Welcome to the second installment of the “Sleepers, Breakouts and Busts” series!
For almost the past two weeks, I have been “off the grid” on a cruise to Alaska, and then into the mainland, in areas like Ketchikan, Denali and Juneau, so I apologize that I couldn’t get these out sooner, but I will have the other positions as out as soon as I can. Oh, and Alaska is neat. Hard to go to sleep at 10pm when it still looks like 2pm though.
Running Backs are a position like no other. Position strategy changes from year to year, from wanting as many running backs as we can get our hands on, to not drafting any in the first few rounds (the Zero RB theory). More than any other position, there are a ton of busts year to year, so we’re constantly finding new ways to approach the position and to eliminate all possibilities of drafting last year’s Eddie Lacy.
We want to be extra cautious when selecting them. Not that Quarterbacks are not important per se, but we can be a little braver when drafting them over HB’s. Game flow, schedules, and talent all go into the perfect back. More so in game flow; we want the most touches possible, and those who do find themselves with a very healthy workload are consistently finding themselves at the top come January.
We get very frustrated when they under-perform. Guys like Eddie Lacy, C.J. Anderson, Melvin Gordon, and DeMarco Murray, all caused ourselves to throw something at another thing (good joke Zach). More often than not, the wrong HB will cause our teams to crash and burn, much more so than any of the other positions. However one of the many reasons why many are switching to avoiding backs totally in the first few rounds is due to some diamonds in the rough on the waiver wires come October-December. But it is a high risk to bank on.
Running Backs are my favorite, and constantly, they’re the position that defines my team, and a lot of the championship winning teams. Most owners who brought home hardware most likely had one of the three: David Johnson, Todd Gurley or Devonta Freeman.
And what do they have in common? In August many owners weren’t drafting them. And here are some you shouldn’t sleep on in 2016…
*All ADP data given is based on a 12-team standard draft*
Lance Dunbar (ADP: 0, Undrafted) – I’m starting to really like Dunbar, and for a late round flier (most likely as our final roster spot before K and D/ST’s), I’ll take him with no regrets. Here’s why I like him: Yes, it’s very likely that Elliot is going to get a nice workload, and there’s no doubt he’s in a great spot. However, no matter what anyone else says, he’s not going to get DeMarco-like carries, or even a ton of work. That’s just natural for any rookie. I do not have a doubt in my mind that he’s a talented back, but he hasn’t played a single down in the National Football League. So where do the extra carries go you ask? Well, thank god for Darren McFadden’s elbow injury recently, because without that, I wouldn’t touch Dunbar. McFadden was to handle the workload that Elliot would leave behind in whatever circumstances, but now it will be recycled elsewhere. Next up on the depth chart is Alfred Morris, who can’t be found at all in the passing game. Last year, Morris had only 10 catches for 55 yards and no TD’s. Unlike Morris, Dunbar is very good at catching passes out of the backfield. In 3 games last year before he got hurt (tore his ACL, MCL and patellar tendon), Dunbar was the #15 overall back in fantasy with 44.8 total points, had played close to 40% of the total Cowboys snaps, and in the passing game had a cool 21 catches good for 215 yards. Yes, last year the Cowboys did not have Elliot, yet Dunbar kept the role as the passing-downs HB under McFadden and Joseph Randle. Through weeks 1-4, however, Randle was still the 12th-best back in fantasy. If the Cowboys use Elliot like they say they will, he won’t be in on every play, and the passing downs role will go to Dunbar. Alfred Morris should not be a factor to steal carries away from either Elliot nor Dunbar in any way, barring rest or the occasional injury. It still depends on his injury status, as reports are saying that he may start the year on the PUP list. However, according to beat writer David Helman, Dunbar was able to run routes on the sideline during OTA’s with ease. You may not draft him, and he might just be a nice free agent acquisition for your team in the first few weeks, but Dunbar is one of my favorite sleepers this year.
Tevin Coleman (ADP: 137th, Early 12th) – Devonta Freeman is not Atlanta’s back. Let me re-phrase that. When Dan Quinn and his coaching regime was installed in Atlanta before the 2015 season ever began, Devonta Freeman was not his choice as the Falcons’ #1 back. Tevin Coleman was , and in my personal opinion, still is. He was drafted in the 3rd round for crying out loud. If you look at Week 1 against the Philadelphia Eagles, Devonta Freeman only had 10 rushing attempts good for 18 yards, while Tevin Coleman was given 20 carries. Then, Coleman battled injuries throughout the rest of the season, while we all know what happened to Devonta Freeman. However, Freeman was absolutely god-awful during the second half of the season. In 7 of his final eight games, Freeman averaged only 2.9 yards per game, with only 2 TD’s in that span of time. Meanwhile, Tevin Coleman’s workload started to increase throughout the second half of the season. That was that in 2015, so what does this year hold? Well, signs are pointing to Atlanta giving Coleman a bigger workload, and as Dan Quinn put it, more opportunities to develop. Simply put, Freeman is deemed to still have duties as the 3rd-down back that he always has been, but Coleman could be stealing a bit of the work on the early downs. Atlanta loves Coleman’s big play ability, and we could see Coleman on the field much more often than not. Freeman is going pretty high, towards the back end of Round 1 towards early Round 2, while Coleman is at a premium in the 11th and 12th rounds. There are plenty of other backs I would select over Freeman, and there are many reasons to believe in Coleman as bench depth who could provide us with much more in 2016.
Me- What do you think about DeAndre Washington?
Son- Latavius [Murray] is still the man, but he is young and developing. There are also injury concerns. The Oakland offense is going to be good, with one of the best interior lines in the league. The situation is ideal. Even if Latavius doesn’t falter, I’m thinking Washington carves out the RB2 role.
Me- Interesting. I appreciate the hot takes.
Son- Shut up.
I may have paraphrased that last bit. Well say what you want Stan, but I couldn’t have said it any better myself! And guess what folks, he’s right! The Raiders might have the 2nd-best O-Line in the league. Oakland added Veteran G/OT Kelechi Osemele to go alongside the already good Gabe Jackson and Rodney Hudson. That’s a big benefit. In addition to this, he also faces very little competition for the RB2 job at the very minimum, competing with Roy Helu and Taiwan Jones. And it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that he could overtake Murray as the starter. Washington is a very skilled runner, and in two seasons at Texas A&M, he managed 3,000+ yards with 20 TD’s, and even 124 catches out of the backfield. One of the good things going for Washington is his ability to pass-protect, something that could get him the extra mile. When I viewed a live Periscope “session” with Raiders beat reporter Scott Blair a little while ago, I asked him what he thought of Washington, and he not only thought that he was a talented rusher, but that he has been getting some good reps at OTA’s thus far, and he has looked impressive on the field with some 1st-teamers. As our 5th or even 6th back on our team, he poses some great upside, and I rather have him over other guys going this late, like Kenyan Drake, C.J. Prosise, or even Jerrick McKinnon. It’s fair to say I have changed my mind since I first viewed Washington, as he has grown on me tremendously.
Matt Jones (ADP: 59th, Middle 5th) – First off, I do not believe his ADP is 100% accurate, and I will expect him to go much later than the 5th in some “normal leagues” (especially in 10-teamers), however I still would love to have him here. Matt Jones is starting to become one of my favorite backs this year, and I will gladly take him in the 5th as my 3rd back or flex option. First off, I will bet my money on the fact that they will give him a very healthy workload, as not only is Alfred Morris gone, he’ll have little competition to split carries or lose any work. Even though Chris Thompson does not do it for me, it’s still interesting to see how the ‘Skins work with rookie Keith Marshall, especially because of the blatant fact that they drafted him (albeit in the 7th round) knowing they still had Jones. With that said, a rookie is still a rookie, and Marshall is not likely to have a significant touches at all that challenges Jones, so he will be the HB1 with a sizable workload. Also, not only does Jones have a fairly decent SOS, he also is now running behind one of the better O-Line’s (greatly improved since ’15) out there, something to always have in the back of your mind. Yes, the fumbling is an issue (lost the ball 5 times on less than 200 carries), but he’s worked with special footballs, and has studied and collaborated with former Giants back Tiki Barber in the offseason to reduce those issues. The fantasy community is shifting towards the option of going WR-heavy in the first few rounds, and if you see yourself going towards that option as well, Jones makes for a great option.
Frank Gore (ADP: 74rd, Early 7th) – Frank Gore is the perfect breakout back, and is even better as a #2 back for those who go WR-heavy in the early rounds. Gore was one of the more frustrating backs in the NFL last year, as we continually was met with being stuffed at the line of the scrimmage as even though he still ended up getting 967, he did it very, very slowly. But this year is looking up for the 33 year old. Last year Gore finished as the 14th best back in fantasy in a team and offense that struggled greatly, so considering how bad the Colts were last year compared to how good they can be this year, Gore won’t have to have We finally get back a 100% Andrew Luck for the start of the season, who missed 9 games for a boatload of injuries. The Colts also don’t have the ineffective Andre Johnson, but still have some very dangerous weapons with T.Y. Hilton, Dwayne Allen, Donte Moncrief and the speedy Phillip Dorsett. With these threats returning, and again, the return of Luck, Gore won’t have to face a stacked box, and with a healthy workload, should have a chance to shine, with new holes opening in the offensive line. Speaking of the O-Line, they got a very nice upgrade with the drafting of Alabama Center, Ryan Kelly. With all of these factors coming into play, combined with incredible job security and the fact that he’ll likely be the bellcow (backups: Robert Turbin and Jordan Todman. Yuck), the fact that he hasn’t missed a single game since 2011, and how low his ADP is, what’s not to love?
Isaiah Crowell (ADP: 118th, Middle 10th) – He’s not sexy, but he’ll get the job done (same thing with fellow back Duke Johnson, especially in PPR leagues). Being a Daily Fantasy guy myself, one thing I found very helpful in finding sleeper HB’s to put into your FD lineups was to find guys whose praises were sung during the week, either by a coordinator or the main man himself. “Coachspeak”. And for what we have right here with Crowell is a #1 back on a NFL depth chart who’s new HC, Hue Jackson, has spoken very highly of both him and Duke Johnson. His 3.9 YPC last year should not instill confidence in anyone, but he should get a healthy workload as the team’s first back. There might be concern over Crowell losing some work in the passing game to Duke Johnson, but it can’t be ignored that Crowell had 22 targets in last year’s passing game, with a stunning 87% catch rate. So what do we have on our hands with Crowell? Right now I would be happy with Crowell as my 4th back, or 3rd if I go WR-heavy in the first few rounds. But as the ADP data indicates, Crowell is going off of the board as the 40th back taken. T.J. Yeldon, Karlos Williams, and DeAngelo Williams, none of which are the #1’s thus far on their respective teams, are all going ahead of Crowell. He’s not very sexy, and you won’t be jumping up and down when we falls into your lap, but he’s in a good situation with a coach who’ll give him a healthy workload, could do some damage through the air, and who will come to us a a very big discount to where he should be drafted.
Todd Gurley (ADP: 5th, Early 1st Round) – Todd Gurley will start his 2016 campaign by traveling 380 miles from L.A. to San Francisco. Not bad. He’ll then come home in Week 2 to face one of the toughest rush D’s in the NFL in the Seahawks. Then, he’ll have to travel all the way from L.A. to Tampa, FL (813 represent!). Then, he’ll travel all the way to Phoneix, AZ for Week 4, then back to L.A., then all the way to Detroit. From there, he’ll travel all the way to Twickenham Stadium in London for a matchup against the Giants in Week 7. After a much needed bye week, he’ll come back home, only to then travel to East Rutherford, NJ in Week 9. It’s only Week 9, and you get the point. Say what you will, but long traveling, and switching many time zones can have a big effect on backs, something that we are somewhat familiar, and cannot be ignored. It also doesn’t help along the way that he’ll face the Seahawks twice, Cardinals twice, Jets, and even Buccaneers throughout the season. Before I get angry comments, I’m not saying to not draft Gurley because of his traveling, but there are some more reasons I have not gotten to. Especially for those who play in PPR leagues, it should be noted that Gurley is as active in the passing game as Alfred Morris is. Last year, Gurley averaged less than 2 catches per game. Also, Gurley was very dependent on the flow of the game, and in many scenarios last year, received a very small workload in the 3rd and 4th quarters. He’s pretty much due for a big regression, especially as the Rams should regress as a team. At some point, Gurley will come to a point where he will have to be taken, but he’s being taken as the 2nd back off of the board, and I rather have guys like Adrian Peterson and David Johnson over what Gurley brings to the table.
Devonta Freeman (ADP: 16th, Early 2nd Round) – (I’m repeating myself from the bit above about Tevin Coleman, as I think the two go hand-in-hand). Much to what you may believe, Devonta Freeman is not Atlanta’s back. When Dan Quinn and his coaching regime was installed in Atlanta before the 2015 season, Devonta Freeman was not his choice as the Falcons’ #1 back. Tevin Coleman is, and in my personal opinion, still is. If you look at Week 1 against the Philadelphia Eagles, Devonta Freeman only had 10 rushing attempts good for 18 years, while Tevin Coleman was given 20 carries. Then, Coleman battled injuries throughout the rest of the season, while we all know what happened to Devonta Freeman. However, Freeman was absolutely god-awful during the second half of the season. In 7 of his final eight games, Freeman averaged 2.9 yards per game, with only 2 TD’s in that span of time. Meanwhile, Tevin Coleman’s workload started to increase throughout the second half of the season. That was that in 2015, so what does this year hold? Well, signs are pointing to Atlanta giving Coleman a bigger workload, and as Dan Quinn put it, more opportunities to develop. Simply put, Freeman is deemed to have duties as the 3rd-down back that he always has been, but Coleman could be stealing a bit of the work on the early downs. Atlanta loves Coleman’s big play ability, and we could see Coleman on the field much more often than not. Freeman is going pretty high, towards the back end of Round 1 towards early Round 2, while Coleman is at a premium in the 11th and 12th rounds. There are plenty of other backs I would select over Freeman in the early rounds, and there are many reasons to believe in Coleman as bench depth who could provide us with much more in 2016.
Dion Lewis (ADP 55th, Late 5th Round:) – Dion Lewis’ ADP is too damn high! The 5th round?!?!? Current ADP data has Lewis going ahead of guys like Jay Ajayi, Matt Jones, and Frank Gore, all guys who I would rather have over Lewis. Dion Lewis was one of the biggest under-the-radar plays for Week 1, and proved to be a very talented back (shoutout to Jennifer Warner, who gave a very good hot take on Lewis before last year’s opener) for most of the year, until he went down in Week 9 with a knee injury. It’s highly likely that Lewis will come back 100% by Week 1, but even if he does, it’s hard to judge how Bill Belichick, who might be one of the worst coaches for our purposes, and company will use him in a very crowded backfield with the already defined LeGarrette Blount, who will most likely be the goal-line back, James White, who could be installed on 3rd downs, and even in passing scenarios, and the recent drafting of rookie DJ Foster. And heck, the Pats have still kept onto Brandon Bolden for all these years. Lewis could still pick up where he left off, but it’s highly unlikely, as Belichick and McDaniels could have him in a strict limited role until he eases back to 100%, in an already crowded backfield. I’ll pass until I can’t.
Alright guys, thanks for sticking around as I finish up this second post in the series. Hopefully you guys have started to get an idea of what HB’s you want to target in drafts, and which to stay away from. As always, if you have a question, or disagree with a name on the list, feel free to leave a comment below. Stay tuned in the next few weeks or so as I’ll be finishing up some more Sleepers, Breakouts and Busts but this time for WR’s, and TE’s. And maybe K’s and D/ST’s. They’re people too.
Hopefully everyone had a happy, healthy, and safe 4th of July Weekend as well!
Go read a book.
You Can Follow Zach on Twitter @ohuhave12.