A lot of what I write for DLF revolves around trading. I have my Bargain Shopping Series, highlighting buy-low opportunities. Last off-season, I did an article which listed a player to sell at each position. I also spend a lot of time helping with questions in the Ask the DLF Team Forum, and a lot of the time, those questions have to do with trades.
I love trading — it’s by far my favorite aspect of dynasty — and the off-season, when most fantasy footballers are taking a break, is when us dynasty degenerates make moves. During the season, it’s hard to know if what we’re seeing is real or if it’s a fluke fueled by a small sample. Not that it’s always easy to make sense of everything in the off-season, but it’s usually a bit more simple. Plus, we don’t have emotions at play like we do mid-season.
This off-season, I’m going to go through each position and discuss some players to both sell and buy. We’ll start at running back and take a peek at four players who I think — for various reasons — are good buys right now and are assets who may be a little cheaper than they should be.
Let’s get started.
Aaron Jones, RB GB
Jamaal Williams helped a lot of people win matchups in fantasy crunch time this year, but don’t let that mask the fact that Jones was, statistically, the best running back the Green Bay Packers had in 2017 — and it wasn’t particularly close.
Dynasty players are a coy bunch, though, so Williams’ late-season surge hasn’t impacted Jones’ value all that much, with Jones being valued higher than both Ty Montgomery and Williams. In fact, Jones is the biggest riser in the 2017 draft class.
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Per our December 2017 average draft position (ADP) data, Jones is coming off the board 74th overall (RB22) while Montgomery is 99th (RB28) and Williams is 148th (RB44). Despite that, I still think Jones is a good buy this off-season.
Looking at the numbers, Jones was clearly Green Bay’s top running back this past year, posting rushing numbers which dwarf what Montgomery and Williams did.
|Player||Attempts||Yards||Yards Per Carry||Rushing TDs|
To be fair, there are a couple of caveats here. For one, 81 carries don’t offer much of a sample size. Two, it’s going to be easier for any running back to maintain superb per-carry efficiency on fewer attempts. Lastly, Williams didn’t have the benefit of playing with a healthy Aaron Rodgers very often, and I’d assume defenses aren’t quite as focused on the running game when Rodgers is slinging it.
With all that said, Jones had nearly half as many carries as Williams and ended up with just 108 fewer yards and the same amount of touchdowns. Any way you slice it, when Jones played, he dominated. Only Alvin Kamara (6.1) had a better yards-per-carry clip than Jones did among backs with at least 50 carries in 2017.
Jones showed big-time explosion. In his 81 carries, he had six runs of 20-plus yards, tied for the 11th-most in the NFL. Again, that was on just 81 attempts. Williams had one such run on 153 carries while Montgomery had one run of at least 20 yards across his 71 rushes. For fun, Melvin Gordon had only five runs of 20-plus yards on 284 attempts. So, yeah, Jones flashed big-play ability.
As a receiver, Jones didn’t do much, hauling in just 9-of-18 targets for 22 yards. That’s certainly a blemish on his resume as Williams and Montgomery both showed more in the passing game, which is obviously a big plus when Rodgers is your quarterback. However, in Jones’ two full college seasons (2014 and 2016), he combined for 58 catches, 526 yards and six receiving touchdowns, so he has some pass-game skills.
Continuing with the college theme, Jones also has a superb track record of production dating back to his days at UTEP. Per a study done by numberFire’s JJ Zachariason — full disclosure: I work at numberFire — Jones’ college numbers, specifically his market share numbers, rated him among the best backs of the heralded 2016 class. Jones accounted for 79.47% of UTEP’s rushing yards in 2016 and 14.36% of the Miners’ receptions.
He was a significantly better college producer than Williams.
Aaron Jones’ final year production versus Jamaal Williams’ final year production. pic.twitter.com/HNR6u4NBeB
— JJ Zachariason (@LateRoundQB) May 3, 2017
So what we have in Jones is a running back with some sweet final-year college production, which made him a very intriguing draft prospect. Then he landed in a great spot with the Packers, and when he got to play as a rookie, he excelled. Yes, please.
However, even though Jones’ numbers are so dope, it certainly doesn’t guarantee he’ll enter next year as the lead back, and opportunity is imperative for any running back.
Jones checks a lot of boxes, and buying him now is betting on him getting the lead-back opportunity in the future. No one knows for sure how the backfield will play out going forward, but if Jones keeps out-producing Montgomery and Williams, it’ll likely end up being his show at some point.
Jones has immense upside, and this off-season could be as cheap as he is for some time if things break his way next fall. Even if Jones doesn’t get workhorse volume in 2018, he’ll likely be an injury away from a huge role in a great offense for the next few seasons. He’s a lottery ticket with a massive ceiling.
Austin Ekeler, RB LAC
Admittedly, Ekeler wasn’t on my radar in any way shape or form until the middle of the year. It wasn’t just me who overlooked him as Ekeler wasn’t taken among the top 88 running backs in our December ADP.
He’s a name people know now, though, because his performance down the stretch was awfully enticing prior to a Week 15 injury.
We’re talking very small sample sizes here — Ekeler saw as many as 10 carries in a game just once — but he certainly flashed dual-threat skills. In all, he finished his rookie season with 47 carries, 260 yards and two touchdowns, adding 27 receptions, 279 yards and three scores as a receiver. Again, we can’t draw set-in-stone conclusions from such little volume, but 5.5 yards per carry and a touchdown every 14.8 touches should at least have your attention.
Undrafted out of Western State (not to be confused with Western University), Ekeler is signed with the Los Angeles Chargers through 2019. Obviously, there’s a huge hurdle to Ekeler ever being a consistent fantasy option, and that barrier is Melvin Gordon, who is also signed through 2019, assuming the Bolts pick up his fifth-year option.
Even though Gordon had another substandard year in terms of efficiency — he still hasn’t had a season with better than 3.9 yards per carry — it’s not like Ekeler is going to unseat Gordon. This is Gordon’s backfield.
However, because Gordon has been the Chargers’ lone ranger at running back for most of the last two seasons, he’s seen some heavy usage, logging 637 total touches — 538 carries and 99 catches — over the past two years. That’s massive volume, with the carries being the fourth-most in the league in that span. It’s possible the Chargers could try to lessen Gordon’s load a bit going forward, in which case Ekeler could have some value as a part of one of the league’s better offenses, a unit that ranked fourth in yards per play (5.9) in 2017.
There’s always the chance of a Gordon injury, especially considering his recent workload. But there’s no guarantee Ekeler assumes 20-plus touches on a weekly basis in the event Gordon is forced out of action, so we shouldn’t make such an assumption.
While Ekeler doesn’t have a clear path to significant work, he showed he doesn’t need to see big volume to have useable fantasy weeks. Despite only one game of more than 11 total touches, Ekeler posted four weeks in which he was a top-24 running back in PPR formats, including an overall RB3 outing in Week 9 with 26.9 points.
Ekeler has obvious appeal for Gordon owners, but he makes for a low-cost lottery ticket for everyone. We’ve already seen what he can do in a limited part-time role. If Ekeler can find a way to get more touches going forward — through a Gordon injury or the Bolts easing the load on their star back — he could pay off in a big way.
Mike Davis, RB SEA
In December ADP, Davis was our RB70, although he may rise a few notches in January’s ADP after seeing good volume over the final few weeks of the season. He’s unlikely to make a big jump, though, and down this deep in rankings, it’s hard to find anyone who has anything but a very arduous path to volume.
Davis is an exception.
Seattle’s running game was a well-publicized mess in 2017. Five players saw at least 40 carries, but no one from the group of Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls, Chris Carson, J.D. McKissic and Davis did much to stand out from the pack. The ‘Hawks had a meager four rushing touchdowns all year, and Russell Wilson accounted for three of them.
No one in the aforementioned five-man group excelled as a runner, but Carson’s numbers were the best of the bunch. It’s hard to pull much from 49 carries, but he picked up 4.2 yards per run overall and worked as the lead back from week two to week four, averaging 14.3 attempts per game in that span.
This backfield is one to invest in, as funky as it may sound, because we know it’s a quality offense, and at some point, a running back is going to emerge once the team fixes its offensive line issues, which may not be resolved by week one of 2018. Carson may wind up being that guy, but his value has held pretty steady all year — probably because no other Seattle runners did much to unseat him. Carson was the RB37 in December, so he’s a lot more expensive than Davis, and factoring that in, I’d much rather have Davis because I view them as having pretty similar chances of being Seattle’s top back in 2018.
Davis got an extended run as the workhorse back down the stretch, playing a key role in games that Seattle had to win in its effort to get into the playoffs. Starting in week 12, Davis saw an average of 14 carries per game over his next four full games (not counting a week 14 game in which he exited early with an injury). Davis didn’t thrive, but he wasn’t awful considering the line he was running behind, totaling 240 yards on 68 attempts (3.5 YPC) and adding 15 catches on 18 targets for 131 yards.
I’m not going to pretend to know how the Seahawks’ backfield will unfold in 2018, and there’s also a very real chance Seattle’s offensive line is hot garbage again next year (although after watching their franchise quarterback run for his life every weekend, I’m sure they’ll at least try to fix things). But Davis is pretty darn cheap right now, and he was the team’s top back down the stretch, showing some impressive burst and agility.
Investing in crowded and unsettled backfields is one way to stumble into a cheap running back who ends up seeing good volume. Davis could be just that kind of back.
Alfred Morris, RB DAL
Morris is heading into unrestricted free agency this off-season, and he likely did himself a favor with his showing during Ezekiel Elliott’s six-game ban.
While Dak Prescott was riding the struggle bus without star left tackle Tyron Smith for much of Elliott’s suspension, Morris kept the running game in pretty good shape. In fact, his numbers don’t look too bad stacked next to Elliott’s, and Morris’ lack of touchdowns can partly be blamed on Prescott’s struggles over the second half, which limited the team’s scoring opportunities.
|Player||Attempts||Yards||Yards Per Carry||Rushing TDs|
With less than half the carries Elliott had, it’s easier for Morris to maintain his per-attempt efficiency, but Morris did pretty dang well with his opportunity. Among all backs with at least 50 carries in 2017, Morris checked in ninth in yards per run.
Of course, Dallas’ stout offensive line is a nice group to run behind, and with Morris headed to the open market, there’s a chance he’s somewhere else in 2018. That brings some unpredictability to the table, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
With the running back talent around the league right now and the stellar class of backs in this upcoming draft, it’s unlikely Morris ends up getting signed to be any team’s lead back. Morris also provides very little in the passing game, never catching more than 17 passes in a season in his career. On the bright side, he hasn’t seen much wear and tear the past two years (184 total carries), so even though he’s heading into his age-30 campaign, his legs are a bit younger than that number indicates.
Look, this isn’t a sexy play, and I’m not trying to pretend it is. As a two-down bruiser, Morris doesn’t have big upside, but he’s garage-sale cheap — the RB67 in December — and has done fairly well when given a chance throughout his career, averaging 4.4 yards per run across 1,262 carries.
We could break down a few different scenarios and free-agent suitors, but that’s probably a waste of time this early in the off-season, and I’m trying to fend off arthritis until at least my 50s. Whether Morris stays in Dallas or signs elsewhere, he’s likely looking at a similar situation, with the best realistic scenario probably being one in which Morris leaves Dallas and leads a backfield committee somewhere. But crazy things happen in the NFL, and one injury or suspension — in the event Morris sticks with the Cowboys, another Elliott off-field incident could mean a very lengthy ban — could land Morris in a fantasy-relevant role.
Morris showed this past season he still has something left in the tank. Buying him — which, again, can’t possibly cost much — is buying a proven producer who could be a good break away from giving you useable fantasy numbers.