Over the last few weeks, I have looked at underrated and overrated fantasy running backs of the last 15 years, looked at what happens when a top offensive team changes starters, examined highly drafted backs who are not as popular the next year, and put the fantasy rookies under the microscope.
That last look at the rookies was part of a bigger piece on looking at what types of backs have provided big seasons for low draft cost. And here, well, is that larger look. Since 2000, there have been 39 seasons that meet the following criteria (1) the back was drafted outside the top 24 at RB on average (2) the back finished top 12 in RB final season fantasy ranking and/or scored at least 200 fantasy points, non-PPR.
That’s an average of less than 3 per year of these later round booms, so finding one is going to provide a leg up on most of the league. Most of these players were highly correlated with teams that won fantasy titles. In fact, I went back through one of my long-time leagues where I have won five titles, and I had one of these backs on every title winning team: Ladell Betts in 2006, Chris Johnson in 2008, Jamaal Charles in 2009, Marshawn Lynch in 2011, and C.J. Spiller in 2012. Finding a late round boom, because it provides a boost to go with other highly drafted players, can be a big factor.
Predicting them, though, is tough. The biggest thing is to be ever vigilant and keep looking for opportunities. They can come in many shapes, and this is a look at all 39, by typecasting them into some broader groups. I’ve ordered them from last to first by what I would target as being able to duplicate.
Peyton Hillis was Once on the Cover of Madden (2)
Booms: Peyton Hillis (2010) and Earnest Graham (2007)
We’ll just name this category after Hillis. This one will be hard to duplicate and predict. It does serve as a reminder to not completely disregard the fullbacks who can convert to running back. (Mike Anderson also, though I’ve classified him differently, and Nick Goings in 2004, though he did not meet the threshold, is another example). Both of these backs were drafted outside the top 60 in ADP, so their emergence was unexpected, to say the least.
Neither played for teams recognized as great offenses coming into the season, and neither of the guys they replaced were highly thought of by ADP, which is what separates them from some others that came out of nowhere or served as injury replacement.
Trying to duplicate Peyton Hillis will be pretty difficult.
2014 Possibilities? Mike Tolbert or Marcel Reece with enough injuries in Carolina and Oakland
Platoon Touchdown Vultures (2)
Booms: Maurice Jones-Drew (2006) and Marion Barber III (2007)
Jones-Drew and Barber did it the hard way, while still being part of a true platoon, but gobbling up the red zone value. Predicting that is always going to be difficult. Jones-Drew was a rookie who wasn’t even getting drafted in the top 60, then Greg Jones tore his ACL in the preseason finale, and Jones-Drew split carries with Fred Taylor. Barber III was sharing touches with Julius Jones.
2014 Possibilities? Your guess is as good as mine.
Injury Replacements for Star Backs (7)
Booms: Mike Anderson (2000), Ahman Green (2000), Dominic Rhodes (2001), Ladell Betts (2006), Ricky Williams (2009), Jamaal Charles (2009), and Michael Bush (2011)
We’ll use the term “star back” here loosely, and based on the view at the time. Larry Johnson was pretty much broken up by then. Ricky Williams was 32 years old, behind Ronnie Brown, and took over when Brown missed half a season. He is the only one on this list who had prior bona fides as a starter. Green and Charles turned into fantasy studs themselves, but were not highly drafted. That’s what separates this group from another set later on: perception at the time of likelihood of break out.
What you are looking for here is backs, who, if the opportunity presented itself, could boom, given the offense and touches. You’ve got a back playing with Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, and in Shanahan’s offense on the list. Still, the chances here are small and the best tact is to have some lines in the water. None were drafted higher than an ADP of 40.
2014 Possibilities? Christine Michael (behind Lynch in Seattle), Knile Davis (behind Charles in Kansas City), Andre Brown (Foster-Houston), James Starks (Lacy-Green Bay), Lance Dunbar (Murray-Dallas)
Young Studs Waiting for Breakout (6)
Booms: Shaun Alexander (2001), Willis McGahee (2004), Larry Johnson (2005), Jonathan Stewart (2009), Darren McFadden (2010), C.J. Spiller (2012)
All of these guys were taken in the first round, many early. All of them were in year 2 or 3, and had yet to breakout due to opportunity or injury. Most had established veterans in front of them who had proven production. All were drafted in the 30’s by ADP, and among the most highly drafted “second running backs”. This would ordinarily be the best category to target if there was someone who met these criteria.
2014 Possibilities? None, really.
Rookies Who Emerged from Perceived Platoons (4)
Booms: Anthony Thomas (2001), Chris Johnson (2008), Steve Slaton (2008), Alfred Morris (2012)
Rookies haven’t come out of these situations as frequently as people believe. Still the possibility is there. A good tact might be to draft both the rookie and other member of platoon if priced reasonably. Morris was the “workhorse” but that was not the perception in August, as Roy Helu was being drafted earliest. Thomas supplanted James Allen in short order, while Slaton took over for a washed up Ahman Green. Chris Johnson was the only first rounder from the group, and excelled while splitting time with Lendale White.
2014 Possibilities? Terrance West, Devonta Freeman, Carlos Hyde
Veterans Emerging from Platoons (non-Rookie partner edition) (4)
Booms: Warrick Dunn (2000), Antowain Smith (2001), Charlie Garner (2002), Fred Jackson (2013)
We’ll see why I call this non-Rookie partner edition soon. One thing to keep in mind with all platoons that have produced booms– there has been a tendency for a smaller, receiving and big play back to emerge from these situations: not only Dunn and Garner here but Sproles and Barber and Chris Johnson.
Of the 12 “platoon” situations where two backs were being drafted within 15 slots of each other, the breakout boom had the lower Body Mass Index on 9 of the occasions. And remember, I was using the non-PPR scoring, but many of these backs were much better receivers. Don’t discount the small guy in a platoon, because there may be a bias if people do the airport test for bigger backs.
2014 Possibilities? Shane Vereen is currently right on the cutline, but regardless, he’s a great option. May not come cheaply by draft day, as I would have him inside the top 24, easily. A little cheaper are Lamar Miller (with Knowshon Moreno) and Darren McFadden (with Maurice Jones-Drew).
Starters With Value Depressed by Lack of Prior Big Seasons, or Changing Teams (6)
Booms: Jamal Lewis (2007), Matt Forte (2008), Ray Rice (2009), Arian Foster (2010), Marshawn Lynch (2011), Stevan Ridley (2012)
All of these guys were being drafted in the mid-to-late 20’s. All were seen as the clear best options on their own teams based on draft data, but falling on the very low end compared to all starters. This was because of new circumstances. Forte was a rookie, Foster, Rice and Ridley were 2nd year players who did not have big numbers as rookies. Lewis and Lynch were with new teams (Lynch had moved mid-season the year before).
2014 Possibilities? Guys like Toby Gerhart are going above the cutline (ADP 20), Chris Johnson, now with the Jets, is also close (ADP 22). Trent Richardson, who moved to Indianapolis last year and disappointed, has an ADP of 27.
Veterans in Perceived Platoons with Rookies (8)
Booms: Tiki Barber (2000), Lamar Smith (2000), Garrison Hearst (2001), Thomas Jones (2005), Deuce McAllister (2006), DeAngelo Williams (2008), Darren Sproles (2011), Knowshon Moreno (2013)
More booms have come from “the other guy” in platoon situations when a rookie is involved, than the actual rookie. Sometimes the allure of potential provides great value the other way. Some of these were veterans who had prior big years, some had the best yet to come. Hearst and McAllister would have to have been considered injury risks. Jones had largely been a bust to that point when the Bears drafted Benson. Barber had his value held down by Ron Dayne. Sproles joined a team that just drafted Mark Ingram. Williams finished #1 at RB, and was drafted behind Jonathan Stewart that year.
This has been the best category to hit, and it feels like value is being created again this year.
2014 Possibilities? Steven Jackson is going at by far the lowest ADP since he was a rookie, with Devonta Freeman rocketing up the charts. Ben Tate changed teams and is near the cutline, with Terrance West shooting up in ADP.