The Great Debate - Running Backs (April 20th, 2017)
Posted by d-Rx on 04/20/17
All Aboard The Jay Train
Jay Ajayi has the potential to be a fantasy football beast in 2017.
Last season the Miami Dolphins running back took the NFL by surprise. After starting the year behind an injury prone Arian Foster and what looked to be a running back community he stood out, stepped up and showed grit while playing with an inconsistent,shuffled and oft injured offensive line. Even ended the last few games with starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill on injured reserve, still Ajayi had a terrific season which now has the fantasy world on full notice.
In 2016, Ajayi ran for 1,272 yards on 261 carries with 8 touchdowns with an average of 4.9 yards per attempt.
The 2nd year back from Boise State showed he was a great threat in the run game and was able to keep those chains moving with his elusive style he was able to become a consistent contributer. The Dolphins featured him on their offense which led them to a 10 and 6 record and a playoff berth.
The "Jay Train" finished last season off in the pro bowl and is primed to build off his success by taking his game to even bigger heights as he already has the endorsement of Dolphins Head Coach Adam Gase who already announced publicly that he be featured exclusively in the offense.
Look for the Dolphins to improve this upcoming season with the return of Tannehill,Pouncey and the shift to left tackle for Rookie standout Laramie Tunsil. The loss of veteran Brandon Albert will be missed but expect the front office to address some offensive line depth via the upcoming draft.
In a time when committee is the wave of the NFL backfield it's good to get a Bellcow Back
with an explosive skillset who can win you some weeks almost on his own(as he showed numerous times last season), on your fantasy roster then Jay Ajayi is just the three down back you're looking for.
I will stay shy from Jay Ajayi
The good is simple here, this kid led the NFL in broken tackles in 2016, meaning he’s tough and can run between the tackles. Another solid is that the Dolphins had the third worst offensive line in the league last season according to Pro Football Focus, and Jay Ajayi was still able to go over 1,200 yards and finish 11th in scoring for running backs. His numbers are a little skewed due to the fact that the "Jay Train" had three 200-yard rushing games for the Miami Dolphins last season, becoming the 4th NFL player to have 3 or more 200-yard outings during one season, Earl Campbell had 4 in 1980 and O.J. Simpson and Tiki Barber also had 3 in a season during their careers. You could expect such a thing from the 3 aforementioned players, but no one would think Jay Ajayi could pull that off heading into the season. Jay had a great season coming out of nowhere as an unknown, he was one of the better pickups in 2016, no doubt about it.
He slipped to the 5th round of the 2015 NFL draft after a great career at Boise State where he's a top-3 running back in basically every statistical category for the Broncos of blue turf. Teams were worried about his knees and if he would hold up after a lot of wear & tear in college. He’d had ACL surgery in 2011 and there were whispers of bone on bone grinding happening due to no cartilage in between his knee sockets. He had great game film and the combine stats (he ran a 4.57, real solid for such a big boy) to warrant a higher draft slot, suffice to say the knee worries benefited the Dolphins by getting a workhorse caliber running back that late.
I fully think Jay is a franchise back, and believe he is going to do great things for Adam Gase and the Dolphins this season. He’ll put up just around 1,000 yards and have somewhere around 10 TDs – solid numbers, but my fear is that his ADP is too high and will likely continue to rise due to his explosive nature. In 12-team mock drafts this preseason he is going with the first pick or two of the second round, as the 9th running back taken off the board. Last year he was undrafted because everyone was on the Arian Foster swan song train. From pickup to end of the first, do you want to take J.A. that high? It’s risky, and that is why I am a little sour on the Marshawn-like youngster out of London U.K. (yep, he was born in Europe).
Here’s a little game I like to play with guys that have enormous games, take away Jay Ajayi’s three monster outings and take a look at his 2016 game log. It looks a lot more pedestrian now, you’ll see that he only had 1 other 100-yard performance. In his other 11 matches, he averaged 48.5 rushing yards per game. Basically, if he wasn’t playing the Bills, he was a middle of the road, nothing too special player. Maybe Pouncy being back under center and more time together will help improve that bottom tier offensive line this year, and maybe Jay got a taste of sweet success and is working his tail off to become an NFL mainstay, both things I hope to be true. Gase wants to play more uptempo (more plays) and include Jay more in the passing attack (only had 35 targets in '16), which spells well for additional opportunity for #23. But I saw a guy that wore down the end of last season and at the end of the first round or early in the second I’d rather take my chances on one of the second tier WRs like T.Y., Jordy or Dez.
Staggs likes to spray tan
What has changed for DeMarco Murray since last years draft when you were able to get him in the fifth round or later? Well a lot, Murray proved that his one-year stint in Philly was behind him and shredded the league yet again. That previously maligned exotic smash mouth? Yeah that sort of worked as the Titans scored 5 more points a game than the previous season. How about the Titans young offensive line? It turned out to be one of the best in the league last season. Which of these things have changed since the offseason? Marcus Mariota will be back from his injury, and because of it, the Titans could feed their backs even more early in the season and they already had the third highest run rate in the league.
The team is committed to DeMarco as the leader in the backfield and he looks primed for another 320+ looks next season. Murray is currently being drafted at the 2/3 turn in twelve team drafts, and being drafted after guys like Todd Gurley and Lamar Miller who he ran circles around last season. Could they sprinkle in Derrick Henry more from time to time? Sure, but it is not like we haven’t seen two running backs on run first teams be successful in recent seasons. Take 60 points away from Murray and he still finishes as a top-12 running back last season. As the tenth running back off the board there is even still room for him to exceed his draft position, he was the number five back in standard scoring last year despite slowing down the stretch due to injuries. If you want a steady weekly producer with upside, Murray solves that, and as one of the best pass protecting and receiving backs in the league, it is hard to envision a scenario where he flat out doesn’t play anymore.
Sort of sour on #29
With the Eagles in 2015, through the first 2 games, DeMarco Murray had 11 yards on his first 21 carries – resulting in a smidge over a half yard per carry. He was making Eli Manning's running game look more like Jim Brown for a minute there. Well, it never got much better for him, and as a result you were able to pick up DeMarco Murray as the 16th running back on average in most leagues in draft's last fall.
This fact, made him as I correctly called, a lock for a value pick for RBs! This year, not so much, people like the Titans and their offense for fantasy football purposes again, and it's going to steal that value pick thunder.
When I started writing this, I gotta admit, I don't hate Murray, he's gonna get a ton of opportunities and that offensive line is so damn powerful. But I'm locked in, so goddammit Stagg Party, your valid points aren't going to sway me here. I mean, I wish I could choose another Murray to debate with you on here, oh wait – I do take the negative side of Latavius as well later in this article. Well twist my titties, I’ll do my best to shine some light on the yang to your ying.
If you can get him in the late second third round, by all means you gotta do it. That is value based on workload as you mention. While it’s really early in the number of mocks done on the https://fantasyfootballcalculator.com/adp site so far this offseason, based on the mocks done so far by folks they have DeMarco as the 1st pick in the second round of a 12 team league. The 8th RB taken. Hmmm, still don't like too many guys ahead of him, especially not at RB - but at that spot, as an owner that needs to craft a dynamic team, I get a little worried. If he’s your RB1 for the season, you truly are hoping that the Titans don’t ramp up their passing attack too much because Derrick Henry is going to get more than the 110 rushing attempts and 15 receiving targets that he got his rookie season.
It’s your "take away 60 points and he's still top-12" comment Staggs that strikes a cord with me, because truth be told, I think Spray Tan could have more TDs next season both on the ground (9 in 2016) and through the air (3). Watching the games, he should have had more TDs last year. He tapped out when they got inside more times 10 than I’ve ever seen last season. It drove me nuts. They are committed to him, but if they grab a WR in the first, say Corey Davis, there are going to be more mouths to feed than last season for the Titans. I might be happier with a WR or even Lamar Miller or Jay Ajayi as far as upside that early. Shit, I really hope I have a top pick in draft's next season, it's going to bring a huge advantage in 2017.
Ok, so we know I loved DeMarco last year at his ADP, and I am talking myself through the fact here that I still like him, I just don’t want to get caught chasing him. I'm hoping some of the rookies find great situations and the fantasy world cools on DeMarco a bit, because getting him early third round, I love him!
So much opportunity here!
Typically I don’t like to go with players who change teams in their first season in the new spot, as for most positions it usually doesn’t work out. Running backs can back that trend and perform up to their talent level pretty much wherever they go as it doesn’t take as long for them to get adjusted in the system. Murray is also heading from one of the best places to play for a running back last year to one of the absolute worst in Minnesota. But as they say, and if they don’t they should say it more, volume rules in fantasy football and Latavius is in line for a ton of it, like 275 plus looks. Murray has shown to be an effective receiver and touchdown scorer in his past two seasons, and it just so happens the guy who had done those two things in Minnesota is now a free agent, and I’m not talking Adrian Peterson. Matt Asiata had 15 touchdowns in 2014 and 2016 when AP was out of the lineup and caught a combined 76 passes. If Murray can just do those things, and rush a little more effectively than the fullback who ended up playing halfback out of Ohio, Latavius will have a well-established floor.
The run game should also see an uptick in the number of attempts, as a team led by Sam Bradford needs to have the threat of the run to be most successful. In 2015, the Vikings ran it 474 times, in 2016 that number was just 380 times. Murray will get first crack at those rushes, and even if he is just an average runner as he has shown over the last two years of his career that will be a big improvement on the McKinnon/Asiata combo that has shown up so far. The Viking’s Murray is being drafted as the 25 running back off the board in MFL10s, all while possessing a goal-line and passing roll in addition to redzone work. Not many running backs in the sixth round boast the all-around game of Murray, and because of it, he can finish as a solid RB2 for your team and provide a plus ROI. Murray also provides some upside to go with a Matt Asiata like floor, see last years 13th place finish among running backs in 14 games and 2015’s 10th place finish. While Latavius might not be the sexiest name you press draft on, his combination of floor and ceiling makes him a worthy gamble as your second or third running back.
I must not like guys with the name Murray
For me, Latavius Murray just never passes the eye test. I know we live in an era of data and analytics, but sometimes you have to go with what your eyes tell you, and organically gauge whether a player is your kind of guy and has earned the right to get you to pick them. Latavius has fallen flat for me in every way, even when I play against him he throws up a dud, so I like him against my squad not on it. He doesn't bode well in that analytics world either, he's a ton of raw talent that just never reaches its full potential.
Not sure why I should like this guy going to a team with a worse offense, worse offensive line and replacing a Hall of Famer in Adrian Peterson to boot. Let's look at Latavius' last season with the Raiders, he averaged 4 yards per carry on 195 totes, pretty average (he had 4.0 per carry in 2015 as well) and had 12 of Oakland's 17 rushing TDs, which is nice - but when you look at DeAndre Washington averaging 5.4 yards on 86 carries (he's 5'8, 190 compared to Murray at 6'3", 230) and Jalen Richard averaging 5.9 yards per carry on 84 attempts; you wonder why a big guy like Latavius can't get more yards per carry. His 12 TDs makes him TD-dependent, his first 2 seasons he had 2 TDs and 6 TDs. Plus looking at Stagg Party's chart on yards per carry in the Red Zone, Latavius averages only 2.63 ypc when he gets close to paydirt (even though that is higher than Asiata and McKinnon from last year on the Vikings, so he'll get a shot to be the goal line back I suppose).
Lastly, Murray seems to get banged up. He played 14 games last year, 16 in 2015 and 10 in his rookie season. But his tall upright running style isn't doing him any favors, so I can't count on him to play 16 games when he is going late in the 3rd round on early mocks. Add the fact that in PPR formats he brings very little to the table hauling in 91 catches on 119 targets over his first 3 years in the league and has never caught a TD pass in his NFL career (red flag city for me). I'm going to be grabbing a solid WR in the third round and let another owner be let down by L. Murray in Minnesota. And when I play against Murray, I'm betting that my luck against him remains in tact as he throws up a dud of a performance (knock on wood) against me. Maybe this is the year, maybe he just needed a new setting, but why would the Vikings be a better spot than the Raiders... it's not.
Mark me in!
Mark Ingram went from one of the most consistent running backs in 2015, with all but one of his 12 games over 9 points in standard leagues, to one of the biggest boom/bust prospects in 2016 after signing his new deal. In 2016, Ingram had huge blow up games of 28.7 and 29.1 fantasy points but also had lows, like Week 8 against Seattle when he fumbled and was benched. Despite this, Ingram finished 2016 as the 10th running back in standard scoring and 15th running back in 2015, despite playing just 12 games. Ingram had his first 1,000 yard season last year, can score touchdowns when given redzone carries, and has shown to be a reliable receiver, catching 96 passes over the last two years, when called upon after it was a limiting factor in his game early on.
The Saints possess a solid offensive line to pave the way for Ingram, they were top-10 in average yards before contact last season, and unless the team brings back Tim Hightower or signs another experienced backup off the street, Ingram is likely to be surrounded by young players at the position, giving him more of a leg up. With little competition, a solid offensive line, an explosive passing game that other teams have to defend, and a now proven ability to be a do it all back, Ingram is a backend RB1 or high-end RB2. Typically Ingram is a guy who will pick up 4 yards consistently, but he also added some long touchdown runs last season to give him an even better athletic profile. As for touchdowns, Tim Hightower and John Kuhn combined for eight last season, should Ingram prove he can effectively hold on to the ball, Sean Payton is sure to give him more cracks at the endzone like he had earlier in his career. Ingram is the type of do it all back with a wide open opportunity that make him worth the selection as the 14th running back off the board in MFL10s.
Mark'ed For Disaster
When I look at Mark Ingram two things come to mind inconsistent and Injury prone. He has fourteen games with over eighty yards rushing in seventy-eight career games yikes! Last season the Bama back slumped out of the gate to start the season through week eight he had zero hundred yard rushing games and one lonely touchdown on the ground for half a season you want to gouge your eyes out and if you were like me you were looking for the fastest way to cut ties with him. Now I must've been a glutton for punishment drafting him after the year before he left me high and dry come fantasy playoff time after getting injured as he so often does granted he got through last season without a hiccup played the full year and got his first thousand yard rushing season but that is more the anomaly, I mean look at this resume:
2016: took a heavy hit and suffered a concussion during Week 10 action.
2015: suffered a severe shoulder injury in week 13 that required surgery and that shut him down for the rest of the season
2014: fractured his hand in week 2. He underwent surgery and missed 3 weeks
2013: suffered from turf toe for the early part of the season missing 5 games
2011: Injured his right heel late and missed one game due to his foot injury.
2011: Had surgery on his (left)turf toe injury that came up in a game with Detroit Lions and was placed on injured reserve which caused him to miss three season-ending games.
Dudes been knocked around like a United Airlines passenger being accommodated.
I know Tim Hightower is gone and the running back position is thin as of now (expect a running back to be drafted or picked up post draft) and you might be thinking feature back / bell cow and he was the tenth ranked fantasy running back last season and he's in a Drew Brees high powered offense. But I have seen him disappear in the second half of games too often and with that history of injuries coupled with that expected workload I foresee the wheels coming off and I'm personally not touching him anywhere before late third round period.
If he plays games he scores hella #FF points (fingers crossed on health)
At least I'm not dead set in my ways and overly stubborn when it comes to fantasy football from year to year. At least not when it comes to CJ Anderson and his situational upside. Last year I was off the CJ train because he was going super high in mock drafts and I just knew he was going to get hurt. He did, in week 7 and was gone for the season with a knee injury.
So, I am going to pretend that CJ is going to play all 16 games in 2017, as highly unlikely as that may be, something tells me it can happen this year, I hear voices. I like where he is going now as well, unless he tears it up in the preseason, I'm thinking the RB1 (for the still explosive-less QB manned) Denver Broncos will be an early third round pick in fantasy draft's this season. I can handle that placement for his upside if he can stay healthy. Plus, there are 2 or 3 rookies that will bump him back after we see where Fournette, McCaffrey (and potentially a few others) land.
CJ Anderson was a top red zone contributor before he went down last year. The Berkley Bear exploded in week 1 of the 2016 season and probably won you the week with 25+ points right out of the gate. He had two other 15+ games as well, so he was playing well before he went down. I love how many touches he got, 110 carries and 24 targets in the receiving game are impressive for less than half the season. He was on pace to handle the ball in a bell-cow manner. Devonte Booker sucked when he came in, and I had high hopes for him in his rookie season. This is not some tandem backfield in my opinion, but even if Booker gets a lot of action, who says that's a bad thing. Get CJ 20 carries and a few targets per game and that's top end touches.
Think about this: C.J. finished 43rd at the RB position with all that missed time last season. That is super impressive, and shows had he played in all 16 games he probably would have been a top-5 back for owners last season. The only guy that missed a ton of games that was up there like that was Theo Riddick, and CJ Anderson averaged almost 2 points more per game than Theo did over his 11 games. He averaged more points-per-game than other top-tier running backs like Mark Ingram, Lamar Miller, Matt Forte, Spencer Ware and Todd Gurley. We just need this cat to play, if that happens - he'll be worth the pick and bring you nice ROI. Last year my call was DeMarco Murray, this year CJ "Mile High Club" Anderson is going to bring you an orgasm.
"Anderson has been tremendous when on the field. Over the past three seasons, among 28 running backs with at least 400 attempts, Anderson ranks top-six in yards-per-carry, touchdowns-per-carry, yards after contact per attempt, and forced missed tackles per attempt. For perspective, Le’Veon Bell ranks top-six in three such categories and is the only other running back to rank top-six in more than two."
(Follow this dude on Twitter, he is a total beast on coming up with charts that paint a telling fantasy football picture for even the layman fantasy folks)
Enter The Matrix
"Mr.Anderson it seems you have been living two lives"......Agent Smith.
In one life you are CJ Anderson Super Bowl Champion,Pro Bowl running back for the Broncos. A player with explosive potential as demonstrated in a late 2014 push in the last six games of the season seemed all world with 140 carries,648 yards 4.63 avgerage, 9 total touchdowns in that span and helped alot of fantasy football championships that season and if you were like my counterpart you took the preverbial red pill and followed him down the rabbit hole into the next season...
In the other life You are Cortrelle Javon Anderson an underachieving often injured running back who has spent more time in rehabilitation than in the huddle in the 22 games played since his burst onto the scene he's had 1,157 yards and 10 total touchdowns . If we dig deeper into code you can see CJ is in fact not "The One" prior to his six-game outburst he has not been impressive at all in fact playing behind Ronnie Hillman mostly in 13 total games he's had 210 rushing yards and 1 total touchdown. If that is not enough to deter you from believing just go to his injury history just last season in
2016: Mr.Anderson tore his meniscus in Week 7 play. He was placed on injured reserve. (Enter Devontae Booker )
2015: Mr.Anderson sprained his ankle in week 13 against the Chargers and missed the following week.
2014: Mr.Anderson left the first preseason game with a concussion.
2013:Mr. Anderson sidelined with a "severely" sprained right MCL during preseason camp, he missed 5 games in the season.
After all this I'm sure that you have one question on your mind....
Why oh why didn't I take the blue pill?
Are You A Gurley Man?
The changing of the guard in Las Angeles could in fact have a significant impact on Todd Gurley and should we expect a resurgence of sorts in 2017?
I say yes but what sort of increase can we realistically expect?
Let's dive in head first TG30 had a terrific rookie season in which he came off a knee injury in college and played in 13 of the Rams games bursted onto the scene with four straight games of 128 plus yards and finished on a short season with just over 1,100 yards & 10 touchdowns and showed the talent was there and why he was drafted so high. Then followed it with a sophomore season with what's a nice way to put it, less than stellar performances. I ask you this, was he actually Stachecuffed by the fact of Jeff Fisher being his coach? Mr. .500 an 8 and 8 career guy(really a .400 yr guy w/rams) who was satisfied with mediocre football that put him in playing situations most any running back could not find thier way out of. His surrounding cast was less than stellar and the only upside on that whole team other than him was the Defensive side of the ball. Sure Todd was given the volume of touches with over 500 carries his first two seasons but what we're the quality of those carries undoubtedly they were against 8 or even 9 man fronts because let's be real here folks the passing attack wasn't anything to write home about Case Keenam and Jared Goff didn't exactly drive fear into opposing defenses right. I mean mostly the game plan was to stop Gurley and get to the rookie quarterback by seasons end the only thing you could call a blessing was that the second year back made it through healthy,Goff had some experience under his belt and Crutch Fisher was shown the exit.
Now comes 2017 Enter first year head coach Sean McVay who spent the Last three years as Offensive Coordinator for Washington and hasn't been that bad with utilizing the ground game.
2014, 401 att 1,691yds & 15 td's on the ground. 2015 429 att 1,566 yds & 9 td's on the ground. 2016 379 att 1,696 yds & 17 td's on the ground.
I know that's total team rushing numbers and the aquisition of Lance Dunbar will eat into the Gurley man's touches but let's look at the 2016 Redskins offense which would be the most recent way to evaluate a Sean McVay running attack,
Christian Thompson (who we can assume his role in the offense would be Dunbar's) had 68 car 356 yrds & 3 td's on ground plus 49 rec 349 yrds & 2 td's in the air.
That leaves Matt Jones, Rob Kelley and Mack Brown a total of 275 car 1,246 yds & 10 td's If we shift those numbers to our boy it doesn't look half bad. I know the Rams offensive line isn't Washington's, but those Running backs aren't close to the talent level of Gurley so it could even itself out.
So I took those numbers and it would calculate to approximately 185 standard points. (ESPN standard scoring )
Which would've put him in between Jordan Howard and Mark Ingram he would've finished the 10th best running back in 2016. Now the fact that he left so many people burned last season he could be available in your league at the late second early third round or even later you could draft him as an RB2 with RB1 upside. I'm betting he will be a feelgood story by this time next season and his cost will be premium so if you're in dynasty buy now this will be lowest price for sometime and if you are in redraft leagues put him on your high ROI list.
No fan of the Gurley man
Todd Gurley is a great talent at the running back position but has unfortunately been in one of the worst offensive situations in the league over the last two seasons. While some things have changed for Gurley, a lot of them have remained issues for the young ball carrier. The offensive line added Andrew Whitworth presumably to play left tackle (he better) and while that is a great move, the rest of the line is still a major issue. Jared Goff looks to be in place at quarterback, as the team spent the first overall pick on him last year, and with the questions surrounding him, lets just say that is not scaring defenses into creating space for Gurley. While I love Todd Gurley as a talent, what has changed for me to go out and draft this guy in the middle of the second round, with the 18th pick in MFL10s? Nothing. Between the quarterback situation and the trouble on the offensive line he is currently too rich for my blood as the 8th running back off the board.
Sean McVay, the teams new head coach is expected to install a new system to get the most out of Gurley and the rest of the offense, but that is not guaranteed in the first year. Jeff Fisher and his atrocious offense may be gone, but that could also take away the guarantee of 20 touches for Gurley on a weekly basis as we have seen since becoming the starter. The Rams have run one of the slowest paced offenses in the league the last few years, while McVay’s may be faster; it is still below the league average. Lets compare the number of rush attempts since Gurley has been in the league: the Rams had 375 attempts in 2016 and 429 in 2015. The Redskins had 379 in 2015 and 429 in 2016. With McVay running the offense it seems unlikely the volume of the run game changes, but there is a chance he could mix in another back, like they have said they want to do with the newly signed Lance Dunbar.
Gurley does have some good factors, like he is likely to even out his performance from an efficient rookie to an inefficient second season just through regression to the mean. If he can return to just a model amount of efficiency, like 4.0 yards per carry and maintains his 278 carries, he would again surpass his rookie season rushing total. He’d need to maintain his reception rate from last season and regain his first season touchdown form to be an ROI value. With Gurley you are paying full market price for his upside with not much of a discount after his second season meltdown. I’d just rather take other players when it comes time to take Gurley, and while there is a path from him to return to being a top-five fantasy back, there is also the downside which we just saw play out last season.
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