This week we take a look at the ADP and related value of some of
the top running backs in the league. Running backs can be tricky.
Playing the position takes a physical toll, and that means there’s
a small window to take advantage of their skill set because fantasy
depreciation is a real thing. In addition, like at quarterback,
the more a running back can do, the more value he brings. A dual
threat runner-receiver is the gold standard. But that back also
has to be in the right system – inside zone, outside zone,
role in the passing game, protection responsibilities. Finally,
he needs an opportunity to showcase it all. We all know about the
dangers of the running back committee.
With all that in mind, here are the RB’s I expect to outperform
their ADPs and which I expect to fall short.
The Case for Walker Being Undervalued:Chris
Carson is retired and Rashaad
Penny has played just 13 total games over the last two seasons.
The Case Against Walker Being Undervalued: Rookies
struggle historically and Walker, if he has to carry the mail,
will be asked to do so without a game-changing QB.
The Verdict: As I write this, incredibly, Penny
is on the sideline with yet another injury. Itís minor at this
point, a groin pull that the team is handling with kid gloves,
but who could blame them? Penny, despite being the most productive
RB in the NFL over the last month of the 2021 season, is seemingly
always dealing with some type of injury and played just 13 games
over the last two seasons.
Meanwhile, Walker (hernia) has reportedly improved significantly
in pass protection and his receiving skills, according to HC Pete
Carroll, are better than his 19 career college receptions would
indicate. That all points towards a three-down role for the rookie
who runs a 4.3 40, carries 210 pounds on a stout 5-10 frame, and
his one-cut running style is a strong fit for the Seahawksí outside
zone running scheme. I donít expect Seattleís offense to create
much spark, but they will run the ball under Pete Carroll, stubbornly,
to a fault, and I think the opportunity and the volume Walker
could garner leads me to consider him as a high end RB2.
The Case for Etienne Being Undervalued: Etienne
is not only a candidate for a three-down RB role, but a versatile
weapon who will get opportunities to contribute all over the field.
The Case Against Etienne Being Undervalued:
He lost his entire rookie season to a foot injury and RB James
Robinsonís (Achilles) unexpectedly quick return to the lineup
has some thinking Etienne could be reduced to a 3rd down back,
limiting his ceiling.
The Verdict: Etienne is a tough, talented runner who posted nearly
5,000 rushing yards during his four-year Clemson career but I
think the biggest mistake most fantasy owners will make is being
literal to Etienneís position listing as a running back.
He has formidable receiving skills and scary open field running
ability after the catch (85 catches for over 1,000 yards his last
two seasons for the Tigers). Yes, he can line up in the backfield
on all three downs and compete as a runner and a receiver.
With Robinson apparently ready to get back on the field
more quickly than expected from his injury, reports out of camp
have him running in the backfield with the first team offense.
That doesnít mean that Etienne will be standing on the sideline
watching. In addition to plenty of two-back sets that will feed
the ball to both men, HC Doug Pederson and his staff are going
to be creative in finding ways to get this kidís talent
on the field and get the ball in his hands in a variety of ways.
Heíll align wide on the perimeter, out of the slot, will
be put in motion, used on jet sweeps, and get plenty of snaps
as a traditional runner and receiver out of the backfield. Iím
counting on Etienne being first in total touches for the Jags
and slotting in as a high end RB2, low end RB1 by the end of the
The Case for Fournette Being Undervalued: Fournette
ranked 10th amongst NFL RBs in fantasy points per game in 2021.
His 84 targets and 69 catches were 3rd among all RBís and his
454 receiving yards were 4th. Finally, his 10 total TDs were 8th
among all RBís.
The Case Against Fournette Being Undervalued:
His 812 rushing yards barely snuck into the Top 20 a season ago
and he was 21st in carries playing in Tom
Bradyís ball-control passing offense.
The Verdict: Fournette is not going to be a volume runner in
this offense. Since Bradyís arrival in Tampa, the Bucs have
slowly but surely evolved into an offense that puts the ball in
the QBís hands, using the short to intermediate passing
game as an extension of the run game. But that has only brought
Fournetteís receiving skills into focus. His target and
reception numbers were the second-highest of his career, and his
10 total touchdowns were the most heís tallied since his
Thatís where Fournette will earn his fantasy ownersí
money. At 228 pounds, averaging 4.5 yards per carry, heís
been a scoring machine as a runner in the red zone, and especially
in short yardage and in the power run game near the goal line.
But with Rob Gronkowski retired (no, I donít believe heís
coming back), there are going to be more scoring chances in the
receiving game as well.
Fournette did nothing last year to make anyone believe heís
anything other than a top 10 fantasy RB, and little has changed
for 2022 except that with Gronkowskiís exit, Playoff Lenny
may actually get more opportunities as a playmaker. Brady will
have this offense in scoring position, and Fournette is going
to get his number called. Heís a clear RB1.
The Case for Jones Being Overvalued: Despite
his emergence as one of the top receiving backs in the game, Jonesí
11.9 fantasy points per game in 2021 ranked just 19th, and he
was actually out-carried and out-gained on the ground by AJ
The Case Jones Being Overvalued: Amongst all
RBs in 2021, Jones was 8th in targets, 6th in receptions, 10th
in receiving yards and 2nd in receiving TDs. With the loss of
Valdes-Scantling, Jones could become a versatile receiving
threat, particularly on 3rd down.
The Verdict: Thereís no question the receiving numbers
are impressive, especially in todayís NFL. But the hit to
Jonesí role in the run game is significant. Dillonís
carries quadrupled in 2021, and they only figure to increase,
while Jonesí carries have fallen off a cliff, from a career-high
236 in 2019, to 201, to 187. And Dillon has become the go-to in
goal line and red zone runs.
Jonesí role may be changing, and his skill set gives him
tremendous potential upside. But he had the second-best receiving
season of his career last year, with a personal-best six touchdown
catches and he still barely cracked the top 20 in fantasy points.
Heís going to need another significant jump in production
to justify an RB10 ranking on my board, though he could approach
RB1 status in PPR formats.
The Case for Elliott Being Overvalued: He finished
the 2021 season as the RB17 and his numbers in nearly every category
have been in steady decline since 2018.
The Case Against Elliott Being Overvalued: Elliott
rushed for over 1,000 yards despite playing through injuries (torn
PCL) and his 10 rushing TDs were the third-most of his career.
The Verdict: I could find you a number of fantasy
owners who would tell you that Ezekiel Elliott isnít even the
best RB on his own team right now. Iíd be one of them. Kudos to
him for toughing it out and playing through significant injuries
last season. And, the Cowboys did a nice job of finding a role
he could excel in, namely as a runner down near the goal line.
His 10 rushing TDís and 12 total scores were the third-most of
his career and saved fantasy value last season.
Itís hard not to see that at 27 years old, Elliottís
body just isnít holding up. His drop-off in production has
been significant. From 1600 rushing yards his rookie year, to
barely 1000 this past year. His carries have fallen from 322 to
237. His average per rush dropped from 5.1 to 4.0. Heís
gone from three seasons of seven 100-yard games to just two each
in the last two seasons. Meanwhile, Tony Pollard has averaged
5.5 yards per carry in two of his first three seasons, and his
receiving skills give him opportunities at more snaps from alignments
all over the field.
Of course, all reports out of Cowboys camp are golden. Elliottís
had a great offseason, heís in the best shape of his career,
heís healthy, and heís ready for a bounce-back year.
No offense, but thatís the story out of every camp this
time of year. I hope Elliott is healthy. But even if he is, you
have to know that the Cowboys are going to do all they can to
keep him that way. Fantasy owners know what that means. They are
going to control his touches, control his snaps and ďbe
smartĒ with him. That means a reduction in production and
a role in the offense. That makes him a TD-reliant low-end RB2
at best, and Iím just not spending significant draft capital
in the first two rounds on that.
The Case for McCaffrey Being Overvalued: Heís
played just 10 games over the last two seasons.
The Case Against McCaffrey Being Overvalued:
When healthy, heís one of the most versatile and dynamic playmakers
in the game.
The Verdict: Over the course of the 2018 and 2019 seasons, McCaffrey
rushed for over 2,400 yards and 23 touchdowns and added nearly
225 catches for over 1900 yards and another 10 scores. His fantasy
draft stock has been skyrocketing in recent weeks. This Spring,
Jonathan Taylor was the hands-down favorite to be the top player
picked in just about every league in every format. But now, McCaffrey
has somehow slipped into that conversation and Iím not sure
why. Heís barely practicing, heís not playing in preseason
games, and heís missed most of the last two seasons, so
Iím not sure what the revival is all about.
I guess it comes down to whether you believe this is McCaffreyís
bounce back year, or if heís beginning to show signs of
the wear and tear we so often see with RBís as they head
towards the age of 30. Injuries are part of the game, and no one
ever plays 100% healthy. But McCaffrey isnít dealing with
multiple surgeries to address one injury, like Michael Thomasí
ankle. This isnít a recurring soft tissue injury. Over two
years, McCaffrey has missed games due to an ankle, a shoulder,
a thigh, a hamstring, and another ankle injury. Iím no doctor,
but that list screams out physical breakdown.
Maybe heís just unlucky. Either way, I donít understand
how anyone could justify spending the second overall pick in their
draft on a guy who hasnít played football in two years.
Itís not 2019 anymore. First round picks, even second and
third round picks, arenít about upside. They are about production,
and McCaffrey simply hasnít had any recently. Heís
a great player when heís healthy, and a tremendously gifted
and versatile athlete. He might even still end up as a RB1 on
my board, but not the No.2 overall. No way. Not until I see that
he can stay on the field.