Now that we’re nearing full-fledged draft season in fantasy football, it’s time to monitor the draft stock of each player. Many form their own opinions on a number of players or situations, while checking numerous sources for rankings along the way. Gaining as much knowledge on the consensus range of where a player may go can help in preparation of your drafts. For this exercise, I’ll be taking the RB rankings of of the top 20 analysts from the ECR (Expert Consensus Rankings – FantasyPros) who finished among the top 50 for in-season 2015 rankings, as well as having been updated recently. With a large enough sample size of rankings from those various fantasy football minds, a “best/worst” is given, showing the disparity of opinion for each player.
Ezekiel Elliott: (Best: RB2 / Worst: RB49 – – ADP5)
It’s no surprise that Elliott heads this list. Elliott has the largest gap in ranking among the top 12 RBs. The 10th RB drafted in the first round this decade, Elliott comes into the league being one of the most well-rounded RB prospects in terms of being able to handle the duties of an every down back. There’s no doubt the overall view of Elliott is that he’s going to be a productive back in the league. Yes, the Cowboys have an awesome offensive line, even though it’s talked about as if it’s the greatest of all-time. What we care about from a re-draft perspective, is whether or not the guy is going to live up to the hype. Where is he going in drafts, and will he return the value on that high capital he’s surely going to cost? Let’s take a look at the RB scoring averages over the past five seasons.
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For the non-believers of Elliott or those that hate drafting rookie RBs earlier than the middle rounds. There have been 15 rookie RBs since 2005 to finish with at least the average of the RB12-15 (172.5 FP). The only one among those 15 rookies to receive less than 200 touches was David Johnson this past year. 12 of those 15 RBs finished as top 10 RBs, 5 in the top 5. Unless you expect Zeke to have Johnson’s crazy 13.4% TD/offensive touch rate, it’s solid to think he’ll need to see at least 200 touches to have a good shot at mid-RB2 numbers or better. What about the high end of the spectrum?
Jerry Jones just spent the 4th overall pick in the draft on Elliott and the team hasn’t invested a substantial pile of cash to RunDMC or Alfred Morris. We’re also one year removed from DeMarco Murray notching the 6th most touches by a RB in NFL history. Last year, McFadden averaged 20.9 touches per game once he took over the starting job, so we’ve seen a couple recent, high volume campaigns from DAL RBs. There aren’t many running back situations league-wide that hold the opportunity for a monopoly share of team carries, but in Dallas, we could very well see Elliott score 275-300 carries. If that happens, we could be looking at a top finish at the position or at least top 3. I currently have Elliott as RB4 in my Standard Rankings, so I’m in the group that thinks Elliott will provide a return on investment as your late first, early second round pick. He may be one of the most hyped running backs in recent memory, but all signs are pointing to massive opportunity.
Latavius Murray: (Best: RB16 / Worst: RB44 – – ADP17)
For a guy who finished as RB10 in both standard and PPR leagues, the love seems to be lost for the Oakland back. Why is that? Where does Murray stand when looking into talent, opportunity, and volume?
As you can see below, Murray is extremely physically gifted.
What about opportunity? Murray sits atop the Raiders depth chart with 5th round rookie DeAndre Washington set to begin with spelling duties. There’s DeAndre Washington truther meetings held on the regular Twitter-wide. Check up on Washington and what he could mean for Murray here. It’s clear that opportunity is not the knock. What about volume?
Murray notched the 3rd most rush attempts (266) and finished 16th in receptions among RBs (41), leaving him as one of only four RBs to tally 300+ touches. It seems that the growing concern regarding Latavius is that his 4.0 ypc average ranked 4th worst among RBs who had 200+ attempts. Murray was able to finish as RB10 while leaning more on volume than efficiency and scoring. Despite putting up a modest six total TDs, it’s surprising to note that Murray held the highest percentage of team carries at the position in the red zone at a whopping 70.2% as well as the 2nd highest from five yards and in at 80% of the team total. Oakland held the 2nd highest passing TD% at 80.9%. I would look for this number to decline and become at least a little more balanced.
The Raiders had deep pockets heading into free agency, and made it a point to retain and improve the offensive line. The team brought back LT Donald Penn and added OT/OG Kelechi Osemele from Baltimore, who has been one of the better guards in the league.
Latavius offers the blend of physical talent, opportunity and volume, and surrounding pieces to be a fringe RB1 yet again. Outside of the top 15 RBs or so, there aren’t too many backs who offer more upside. The inherent risk surrounding the RBs going off the board near Murray (DMurray, JHill, JStew, Langford, etc.) are quite similar, which is why he is a good candidate to think about if employing an early WR strategy. The question looming is whether or not to take Murray at his current 4th round cost, or wait a round or two for some high upside, young talent with immediate opportunity such as Matt Jones or the next player on this list.
Jay Ajayi: (Best: RB14 / Worst: RB70 – – ADP24)
Ajayi is one of the many low-end RB2 in terms of ADP that has the situation and upside to outperform his current price. Miller is gone. Gase is in. The Dolphins only addition to the RB position is 3rd round pick out of Alabama, Kenyan Drake, who profiles more as a 3rd down and change-of-pace back. Could a veteran running back such as Arian Foster or Joique Bell be in play? Possibly, but for the time being, it looks as if Ajayi could be in line for some major work. The #1 RB in Adam Gase-led offenses the past three years have been highly productive.
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It’s clear that Gase prefers running backs who can handle work on all three downs. Comments from early June clearly back the numbers that we see above.
“Any time you’re playing that spot in this offense, you have to be able to do it all. It’s not a one-trick pony type of offense. You have to be able to protect. You have to be able to run the ball. You have to be able to catch. So we really don’t believe in, ‘Hey, you’re just a first- and second-down back.’ I don’t know what that means. We look for guys that can stay on the field all three downs because we’re not looking to ‘sub’ personnel. We want guys that can be in great shape, stay out there and then, if we need to switch somebody out because we’re having a long drive, then so be it. But really, whoever the guy is that we’re starting with in the series, that’s the guy I want to finish.”
There’s no doubt that Ajayi is in a solid position to have a sizable workload for producing top-end fantasy numbers. Ajayi isn’t a terrible receiver by any means (caught 50 balls as a Junior at Boise State), but he’ll need to prove that he can contribute and be successful catching passes out of the backfield in Gase’s offense. If Ajayi is able to hold off Drake as the primary option in the backfield, then you’re getting a guy who’s currently going in the 5th round of drafts that has RB1 upside.
Chris Ivory: (Best: RB23 / Worst: RB102 – – ADP28)
One of the brighter stories of the 2015 season, was the massive improvement on the offensive side of the ball for the Jaguars. The passing game flourished, with Bortles and the Allen’s making huge steps forward in their development. The running game, however, proved to lack a red zone threat. The best goal line back in Jacksonville last year was Blake Bortles. I repeat, Blake Bortles. The trio of Yeldon, Robinson and Gerhart combined for only two TDs on 14 attempts from five yards and in. What do you do to fix a glaring weakness? Sign a free agent, draft further depth, or develop talent and hope they improve in that area. The Jags had an insane amount of cash to entice free agents this offseason, and opted to add one of the most physical backs in the league in Chris Ivory.
The question regarding Ivory will be whether he can control a high enough percentage of the team carries and what the run-pass ratio ends up being, to produce a return on his ADP. Jacksonville was extremely pass heavy, having one of the least balanced offenses in the league. (35-65 / R-P ). This was largely due to being in negative game scripts in 11 of 16 games and trailed an average of 35 minutes per game, 4th most in the league. There’s no doubt that the Jags have heavily invested draft capital on the defensive side of the ball, so if they’re able to keep more games within reach, it’s extremely likely the running game will produce more attempts to RBs than the 294 it had in 2015. What happens if the defense makes that improvement and the run-pass ratio becomes more balanced? Let’s take a look at what kind of workload Ivory could see.
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Jacksonville ran the ball on only 30% of their plays in the red zone. The constant reliance on the passing game and the inability to work the power running game in the red zone resulted in RBs accounting for only 10% of offensive TDs (4/40). There’s no way the running game will produce results like this with Ivory. Though his career TD % inside the 5 yard line is rather mediocre (15/41 – 36.5%), his physicality will be more utilized in that area than Yeldon was in 2015. Reports thus far out of OTAs are that Ivory should see the early down work as well as goal line duties.
Ivory isn’t a guy that I’m specifically targeting due to the lack of assurance that he’ll receive more work, but if things go his way, he could outproduce his RB28 ADP. His ceiling is definitely capped with Yeldon there, but in an offense that should work the running game in more than this past year, I would expect RB3 numbers with RB2 upside. Those that think Yeldon will massively out-touch Ivory are sorely mistaken. His fresh contract ranks him as the 7th highest paid RB on a per-year basis.
Frank Gore: (Best: RB18 / Worst: RB55 – – ADP26)
One of the constants over the past decade has undoubtedly been Frank Gore. Since 2006, his lowest finish in standard formats was RB19 when he missed five games. Over the past five years, Gore has finished between RB11-RB16. His massive upside is now gone due to age, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a fantasy asset. A new influx of talented young running backs have pushed Gore down on draft boards, but it’s getting slightly out of hand. The positives outweigh the negatives with how late he’s going.
- Only 2 RB post-merger age 33 or older to rush for 1,000 yards in a season (John Riggins x2 / Franco Harris)
- 1st year in Gore’s career w/ ypc under 4.0
- Wear & tear – 3,078 career regular season touches
- Offensive line additions of Alabama center Ryan Kelly, and 3rd round OT La’Raven Clark, Kelly starting immediately. Should be improved O-line
- Andrew Luck returns healthy
- No real immediate competition at RB – Robert Turbin, Jordan Todman, Josh Ferguson (UDFA), Tyler Varga
- At least 1200 scrimmage yards & 5 total TDs every year since rookie season
- 9th highest % of team carries in RZ / 8th inside 5 and in
- Zero games missed over the last five seasons
Last year couldn’t have been more of a disaster for Gore. The offensive line was a mess, a QB carousel put more pressure on the running game, and the defense finished as a bottom 10 unit. Many live by the “I’d rather be a year early than a year late,” but does that mean pass on solid value who could vastly outproduce ADP? No. I consistently find myself drafting Gore with how late he’s going. Chasing upside and immediately knocking a guy for age, without weighing the other variables is a big mistake.