Sometimes it takes courage to draft a player that burned you last year. Sometimes that’s just what it takes to find value in your draft. Here’s some running backs that are currently undervalued in standard scoring leagues this year due to lofty expectations and draft rankings last year.
Abdullah’s stock shot off like a rocket leading up fantasy drafts last year. The Lions second-round pick from Nebraska went from a seventh-round fantasy pick to a consensus fourth-rounder in a matter of weeks (4.08 ADP). This was due to a phenomenal pre-season where he scorched the Jets for 67 yards on just 7 carries. Abdullah proceeded to let down fantasy owners in 2015 with an RB42 finish.
A big reason Abdullah didn’t become an everyday fantasy starter in 2015 is because he didn’t have a firm hold on his own backfield. This was due to the presence of veteran running back Joique Bell. Bell handled 30% of his team’s running back carries in 2015 (90 rushes). Joique Bell is no longer a Detroit Lion and Abdullah has a clearer path to a bigger workload.
Lions beat reporter Tim Twentyman expects Abdullah to get “every opportunity” to get “most of the load” in the Lions backfield.
This makes sense. The Lions haven’t added much running back help. They signed veteran Stevan Ridley and drafted Dwayne Washington in the seventh round. Theo Riddick will severely limit Abdullah’s potential as a PPR back due to his involvement in the passing game (99 targets, 80 receptions).
A Deeper Look
Jim Bob Cooter had a big impact on the Lions offense last season. After being promoted to offensive coordinator, the Lions offense averaged the 6th most total yards per game (346.77). Abdullah also saw similar success. His yards per carry increased from 3.58 (222 yards, 62 carries) to 4.62 (375 yards, 81 carries) after the promotion of Jim Bob Cooter (after week 8).
The Lions also enhanced their offensive line via the draft this off-season. They selected Ohio State tackle Taylor Decker in the first round. This will shift tackle Riley Reiff to the right side which was a weak spot last year.
It isn’t all sunshine and rainbows for Abdullah’s outlook next year, however. He had issues holding onto the ball last year as he fumbled five times last year. His failure to secure the football may have lead to the lack of involvement he had last year. It makes sense, Abdullah displayed the quick burst and elusiveness that made him a second-round pick in 2015 but ultimately never locked down a role that was anywhere close to what we would consider a “feature-back” role.
Abdullah’s average draft position is currently at pick 81.6 overall. He could certainly demolish this ranking by grabbing a hold of the early-down work and improving under a potent Jim Bob Cooter offense. Getting over fumbling issues could go a long way towards gaining the trust of the coaching staff. He will be ready for training camp after having shoulder surgery this offseason.
Like Abdullah, Melvin Gordon was another highly touted rookie running back last year. He had a similar draft price tag and disappointed in a similar fashion (4.04 ADP, RB51 finish). He finished with 184 rushes for 641 yards (3.5 YPC). That’s not what the Chargers were hoping for when they traded up in the first round to draft him.
The Chargers have made a concerted effort to improve the offensive line. Guard Matt Slauson was brought in after the Bears surprisingly cut him this offseason after he finished as Pro Football Focus’ 18th ranked guard in 2015. He will transition to center, which was a weak spot for the Chargers line last year. USC center Max Tuerk was drafted by San Diego in the third round as well. He’ll provide depth for the interior of the line.
Melvin Gordon also gets his college fullback on his team. Derek Watt was drafted in the sixth round by the Chargers this year and will give Gordon a potentially reliable lead blocker. Last year the Chargers didn’t sign a fullback under former offensive coordinator Frank Reich.
A Deeper Look
Ken Whisenhunt is back as the Chargers offensive coordinator which is good news for Gordon. In 2013, when Whisenhunt was in charge of the offense, the Chargers were 13th in total rushing yards. He made Ryan Mathews RB12 that year with 1,255 yards on 285 rushes. That was with Danny Woodhead on the team who finished as RB19 (106 carries, 429 yards). The Chargers are looking for Gordon to replicate Mathews’ success in 2013 according to Eric Williams of ESPN.
Woodhead will certainly limit Gordon’s ceiling in 2016, especially in PPR leagues. Woodhead was successful in the passing game last year, as he always is, as he totaled 107 targets and converted them for 81 receptions, 756 yards, and 6 touchdowns. Besides Woodhead, Gordon has little competition for carries in 2016. Brandon Oliver and Dreamius Smith will work as backups. After undergoing micro-fracture surgery this offseason, Gordon seems like determined to handle the load this year according to head coach Mike McCoy.
“Melvin has worked extremely hard this offseason,” McCoy said to chargers.com. “If you had seen him do the conditioning part of the program, you would have never known he was injured. Very pleased with where he’s at. I’m really looking forward to him having an outstanding year.”
Gordon’s ADP is currently at 86.6 overall, which would make him a steal if he receives the workload Mathews had in 2013. Gordon is another potential low-cost RB2 that has the talent and opportunity to surpass expectations in 2016.
Excitement grew quickly when Gore signed with the Colts last offseason. It made sense. Gore finally joined an offense that has a great quarterback to keep defenses honest. Gore actually finished pretty well last year, unlike Abdullah and Gordon. Frank Gore’s ADP last year was 3.03 and he delivered admirably with an RB12 finish. That included 8 games where Andrew Luck was sidelined with a lacerated kidney and a partially torn abdominal muscle. The hype has since cooled off on Gore and his ADP has dipped to 90.4 overall this year.
Andrew Luck looks like he’s recovered from his 2015 injuries. I’m sure Frank Gore is relieved. He endured 8 games last year with 42-year-old Matt Hasselbeck as his quarterback, which really hurt his value. Gore averaged 4.1 yards per carry in his seven games with Luck, which included two tough matchups against Buffalo and the New York Jets. Gore’s yards per carry dropped to 3.43 with Hasselbeck.
A Deeper Look
Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton was canned midway through the 2015 season and was replaced by Rob Chudzinski. Gore averaged 17.5 carries per game with Chudzinski which was a slight bump from the 15 carries per game he averaged with Hamilton.
Another boost to Gore’s stock will be the improvements made on the offensive line. The Colts drafted center Ryan Kelly out of Alabama with their first round pick in this year’s draft. He should be an immediate upgrade over last year’s starter Khaled Holmes. The Colts also drafted Texas Tech tackle Le’Raven Clark in the third round. Guard Todd Herremans, who struggled in 2015, was waived this offseason. The Colts made a concerted effort to enhance their offensive line and Gore should benefit from these changes.
Gore will likely handle the majority of the Colts carries next year. His main competition is undrafted free agent Josh Ferguson, who will probably be a change-of-pace back that will likely see some targets in the passing game. Gore figures to be a low-upside high-floor type player.
Gore should end next year as a low-end RB2 because of an early-down role and a goal-line role locked down for an Andrew Luck-led offense in 2016. His 90.4 overall ADP is enticing to Zero-RB drafters in standard league formats that would like a running back with a relatively safe floor.