The fantasy football market is a pretty efficient one. Still, I wanted to look at the average draft positions for running backs and see if there was a way to identify potential groups of teammates either over or undervalued as we head into the preseason. I reverse engineered the fantasy football current average draft position into points, based on how backs finishing at that same ranking have performed in the past five years. I then assigned that amount of fantasy points to each running back listed in the ADP rankings here.
Here is an example, using Buffalo: C.J. Spiller is going as the 5th running back, while Fred Jackson is being drafted as the 45th, with no other backs selected. RB5 has averaged 233 fantasy points over the last five years, while RB45 has averaged 80. Add those together, and you get 313 fantasy points for Buffalo running backs. Of course, some teams have three on the list. I added 30 more fantasy points in for the team’s third running back/fullback type, which gets us a Buffalo projected running back points (based on ADP) of 343. That ranks 5th among all teams for overall projected running back points (seems reasonable as Buffalo was 8th last year, and Spiller should see an expanded role with a potential running QB in E.J. Manuel). Spiller is expected to get 68% of those points–again that seems reasonable. While he had 66% last year and we expect his role to expand, he also played all 16 games and this kind of builds in average injury risk.
So, I did that with all 32 teams and the running backs, to get projected overall running back fantasy points this year, to compare them to last year. We can then use this information to compare the draft market and see if there are extremes where a team (based on where the running backs are being drafted) is expected to do markedly better or worse in producing running back value in 2013.
Here are the top teams in terms of value difference. Today, we start with the teams who have the biggest expected dropoff in RB Value based on current ADP of the backs, and my take on what that means.
The reason: There are probably several, no huge star names, the loss of offensive personnel at receiver, and distrust of Bill Belichick. The fact still remains, though, that the Patriots were 1st in RB points produced last year, and are coming in at 8th based on ADP. Even if there is some regression, the picture is also much clearer. Danny Woodhead is gone, and it is just as likely that someone like Shane Vereen carves out an additional role taking on some of the short passing game targets.
The verdict: Stevan Ridley (RB20) and Shane Vereen (RB29) are both coming off the board in the top 32, but are likely undervalued as a duo. I wouldn’t hesitate to draft a stud RB in the first, take Ridley in the 3rd, and grab Vereen as a flex in the 6th/7th, and start both Patriots backs. If one misses games, you’ve got a must start with the other one for a 3rd and 6th round price, and if both play all year, you’ve got quality starters that minimize the need to worry about Belichick’s gameplanning from week to week.
MIAMI (93 Fewer RB Fantasy Points Projected in 2013)
The reason: Reggie Bush is gone, Lamar Miller is unproven (51 career rushes). People may not realize it because the points to individuals fluctuated from week to week, but Miami was 10th in RB points in Joe Philbin’s first year, with a rookie starter at QB. If you go by ADP, with Miller the only one being drafted, then Miami is projected in the bottom four–a huge drop off.
The verdict: Miami is massively undervalued at the RB position. Even if you expect more passing this year, there is no reason to expect Miami to finish near the bottom in production. Reggie Bush had 1278 yards from scrimmage and 8 touchdowns which now goes somewhere else; the other three backs (Miller, Thomas, and Lane) already had another 868 yards and 9 touchdowns. Either Lamar Miller is significantly undervalued at RB21, or another Dolphins back should be going in the 40-45 range (Thomas?). The guess here is a little of both based on lack of big name value, but Miller is the huge upside play at that price and could justify going more in the RB14 range if the talk out of camp is justified.
NEW YORK JETS (77 Fewer RB Fantasy Points Projected in 2013)
The reason: I’m sensing an AFC East theme this year, though this is, like Miami, a case of no proven names depressing projections. The Jets were 19th in RB points last year with a horrific offense called by Tony Sparano and quarterbacked most of the year by Mark Sanchez. Do we really think it will be worse? Only Chris Ivory is being drafted, and that is not until RB26, so the Jets have the lowest RB projection of all 32 teams.
The verdict: Upside. I mean, Mark Sanchez will either be better than one of the worst QBs in the league, or he will be replaced. Sparano is gone. Ivory is way, way, way more explosive than Shonn Greene. I could make an argument that the Jets will be better than 19th in RB points, rather than way worse. Ivory is currently plagued by hamstring issues, and in the up-and-down world of fantasy football, that can mean a dive in his draft position even though real games are more than a month away. Either Ivory is way undervalued because he is unproven as a lead back, or someone like Bilal Powell should be on your radar for a cheap add at the end of a draft, if you really think Ivory will have a hard time staying on the field once September rolls around.
The reason: I suppose its because no individual back has had a big year with Cam Newton at quarterback, and there are injury question marks with Jonathan Stewart, who is on the PUP list.
The verdict: It’s a lottery ticket, but someone on this team will produce a boom in 2013, and I would seek to add a Carolina back on the cheap. Stewart is at RB33 and likely plummeting, DeAngelo Williams is at RB48. The Panthers were actually 16th in RB points last year, though, and Williams put up a 23rd place finish. I would go with Williams at his ridiculously low price, though Kenjon Barner may be the winning power ball number you seek.
PITTSBURGH (40 Fewer RB Fantasy Points Projected in 2013)
The reason: Pittsburgh was a mess last year, with injuries and turnovers. No back finished in the Top 40 (Dwyer was at 41). The addition of Le’Veon Bell has most putting him at the top of the team projections, but the depth chart is unsettled, with the team also adding LaRod Stephens-Howling to Bell, Dwyer, and Redman.
The verdict: This underprojection is entirely due to uncertainty about who will even be on the roster (Dwyer or Redman could be gone) and who will be the preferred target. If Bell appears to grab the job firmly, his ADP should rise slightly. Keep an eye on the 2nd running back through the preseason, because that could provide value, once we figure out who it is. No other Pittsburgh back is being drafted now because of that uncertainty.
[photo via USA Today Sports Images]