Welcome to the QB List Staff Playbook Series. Every week throughout both the summer and season, we will conduct a staff survey, asking multiple fantasy analysts to share their insights on some of fantasy football’s most pressing questions. Essentially, we’re sharing our “playbook” with you, revealing the hard choices and strategic moves we would make to stay ahead of the competition.
This week, the QB List Staff was asked which running backs will likely fail to live up to ADP. To get a general sense and find a happy medium, we’ll be using Half-point PPR found at FantasyPros ADP. Let’s open the playbook:
Paul Ghiglieri (@FantasyGhigs): David Johnson (ADP 5.3, RB5)
Reasoning: David Johnson’s ADP continues to remain steady as a top-5 pick, and I can’t fathom why. It’s safe to assume that Arizona HC Kliff Kingsbury kept some things close to the vest, especially the myriad of ways he plans to use Johnson as a receiver. Johnson’s pedigree speaks for itself. He’s one of the few true “all-purpose” running backs who can excel in between the tackles, around the edge, and in the passing game. However, none of that will likely be able to mitigate just how awful the Cardinals’ O-line figures to be this season. PFF ranked Arizona 30th among all O-lines heading into the season.
Furthermore, the team will be starting a rookie quarterback in Kyler Murray who has looked less than stellar this preseason.
Lastly, there remain question marks about whether the Cardinals have the wide receiver personnel to make the Air Raid offense work at the NFL level. Larry Fitzgerald has lost more than a step. Despite his talent, Christian Kirk could be miscast as a number one wideout. New additions Andy Isabella and Hakeem Butler have thus far failed to show much promise, with Isabella reportedly a “work in progress” and Butler on the verge of redshirting his rookie season. The sum of these parts makes David Johnson a risky pick in the first round, let alone inside the top-five.
Ben Davidowitz (@DavidowitzB): James Conner (ADP 9.3, RB 7)
Reasoning: James Conner helped mitigate the pain of Le’Veon Bell’s holdout in 2018 by collecting a combined 1,470 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. With a top-ten finish, his numbers have propelled him quickly up draft boards, but we’ve all seen this before, haven’t we? Does anyone remember guys like Peyton Hillis and Knowshon Moreno…two running backs that followed up formidable fantasy seasons with duds? Conner could be facing a similar situation in Pittsburgh. There are already reports coming out of the Steel City that offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner is smitten with Jaylon Samuels’ varied skill set. During the off-season, Conner himself said that Samuels will get a larger share of opportunities in the upcoming season.
Steelers offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner talks about RB Jaylen Samuels ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/ImWJJgknZo
— Post-Gazette Sports (@PGSportsNow) June 13, 2019
The Steelers also spent their fourth-round draft pick on Benny Snell, a powerful runner who could take away some goal-line touches from Conner. That news doesn’t bold well in terms of a workhorse type projection for Conner in 2019. Conner should still garner the majority of the touches, but the Steelers don’t have an all-purpose like runner like Bell anymore who can do it all. For all the bell-cow talk, the fact remains that Samuels’ ability and role as a pass-catcher out of the backfield will have some impact on Conner’s value as the Stellers try to replicate the many ways Bell contributed to the offense.
Over the last five games that Conner started in 2018, he only rushed for 267 yards and three scores while adding another 118 yards through the air. If you’re drafting Conner in the first round of your fantasy draft, you’re chasing his production from his five games at the beginning of 2018 when he consistently broke the 100-yard mark, not his other eight other games where he was under 100 combined yards or the three where he was on the sidelines.
Conner’s ADP puts him just outside the top running backs but ahead of many number one receivers. For a back that carries some injury concerns and could find himself in a timeshare if he struggles as he did at times in 2018, his ability to meet his lofty ADP seems doubtful. Personally, I’d go another route when constructing my fantasy roster.
Bryan Sweet (@FantasyFreakTN): Marlon Mack (RB 18, ADP 36.7)
Reasoning: After a solid 2018, Marlon Mack looked like an RB2 at worst heading into 2019 behind a very good Colts offensive line and a resurgent Andrew Luck. Then, Luck retired and Jacoby Brissett was named Indy’s starting QB when the team opens the 2019 season against the Los Angeles Chargers. Oddsmakers took notice quickly, moving the Colts from 16-1 favorites to win the Super Bowl to 60-1. Indy’s season win total also took a nosedive, starting at 9.5 wins and landing at 6.5 following Luck’s announcement.
Now, rushers on losing teams aren’t always fantasy liabilities, but running backs on losing teams who are not part of the team’s passing game are much less attractive. When the Colts win, Mack has good fantasy outputs (13 games, 940 yards, 11 TDs, 18 receptions, 105 yards, 1 TD), but those numbers are vastly different in losses (13 games, 326 yards, 1 TD, 20 receptions, 223 receiving yards, 1 TD).
Snaps played by the Colts top two backs in 2018:
When leading: Marlon Mack (204), Nyheim Hines Hines (123)
When trailing: Nyheim Hines (250), Marlon Mack (102)
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) August 26, 2019
The primary beneficiary in games in which the Colts fall behind and ultimately lose is Nyheim Hines. In wins, Hines is a secondary part of the offense (10 games, 203 yards, 2 TDs, 24 receptions, 188 yards, 0 TDs), but he becomes a focal point in losses due to the team going pass-heavy (6 games, 111 yards, 0 TDs, 39 receptions, 237 yards, 2 TDs). If Vegas thinks the Colts are a sub-.500 team, that would indicate Hines will be a more utilized player, especially later in games. The Colts have tried to keep Mack more on the field during 3rd and 4th downs this preseason, but that may have been an effort to see what he can do. The team already knows what Hines offers in passing-down situations. Mack is still worth a roster spot, but he’s going ahead of running backs who’d I rather have at their ADP including Chris Carson, Mark Ingram, and Sony Michel.
Dan Adams (@dadams0323): Kerryon Johnson (RB 14, ADP 30.3)
Reasoning: Kerryon Johnson’s ADP has been on the rise ever since the Lions cut pass-catching specialist Theo Riddick, with the public opinion being that Johnson would now be an every-down, workhorse running back. That’s not how the Lions chose to deploy him in the preseason though, as C.J. Anderson found his way onto the field for some snaps with the starters, including picking up some goal-line work. We saw last year that even when Johnson was clearly outperforming the rest of the backfield, which last year included Riddick and LeGarrette Blount, the Lions were hesitant to give him the majority of the work. Add to that the fact that Anderson is a much better runner than Blount.
CJ Anderson is one of my late Round Darlings 👀https://t.co/fD6oCO3Ap1
— D Brown (@DBrownFF88) August 27, 2019
Detroit’s decision to incorporate more than back to keep them all fresh shouldn’t come as a surprise given HC Matt Patricia’s New England roots. It also makes sense when looking at Johnson’s injury history, which includes shoulder surgery, ankle sprains, a hamstring injury, and a sprained MCL. He runs with a very physical style, and that leads to a lot of hard contact that will wear on him over the course of a season. It seems that either the Lions will continue to limit his touches, or he will end up missing time just like he did last season.
Furthermore, if Johnson loses red-zone work to Anderson, it would severely limit Johnson’s upside, and if this turns into any type of committee then Johnson will have very little chance of paying off his draft cost. Spending a high third-round pick on a running back with a long injury history, that plays on a bad offense, and is not even guaranteed the most valuable touches in his own backfield seems like an overpayment. Johnson is certainly talented enough to have some strong weeks, but not enough of them to be worth his current ADP.
Matt Bevins (@mattqblist): Peyton Barber (RB 42, ADP 108)
Reasoning: Peyton Barber is currently going as the 42nd RB off the board. That’s relatively low, and I won’t argue that this is hardly a costly endeavor. I could see drafting him around round 10, but I think the reasoning he won’t do much is two-fold: 1.) Their offense has plenty of options, and he’s just not better than almost all of them; perhaps you could argue he’s a better weapon than Cameron Brate, who will likely take a backseat to OJ Howard anyway. They have Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Ronald Jones, and Howard. Why would the slow, plodding running of Barber work with this offense? To make matters worse, Barber’s role may be undecided as well as passing-down back Dare Ogunbowale asserts himself into the game plan.
Arians to 'go with hot hand' at RB in Week 1? https://t.co/F5zXtbZS4Z
— Rotoworld Football (@Rotoworld_FB) August 28, 2019
Barber averaged under four yards per carry last year, barely edging out a broken David Johnson, an uninspired Alex Collins, and an ancient Carlos Hyde. The second reason is simple. Ronald Jones was drafted to take over the rushing duties. He may have lowered his own value last year, but he’s got the portfolio to make it happen. I’d much rather go for the variety of upside wideouts or Ronald Jones than waste a pick on Peyton Barber.
(Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire)