Planting Seeds: RB’s – Uncovering Future Starters
Earlier this week I wrote about some of my favorite cheap quarterback “seeds” I am planting for 2Qb/Superflex leagues.
Today I’m going to focus on uncovering future starting running backs among players with the latest dynasty startup ADP between 7/1 and 8/4 outside of the top 100 (the one exception is Jay Ajayi, whose ADP is clearly out-of-date since Arian Foster’s signing has pushed his value down). Kenneth Dixon does not register as he’s inside the top 100, but he’d be my favorite back from tier two if he did.
The methodology fantasy analysts use to forecast the odds of prospects panning out tends to fluctuate wildly based on their definition of what constitutes a success vs. a bust, the inputs they find most predictive to use in their model, and their interpretation of the player’s opportunity to play. Consider this my attempt to consolidate those analyses, mixed in with my own opinion and the latest available information. (Big hat tip to Charles Kleinheksel at Rotoviz, Kevin Zatlukal at 4for4 and Kevin Cole at Rotoworld.)
Charles Sims (ADP of 109)
A jack-of-all-trades, Sims was Pro Football Focus’ fifth rated running back thanks to positive grades in all facets of the game. Pass blocking may not seem relevant to fantasy football, but it does help keep you in the game in more scenarios. The injury to Doug Martin never came, but Sims showed he can be more than just a space/third down back, averaging 4.9 yards per carry to go with his prowess as a receiver.
Perhaps more than any other back on this list, Sims can be a fantasy starter even without becoming the nominal starter in Tampa.
Jerick McKinnon (ADP of 127)
McKinnon is much more than a handcuff in the dynasty format thanks to his RB1 upside and the chance for FREEEDDOOMMM in the near term (Adrian Peterson either retires, gets hurt, or McKinnon signs elsewhere in 2018).
McKinnon registered a SPARQ score in the 99th percentile, which basically means he is an insane athlete even among the most insane athletes. That athleticism has translated to efficiency as a runner, granted in small samples (thanks, AP/Obama).
Jay Ajayi (ADP of 77)
The fact that the Dolphins brought in Foster has to say something about their confidence in Ajayi as a player and/or in his ability to stay healthy.
As a prospect, Ajayi was another player whose draft stock was hit by health concerns. While they had different styles, overall he looked similar to prospects like Jeremy Langford, Buck Allen and Duke Johnson in last year’s class; that group was similar to other players from this tier.
I’m not in love with Ajayi because he’s sandwiched on the depth chart by old and young players that might be better than he is (more on Kenyan Drake below), but he should be next man up if/when Foster goes down, giving him a clearer opportunity to play than most on this list. That counts for something.
Tyler Ervin (ADP of 175)
Based on overall ADP and rookie draft ADP, Ervin constitutes a steal based on his very real chance to develop into a full season top 20 RB eventually (think about a 20-25% chance) thanks to his speed and pass catching ability. It’s easy to understand why the masses haven’t caught on to him – he went to a small school, he is fairly small in stature and Alfred Blue sounds like the short-term “handcuff” behind Lamar Miller.
Considering Lamar Miller doesn’t have the frame of a true workhorse and Ervin is very cheap to acquire, I would grab a share of Ervin and play the waiting game.
C.J. Prosise (ADP of 101.4)
The aggregate forecast of Prosise only graded out as incrementally better than Ervin, which caused him to look like a pricey investment only a few weeks ago.
However, as with Ajayi, this ADP in my opinion is outdated, as Prosise has had a rough summer, mostly due to injury. The depth chart is so crowded that owners seem to be running away, but you should not forget that Prosise has a fantasy-friendly skill set on a team that wants to run the ball.
I prefer the value relative to ADP of Ervin, but overall I’ll take Prosise.
DeAndre Washington (ADP of 127.1)
DeAndre Washington does not have the same forecasted odds for success that Prosise and Ervin have, but he’s not too far behind and he may have the best chance to pay early dividends. Few seem to be in love with Latavius Murray’s skillset and the depth chart is littered with shaky talents.
Kenyan Drake (ADP of 145)
Drake was the third running back taken in the NFL draft, which is good news for his odds of success, but the other inputs from forecasting models are less impressed. Still, I think we should care more about the draft slot since the models don’t “know” he had to compete for touches with Eddie Lacy, T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry in college. Overall, I would estimate he has about the same chance of developing into a fantasy starter as some of the pricier backs taken ahead of him.
Drake is rumored to start the season on the IR and this ADP does not properly reflect the Arian Foster signing, so he should be dirt-cheap. Given the age and massive health risks of the backs ahead of him, Drake is an inexpensive look at a very intriguing talent who led the RB class in missed tackle rate.
Devontae Booker (ADP of 114)
To hear the Broncos tell it, Booker slid in the draft in large part due to a knee injury. Since draft slot explains a lot of the success in most models, if we believe this narrative then Booker should be more highly rated than the output of the models that don’t “know” this. Without that context, Booker is generally considered to be in the DeAndre Washington range as a prospect. In other words, he looks like an overdraft by ADP.
The college production and pass catching ability is there for Booker to “beat” his so-so forecast. The reason I like him is that he does seem to have a fairly firm hold on the number two spot on the depth chart, which means he is just an injury away.
Word to the wise – he’s old for a rookie at 24.
Cameron Artis-Payne (ADP of 195)
An impossibly old sophomore (he’s 26!), Payne was unremarkable as a prospect and is limited to early down duties. On the other hand, the Panthers haven’t really brought in any note worthy running back talents behind the injury-prone Jonathan Stewart, which makes Artis-Payne one of the more clear-cut number two backs in the NFL.
Javorius “Buck” Allen (ADP of 155)
Allen was yet another old (he turns 25 on August 27th, the best birthday in the world!) 2015 draft class prospect. His pedigree is no worse than some from tier two, but we have enough information about his meh ability as a runner in the NFL to leave him to tier three. The floor with Allen seems higher than most because he can catch a pass, as evidenced by his 45 receptions on 61 targets, and because there’s no clear lead back in Baltimore.
Paul Perkins (ADP of 131)
There’s a fairly wide range of opinions on Perkins, but overall we are looking at a prospect that is probably in a tick below the prospects we’ve mentioned before. I don’t think Perkins has the same upside, but I do like his floor as a potential third down back to replace Vereen eventually. Those types are increasingly handy in PPR leagues as you can start them in a pinch if you’ve built your roster correctly with studs at WR.
Jonathan Williams (ADP of 165)
The case for Williams is in large part that he was very productive before an injury hurt his production and draft stock. Without that context, the aggregate forecasts, think he’s the worst prospect from this list so far with about a 5% chance of becoming a must start player for a typical league.
I would be a little more optimistic than that if he had separated himself from old man Reggie Bush and Mike Gillislee, but I’m stashing Williams in deeper leagues where I can. Bush is the third down back and Gillislee was a fairly poor prospect.
Wendell Smallwood (ADP of 146)
The hope for Smallwood was that he would be Sproles 2.0, but so far he hasn’t been able to beat out Sproles 1.0. Smallwood is a tick below Perkins in my mind, but now is the time to get him as he’s slipped on the depth chart due to summer injuries. A “poor man’s Duke Johnson,” Smallwood could eventually carve out a nice third down role with enough explosiveness to dream on more usage.
Keith Marshall (ADP of 168)
It’s no secret that the analytically inclined are down on Matt Jones, who I called a JAG (just a guy) in my #Dynasty250.
He’s really effing fast, logging a 4.31 40 time. Unsurprisingly, the models that care more about 40 times think he is superior to brand names like Dixon and Perkins. Those that do not are much less optimistic. Overall, I think he’s in a similar tier with Jonathan Williams.
Right now he is behind UDFA Rob Kelley on the depth chart, but he is still my preferred back to own in D.C. thanks to the game changing speed.
Josh Ferguson (ADP of 167)
By some models Ferguson topped Marshall and Williams, but on others he barely registered. He looks more like failed Gore heir-apparent Josh Robinson than the next big thing, but once again the opportunity is so appealing that I’ll lump him with superior prospects.
Jordan Howard (ADP of 130)
I’m not a big running back enthusiast, though occasionally a big and fast one like Karlos Williams (pre-2016 weight issues) will catch my eye. That’s not the case with Howard.
The Bears running back depth chart is full of specialty backs and “JAGs”… so Howard should fit right in. Based on the forecasts, optimistically, Howard has a 10% chance of being a future top 24-fantasy running back. That’s not nothing, though; if I sound negative, it’s mostly because he is more expensive than that forecast implies.
Tier four will be constituted of quick hits regarding players that you should have on your radars.
Kenjon Barber looked good last year and this year in preseason. He may be the only potential “workhorse” on the team after Ryan Mathews, but I’m not eager to buy yet. Just monitoring because Sproles will cut into his upside even if Mathews does go down. Daniel Lasco merits watching in preseason and later on should Ingram go down, because CJ Spiller and Tim Hightower are below replacement level in my opinion. Alex Collins probably deserves his own write-up in tier three since he is a potential workhorse, but I just don’t like him or the situation enough. (Maybe next year, Alex.) Darius Jackson would be awfully interesting if he weren’t buried on a really deep running back depth chart that features third down backs (Dunbar), workhorses (Elliot, McFadden) and plodders (Alfred Morris). Keep an eye on him. Rob Kelley is allegedly second on the depth chart in Washington and about to get some first team reps, but I have very limited information on him as a prospect, which makes me skeptical of the UDFA’s chances to develop into a legitimate starter.