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Overvalued and Undervalued Running Backs



By Jason Katz | 8/18/21 |


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, David Montgomery had a fifth round ADP. He ended up finishing as the overall RB6. Montgomery gave owners one hell of a positive return on investment. On the flip side, Clyde Edwards-Helaire had a first round ADP. He finished as the overall RB22 and is now a late second/early third round pick. 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

David Johnson

David Johnson, Houston Texans
ADP: 7.12 RB36

The case for Johnson being undervalued: Heís coming off a high RB2 finish and still projects to have decent volume in 2021.

The case against Johnson being undervalued: Heís 29 years old and the Texans are likely to be the worst offense in the NFL.

Verdict: I understand the general aversion to taking older backs without serious upside. However, David Johnson is a unique player in a unique situation. He may be 29, but the issue with running backs breaking down doesnít actually have anything to do with age. Rather, age is just a number that typically corresponds with usage. Johnson has 1,169 career touches. For comparison purposes, Ezekiel Elliott, at age 26, has already touched the ball 1,654 times in his career.

Johnsonís rushing upside may be limited on a bad offense likely to be without Deshaun Watson, but Johnson is still an excellent receiver. He was targeted 46 times in just 12 games last season. While there is concern over the Texans adding competition to this backfield in the form of Phillip Lindsay and Mark Ingram, I have a hard time seeing either of those two mattering unless DJ gets hurt. Lindsay, despite profiling like a satellite back, was consistently pulled off the field in favor of Royce Freeman during his time in Denver and is not used in the passing game. As for Ingram, well, that man is done. I acknowledge that NFL head coaches can be incompetent, but itís difficult to view Ingram as anything other than a locker room guy at this point.

Johnson averaged 15.1 PPR FPts/G in 2020. Even if that drops down to 13.0 FPts/G, that would still be plus value on his absurdly low ADP.

Nyheim Hines, Indianapolis Colts
ADP: 10.07, RB48

The case for Hines being undervalued: Heís the primary pass catching back on an offense without dominant receivers that could find themselves in negative game script early in the season.

The case against Hines being undervalued: Jonathan Taylor can be a three-down back if the Colts choose to make him one and the return of Marlon Mack further muddies the waters.

Verdict: The trend with undervalued RBs this season is not players with massive upside. Instead, theyíre guys with floors that are already higher than where they are being drafted.

Thatís the logic behind DJ and it applies to Hines as well. Hines averaged 12.0 FPts/G last season, good for an RB28 finish. Thatís not going to move the needle by itself, but knowing Hines is available in the ninth or 10th round gives you the freedom to not overvalue running backs earlier in your draft.

Hines is probably more of a low RB3 this season and likely wonít match last yearís production. However, he doesnít have to. Heís is being drafted about 20 spots lower than where he finished in 2020. Even if we pencil in an increased role for Taylor in the passing game, Hines can still return value. With Carson Wentz and Quenton Nelson set to miss the start of the season, the Colts are going to find themselves in negative game script with a backup quarterback making his first career start. Whether itís Jacob Eason or Sam Ehlinger, the quarterback will likely be willing to check it down to Hines as a safety value.

Even if Hinesí value diminishes as the season presses on and Wentz/Nelson return, a month of Hines as a low RB2 is well worth a late-round selection.

Damien Williams, Chicago Bears
ADP: 12.07, RB61

The case for Williams being undervalued: The Bears signed Williams to be a significant part of the offense and could have more of a role than anticipated.

The case against Williams being undervalued: David Montgomery was used as a three-down back last season and Williams could just be a pure backup.

Verdict: Williams may be 28 years old, but he only has 432 career touches. Even though he opted out of the 2020 season due to Covid, we have no reason to believe his talent has diminished. Heís by no means a special player, but weíve seen him post RB1 numbers when given the volume.

Williams will undoubtedly open the season behind Montgomery, but the news of Tarik Cohenís ACL tear recovery not progressing as well as expected presents an opportunity for Williams to have an immediate role.

Williams is an excellent pass blocker and an adequate receiver and Matt Nagy has indicated he doesnít necessarily want to put everything on Montgomeryís plate.

Also, if you recall, Montgomery was actually terrible for the first half of 2020. From Weeks 1-9, he averaged 12.3 FPts/G and failed to record a single 100-yard game. From Weeks 12-17 (he missed Week 10 and the Bears had a Week 11 bye), Montgomery averaged 25.7 FPts/G and hit the 100-yard rushing mark three times. He also saw a massive uptick in targets with Cohen out (35 as a rookie, 68 as a sophomore).

If Cohen starts the season on the PUP list, Williams could have standalone RB3/4 value with strong RB2 upside if Montgomery were to get hurt. Few late round backs have the combination of ceiling and plausibility that Williams has.

Overvalued

Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns
ADP: 1.08, RB6

The case for Chubb being overvalued: There is a zero-percent chance Chubb can provide a positive return on investment as long as Kareem Hunt is around.

The case against Chubb being overvalued: Heís arguably the most gifted runner in the NFL and could have an outlier season.

Verdict: I love Nick Chubb the player, but the goal in fantasy football is not to draft the most talented players Ė itís to draft the players that score the most fantasy points.

Chubb is currently going as the RB6? That is straight lunacy. In 12 games last season, he averaged 17.5 FPts/G, which was good for an overall RB7 finish. In 2019, Chubb averaged 16.3 FPts/G, good for an overall RB9 finish. How exactly is Chubb getting to RB6 or higher? The answer, of course, is heís not.

For a running back to be truly elite (20+ FPts/G), he needs receiving upside and while Chubb is a capable receiver, he will not be used that way as long as Kareem Hunt exists. Chubb was targeted just 18 times all of last season and there is no evidence that will change in 2021.

The only way Chubb could be worth his draft slot is if he had a 2012 Adrian Peterson or 2020 Derrick Henry like season. Henry had at least 15 carries in every game last season and eclipsed the 20-carry mark in 12 of them. Chubb would need similar volume. However, in 2020, Chubb did not play more than 62% of the snaps in a single game and hit the 20-carry mark just twice in his 12 games played.

Chubb was also extremely efficient scoring touchdowns with 12 in as many games. He is certainly capable of having a 15 touchdown season, but even if he managed to stay healthy and rush for 1600 yards and 16 touchdowns, without a serious uptick in receptions, Chubb is still going to be around that 16-18 FPts/G mark. Those are fine numbers for an RB1, but nowhere near what youíre looking for as a ceiling from a top six pick.

Chubb is one of the easiest fades in all of fantasy football in the first round this season.

Josh Jacobs
ADP: 3.09, RB19

The case for Jacobs being overvalued: Heís a two-down back that doesnít catch passes and the Raiders just gave Kenyan Drake a hefty two-year $10 million guaranteed deal.

The case against Jacobs being overvalued: After flopping as a late first-round pick last season, Jacobs now costs a late third-round pick, making it much easier for him to return value.

Verdict: I am going to start by speaking kindly about Jacobs. I prioritize analytics over filmÖmost of the time and in 2020, he posted a 27.5% juke rate (Playerprofiler.com), 12th in the league with 1.46 yards created per touch (Playerprofiler.com), 18th in the league. By all accounts, Jacobs was making defenders miss and gaining yardage.

However, every time I watch Jacobs play, I come away completely unimpressed. Heís slow (4.69 40 time) with no real athleticism. Heís kind of like Mark Ingram if you remove all the intangibles that made Ingram good at football. To put it simply, Jacobs does not look like a starting running back in the NFL.

Jacobs averaged 15.7 FPts/G last season, finishing as the overall RB11. That makes his RB19 ADP seem awfully enticing. And amongst running backs, itís probably okay.

The reason Iím fading Jacobs at his price is I canít justify taking him over the plethora of wide receivers with WR1 upside going in the third and fourth rounds. I donít see the upside. He averaged just 3.0 targets per game last season and now the team added Drake, who profiles as a passing down back meaning Jacobsí usage in the passing game is not going to increase.

In order to maintain value, he needs to maintain his productiveness on the ground and the Raiders have a bad offensive line, which makes it doubtful Jacobs can exceed the 12 touchdowns he scored last season (or even match it for that matter).

Jacobsí ceiling feels like what he did in 2020. But what if Drake takes some of Jacobsí early down work? What if Drake out-plays Jacobs and makes this a timeshare? Iím not saying these things are likely; Iím merely pointing out the numerous ways Jacobs doesnít work in 2021. For that reason, Iím out.

Michael Carter, New York Jets
ADP: 6.10, RB31

The case for Carter being overvalued: Heís a day three rookie walking into an uncertain situation in an offense that could be terrible.

The case against Carter being overvalued: Heís a rookie walking into an uncertain situation, which gives him as good of a chance as anyone to take control of this backfield.

Verdict: I have no issue with Carter as a prospect. He very well could end up being a value. The reason I have him as overvalued is because of history. Carter has the second highest draft capital on the team behind former third-round pick Tevin Coleman, who has flopped every opportunity heís had to be a feature back.

With that being said, Coleman is likely to open the season as the ďstarterĒ with two of Carter, Ty Johnson, and LaíMical Perine getting snaps as well. This is very much going to be a committee.

As a day three rookie, Carter has a high ADP (6.10, RB31) and when day three rookies hit, they have always come largely out of nowhere. 2020 James Robinson and 2018 Phillip Lindsay were UDFAs. 2015 Jeremy Langford didnít emerge until later in the season. 2013 Zac Stacy was a late season addition. You get the point. When a guy with Carterís draft capital hits, itís always unexpected.

Thereís already an assumption that Carter takes over this backfield and itís baked into his price. It certainly could happen but Iím not willing to spend a sixth round pick hoping the highest drafted day three rookie in fantasy football history (by a wide margin) actually lives up to his draft cost.






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