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Jason Katz | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

Running Back Duos: Making Sense of Timeshares

Tevin Coleman

The Atlanta RBs are due for regression but there’s a lot more to gain by targeting Coleman at his ADP.

In a 12 team league, assuming an average of 4.5 running backs drafted per team, we’re looking at roughly 54 running backs being drafted. As you may know, there are only 32 teams in the NFL. So at a minimum of 22 non-starters are being selected. Some of them are pure backups/handcuffs, but others are legitimate fantasy options. There are a handful of teams employing two viable fantasy football running backs. Today, we’re going to discuss those teams and determine which back, if any, you should target.

Atlanta Falcons - Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman

We begin with the most prominent and most productive of the timeshares. Using FFToday’s PPR stats, Freeman finished as the RB7 in 2016, averaging 17.9 FPts/G while Coleman finished as the RB14, averaging 14.7 FPts/G. Freeman’s current ADP according to Fantasy Football Calculator is 1.11, and the RB6. Coleman’s current ADP is 6.04, and the RB27. You can probably see where I’m going with this.

Coleman was one of the most efficient fantasy producers at the RB position last year, averaging 0.54 fantasy points per snap, good for second in the league. While critics of Coleman will point to the fact that his touchdown rate is due for regression (he scored 11 on just 149 touches), I offer two rebuttals.

First – that’s okay. Coleman can still be an RB2 if he loses three or four touchdowns. Second – I think it’s reasonable to project an increase in touches. Remember, Coleman missed three games last season. If we extrapolate his touch average over the games he did play, he should have touched the ball about 34 more times last season. That might help keep the touchdown count up in 2017 while Coleman experiences a natural drop in efficiency.

Finally, Coleman is a better athlete than Freeman by virtually every metric. Coleman is three inches taller, but weighs the same amount. He’s quick. He’s agile. And even though Freeman is viewed as an excellent PPR back, which he is, Coleman is also a fantastic pass catcher. He ranked number one in Football Outsider’s DVOA receiving metric for running backs. Coleman has all the tools to be an elite three down back if given the opportunity.

Freeman was excellent last year. He was also quite efficient, averaging 0.47 fantasy points per snap, good for fifth in the league. By no means am I suggesting Freeman will be a bust. He’s just overvalued as a top six running back. There is no way Freeman is four rounds and 21 running backs better than Coleman. The Falcons offense, in general, cannot possibly be as productive as it was last season. If there is going to be a drop off, I don’t want that in my first round pick. Additionally, we may be one Freeman injury away from the coaches seeing what Coleman can really do as the lead back and implementing a changing of the guard. I am not suggesting Freeman will just fade into obscurity, but a Coleman explosion could push this closer to a 50-50 split. There’s a lot more to gain by targeting Coleman and a lot more to lose by spending your first round pick on Freeman.

Tennessee Titans - DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry

This one I don’t quite understand. Yes, Derrick Henry is an RB1 in waiting. We have seen him play at the NFL level and he’s looked quite good. The Titans are a run-heavy offense with a top five offensive line. You are definitely interested in the Titans starting running back.

Henry averaged 0.40 fantasy points per snap last year, good for 16th in the league. He was good, very good! If DeMarco Murray ever went down, Henry would be a surefire RB1. Here’s the thing – Murray still exists and he’s still also really good. Murray finished 2016 as the RB6 with 18.2 FPts/G. Henry finished as the RB65 with 7.6 FPts/G. Now obviously that’s not an indictment on Henry; he just didn’t play much behind Murray. Yet, for some reason, mock drafters in 2017 seem to think Henry is going see a significant uptick in touches. He’s currently being drafted as the RB33 in the seventh round. Meanwhile, Murray is the eighth RB off the board at 2.03. What exactly is standing in the way of Murray and another RB1 finish? Murray is 29 years old. While he’s far from done, he’s in the final year of his contract and will likely be moving on next year. Both of those things play in Murray’s favor.

Henry is only 23 and poised to be the Titans feature back for the next half decade or so. The Titans are a team capable of winning now so they have every reason to run Murray into the ground, while preserving Henry for the future. Murray’s production last season above average: top ten in yards after contact and top five in evaded tackles. He’s one of the best receiving backs in the league, a skill that will further help stave off Henry. The only real area where Henry may usurp Murray is at the goal line. Unless Murray gets hurt, which aside from his awful year in Philly, he hasn’t been since 2012, Henry is mainly a backup. He has almost no chance of living up to his top 36 draft position, while Murray is actually being undervalued due to the Henry hype. After the “big three” and LeSean McCoy, Murray is the next RB I would draft.

Carolina Panthers (Christian McCaffrey and Jonathan Stewart)

Draft Jonathan Stewart. This one is straight and to the point. Stewart, currently the RB43 and available in the 9th round, is simply not going away in this offense yet, that’s what McCaffrey’s 3.11 RB15 ADP suggests. Need I remind you that McCaffrey has never played a down in the NFL and is also entering a team with a running quarterback that has a six-year history of making minimal use of his running backs in the passing game. Granted, perhaps McCaffrey’s job is to change that, but there are a lot of “ifs” for a rookie back that you have to spend your third round pick on.

Last year, Stewart was finished as the RB30 with 11.6 FPts/G. Honestly, that’s all I really need from J-Stew if I’m drafting him in the 9th round. Stewart is going to see the redzone work over McCaffrey and if Cam Newton really does run less, Stewart will be the beneficiary. Stewart rushed for a mere 824 yards on 218 carries last year in 13 games played. He only caught eight passes so McCaffrey taking the passing down work doesn’t really change much. Stewart’s role for 2017 seems secure. Sure, McCaffrey is incredibly talented and will see work, but he’s mainly taking snaps Stewart isn’t targeted for anyway. I expect Stewart’s ADP to climb a bit, but this is a very profitable situation where someone else can burn a high pick on McCaffrey, while you take the player that can be similarly productive at a cheaper cost.

New Orleans Saints (Adrian Peterson, Mark Ingram, and maybe Alvin Kamara)

There’s too much uncertainty here. The Saints’ long time starter Mark Ingram, has been on the brink of being pushed out for a while now. Ingram is nothing special, but it’s not like he’s been so terrible that he should’ve been benched for Tim Hightower last season. I don’t know what Sean Payton has against Ingram, but Payton hasn’t exactly done anything positive with this team since they won the Super Bowl (I’d argue his most notable achievements are trading away Jimmy Graham and Brandin Cooks – not something he should be proud of).

Adrian Peterson is currently being drafted ahead of Ingram in some circles, which I both do and do not understand. If Adrian Peterson is still Adrian Peterson, then sorry Ingram, but you can watch most of this season from the sidelines. However, with a 5.04 ADP as the RB21, that’s too rich for me. When we last saw AP, he looked pedestrian. He’s also 32 years old, playing for a new team, on a pass first offense and coming off his second serious knee injury.

Mark Ingram’s ADP is 6.05 as the RB30. He finished as the RB10 last year at 15. FPts/G, but the trepidation is understandable. He went from no competition to having all the competition. Ingram is reasonably priced, but, at the same time there are other running backs in that range that aren’t in potential three-headed backfields.

Alvin Kamara’s ADP is 13.12 as the RB59. He doesn’t have to be drafted, but his cost is extremely low. He might be the passing down back, but Ingram also catches passes and if Peterson takes over the early down work, this could end up being Ingram’s role.

Ultimately, there are too many variables in this backfield causing me to shy away from investing any kind of significant draft capital. Stay away.

Detroit Lions (Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick)

Ameer Abdullah is probably overpriced at his 5.07, RB22 ADP for PPR leagues. Theo Riddick, however, is severely undervalued at his 7.10, RB34 ADP. Riddick’s 2016 season was cut short by a wrist injury, but his ten game average of 16.2 FPts/G was good for an RB8 finish. The Abdullah truthers will obviously point to the fact that he was injured for just about all of 2016. Even so, Abdullah is not going to push Riddick off the field. The Lions love Riddick as does Matthew Stafford. The man is going to play on passing downs and will be used as a quasi-slot receiver and will most likely soak up Anquan Boldin’s vacated targets.

Abdullah’s role is as a two-down back between the twenties. In the red zone, don’t be surprised to see the Lions go with Zach Zenner or Dwayne Washington. I’m not quite sure how Abdullah is reaching RB2 status if he’s not catching passes and not scoring touchdowns. I don’t expect Riddick to be an RB1 and he doesn’t even need to be an RB2 at his price tag. If Riddick is a strong Flex option, he’s provided a positive return on investment. Target Riddick aggressively in PPR leagues.

New York Jets (Bilal Powell and Matt Forte)

This one I believe the fantasy community has correct; they just don’t yet know how right they are. Powell’s ADP is 6.01 as the RB25. Forte’s ADP is 9.06 as the RB42. Forte is clearly winding down. He was inefficient and largely ineffective last season. Forte is one of the greatest fantasy running backs of all time. Seriously, he was that good for that long. But his time has come. Powell is going to be the primary back. Did you know Powell caught 58 passes last season? There’s a lot to like about a PPR back on a weak offense that projects to be in negative game scripts most of the season.

Now I don’t think Forte will just disappear, but a 60-40 split in Powell’s favor is a reasonable projection. If you draft Powell in the sixth round, you are getting an RB2 for an RB3 price. Forte is properly priced, but there’s not much upside. With the Jets cutting ties with all of their veterans, it makes all the sense in the world to push Powell ahead of Forte this year. Powell is no young buck (29), but remember that the age of decline is directly correlated to expected usage. Powell does not have nearly the same mileage as a typical 29 year-old running back. He probably has a good two to three years left.

Minnesota Vikings (Latavius Murray, Jerick McKinnon, and Dalvin Cook)

Did you notice the order I listed the backs? That’s the order in which you should target them (if you wanted to, but you shouldn’t). The Vikings had one of the worst offensive lines in 2016 and while it has improved this off-season, this offense is still nowhere near the level it needs to be at for any of these backs to be particularly useful.

Cook is mind-bogglingly the first of the three off the board with an absurd 6.06 ADP as the RB29. Murray is going 11 backs later at 9.02. McKinnon isn’t even being drafted. McKinnon is the most physically talented of the three with workout metrics off the charts. His SPARQ score is the highest of all time but he’s not built to be a feature back. His role as the passing down back, however, is likely secure.

Murray was signed this offseason, at the time, to be the early down and goaline back. After handling 34 of Oakland’s red zone rush attempts last year, Murray projects to be in the same role for Minnesota.

Do we really think Cook is going to handle all of the first and second down work between the twenties? Even if he does, RB29 is very aggressive for a two-down back that won’t be catching many passes (not that he can’t, he just won’t be this year) and won’t be scoring touchdowns. And I don’t think Cook will monopolize the early-down work. I expect him and Murray to shuffle in and out quite frequently. This is truly going to be a three-headed monster. I think we’re looking at a 40-40-20 type split. So where’s the value? If Murray or Cook were to get hurt, the other would be useful, but I can’t advocate spending a single digit round pick on a three-way split backfield in a weak offense.

New England Patriots (Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead, James White, and Dion Lewis)

For the first time in fantasy history (don’t quote me on that, but it’s probably true), there are four running backs from the same team being drafted. Gillislee leads the pack at 6.02 as the RB26, which makes sense given the common belief that he will take over LeGarrette Blount’s role.

James White is next at 10.01 as the RB45. This doesn’t make much sense because White has never been anything other than a bit player. There’s been a huge overreaction to his monster performance in the Super Bowl that stemmed from an extremely anomalous position – the Patriots trailing by a lot. How often is that going to happen in 2017? When the Patriots are in a favorable game script, White is not going to be on the field much. He is overvalued.

Dion Lewis is third at 13.10 as the RB56. This is equally perplexing. To me, he’s the clear odd man out. He’s been injured for the better part of his career and isn’t as good as Gillislee running the ball or the other two catching the ball. He’s like a jack of all trades but a master of none. I don’t understand how he’s going ahead of…

Rex Burkhead is last at 14.03 as the RB63. This is grand larceny. Obviously Burkhead can outperform this ADP and still not help your fantasy team but I think he will shatter expectations. Burkhead is an elite pass catcher who is also capable of running between the tackles. He was the favorite for goaline work before the Patriots signed Gillislee and it still wouldn’t shock me to see him handle some of it anyway. Burkhead is going to be the primary passing down back, possibly on the field with James White at the same time. The Patriots have proven that they are a smart organization and do not make moves for no reason. If they were so enamored with Lewis or White, why did they go out and sign both Burkhead and Gillislee? For the very cheap price of “free,” you can gamble on Burkhead becoming the Patriots’ newest version of Danny Woodhead. If his ADP remains in the last couple rounds, I’d venture to say I’ll own Burkhead in 100% of my leagues.

Other Backfields

With the most discussion-worthy teams covered, here is a list of remaining “shared” backfields and the player I think you should or shouldn’t target at their ADP.

Redskins: Samaje Perine (8.02, RB36) over Rob Kelley (9.10, RB44)

Seahawks: C.J. Prosise (8.10, RB38) over Eddie Lacy (7.03, RB32) and Thomas Rawls (11.05, RB48)

Ravens: Danny Woodhead (5.11, RB24) over Kenneth Dixon (9.06, RB41) and Terrance West (10.10, RB47)

Bucs: Jacquizz Rodgers (11.09, RB50) over Doug Martin (5.01, RB20) and Charles Sims (13.10, RB57)

Giants: Shane Vereen (undrafted) over Paul Perkins (6.11, RB30)

Browns: Neither Isaiah Crowell (3.06, RB14) nor Duke Johnson (10.09, RB46)

Bengals: Neither Joe Mixon (4.01, RB16) nor Jeremy Hill (12.02, RB51) nor Giovani Bernard (13.12, RB60)

Eagles: Neither LeGarrette Blount (6.05, RB28) nor Darren Sproles (13.01, RB54)

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