Welcome to the second entry in our new “Defending Your Rankings” series. If you’ve spent any time looking at our player rankings, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that there can be wide gulfs between the highest and lowest ranking for certain players. In this series, we aim to look closely at some of those discrepancies, and give our rankers the platform to give more detailed explanations around individual rankings. In the first piece, we focused on the quarterbacks. This time around we’ll take a look at the running backs. Let’s get to it.
Note – Some rankings may have shifted slightly from what you see here.
Derrick Henry, RB TEN – Composite Rank RB12
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Ryan McDowell – RB6
As we all remember from last year’s pre-draft process, Derrick Henry is a unique type of running back, boasting huge size and elite size adjusted speed. While he clearly played second fiddle to veteran DeMarco Murray in the Titans offense a year ago, I expect his role to increase this year. When building dynasty teams, and I want this to come across in my rankings, I am willing to spend high amounts of capital (early draft picks or in trades) on young players with high upside. I think Henry fits this category. I do this because I know I can acquire productive veterans at a discounted cost and rely on them in the short-term. So, an RB6 rank for Henry doesn’t mean I expect him to finish as the RB6 in 2017 or even 2018, but that I am willing to gamble on him knowing I can add a player like Frank Gore or Danny Woodhead to serve as my short-term starter.
Eric Hardter – RB21
A weird thing happened with Derrick Henry. He wasn’t overly highly regarded in August of last year (ADP = 81.3), then he had himself a nice little preseason and jumped about a round and a half. And despite doing precious little in the opening stanza of the regular season, and while teammate DeMarco Murray was having himself an RB1 year, Henry just kept moving up, reaching an ADP height of 48.3 in November. He’s ebbed and flowed but largely held steady since then, despite concluding the 2016 season with a mere 627 total yards. Maybe it’s my conservative nature talking, but that’s hardly dynasty RB1 material, especially considering Murray will be leading the pack again in 2017. The ultimate hope is that he’ll be as good or better than Murray, but that’s no guarantee. For less of a cost I’ll take guys like Murray, Mark Ingram, or even Isaiah Crowell, or search for cheap rentals like Eddie Lacy, Jonathan Stewart, or Frank Gore. I understand running back is a crapshoot after the top several guys, but I simply can’t elevate someone like Henry to his current lofty status given the dearth of information we have on him, as well as an unenviable depth chart.
CJ Anderson, RB DEN – Composite Rank RB15
Jeff Miller – RB11
With running back pretty messy after the top tier, it is hard to argue too strongly for or against most of the next 10-15 guys. That said, there is a lot to like about CJA. For his career, Anderson is averaging 4.56 YPC. Over those 448 handoffs, he’s hit pay dirt 17 times. Add in 75 receptions and another three touchdowns through the passing game and you have a very productive player. 2017 is set up to be a career year for the ball of fire back. Even if Denver drafts somebody to come in and play third downs, I have all the confidence CJA will still be at least a fringe RB1.
Bruce Matson – RB24
CJA had in injury plagued season last year, causing him to play in just seven games. His production wasn’t much to write home about in the season before, surpassing the 100-yard mark just twice in 2015. Anderson’s long term player value is in question because he could easily get cut after this season, as his contract won’t cost much against the cap in 2018. Devontae Booker is waiting in the wings and has the potential to take the lead running back duties, given the opportunity. Not to mention that this year’s rookie class is packed with talent at the running back position. I liked him two years ago, during his breakout season, but it’s hard to pay a premium for a player when there’s a lot of uncertainty concerning his future with his current team.
Dion Lewis, RB NE – Composite Rank RB34
George Kritikos – RB28
Admittedly, Lewis is facing intense competition. That said, Lewis is the most well-rounded option on the team and generally has the trust of a notoriously fickle coaching staff. His upside is a 12-15 touch per game player with enough PPR juice to be a RB2, provided his health remains intact. There are a lot of “ifs” here, but the upside and being the only Patriots running back who could be a three down option makes him worth the gamble amid a slew of questionable options.
Eric Hardter – RB54
The thing about the Patriots is they don’t care about your fantasy success. Yes, Dion Lewis was great in 2015 before going down with injury, and much like with Jamaal Charles, many asserted this was no big deal and he’d be back dominating in 2016. But apart from a great game against the Texans in the playoffs, it was LeGarrette Blount scoring touchdowns, and James White catching passes and winning the Super Bowl. New England isn’t heavily invested in Lewis from a financial standpoint, and never had an issue with non-conformity as it relates to fans’ expectations. White is still there, Rex Burkhead was brought in, and there are rumors Blount may even come back, creating a fantasy logjam at the position. So when I stack this up against what essentially amounted to a half-season of greatness, there’s no way I can consider Lewis a dynasty RB3, and I expect my fellow rankers to soon move him down the list as well.
Devontae Booker, RB DEN – Composite Rank RB37
Jeff Haverlack – RB24
Booker is a high risk player that still has very little above him on the depth chart. Fantasy coaches are a fickle bunch and after Booker was well hyped prior to the draft in 2016, he continues to slip in value. While I’m not ultra-high on Booker, and wasn’t prior to being drafted by Denver, I always try to value opportunity even if I may not be smitten with the player. He’ll be 25 when the season opens, coming off a campaign where he averaged only 3.5 ypc on 160 attempts, but should the Broncos not draft significant competition at the position, he’ll be locked into a battle with CJ Anderson for the rights to a bigger share of touches. Within a position that gets very thin and fraught with risk after the RB15 or so, I don’t mind over-weighting opportunity and youth over a partial rookie year of mediocre performance.
George Kritikos – RB54
Booker is what happens when a below average athlete can do a little of everything, but doesn’t excel at anything. Some have seen Booker as a future three down back capable of starting in the NFL. He is more likely a career backup who may flash with a good matchup or significant volume. This type of player is consistent, but not in a good way. I’d rather take my shots on players with upside.
Charles Sims, RB TBB – Composite Rank RB41
Jaron Foster – RB25
Prior to the NFL Draft, the RB position is the most difficult to rank. Several of the elite players at the position over the last few years are facing a steep decline, and rumors are swirling about the strong rookie class coming in and taking over any number of jobs. Sims is a high RB3 for me due to a combination of what I perceive as a high PPR floor, as well as the security that regardless of Doug Martin’s status or an incoming rookie he will have a job. The ceiling isn’t particularly high, given that he has shown he cannot handle a RB1 workload, but at this point in the offseason I’m more concerned with the floor.
Jeff Haverlack – RB58
This article actually uncovered an overlooked player that should have been ranked higher on my board. Originally ranked as my RB86, I have since raised Charles Sims to the RB58 in my positional ranking on opportunity alone. There’s no question that Sims has ability and in PPR formats can even hold his own should be able to garner enough touches. That said, outside of 2015, he’s largely been a roster clogger requiring injury above him on the depth chart for usage that would produce any meaningful results. With Doug Martin suspended to start 2017, there’s a chance that Sims finally gets to carry the load, but all expectations are that Tampa Bay will add a bigger back to eventually replace the flagging Martin. Sims will turn 27 shortly after kickoff of the 2017 season and while I do see opportunity, I just can’t get excited about his addition unless it comes with an almost-zero cost.
That wraps up this edition of Defending Your Rankings. I hope you find these extended thoughts from our rankers useful. Keep an eye out for the next in the series, where we’ll take a look at everyone’s favorite dynasty position – kicker…uh…I mean wide receiver!
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