Hunt’s workload more than we anticipate? Would Hunt have ever gotten his opportunity last year if this player was at 100%? What do the Chiefs believe their ideal balance is?
I don’t believe, coming into 2017, that we would have seen either Ware or Hunt completely dominate touches, but rather that Reid and Co. would probably be attempting to put them most often in the right situation— like a good CS. Does Hunt just get every carry now because he “Wally Pipp’d” Spencer Ware? Maybe, but I don’t really think so. And to put it another way, while I’d never expect it to happen, Ware looking like the better football player and creating an argument for more work is not nearly as likely to me as Latavius Murray doing the same. I think Hunt’s the better talent and should be more in line for carries, but even if it is a modest split, I believe it will cost Hunt some 3rd Down / Goal Line opportunities early, and depending on Ware’s success in these roles, I believe he could continue to carve out a bigger piece of the pie, though again, more to the detriment of Hunt’s Value than creating a consistently startable Spencer Ware.
Derrick Henry (ADP: RB18)
Let’s start by making it clear that this is a bit of a different take than the other three. If Kamara, Hunt, and Cook had a slightly reduced draft price, they would likely never see themselves being written up in this context. It’s just the insane price tag puts them up against every other skilled player in Football, and that can be a tough battle to win. I’m not really confident at this point that Derrick Henry is the best running back on his team.
Derrick Henry has never, partially due to opportunity, shown the ability to completely dominate outside of flashes like the Chiefs Playoff Game. He hasn’t been so dominant in limited samples that you think he’s about to burst onto the scene; a 4.3 YPC over 286 Carries is very good, just not great. A lot of the hype still goes back to Alabama. But Dion Lewis, Matt LaFleur, and the new Titans Offense are the reason that I’m passing on Derrick Henry for that new kid in town Dion Lewis. The Titans in the last few years have been all about the Run. DeMarco Murray, Derrick Henry, and running QB Marcus Mariota had solidified that in 2016, but after a poor 2017 the Titans have turned to LaFleur of the Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay coaching schools, who figures to be a bit more pass happy. Just looking statistically, the Titans targeted Murray and Henry a combined total of 64 Times with no COP to speak of. The Rams, of whom LaFleur was the OC last year, targeted their main three backs 101 times, and this is to say nothing of Tavon Austin’s 22 Targets likely coming mostly out of the backfield. That’s double the volume and double the importance of the passing game. (It is noteworthy that McVay, not LaFleur, called the plays last year, though LaFleur is likely to implement the same or a similar system).
And if I was taking this space to make a big argument about why Dion Lewis will outperform Derrick Henry, I’d have a ways more to go. But I’m not making that argument. I’m making the argument that there’s significant risk for Derrick Henry where he’s going in drafts. Maybe he sees a Hyde or Gurley-esque increase in targets. That’s the dream his ADP is being sold on. And Dion Lewis’ durability is a question. But Lewis managed a better YPC than Henry (5.0) over 180 Carries last year, and finished as the RB12. If Lewis is going to perform like that this year, I think he’s likely to see 180 Carries again in 16 games, and if he’s seeing that many carries + 60 receptions, I don’t know that Henry will fall into the end zone enough to even maintain low-end RB2 numbers. That’s the more realistic hope for Henry— the TDs— but I don’t know that you want to rely on a committee back getting you 10 TDs to justify what I expect to be a slightly lower carry count compared to a typical team’s RB1. I believe Dion Lewis is the back to own in Tennessee, but at the very least I don’t believe that you should go out and draft the OTHER Tennessee Running Back for a significantly higher price and with great risk. Dion Lewis is the back that THIS coaching staff paid for, and the back that fits what this coaching staff wants to do the most. RB18 is not an absurd price. But give me Dion.
Looks like I’ll only get one crack at a preseason Football article, so as a bit of a footnote here are two deeper players that I have ranked considerably above ADP.
Matt Brieda. ADP = RB56. My Rank = RB36: Kyle Shanahan invented the Freeman/Coleman system that we know today. McKinnon should see similar usage to Freeman, so I believe that Breida has the chance at earning a Coleman sized role WITH McKinnon healthy, and has the chance to become a lead-Back in a fantasy-favorable Scheme if something were to happen to McKinnon.
Ryan Grant. ADP = WR80. My Rank = WR50: By my calculations, the rough difference between last year’s Colts’ passing offense and Luck’s 16 Game average is about 1300 Yards and 17 TDs. TY Hilton (57/966/4) and Jack Doyle (80/690/4) cannot possibly absorb all of that, leading me to believe one more pass catcher in Indianapolis has a very good chance at being fantasy relevant if Luck plays 16 games. Grant’s price makes the potential risk a non-issue. I’m looking to buy into cheap pieces of a potentially potent/high volume offense while the image of the terrible 2017 Colts is still etched into our Brains. (Jordan Wilkins is also my favorite Colts RB this year).
I may do some fill-in Waiver Articles this year, but until then,
Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join host Brian Roach, Jr, and Cole Freel live on Sunday August 26th, 2018 from 8-9:30pm EST for episode #134 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. This will be our final fantasy baseball show of the 2018 season. Come join us to give our final thoughts on the season as well as the fantasy playoffs and roto league strecth runs.
Major League Fantasy Football Radio Show: Join host Corey D Roberts live August 16th, 2018 from 8-9:30pm EST for episode #89 of Major League Fantasy Football Radio. Call in number is 323-870-4395 press 1 to speak with the host. This week we will take a close look at some possible ADP steals in our drafts this season.
My guest this week is Andy Macuga. He is the former Head Football and Baseball Coach for Borrego Springs H.S. out in the San Diego area. Andy is also a 6 year veteran of Major League Fantasy Sports leagues and a frequent radio guest.