Three prominent running backs who were going to go in the first two rounds of most fantasy drafts have taken a hit in recent weeks, all for different reasons. Ryan Mathews was the latest, when he broke his clavicle in last night’s preseason opener and is expected to be out 4-6 weeks. The day before, news that Trent Richardson was going to see Dr. James Andrews and would ultimately need an arthroscopic procedure broke. He’ll miss the preseason, and the Browns are publicly saying he will be ready for the opener. Marshawn Lynch, meanwhile, had the DUI arrest in June, and based on his past history, there is concern about a possible suspension this season. We can probably also add Maurice Jones-Drew to this risk assessment, as there is a possibility that he extends a hold out into the season.
So, how do we value them now?
The answer to that question depends on a variety of things. What is your personal level of risk and are you a risk taker? How much confidence do you have in your ability to offset that loss for a few weeks?
Last year, I took Arian Foster 2nd overall in a draft, after the news of his injury in the preseason. The common reaction was to drop him several spots, but I still, even with knowing that he would miss 2-3 games, had him rated there.
To calculate the impact, you have to adjust for the likely replacement value that you would find on average. That’s a fancy way of saying you want ELITE performance, and have to know what your drop off is in a pinch. Better to have a guy that scores 16 fantasy points a game for 10 games, than one that scores 10 points for 16 games. You can find someone else to start those other six games.
Replacement value, of course, depends on the size of your league, the starting requirements (being able to fill in a few weeks with an extra receiver minimizes the impact), and the roster size. As an example of replacement value, the 30th best running back each week for weeks 1-4 last year scored 8.2 fantasy points in a non-PPR league, and you can probably add about 2-3 points to that in PPR (roughly 60 yards from scrimmage, and 1/3 chance of a TD). The 36th best running back averaged 5.5, so we can see the drop off start to creep up as we get in deeper leagues.
To figure out where to drop Foster last year, I took my per game average production, and replaced the missing games with the 30th best player at the position, figuring worst case scenario I get that out of someone taking Foster’s place. Even doing that, I had such a high per game projection on Foster that he still rated #2.
Now, the three guys this year present different challenges. I personally have Lynch with the highest projection (5th by per game scoring), followed soon after by Ryan Mathews and Trent Richardson. (And I promise I will finalize rankings this weekend). I’m pretty aggressive, so figuring in the potential loss of Lynch for four games, I still have him in the #8 to #10 range. I don’t think he is at risk of losing carries to his backups when he returns, and is not hurt.
For Matthews, I think you have to count on 2-3 games out, or at least limited as he comes back from the clavicle injury. He is still in a situation where he should thrive, but that likewise drops him from 6th to about the same range as Lynch for me, in the 8 to 10 range.
Finally, Trent Richardson’s is a little more concerning because he is a rookie, and we don’t know just how serious the injury could be. Cleveland says he will be back. Arthroscopic knee surgery has a variety of outcomes. Because Trent is younger, I tend to think he will be fine, but this may cause the team to (appropriately) limit his touches. Part of his value is the belief he will be the “man”. It is doubtful Cleveland ends up in the top ten in rushing as a team, so Richardson will have to get a high percentage of the points to provide top ten value. I had him 7th, and broke down why he should be drafted in that range earlier. Concerns about touch limitations has me lowering him in the RB13 range.
Use the following as a guideline of whether you should lower them further (or less):
- Your own risk aversion tendencies;
- The size of your league: 8 or 10 teams less, 12 teams slightly more;
- The availability of flex players to provide starting flexibility;
- The number of total running backs you can carry–if limited to less than 4, you may be more cautious.
[photo via US Presswire]