What’s going on everyone, and welcome back to the second post in a series I will be doing over the next few weeks, where I’ll be taking a look at each position’s “busts” from the year before (comparing their finish in standard leagues to their pre-season ADP data), to help us figure out what went wrong last year, and to see if they can bounce-back in 2018.
Today I’ll be taking a look at four running back busts that finished lower than their preseason ADP data would indicate their finishing position at the end of the year.
There weren’t a lot of “busts” this past year at the position as it was the year of the running backs, with many different value options finishing in the Top 20. However, there were still some disappointments, so let’s go over those guys now.
Isaiah Crowell (2017 ADP: 2.12; #26 RB)
The pre-season hype around Isaiah Crowell continued to build the entire summer of 2017, and finally reached the tipping point of an ADP of 2.12. But it was a very disappointing year for him, as he finished as the 30th best running back in fantasy. So what went wrong for the 4th-year runner?
At the beginning of the year, many writers and analysts believed that Crowell could finally enter the conversation as a Top 12 running back in fantasy, behind a good enough offensive line, and a defense that could help the Browns remain competitive late in games. I was one of those writers as well. Another reason why I believed that he could do well was because of how he was being hyped up. During the entire offseason, from OTA’s to the end of the preseason, Hue Jackson swore by Isaiah Crowell and that he was going to do everything in his power to feed him the rock. And the reason why the young runner struggled last year wasn’t due to his volume. So kudos to Hue Jackson for getting him the ball more, because last year, Crowell had the most rushing attempts of his career.
The reason why he was a bust was due to two things: pass inefficiency on offense, and defensive inefficiency against the pass. When looking at offensive and defense metrics on Football Outsiders, it’s clear to see that the Browns were efficient running the ball, and defending against the rush, finishing 9th in rushing efficiency, and 4th in stopping the run. However, they finished 32nd in passing efficiency, and 26th in the NFL against the pass. While Crowell certainly had his opportunities, the Cleveland Browns as a whole struggled to get the ball moving downfield on passing downs, and the secondary, despite the best efforts of Jason McCourty, struggled all year. This caused many negative game scripts for the winless Browns, as they failed to establish anything that resembled a balanced rushing attack, or offensive attack in general.
So what does that mean for this season? Well, Crowell is no longer on the Browns, as he moved up north this offseason to the New York Jets, and will be joining the likes of Bilal Powell and Elijah McGuire in this backfield. However, as of now in early June, I think we can make the assumption that Crowell will be serving as the primary downs back for the men in green, with Powell and McGuire serving as the change-of-pace and/or passing downs backs. Do I like Crowell this year? No I do not. While the Jets were dealt a bad hand before the season even began last year, and are bound to improve this season with the addition of Sam Darnold (if he even plays), Jermaine Kearse, and the return of Quincy Enunwa, this offensive line is still below-average, and won’t be doing Crowell any favors this year. His current ADP is hovering in the mid-8th round, which doesn’t carry a lot of risk, but I’d rather have a late-round pick that carries some upside, and I don’t see a lot of upside with Crowell this year.
Jay Ajayi (2017 ADP: 1.11; #28 RB)
Jay Ajayi was by far the biggest bust of the 2017 fantasy season. In most drafts, owners saw Ajayi either selected in the late first or early second rounds, as many’s RB1. After a 2016 season that saw him finish as the 11th-best running back in standard leagues, with 1,272 rushing yards and 8 TD’s. Ajayi followed up with a performance that was pretty frustrating last year as he finished with 873 rushing yards, 1 rushing TD (he also caught one score as well), and outside of the Top 30 in fantasy. So what went wrong?
Despite the fact that he was traded to the Eagles in halfway through the regular season last year, Ajayi was still the lead dog in Miami, always receiving the bulk of carries through the first 8 weeks. However, he really didn’t do anything with them. Despite his average of 20 carries per game, he didn’t score a single time, and had an average of 3.3 yards per carry. The Dolphins offensive line was absolutely horrible last year, and definitely didn’t do Ajayi any favors, but he still struggled to make an impact in the open field, and it shows.
However, Ajayi was traded during halfway through the season from the cold, wintery conditions of South Beach to the hot and sunny shores of Philadelphia. Through his first four games with his new team, however, Ajayi averaged 7 rushing attempts per game, as he had to share the backfield with LeGarrette Blount, Corey Clement, and Wendell Smallwood. However, over the final six games last season, including the Playoffs and the Super-Bowl-That-Should-Not-Be-Named, he finished with an average of 14 carries per game.
Now with Blount out of the picture, those 173 carries have to go somewhere, and with reports from Duce Staley (Eagles RB’s Coach) saying that Ajayi will be the “workhorse” back this year, Ajayi might not be the worst fantasy option this year. The Eagles still have a pretty good defense that should keep them in positive game scripts, a decent enough O-Line, and a balanced passing attack that could help open the field for Ajayi. If he is the workhorse back that reports are indicating, I think Ajayi could bounce back this season after a poor 2017 campaign, and pay off his current ADP of 32nd overall. It might be a risky price, but I think he should have no issues finishing as an RB2 in fantasy this year. Besides, his contract is up at the end of the year, and he needs all the motivation he can.
Marshawn Lynch (2017 ADP: 3.01; #20 RB)
After taking a year off to relax and eat as many Skittles as he could, Marshawn Lynch came back into our lives in 2017 as he finished with 207 carries for 891 yards and 7 TD’s, finishing as the 19th-best back in fantasy. While he wasn’t the biggest bust in fantasy, he still finished lower compared to where he was going: as the 13th back off the board in pre-season drafts. So what happened?
When looking at efficiency metrics on Football Outsiders, it’s clear to see that Lynch was a very efficient runner last year, finishing in the top 10 in rushing DVOA and DYAR. So why did he almost finish outside of the Top 20? The issue for Lynch was his workload. Not only did his age play a factor in the fact that he only had an average of 13 carries a game, the lowest in his career since 2009, the Raiders defense did not do him any favors, as they struggled greatly and caused the Raiders to play from behind in a majority of their games, forcing them to abandon the run often. It’s a shame that this happened, because Lynch did pretty well behind one of the best O-Line units in football.
The key to Marshawn Lynch’s fantasy value in 2018 will fall on the shoulders of Jon Gruden. If he and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. can get the Raiders defense to improve, or at least regress back to being a solid unit like we saw in 2016, then that should help the offense as a whole stay in positive game scripts. If that can happen, then this offensive unit should improve, and it should help open the field for Lynch. His current price tag is in the mid-6th round, and while I’m not over the moon about Lynch this year, I think that ADP carries very little risk if you’re drafting him as your 3rd or 4th back. Sure, I’d rather take other options in that price range, such as Carlos Hyde, Tevin Coleman, Aaron Jones or Kerryon Johnson, but you could do worse.
DeMarco Murray (2017 ADP: 2.01; #19 RB)
*So this will be an interesting section because Murray still doesn’t have an NFL team as of now, so while I won’t speak just yet on how I view Murray this year, I will talk a little bit about the Titans backfield this year.*
At the beginning of the season, the hype around DeMarco Murray was pretty high as he was fresh off a 2016 season that saw him finish as the 5th-best running back in fantasy, finishing with close to 1,300 rushing yards with 9 TD’s. Because of his performances, Murray’s ADP climbed the entire offseason and finally settled in the early 2nd round of most 10 and 12-team fantasy drafts. However, the 2017 season didn’t do the 7th-year back any favors, as he finished 19th in fantasy with only 659 rushing yards and 6 TD’s.
While he did miss one game due to injury, Murray still played a majority of the NFL season with an average of close to 13 carries per game. While that number isn’t the highest, or lowest it’s ever been for Murray, it isn’t surprising to see that he almost had a near split in carries to his teammate Derrick Henry (who had 11 attempts/game) in an attempt to preserve the 30 year-old for the entirety of the season, and to have a more balanced rushing attack. However, the Titans rushing attack as a whole left a lot to be desired, as both Murray and Henry struggled in DYAR and DVOA throughout the season.
First off, with Murray, who still hasn’t signed yet, it’s looking very likely that he’ll be picked up once Training Camp starts and some roster spots start opening up. Because of this, I don’t see him being a primary-downs back for any team this year, which means that unless he goes to a team that desperately needs help in the backfield, forcing Murray to take on some work, I don’t think he’ll be fantasy relevant this year.
As for the Titans backfield, I think it all depends on value. With an improved offensive line and a fresh Coaching staff that should breathe life into this offense, I do not mind taking Derrick Henry or Dion Lewis in drafts this fall, but it really depends on when they are available. Speaking in the offseason, new Offensive Coordinator Matt LeFleur said that he views both runners as “1A and 1B”. It’ll take some training camp sessions and a few preseason games to see how these two runners will split time, but until then, we have to assume that both running backs will get work on primary downs, and passing downs, alternating on different series. So let’s take a look at the price for both players.
Henry currently as an ADP price tag at 25th overall, which is the last pick of the 2nd round in 12-team leagues, which means that unless you took Antonio Brown with your first pick, Henry will likely be your RB2 behind Gurley, Lev Bell, Elliott or David Johnson. Starting off your draft with a top 4 running back, then taking one of Mike Evans, Tyreek Hill, Doug Baldwin, Rob Gronkowski or A.J. Green (if he falls), and then Derrick Henry as your RB2 is a very good start to a draft. Even if you took Antonio Brown, and settling for henry as your RB1, and one of Christian McCaffrey, Joe Mixon, or Jerrick McKinnon as your RB2 is a very fine start as well. Either way you slice it, Henry’s price in the 3rd round is money well spent for a back that could finish in the top 10 at the end of the year.
For Dion Lewis, his ADP is currently in the 6th round, which is great value as well. If Lewis has a standout Training Camp and preseason, his ADP will certainly climb, but as for now, if we believe LeFleur, we could potentially get a team’s RB1″B” in the 6th round of drafts, and as our RB3 or 4, depending on how we attack the draft. Obviously I feel better about Lewis in PPR drafts more than standard leagues, but the price tag is pretty low for someone who could have a good workload during the NFL season this year.
Alright guys, that is my time for today. Be sure to keep an eye out on this site over the next few days and weeks as I, and the rest of the Razzball team, will have a bunch of articles and podcasts out to get us one day closer to the start of the NFL season. But let’s enjoy June, because it’s certainly my favorite time of the year. Nothing like speculation, coach-speak and mock drafts to help us get through the dog days of summer! And as always, if you have a question or comment, don’t hesitate to leave one below.
You Can Follow Zach on Twitter @razzball_zach.