With drafting season upon us, it’s time, in true cynical Shot
Caller fashion, to start throwing out caution flags. Repeatable
stellar performance seems to elude even the best and the brightest
the league has to offer and this year, if history holds, will be
no exception to that role. It will. It always does. Put another
way, the guys everyone’s talking about this August will be
the same guys we’ll be talking about next August in this column
as we autopsy what went wrong. Let’s just save a step and
future grief by talking about them now, shall we?
Note: All rankings are based on FFToday’s default standard
Bell is determined to change the way running backs get paid,
but he’s a deeply flawed crusader. Like many of the backs
who missed the Top 10 cut in 2016, Bell missed it in 2015 for the
precise reason Pittsburgh isn’t willing to pay him like a
stud edge rusher or a lock-down cornerback in the first place: He
doesn’t play nearly enough games. The reliability of an NFL
running back is poor and the shelf life brutally short, so investing
lots of money in the position doesn’t make good economic sense.
It’s sad and unfair but also reality.
Take, for instance, the eight backs who failed to maintain their
Top 10 status in 2016. Of a possible 128 games they could have appeared
in collectively, they only managed to appear in 88. Only one of
them, Todd Gurley, put in a full 16-game slate and he deserves hazardous
duty pay for sharing a backfield with the league’s worst starting
quarterback. In sum, the eight 2016 dropouts only showed up for
the job they get paid to do 69% of the time. You think my boss would
settle for a 69% attendance rate?
To be fair, their job is a little more dangerous than my job. Adrian Peterson tore his meniscus in Week 2 and was essentially done (both
for the year and as a Viking). Doug Martin suffered a bum hammy
and then got suspended, a sentence he’ll continue serving
this season. DeAngelo Williams sustained a knee injury and is now
a free agent. Lamar Miller (ankle), Chris Ivory (calf/emergency
hospitalization), Matt Forte (shoulder), and Latavius Murray (turf
toe) succumbed to the typical bumps/bruises which often derail running
backs’ seasons. Bottom line? You draft who you like and hope
they last for the duration. But they probably won’t.
Most Likely Candidates to Fall from
the Top 10 This Year:
Elliott, DAL: I figured we could safely ignore any discussion
of Zeke Elliott this preseason after his lengthy suspension was
handed down from Commissioner Goodell. Then I started digging into
ADPs, watched with my own two eyes as a league mate in our FFToday
staff league grabbed him in the third round, and thought…what in
the ever-loving deuce is going on around here? The third round?
For a guy who will see his first game action in Week 8? What am
I missing here, folks?
I suppose I can follow the logic. Le’Veon Bell missed four
games last season and still ended up comfortably in the Top 10 (No.4
overall). Zeke is a very comparable talent playing behind a better
offensive line. Ergo, he still has a very good chance of slipping
into the RB penthouse despite an abbreviated seven or eight-game
season. There’s just one problem with this line of reasoning:
No, he doesn’t. Let’s say, for the sake of argument,
the Dallas meal ticket was able to average 20.7 points per game,
what last year’s No.1 RB, David Johnson, averaged. That puts
him at roughly 207 total points on the season, just barely above
the Top 10 Mendoza line in 2016. In other words, he needs to be
at least as good as Johnson was last year to even have a legitimate
chance of maintaining his Top 10 status in 2017.
I love this guy’s skill set and, provided he keeps his nose
clean, he’ll be back to wrecking opposing defenses on a full-time
basis in 2018. Just be very realistic about what he can and can’t
do for you this year. He can help you win a chip down the stretch.
He can’t make you competitive before Week 8 unless his suspension
gets delayed so draft accordingly in larger leagues.
With Derrick Henry lurking and age creeping
up, Murray's stay in the top ten may be short-lived.
Murray, TEN: I love what the Titans have done to rebuild
a once-proud franchise and am, frankly, surprised they did it so
quickly, especially after retaining the uninspiring Mike Mularkey
as head coach. I’m also surprised at how they did it, by installing
a Stone Age offense (what Mularkey cryptically labeled “exotic smashmouth”)
with Space Age personnel (Marcus freaking Mariota!). Whatever it
was worked as Tennessee ranked 11th overall in total offense, a
marked improvement over the previous two years (29th and 30th in
2014 and 2015, respectively).
Murray was a huge part of that offensive renaissance in Nashville,
rushing for almost 1,300 yards and nine scores (three more as a
receiver), so there aren’t many good reasons to think he couldn’t
reproduce those numbers in 2017. The offensive line is young and
good, Mariota is a star in the making, and Murray is healthy, something
you never take for granted at the position, as previously discussed.
Nevertheless, there are a couple reasons to be pessimistic about
him, even as the team rides a general wave of optimism.
First, Derrick Henry is lurking behind Murray on the depth chart.
The former Heisman winner is younger, much bigger, and seems ideally
suited for the role of goal-line TD vulture. He only carried the
ball 110 times last year and I think he doubles that this year.
Second, did I mention Mariota is a star in the making? The Titans
went out and grabbed him three shiny new toys this offseason (Eric Decker, Corey Davis, and Taywan Taylor), two of them early in the
draft. You don’t draft wide receivers in the 1st and 3rd rounds
of the draft so they can ride your bench. Murray’s still valuable,
but I suspect he’ll be sharing Tennessee’s newfound
wealth more often in 2017.
Blount, PHI: The aforementioned Henry is actually the
“one that got away” in our staff league draft, though I have nobody
to blame but myself for that. Looking to add a more traditional
ground-pounder/touchdown-creator to pair with my hybrid starters,
McCaffrey and Ty
Montgomery, I opted to grab the more proven commodity, LeGarrette
Blount, instead of the up-and-comer, Henry, I promised myself I’d
bring home before the draft began. Oh, the pre-draft promises we
make to ourselves, right?
This, of course, puts me in the awkward position of now explaining
why I landed a guy I’m officially downgrading ahead of a guy
I desperately wanted when both were available. In short, I was willing
to secure more certainty at the cost of a lower ceiling and, since
it was the 6th round, I felt I was coming away with a pretty good
value either way. I don’t have the draft report in front of
me as I type this (I’m currently airborne on my way to a destination
draft in Austin, TX), but I seem to remember the running back ranks
being pretty thin at that stage. I definitely remember thinking,
“Henry AND Blount are still around?” Yippee!
The latter’s value has obviously been depressed by the fact
he’s no longer playing for Bill Belichick or with Tom Brady.
Though I’m pretty confident he can reach double-digit touchdowns
in Philly?especially since there’s no Ryan Mathews to contend
with in the Eagles’ backfield?there ain’t no way he’s
scoring 18 again. That is where most of his value lay in 2016. If
we needed further proof there’s no such thing as “indispensable”
in Foxboro (unless your name is Brady), look no further than LeGarrette Blount. Oh, and good luck figuring out who replaces his production
for the Pats this year.