I want to live, I want to give, I want to find some running back gold. Let’s face it, avoiding errors at drafting running backs, and finding value in the middle rounds is one key to building a championship team. Every year, I make my list of values and set my rankings, and my goal is to get in and out at the position. Others like to draft backs early. Not me, unless I have a very high pick where I am guaranteed an elite star. Yeah, I was always the one that outbid for Tomlinson in auction in his prime. The assessment of my team after most drafts: “could be dangerous, but second running back is very weak.” Every year, I see opportunity in those mid-round picks, and so today, I’m going to go back through recent history to look at the boom picks, to find some general themes.
I went back through the last 13 seasons, and comparing fantasy draft position info and end of year results, found the players with the biggest surplus value over where they were drafted (specifically, all players with at least 150 fantasy points in non-PPR scoring, who were at least 75 points better than average for players finishing in position they were drafted).
My final list included 84 players. Of those, 14 were not being drafted within the top 60 at running back in fantasy drafts, leaving a nice, round 70 players who were arguably “on the radar” in fantasy drafts who were the biggest breakouts relative to where they were drafted.
Let’s go down some of the archetypes where you might find value.
1. AMONG THE REAL DEEP SLEEPERS, LOOK FOR GUYS WHO HAVE BEEN IN LEAGUE FOR 2-3 YEARS BUT HAVE NOT BEEN RELEVANT IN FANTASY BEFORE. The 14 names that came from off the radar (not being drafted in the top 60 at RB) include 4 rookies, including non-traditional 27-year old rookie Mike Anderson in 2000 with Denver. The majority of them, though, were between ages 24 and 26, had 2-3 years of experience in the league, but never had finished in the top 50 in fantasy points before.
Rudi Johnson, Benjarvus Green-Ellis, Reuben Droughns, and James Allen are among the names to emerge when given an opportunity because of failure in front of them or injuries.
Who fits this profile this year? Joe McKnight of the Jets, Johnathan Dwyer of the Steelers, Javon Ringer of Tennessee, and Montario Hardesty of the Browns are all outside of the top 60 in current ADP.
2. OLD GUYS HAVE PLENTY OF UPSIDE, TOO. Among the players likely to have been drafted (top 60 in ADP) 26 out of the 70 were age 28 or older (37%). 17% were on the wrong side of thirty. The old guy value is particular strong in the low end RB2, high end RB3 or flex player range. Of the twenty biggest booms drafted between RB18 and RB30, almost half of them were age 28 or older. Tiki Barber, Thomas Jones, Priest Holmes, Charlie Garner, and Ricky Watters all produced top ten seasons while being drafted in this range, and sometimes multiple high value seasons vastly outplaying their ADP.
You’ll see people gamble on “upside” of young players here. My philosophy with older players is that I don’t want to rely on them as my RB1 entering the year, but I will gladly give them a chance after that. I used to be a young upside-o-phile. Then in 2004, I convinced myself that Curtis Martin was going to have a huge season (or more appropriately, others convinced me), and I went QB/WR early. I haven’t looked back, and will never write someone off for the right price. History shows that some old guys have plenty of upside to outperform their position, which often takes into account the possibility of age related decline.
This year’s candidates: Fred Jackson (currently going 15th), Michael Turner (19th), Frank Gore (20th), and Willis McGahee (25th)
3. THE YOUNG GUYS WITH ONE YEAR OF EXPERIENCE (TWO IF ENTERING THE LEAGUE AT 21), BUT NO TOP 40 FANTASY FINISHES– YET. Some of the biggest booms of the past thirteen years have not come from rookies, but rather the guys a year later. The shine has worn off, and those that did not immediately make a starting impact get set aside for the next flashy toy. 13 of the 70 booms were players with one year experience (or 2 years, but still at age 23), but no top fantasy finishes yet. Most of them weren’t even in the top 50 the previous years, so these weren’t guys who were part of platoons as rookies where they were evenly splitting carries.
Ray Rice, Larry Johnson, Arian Foster, Shaun Alexander, Deuce McAllister, Brian Westbrook, and Ahman Green are included in those past monster values. Their average finish the year before? 74th, which explains why they were going off the board as mid-level 2nd running backs (average pick-40th in their break out years).
Young Guy Boom Candidates in 2012: Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, New England; Ryan Williams, Arizona; Mikel LeShoure, Detroit; Jacquizz Rodgers, Atlanta
4. EVERYONE WILL FOCUS ON ROOKIES, BUT DON’T FORGET THE GUYS ON THE SAME TEAM AS “HOT” ROOKIES. Eight rookies drafted in the top 60 of fantasy drafts show up on the “boom” list (Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis, Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, Matt Forte, Olandis Gary, Steve Slaton, and Anthony Thomas). That’s not to say that there are not other rookies who have provided solid value at their draft positions. However, the biggest values have more often come by playing the “Don’t Pass” line and finding guys on the same team as hot rookies drafted in the first two rounds.
12 players have been part of a rotation with a hot rookie and gone on to provide huge fantasy value. From last year when Sproles emerged after everyone was expecting big things from Mark Ingram, back to Ricky Watters holding off Shaun Alexander for a year and being huge value. Other examples including Thomas Jones (Cedric Benson), Fred Jackson (C.J. Spiller), Tiki Barber (Ron Dayne), and DeAngelo Williams (Johnathan Stewart).
This year’s candidates: Ahmad Bradshaw of the Giants with David Wilson, LeGarrette Blount of Tampa Bay with Doug Martin
5. PLAYERS ON NEW TEAMS CREATES UNCERTAINTY, BUT ALSO VALUE. Fifty of the Seventy booms were either in their first or second years with the team. We saw that the young guys entering year 2 were value (see #3 above), and most of the second year guys were unproven. In addition to rookies, though, there have been plenty of booms out of veterans changing teams at running back.
We saw Michael Turner become a big fantasy value after moving Atlanta, and the same out of Sproles last year. Most of the 17 non-rookies who changed teams had been fantasy relevant already elsewhere, so Turner was at the extreme end there. Almost half had at least one top 20 season elsewhere, though not necessarily the previous season. We saw Priest Holmes move to Kansas City and become a top back. Charlie Garner had big years after moving to San Francisco, then Oakland. Reggie Bush re-vitalized his career moving to Miami. Names like Antowain Smith, Lamar Smith, and Reuben Droughns may not sound impressive, but reclaimed their careers and put up their best seasons after changing teams.
New Places, New Faces candidates: Benjarvus Green-Ellis in Cincinnati, Peyton Hillis in Kansas City, Brandon Jacobs in San Francisco.
[photo via US Presswire]