The Gatecrashers – Running Backs (Part Two)

Eric Hardter

Part of what makes fantasy football great is identifying breakout performers.  In a dynasty setting the rewards is enhanced significantly by the luxury of then being able to hold onto said player for the duration of his career.  If you can nab the next Antonio Brown for the cost of a few waiver wire bucks or a late draft pick, you’ve just performed a resounding roster upgrade simply by being vigilant while other owners were still waiting for more data points.

However, there exists a flip side of that coin.  Many of these breakouts will wind up as one-hit wonders (Steve Slaton says hi), leaving you with nothing more than some temporary production and a bitter taste in your mouth when you were counting on them as core components of your team moving forward.  Knowing when to cash out on a player who gained a significant amount of value is every bit as important as identifying him in the first place.

As always, 2016 was no different in providing us with several of these “gatecrashers.”  After combing through the PPR Top-50 lists, I’ve created lists of players who, to varying degrees, came out of nowhere to crash the fantasy party.  From here, it’s time to determine how they should be valued moving forward.

Yesterday I looked at the first half of running backs, now let’s continue with the rest!

Terrance West, RB BAL (PPR RB23, ADP = 184.7)

We’re now decidedly into the “other guys” portion of the running back rankings, but it’s still a monumental upset that West finished the year as a PPR RB2.  Unfortunately for West, one of the only things that would be a bigger upset is if the Ravens don’t select a ball carrier in the first few rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft.  While West had a few bright spots, his usage was unpredictable and he only surpassed 15 carries four times.  Kenneth Dixon did little to distinguish himself when healthy, but was nevertheless there to siphon away 10 touches per game.  West’s price keeps him in the conversation, but I wouldn’t expect anything approaching a repeat in 2017.

Verdict:  He still only costs a song and a dance, and you won’t get anything for him via trade.  He’s not a bad end-of-bench stash, but little more at this point.

Chris Thompson, RB WSH (PPR RB28, ADP = 188.0)

Given the tumult in the Redskins backfield, Thompson received some off-season hype.  On the whole, however, he underwhelmed.  While he’s a solid pass catcher, he doesn’t do it with enough frequency to overcome his lack of run game use (only four games with six or more carries).  Thompson is the definition of an aggregator, who never really popped on a weekly basis and was just kind of “there” at the end of a healthy year.  Similar to Baltimore above, I expect Washington to add at least one ball carrier from the draft.

Verdict:  He doesn’t do any one thing well enough to mitigate his lack of usage.  I just don’t see the upside, and would use him as a throw-in in a trade.

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Devontae Booker, RB DEN (PPR RB29, ADP = 90.8)

Booker had a few moments as a rookie, but when tasked with carrying the mail he generally bombed in spectacular fashion.  It’s never a good practice to undersell a player after one year, but CJ Anderson will be returning and should easily retake his role as the starter.  In a bit of an odd twist of fate, it’s possible Anderson actually gained value based on the ineptitude of the other Broncos ball carriers.  Given Booker’s status as the dynasty RB26, I’d treat him as a throw in to a larger deal.

Verdict:  Given Booker’s relatively lofty dynasty status compared to his statistical output and fantasy situation, I’d be looking to sell.

Ty Montgomery, RB GB (PPR RB33, ADP = 84.2)

Sometimes there are players where you just have no idea what to do with them.  Montgomery fits that mold for me.  On one hand, he’s on one of the best offenses in the league, and doesn’t have much in the way of competition at his position.  On the other hand, he simply isn’t used in a traditional sense, and only achieved double-digit carries in three games (including the playoffs).  And while he had a couple of massive receiving games (10 catches in two straight games), Montgomery had three or fewer catches in nine games after his positional switch.  He’s currently the RB22 in dynasty, and I’d be looking to cash in on that.

Verdict:  You might be noticing a trend here.  When it comes to players who still possess value regardless of a lack of fantasy contribution and uneven usage, I’m typically looking to sell.

Christine Michael, RB GB (PPR RB35, ADP = 175.2)

We’re all familiar with the saga of Michael.  He was one of the, if not the most overrated asset in dynasty for years, but finally appeared to be on his way to justifying the hype early in 2016.  And then he got cut…again.  He did nothing in Green Bay despite the only player above him being a converted wide receiver, and it’s probably folly to believe he’ll sign somewhere else and achieve fantasy glory.  The majority of dynasty owners are finally wise to this, as C-Mike is checking in as the dynasty RB52.  Regardless, this remains a player who owners can talk themselves into.  I’d add his name in most all of my trade negotiations, hoping his presence can help seal the deal.

Verdict:  His name has been, and likely will always be bigger than his game.  If you can’t trade him, he might be a guy to cut to make room on your roster.

Rob Kelley, RB WSH (PPR RB38, ADP = 96.5)

I remain similarly confused about Kelley as I do with Montgomery above.  On one hand, Kelley established himself as the dominant force in the Washington backfield, with double-digit touches in all nine games as a starter.  But while he started off strong, he fizzled down the stretch, albeit against some tough run defenses.  He’s also decidedly game-flow dependent, sequestering 21.4 touches per game in wins, and only 13.8 touches in losses.  I definitely worry that Washington adds competition via the draft, but likewise can’t ignore that Kelley looked downright Lynch-ian as a runner at times.  At the end of the day I think Kelley has established a role, and would lean more towards him busting out than fizzling out.

Verdict:  I’d probably sell for a second round pick, but am otherwise comfortable holding.

Mike Gillislee, RB BUF (PPR RB40, ADP = 241)

Gillislee is the #ZeroRB dream.  He averaged just over eight touches per game, but scored nine total touchdowns (in eight different games).  He wasn’t winning you weeks, but for the price of nothing he easily outpaced expectations.  He’s the type of guy you want at the end of your bench.

Verdict:  These are the types of guys worth buying who can provide value when called upon, and occasionally function as standalone assets.

Jalen Richard, RB OAK (PPR RB42, ADP = 148.5)

As an UDFA, Richard exceeded expectations simply by making the team, let alone siphoning away 112 touches.  His efficiency, while influenced by a big 75-yard run in week one, stood at just under six YPC, and he also caught 74% of his targets.  He has a defined role in Oakland’s three-headed monster running back stable, a role which could expand if and when Latavius Murray leaves in free agency.  He’s one of my favorite buys this off-season.

Verdict:  He reminds me of Andre Ellington after his rookie season, and should be in line for an increased workload.  I’m looking to get him as a throw-in in deals.

Derrick Henry, RB TEN (PPR RB45, ADP = 48.3)

Henry is an interesting dynasty asset.  He currently checks in as the dynasty RB11, and all told looked pretty good when he touched the ball in 2016.  Unfortunately, he’ll need to clear the massive hurdle named DeMarco Murray, who finished as the 2016 PPR RB5.  This isn’t to say Henry doesn’t have the talent to gain a bigger market share, but barring injury it’s tough to see him leapfrogging Murray, or gaining enough of a workload to finish as anything more than a yearly RB3.  Henry is no doubt a talented running back, but it almost seems as if his hype from the preseason is driving his cost right now – again, he looked good in the regular season, but wasn’t a world beater by any stretch.  Shipping Henry off now could sting later, but I just have a tough time holding onto an asset that valuable when I could get a starter now.

Verdict:  I’d look to sell in an attempt to cash in on the hype.  There’s a good chance Henry loses value in the 2017 season.

Kenneth Dixon, RB BAL (PPR RB47, ADP = 70.3)

See Henry above, rinse and repeat.  Dixon is the dynasty RB20, which seems odd to me given his average efficiency and sporadic passing game usage.  A former fourth round pick, Dixon’s continuing groundswell of support has always mystified me – his “success to value” ratio seems extremely high, especially compared to players like Jordan Howard who were drafted in a similar range.  I’ve spoken already about my expectations that Baltimore will take a running back in the draft, and I’m amazed that people expect Dixon to be the lead dog there come 2017.

Verdict:  He’s a firm sell for me.  I don’t see him ever becoming more than a timeshare running back, and would likely rather have a high second round pick in the 2017 draft.

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eric hardter