19 Jun Fantasy Contrarian 2nd Edition of “I Cant Quit You Babe” – Running Backs
Running backs are probably the position we spend too much time obsessing over. Hopefully by now everyone has given up on Christine Michael. In fact, this section should possibly be renamed Christine Michael Syndrome. These are either former high draft picks that never panned out like Montee Ball or deep sleepers that are, well, still sleeping. Anyway, hopefully nobody is still holding out hopes for Eddie Lacy, Michael, Matt Jones, David Cobb, Bishop Sankey, Karlos Williams, Cameron Artis-Payne, Paul Perkins and Keith Marshall. All of these are either a: out of the league completely (Lacy, Karlos Williams) or languishing on depth charts and being further pushed down by the new crop of promising rookies. None of these guys should be on any but the deepest of deep dynasty rosters. Will Paul Perkins have a renaissance and get a shot with another team? Anything is possible but I wouldn’t want him clogging space in lieu of something more promising. The ones below have all seen value slides in the last year or two and yet remain in position to potentially have a sizeable share of their teams current running back production in 2018. The key here is this – Running Backs we know have much shorter productive windows then their QB and WR counterparts. As a result it is important to move players that you do not feel have long term dynasty value when their short term value spikes up.
Kiss and Make Up
Ty Montgomery – Age: 25, Drafted 3rd round in 2015 by Green Bay Packers. That’s right, T Mont is only 25 years old and at this time last year was considered the “must have” mid round Best Ball RB2-3 as he was slated to be the starting RB in the prolific Packers offense last year. An All American from Stanford and a 2nd day pick by the Packers, he justifiably created excitement in the dynasty community heading into his rookie year. But after converting him to RB the Packers then used some serious draft capital on Jamaal Williams AND Dynasty Darling Aaron Jones. Still Monty only lost his job (first to Jones then Jamaal Willliams) after injuries cut his season short. Right now Montgomery carries an ADP of RB44 which makes him pretty much available on the cheap if not outright free after carrying RB2 value all of last off season. While it seems that he has fallen to 3rd in the pecking order at RB in Green Bay, to the contrarian this is a ripe buying opportunity. While he only played 8 games last season, he averaged 11.45 points per game – which would have placed him at RB23 had he played a whole season or a low end RB2. Remember as a 3rd round pick by the coaching staff still in place it is likely he will still have a role in the offense whether as a slot receiver or 3rd down back. That still is good enough for a floor of a solid RB3 which is quite a bit better than his current valuation as a RB4/5. I know many of you are hoping that Jamaal Williams or Aaron Jones seizes this job, but this has the look of a 3 way time share which isn’t great for any of them – but for Montgomery would actually provide a nice boost to his current value. My recommendation if you have him is to keep him – no sense in selling for peanuts on the dollar and hope that I am right. I would be fine selling him of course if I could return RB3 value with the upside of still being a low end RB2 – particularly if he takes on a Theo Riddick like role. Still, he hasn’t shown the ability to stay healthy for long stretches but perhaps the Packers will wisely use him as a specialty back and occasional WR. I am not bullish because I believe he will push Jones or Williams down the pecking order for carries – but because of the upside that he emerges as the WR3 in that offense. And if (when) Cobb gets hurt again there is a great chance he emerges as the go to slot receiver in the best pass offense in the league. There are plenty of targets up for grabs with Jordy Nelson gone and I have a sneaking suspicion that T Mont is going to be a bigger factor this season than he is being forecasted. The WR3 for the Aaron Rodgers Packers can basically be written down for 50-60 receptions and 550-600 yards. Remember Jarett Boykin in 2013? Exactly. He had 49-681 that year as the Packers WR3. His receiving numbers alone would make him a valuable fantasy WR3 and add in a sprinkle of carries per game and he could easily be a weekly flex play that helps you win games. I am buying him wherever possible at his current valuation.
Maybe We Can Try Therapy
Isaiah Crowell – Age: 25, UDFA 2014. Crowell was well on the radar of dynasty players as he was a devy darling while a Fresman at UGA. As a freshman he had some breakout performances like a 130 yard outburst against Ole Miss and his 12-132-1TD blinder against Auburn. But he was cut loose by UGA after he was arrested on a firearms charge. Subsequently undrafted out of Alabama State he found himself in a time share with Terrance West and later Duke Johnson for a mostly terrible Browns offense. While his yard per carry average, TDs and total yardage decreased last year during a dismal 0-16 season he still averaged 4.2 yards per carry and had 1200 total yards. He sits currently at RB36 right behind Lamar Miller at RB35 (more on him later), Duke Johnson and Tarik Cohen. Not terrible company but rated as a low end RB3 for dynasty. In the offseason he was signed by the Jets who have no clear cut starter at the position. So why all the hate? Surely the Jets offense this year is no worse than the Browns last season – and likely quite a bit better. Crowell finished last year as RB28 which is just outside of the low end RB2’s. The Jets were 17th in the NFL in rushing attempts and 19th in total yardage and were 11th in rushing TDs. Clearly this is a team that wants to win with defense and running the ball. The problem is that Billal Powell and Elijah Maguire are still there and there is no real indication they will lose their roles. Powell was the “lead” back last season with 178 carries to Matt Forte’s 103 and Maguire’s 88. If Powell gets 50% of the carries this season and Maguire is the 3rd down passing back (a role Powell handles well too) then it is difficult to see how Crowell gets more than 150 carries and 20-25 receptions. Forte had 37 receptions last year but Crowell has never been seen as much of a receiver. So while on paper this looks no worse than a lateral move, in reality until we see how the carries are divided and what role each back will have the offense Crowell’s outlook is unclear. Remember Powell will be 30 in October and Crowell is only 25. The Jets did not draft another RB although brought in Thomas Rawls who has shown in the past the ability to play a similar role. If we project Powell’s carries last year and figure Powell’s opportunities will be more to the Matt Forte side of last year’s equation, which is his ceiling, he would be looking at 175 carries, 700 yards, 20 receptions for 150 yards and 4-5 TDs – which would be good for RB 28-30. Hard to argue that he isn’t well priced at RB36. Honestly, you could do worse for a still 25 year old RB3 who is likely to have a decent role for another 1-2 seasons. It isn’t likely that the Crow will ever be the sleeper stud you had high hopes for, but you will not fetch much for him in a trade. I would hold Crowell this season and plan to use him as a Flex RB which is what you want out of a RB3. If somehow he unexpectedly becomes something closer to a bellcow for the Jets (highly unlikely) you might suddenly be able to obtain deal him for RB2 value.
Perhaps We Can Give it One More Shot? For the Kids?
Carlos Hyde – Age: 26, drafted 2nd round 2014 by 49ers. Carlos Hyde last year quietly had a terrific year finishing as a low end RB1 at RB10 in PPR formats. And yet, Hyde finds himself at RB31 in dynasty startup formats ranked just behind Kenyan Drake, Aaron Jones, Kerryon Johnson and Alex Collins in dynasty. Why the low value after an RB1 season? Well, Hyde now finds himself in Cleveland as part of what is likely to be a 3-headed monster after the draft pick of Nick Chubb. You would think that Hyde would be a candidate for divorce but there are a few factors that make him worth a hold for at least one more year. It is quite possible that Hyde only spends a year in Cleveland and is able to land a lead back role somewhere else next year (like maybe a team like the New York Jets). It is difficult to feel great about his role this year as Nick Chubb was drafted by the new regime. Teams do not draft players in the 2nd round of the NFL draft without intending to play them in the first year. But if Hyde is able to get at least a 50% share of the backfield this season he might be at least a flex player with the upside of being able to leave and find a full time gig (or at least majority share) the year after. Hyde is very cheap right now and might be worth a flier particularly if you have the luxury of not relying on him too much this season. The upside is a fairly young, in his prime (albeit oft injured) RB who might be at a minimum a strong RB2 in 2019 and beyond. As a result, his value is quite likely to rise a little bit this year and quite a bit next season.
Time for Divorce
Zach Zenner – Age: 26 UDFA Signed by Detroit Lions in 2014. Okay I am really going out on a limb here right? I realize I am kind of giving myself a layup here but I cite Big Z for a reason. Zenner AVERAGED over 2000 yards a season in each of his last 3 years as a South Dakota State Jackrabbit. Those are some serious statistics albeit against somewhat inferior competition. Expected to be a 5th or 6th round pick Big Z went undrafted. In the 2016 season he ended up being the only healthy back on the roster and produced nicely when called upon. After which the Lions have kept him buried on the depth chart and now have brought in Lagarette Blount and Kerryon Johnson. The odds now of Zenner getting a shot as a starter on Detroit is now somewhat equal to the odds of Tim Tebow starting at QB in the NFL again. We know he can play a bit but the truth is that while he played well when called upon he obviously didn’t blow anyone away – as evidenced by his 3.8 ypc average when playing full time. It seems ZZ is the kind of guy that will hang around the NFL and make rosters. He is a good kid who is not only a RB but an accomplished special teams player which makes him a valuable swiss army knife for NFL teams who know he can be relied on in a pinch at RB while excelling on special teams (he played far more snaps on special teams last year than on offense). Look at Zenner the same way you would look at a Branden Bolden – competent solid players who play special teams and therefore have a valuable role on their teams. But don’t clog up your roster with a guy who is never going to start for any of your teams. It is a good lesson to learn when evaluating players – he had a shot, flashed a little but didn’t excite anyone. When you see that kind of pattern with these sleeper types do not be afraid to cut bait.