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Overvalued and Undervalued Running Backs



By Jason Katz | 8/17/20 |


Rest assured someone at some point during each of your drafts will utter some variation of the words ďvalue pick.Ē But what exactly is a value pick? What is value? Value is a relative term that changes based on public perception. When I consider value, Iím looking for a positive return on my investment. Just because a player has an a fourth round ADP and is still sitting there in the sixth round does not make him good value. At the same time, taking a player a round or two above his ADP is not necessarily bad value. Again, everything is relative.

My goal in every pick I make is to take a player I believe will perform at a level above where I drafted him. Last season, Derrick Henry had a fourth round ADP. This year, he has a first round ADP. Henry gave owners one hell of a positive return on investment. On the flip side, Sony Michel had a fourth round ADP in 2019. This year, heís pretty much going undrafted. Thatís the type of pick we all hope to avoid.

Letís take a look at which RBs I expect to outperform their ADPs and which I expect to fail.

Undervalued

Leonard Fournette

Leonard Fournette, Jaguars
ADP: 3.04, RB16

The case for Fournette being undervalued: Heís a former fourth overall pick with no threat to his touches on an offense that has more continuity heading into this season.

The case against Fournette being undervalued: He was extremely inefficient last season and may lose half of his target share.

Verdict: The first name on last yearís version of this list was Leonard Fournette at almost the exact same ADP and positional rank. I just donít get it. I have no delusions that Fournette has been the same elite prospect he was coming out of LSU, but letís look at what Fournette has done. Through three seasons, heís finished as the overall RB12, RB9, and RB9. Heís missed 11 regular season games over that span, but played in all 15 games of the fantasy season in 2019. While he is an injury risk, heís not prohibitively risky compared to any other running back. How does a running back that is a lock for 300 touches with zero backfield competition have an ADP lower than his fantasy finishes every year of his career? It doesnít make sense.

The biggest knock on Fournette heading into 2020 is the certain reduction in passing game volume. Fournette saw 100 targets last season, which is going to drop. However, Fournette can lose half his targets and still be an RB1. Based on touches, his expected touchdown total for last season was 12. He scored three times. As much of a lock as Fournette is to lose targets, he is to score more touchdowns.

Fournette averaged 17.3 FPts/G last season. The RB16 averaged 14.5 FPts/G. For Fournette to bust at his ADP, he would likely have to average fewer than 14 FPts/G. For him to be a value, he merely has to be a little worse than last season. I donít make these statements lightly: Fournette is an absolute canít fail pick in 2020 (other than injury). Worst case scenario Ė heís inefficient, loses half his targets, and experiences only a modest positive touchdown regression. Letís say he only catches 40 passes at the same yards per reception as last season, scores six touchdowns, and his rushing efficiency remains exactly as low as it was, giving him the same 1150 rushing yards. He would average 13.6 FPts/G, 0.4 FPts/G lower than his bust number. That is his rock bottom floor if everything goes wrong. His floor is mid RB2.

But what if Fournette scores eight touchdowns? 10 touchdowns? What if his efficiency increases with a full offseason of Gardner Minshew as the locked in starter? What if his passing volume only decreases by 75%? Fournetteís ceiling is top five.

If you are worried about 30 year old Chris Thompson that hasnít played anywhere near a full season since 2016 with a lengthy injury history, I donít really know what to say to you. Ryquell Armstead is only relevant backup. Simply put, Fournette has no threat to touches whatsoever. How often can you get a 300+ touch back in the third round? Take Fournette every time.

DíAndre Swift, Lions
ADP: 5.03, RB25

The case for Swift being undervalued: Heís a talented prospect and the Lions drafted him early in the second round.

The case against Swift being undervalued: Heís a rookie in an unconventional season and may split touches with Kerryon Johnson.

Verdict: Itís weird putting DíAndre Swift here because I donít think heís a special player. The reason heís here is because his value and ceiling doesnít seem to be recognized by fantasy football gamers.

Johnson was a middling prospect that, after two years in the NFL, is very clearly not a feature back. You can disagree with that assessment if you want, but it really doesnít matter because the most important opinion is that of the Lions coaching staff. If the Lions believed in Johnson, they wouldnít have limited him to a 63% opportunity share and 55% snap share over his first two seasons. He was constantly splitting time with lesser talented backs.

Enter Swift, a talented rookie that the team shelled out an early second round pick to acquire. Thatís a vote of confidence. They didnít bring in Swift to put behind Johnson. They may split carries early on, but this will be a Swift 1A to Johnson 1B situation. Even if that holds for the entire season, Swift should still be a low RB2. But what if Swift just vanquishes Johnson? Itís certainly in his range of outcomes.

Swiftís ceiling is that of a low RB1. He posted a 10.1% college target share and should see a fair amount of targets in this offense. Matthew Stafford is back healthy and the Lions project to be one of the better offenses in the league. If Swift can command even a 60% opportunity share, heís a lock to outperform his ADP. I think weíre looking at Swift as a second round pick heading into the 2021 season with a high floor, decent ceiling and minimal risk. He should probably be going in the third round.

Kareem Hunt, Browns
ADP: 6.06, RB29

The case for Hunt being undervalued: Heís a proven talent that out-produced Nick Chubb after returning from suspension in 2019.

The case against Hunt being undervalued: As long as Nick Chubb is around, Huntís ceiling is capped.

Verdict: Kareem Hunt only played in eight games last season due to his suspension. In those eight games, he saw a 54.1% snap share and averaged 5.6 targets per game. Those are extremely important numbers.

Hunt is not going to out-snap Chubb, but they were on the field together a fair amount of time. Meanwhile, Hunt immediately leapfrogged Chubb in the passing game. Hunt projects to see 80+ targets over a full season and we know targets are more valuable than carries in fantasy football.

In his first six games, Hunt scored at least 11.8 fantasy points in each of them. He was extremely consistent, finishing as a mid to high RB2 in five out of his first six games. He busted in the last game of the fantasy season against an elite Ravens defense and we donít count Week 17. Hunt is being drafted as an RB3 despite establishing a mid-to-low RB2 with Chubb. If everything operates as it did last season, Hunt is a value.

Now what happens if Chubb gets hurt? In any game Chubb misses, Hunt is an elite RB1. If we erased Hunt from existence, Chubb is a late first round pick. If we erased Chubb from existence, Hunt is a top five pick, possibly top three. Huntís story is the same as the other undervalued guys Ė high floor, high ceiling.

Overvalued

David Montgomery, Bears
ADP: 4.06, RB23

The case for Montgomery being overvalued: He was a bad prospect that played terribly as a rookie on a relatively weak offense.

The case against Montgomery being overvalued: Heís probably locked into 250 touches and volume matters more than talent.

Verdict: David Montgomery finds himself in this space for the second year in a row. He was a bad value last year and I expect him to be even worse this year. Not to rehash everything, but Montgomery isnít good at anything except breaking tackles. Part of the reason Montgomery breaks so many tackles is because of his horrendous vision, 4.63 speed, and 10th percentile burst. He doesnít see the holes quickly enough and is too slow to hit them when he does, causing him to constantly run into defenders. That was evident in his college film and his rookie NFL film. It has been reported that he cut from 12% body fat to 8% body fat, but his weight remains unchanged. Itís not impossible that he morphs into a better player Ė thereís just no evidence that will happen.

Montgomery carried the ball 242 times as a rookie and saw 35 targets. Despite that massive opportunity, he averaged just 10.2 FPts/G, finishing as the overall RB30. He was a mid-range RB3 and heís now being drafted as a low-end RB2 meaning improvement is baked into his price.

I think itís more likely Montgomeryís continued poor play results in him losing work, especially to Tarik Cohen, who saw an under the radar 104 targets in 2019. Heís one of the premier pass catching backs in the league and Montgomery is not cutting into Cohenís work.

Montgomery posted a 2.1% breakaway run rate, 45th in the league and 1.19 yards created per touch, 42nd in the league. His 28.1% juke rate was 13th in the league, but he wasnít able to turn his ability to break tackles into anything productive. He did all of this while seeing an average of just 6.5 defenders in the box.

Montgomery was granted all of the opportunity but did nothing with it. I have zero reason for optimism and expect Montgomery to either be washed out of the league or end up as a rotational third stringer by the end of his rookie deal. The Bears will have a new starting running back in 2021. Donít draft Montgomery.

Raheem Mostert
ADP: 5.03, RB25

The case for Mostert being overvalued: Thereís no guarantee that a former UDFA with an age 27 breakout will be fantasy viable.

The case against Mostert being overvalued: The 49ers paid him and his backfield competition is the same as it was when he took over last season.

Verdict: Week 13 is when the 49ers turned the backfield over to Raheem Mostert. Since itís such a small sample size, I will include Week 17 for Mostertís 18.2 FPts/G. He was really good. Those numbers over a full season would put him at overall RB8. Given his RB25 price, it may seem like a fair discount. Thatís not an unfair position. Iím just not interested.

Despite paying him, the 49ers have no allegiance to him. They were very quick to ride Tevin Colemanís hot hand in the playoffs and it seems unreasonable to think that Mostert wonít disappear in certain games due to Coleman or possibly a healthy Jerick McKinnon.

Additionally, game script will work against Mostert as heís a zero in the passing game. Mostert saw just 22 targets last season and he saw more than two targets in a game just three times all season. Regardless of Mostertís role, he wasnít used as a receiver and thatís unlikely to change, which caps his ceiling.

Most importantly for me is history. Mostert succeeding would be the most extreme of outliers. The track record for under the radar running backs that were undrafted in fantasy football suddenly breaking out and sustaining performance the following season is quite poor. This does not include guys like Derrick Henry, Alvin Kamara or Nick Chubb that were actually regarded as good prospects, but trapped behind established starters. This is specifically referring to guys who nobody saw coming: Peyton Hillis, Zac Stacy, Tre Mason, Andre Ellington, Joique Bell, Joseph Randle, Justin Forsett, C.J. Anderson, Thomas Rawls, Jeremy Langford, Ty Montgomery, Mike Gillislee, Alex Collins. That’s quite the list.

Mostert is more likely to go down the path of one of the above than to suddenly emerge into this relevant fantasy back at age 28. The odds are higher than 0%, but they’re not high enough for me to forego the tremendous WR value in the fifth round to take Mostert.

J.K. Dobbins, Ravens
ADP: 6.12, RB31

The case for Dobbins being overvalued: Heís a rookie in a backfield with an established starter and an efficient complementary back.

The case against Dobbins being overvalued: The kid is talented and itís only a matter of time before he takes over this backfield.

Verdict: I really like Dobbins long term. Iím confident he is a future first round fantasy asset as early as 2021. If Mark Ingram was erased from existence, Dobbins would be a second round pick as a rookie. The problem is this smells very much like a Derrick Henry/DeMarco Murray situation. We knew Henry was going to be the guy just like we know Dobbins is going to be the guy. It may even happen down the stretch in 2020. Unfortunately, a sixth/seventh round pick is a steep price to pay for a back that may have literally zero value for a significant portion of the season.

When the Ravens take the field in Week 1, Ingram is going to be the starter and it would not surprise me if Gus Edwards was the next man in. Dobbins will have to earn his way into that second spot (which he should do with relative ease). However, Edwards has performed well when called upon and is not going away. I expect the split to be 50-30-20 between Ingram-Dobbins-Edwards for a good part of the season. For Dobbins to return value, he has to flip that split in his favor. Itís inevitable that he will do so, but the wait is not going to be worth it.

Itís very difficult to spend a mid-single digit round pick on a player that will be a literal zero for your team for an indeterminate amount of time that will be at least a few weeks. I like Dobbins and want him in keeper and dynasty leagues. I would definitely target him in a trade if I was a team sitting pretty mid-season. I just canít draft him as early as heís going.






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