Fantasy Football Rant:  Draft Rookie Running Backs At Your Own Risk!

8 May, 2017
Fantasy Football Rant:  Draft Rookie Running Backs At Your Own Risk!

Greetings, friends!  Jimmie Maverick here and I’m still digesting the deliciousness of the NFL draft.  There is a lot of great new talent entering the league and there is nothing more exciting than seeing someone excel when they’ve stepped up to the next level.  Unfortunately, fantasy football has an extreme case of RECENCY BIAS.  Last season a highly touted Running Back out of The Ohio State University named Ezekiel Elliott came into an almost perfect situation in Dallas.  His immense talent notwithstanding, he was drafted onto a team with one of the best offensive lines in the league and a new Quarterback which made everyone forget about the name Tony Romo.  The result was the #2 best fantasy RB in 2016.

So now we are in 2017 and everyone seems hot to trot to get themselves the next Ezekiel Elliott.  I’m here to tell you that you’re not going to find him and you’re going to end up paying way too much for what these rookies are going to be able to deliver.

Leonard Fournette (RB, JAX, ADP #29).  Everyone is saying that Fournette is the next Ezekiel and you can see the comparisons.  In 3 seasons at LSU, Fournette accounted for 3,830 yards (6.21 YPC) and 40 touchdowns.  Now people are expecting a Zeke redux in Jacksonville but I’m here to tell you this is not going to happen!  My biggest concern is Fournette’s ongoing ankle issue, which held him out of 6 games last season.  Doctors are saying that he has stretched ligaments and could require surgery which would turn him into an IR player overnight.  Likewise, I think we can all agree that Jacksonville has a terrible offense, especially when compared to Dallas.  The offensive line ranked 22nd in the league last season and both Chris Ivory and TJ Yeldon averaged only 3.65 YPC.  Jacksonville hasn’t had a decent run game since the heyday of Maurice Jones-Drew back in 2011.  Finally, Blake Bortles is not a good quarterback.  He was 4th in the league for interceptions and 1st in turnovers last year and I wouldn’t expect him to do much better this season.  It’s going to be hard for Fournette to rack up yardage when his OL can’t block and his QB keeps turning the ball over!  Finally, Fournette is not a pass catcher and will not be involved with the offense if the Jaguars fall behind, something I expect to happen often this season.

Dalvin Cook (RB, MIN, ADP #40).  Do you want a worse offensive line than the Jacksonville Jaguars?  Well Minnesota ranked out as the 29th in the league last year.  Sam Bradford was sacked more times than Blake Bortles and the run game managed a horrendous 3.36 YPC.  Let’s not forget how mediocre a QB Sam Bradford is, he only looked decent last year because the team was in catch up mode for most of the season, forcing him to toss that ball all over the field.  Now Cook was extremely effective at Florida State, racking up 4,464 yards (6.5 YPC) and 46 TDs over his 3 seasons there.  I like the fact that Cook is a ball catcher and that increases his value as Minnesota targeted their RBs 98 times in 2016.  He also doesn’t have any injury baggage like Fournette.  Still, he will be sharing time with both Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata and I can see this being a 3 headed monster where none of these guys get enough work to generate fantasy worthy numbers.  Clearly Cook is the most talented runner here, and I think he has a bright future, but I would stay away at this level of the draft and get someone who is in a better situation with the ground game.

Christian McCaffrey (RB, CAR, ADP #41).  Finally we have a talented RB moving into a good situation.  Of all the rookie RBs, I like McCaffrey the best.   McCaffrey has many different ways to score your fantasy team points.  In his 3 seasons at Stanford, he rushed for 3,922 yards (6.21 YPC) and 21 rush TDs along with 97 receptions for another 1,206 yards and 10 receiving TDs.  If that’s not enough, he also accounted for 1,859 yards and 2 TDs in the return game.  He’s going to be utilized in multiple ways on this Carolina offense.  One huge concern I have, though, is the fact that Cam Newton has never really utilized his RBs in the passing game and this goes back to his college days.  If that continues, that can throw a real crimp into McCaffrey’s value.  Cam only threw to his RBs 68 times last season.  When you look at some of the most prolific receiving RBs like David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell they get close to 100 targets, so Cam’s game plan will have to change substantially to fully realize McCaffrey’s skills.

Joe Mixon (RB, CIN, ADP #64).  Finally we get a talented running back at a decent ADP so there is some good things to say here.  Cincinatti has a pretty good offensive line (ranked #13) but Mixon finds himself in a crowded backfield.  I don’t think Jeremy Hill, who everyone is assuming is going to be displaced by Mixon, is going to ride into the sunset peacefully.  He is on a contract year and is fighting for his career right now, so I expect him to be motivated.  Likewise, Giovani Bernard, who is a prolific pass catcher is also set to return from a season ending injury.  I don’t know if Mixon has the chops to be a 3 down back.  Remember, he wasn’t the lead back at Oklahoma, that was Samaje Perine.  Mixon was the change of pace/3rd down guy.   To me it looks like Mixon would be more likely to displace Bernard rather than Hill because of his role as the pass catching specialist in Oklahoma.  I like that fact that he is outside the top 6 picks which makes him a medium risk bet (as opposed to the other three guys on this list being high risk). I’m going to have to wait and see what happens in training camp before I can make a determination as to whether he’s worth the pick at this point.

When it comes to success in Fantasy Football you don’t want to follow the herd.  You want to zig when everybody else zags.  Instead of a risky rookie, why not draft established talent that has proven themselves in the league already?  Grab your rookies in the middle and late rounds because those are the ones who will help you win fantasy games!  As I mentioned above, Washington RB Samaje Perine is currently sitting with an ADP of #172 (I expect this to rise as we get closer to the season), but you want to talk about a late round flyer that could easily displace his competition and become a start worthy asset for your team!  I would much rather have him than any of the guys on this list!

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Author: Jim Kutsko