For us dynasty degenerates, this is the best time of the year.
With the combine recently completed, evaluation of the incoming rookies is at a fever pitch. Free agency is exploding, too, and players changing teams always impacts the dynasty landscape.
Giovani Bernard, well, he isn’t involved in any of this, but here’s how he can tie into the off-season fun. The spring months, in my experience, are the best time to make buy-low moves. While most owners obsess over all the shiny new toys, drawing hearts around the faces of their favorite rookies, the non-elite veterans fade to the background and become boring old news.
To make matters even worse in Bernard’s case, he’s coming off a torn ACL and likely won’t be available until the middle of the 2017 campaign at the earliest.
Who has time to mess around with that noise, especially when you can make Christian McCaffrey’s combine numbers your computer background? Well, value-hunting dynasty owners can make time for Gio, that’s who.
Maybe you guys know the drill, but in this series, which is approaching its second birthday, we try to highlight players who are currently being undervalued in the dynasty world. We’ve hit on some guys and whiffed on some guys, but the process here is what’s important — finding players who are cheaper than they should be based off what they’ve produced and what they might produce going forward. For a lot of these players, the price is low enough that if it doesn’t work out, it’s not crushing your team.
As always, for a baseline of value we’re going to be using our most recent average draft position (ADP) data.
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Why He’s Cheap
As we mentioned in the intro, Bernard is coming off a torn ACL, which is pretty clearly the biggest reason for his drop in value.
According to our ADP numbers, Bernard was the RB15 in July prior to last season. Currently, he’s the RB25 and barely inside the top 100 overall players (he went outside the top 100 in one of our staff mock drafts).
I get it. Injured players are going to drop a bit, especially running backs, but this is probably too big of a drop. Thanks to the 2016 eruptions of Ezekiel Elliott, Melvin Gordon and Jay Ajayi (among others), the running back position is a little deeper than it has been in a while.
But we’re still talking about running backs here. We’re a couple injuries away from the position being a mess again. Outside of the elite options (Elliott, David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell), how many truly trustworthy guys are there? For me, not many.
Why He’s Valuable
Amazingly, Bernard is still just 25 years old, which is unofficially ten years younger than Kelvin Benjamin. Entering his age-26 campaign this fall, Bernard has been a steady producer throughout his career.
In points per reception (PPR) formats, Bernard has been about as consistent as they come. Prior to 2016’s injury-shortened season, Bernard had never finished worse than RB18 in PPR leagues, posting end-of-season rankings of RB13 in 2013, RB18 in 2014 and RB16 in 2015.
He was doing pretty well in 2016, too, before going down. A ten-game sample size isn’t ideal, but he finished with 39 catches on 51 targets, posting career-best numbers in receptions per game (3.9) and receiving yards per game (33.6).
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Bernard has always been an underrated runner. Last year was the first time in his career he finished with under 4.0 yards per carry in a season. Prior to 2016, he’d averaged a sparkling 4.28 yards per run on 164 carries per season through his first three years.
As a bonus, Jeremy Hill, his main competition for backfield touches, averaged under 4.0 yards per attempt in 2016 for the second straight season, so it’s not like Hill has taken control of the backfield in Bernard’s absence.
Heck, the Cincinnati Bengals gave Rex Burkhead roughly ten touches per game after Bernard went out in week 11, so they clearly don’t want to use Hill as a three-down player. No one can predict the future, but it sure seems like Bernard should jump right back into a meaningful role when he’s healthy.
The key takeaway here is comparing Bernard’s current value to what he’s done throughout his career. He’s the 25th running back off the board, per February ADP, and he’s never finished worse than RB18 in PPR leagues aside from last season’s ten-game campaign.
This entire piece could’ve been that one sentence — to repeat: he’s never played a full season and finished worse than RB18, but he’s currently, on average, the 25th running back off the board.
ACL recoveries can vary wildly from player to player. If it takes Bernard a full 12 months, he would be due to return around week 11 in 2017. Maybe he comes back earlier, or maybe he returns later. It doesn’t really matter, to be honest, as long as he gets back to 100 percent at some point, even if it’s not until 2018.
This may be as cheap as Bernard gets for a while, unless he has a setback in rehab. In fact, his value has already risen significantly from where it was in January, when he had an ADP of RB34.
If you can stomach getting nothing from him for at least half of the 2017 season, Bernard is an easy buy-low candidate this off-season, and you can never have too many productive running backs.