A couple of days ago, I broke down backfield situations that were expected to produce significantly fewer points in 2013, based on ADP, identifying the Miami situation (Lamar Miller) and the New York Jets as two places where drafters were way down on the backfields compared to what they produced in 2012, likely due to incumbent veteran starters moving on.
Today, we move to the opposites–the teams where drafters are expecting a large boost in running back production compared to last season, based on where players are being drafted and historical results for backs at those rankings.
Here are the teams with the largest expected increase in RB Value, based on current ADP, and my take.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (87 More Fantasy Points compared to 2012)
The reason: Andy Reid out, Chip Kelly in. Also, the offensive line was a mess with injuries last year, and should be better. The Eagles were 22nd in points from running backs last year; with LeSean McCoy going top six, and Bryce Brown also going in the top 40, drafters are expecting a sizeable jump into the Top 6 for the Eagles in Kelly’s first year.
The Verdict: The Eagles should produce more fantasy value this year, for all the reasons above. Just recognize that if you are sitting on draft day, and think “I am the first to have the original thought that Chip Kelly might increase the Eagles rushing output”, that you are not. That is already factored in the price of the top two backs.
CINCINNATI BENGALS (71 More Fantasy Points compared to 2012)
The Reason: hmmm, a belief that the Bengals can’t be as bad with the addition of rookie Giovani Bernard? The presence of a guy with a catch nickname in recent fantasy seasons, with Benjarvus Green-Ellis?
The Verdict: Both Bernard and Green-Ellis are going top 32, suggesting drafters are uncertain about the split, but it’s almost 50/50 at this point. The only way that the running back position takes a sizable leap, though, is if Bernard is a huge improvement. Benjarvus Green-Ellis had the lion’s share of the touches last year, played every game, and managed only a RB19 finish. No other Bengal finished in the Top 60. If it really is a 50/50 split, I don’t see either back hitting their ADP. If Bernard turns out to be a huge improvement, Green-Ellis will be worthless if he is getting less than 40% of touches. Here are the 27 year old backs who played in at least 15 games, while getting between 1,000 and 1,400 yards from scrimmage as the lead back, in addition to BGE, Reggie Bush and Shonn Greene last year: Michael Bush, Cadillac Williams, Brandon Jacobs, Ronnie Brown, Earnest Graham, and DeShaun Foster. Given that the Bengals drafted a running back higher than anyone else, I don’t expect Green-Ellis to hit the 99 fantasy point average at age 28 of that group.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (63 More Fantasy Points compared to 2012)
The Reason: Well, number one is Maurice Jones-Drew, his injury last year, and how dreadful the rushing game was without him. This projection basically comes in between last year’s dreadful production with Blaine Gabbert at QB and MJD hurt, and two years ago, when at age 25, Jones-Drew was a top 5 back despite playing in an offense with Gabbert at QB.
The Verdict: I think this is a fair price taking into account the risk of Jones-Drew coming back from injury at age 27. He is likely to be the bell cow, and he could either exceed his value at RB15, or continue to decline. I expect the running back production to bounce back with Jones-Drew returning, and the question is just how much.
TENNESSEE TITANS (62 More Fantasy Points compared to 2012)
The reason: Chris Johnson is a big name, and he is eying 2,000 yards again. Shonn Greene has been a starter through age 27, so some may view him as a TD vulture or a guy who can get 5-10 carries. Johnson was the ultimate boom or bust back in 2012, and he had almost all the touches. The Titans were 29th in RB production, but because Johnson got such a high work rate, he finished 13th in RB points. Johnson had 86% of the rushing attempts for backs last year, and no other back had even 35 yards rushing on the season.
The verdict: Either Chris Johnson is going to again get all the touches, and you shouldn’t even be looking at Shonn Greene as an option, or Johnson is going to lose touches. For Johnson, a loss of touches, even to normal “stud” running back range, would be hurtful to his value. Keep in mind that Arian Foster and Marshawn Lynch, two guys that played every game and finished top 6, got 73% of their team’s running back rushes. If Johnson only gets 73% of the touches when he is healthy, his value will drop, unless he improves dramatically. In 2012, he had three long touchdowns of 80+ yards. On his 273 other attempts, he averaged 3.6 yards. To put that in perspective, Doug Martin also had 3 long touchdowns, but more in the 60 yard range. Without those, he dropped to 4.0. Johnson’s yards per carry may look healthy, but if those runs come from midfield instead of inside his own 20, people would see the decline.
My verdict is both are overvalued, as Johnson has played every game, gotten almost every touch, and still can’t crack the Top 12 in either of the last two seasons, and now, at age 28, has someone who might get 5 carries, or maybe more, if he is in a bad stretch. Greene, meanwhile, doesn’t have much upside without high volume, but can drag Johnson’s value down.
GREEN BAY PACKERS (59 More Fantasy Points compared to 2012)
The reason: Let’s face it, Green Bay has been dreadful at the running back position lately. Folks are expecting that they can’t be that bad again while adding two rookies, though the expectations are still muted (25th in RB Points still would put them in bottom quarter).
The Verdict: Green Bay will likely be better. I’m just not sure there is much value, and the market here is pretty good. Folks expect Lacy to get 60% of the production based on the current ADP of Lacy and Franklin. I might gamble on Franklin getting more than 40% versus Lacy getting significantly more than 60%. Chase Stuart broke down previous running back pairs where a team drafted two backs in near succession starting in round 2. I think those results fit with what I think will happen here–some slight improvement from a team perspective, but neither likely to get a huge workload in year one unless other injuries dictate one back taking that role. I would probably avoid Lacy at a top 30 price, take a chance on Franklin, maybe, outside the Top 40 hoping he gets the better half of a split as a matchup play.
[photo via USA Today Sports Images]