One of the most common comments/compliments commented commonly to me is our reader’s love of the player comments in our rankings. I appreciate people taking notice because I think they are very often more helpful than the ranking itself. They do have a rather pesky length limitation, though. It was with that in mind that Mr. Dan Sainio and I set out to craft expanded comments for the top-10 quarterbacks and tight ends and top-20 running backs and wide receivers from our February startup ADP.
We each pitched in about 100 words per player to give you two different viewpoints. No notes were compared, so while some comments may be similar, there are plenty of differences as well. This series will be stretched out over six parts, with each pushing into the 2,000 word territory. While longer than most articles released here, we think the short, consumable, blurbish nature of the format will make it pretty easy to digest while still being very informational.
RB1 – Ezekiel Elliot (ADP 3)
Jeff: So, uh, Zeke is good. Um, what else? He’s young, so that’s pretty hype and on fleek and stuff. Oh, his offensive line is amazing. Bad things? Let’s see… He doesn’t catch enough passes, but he is really good at it, so that will likely change. Basically, 2016 might be Zeke’s floor for the next five plus years. You know what? Let’s just move on.
Dan: This should come as no surprise, as we may have finally found our dynasty unicorn. Zeke is 21 years old, has one of the best offensive lines in the history of the NFL, and he is surrounded by talent on offense. The only downside I can come up with is his lack of usage in the passing game. His PPR output should increase in the future, as games will likely be a bit closer than they were in 2016. I think it’s very likely we see close to 300 carries each year, and there’s a strong chance we see him get more than 40 targets. This is your RB1 for a long time.
RB2 – David Johnson (ADP 5)
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Jeff: Johnson isn’t actually that great of a pure running back, as his 4.2 YPC and average vision and decision making portend, but his combo of size and athleticism is more than enough to overcome any deficiencies. That his receiving stats alone would have been good enough to make him the WR31 (!!!) is just icing on the cake. I personally prefer Johnson to Zeke due to the receiving, but you can’t go wrong with either guy.
Dan: While I can’t argue this ranking, I think DJ is the RB most likely to see a decent amount of regression. I believe his TD production takes a hit, as 20 TDs seems outlandish, but the biggest hit will likely be in the passing game. With 80 catches on 120 targets, almost 900 yards, and 4 TDs, Johnson’s 2016 receiving output was something we have never seen before (well, since 1992 when targets started being recorded). It certainly is possible that he gets close, but I can’t imagine him pulling 120 targets again. He’s still a top-three dynasty running back, but temper your expectations as we probably won’t see this production again.
RB3 – Le’Veon Bell (ADP 8)
Jeff: Speaking of not being able to go wrong, Bell ended the season as the RB3 despite playing only 12 games. His 26.3 PPG were .9 more than Johnson managed. That Bell put up that sort of fantasy scoring while managing only a 16 game 12 touchdown pace, some eight fewer than Johnson, shows how incredibly productive he is. In addition to posting 4.9 YPC for the second straight year, Bell caught 75 of 94 targets, putting his receiving stats on a 16 game pace to be the WR25 (!?!?!%^%@#$). As with Johnson, his immense upside due to historical receiving output puts him ahead of Elliot for me, but all three of these backs are transcendent performers.
Dan: While Bell has struggled with injuries and suspensions, we can’t ignore his continued success. Even though his TD production has been surprisingly limited, Bell makes his living as a dynamic back with a very high PPR floor. He carries a relatively high risk factor when looking at RBs in general, but expect Bell to remain an elite back and the focal point of his offense in Pittsburgh.
RB4 – Todd Gurley (ADP 18)
Jeff: This is where things get interesting. Despite a massively disappointing season that saw the sophomore top four YPC only two times all year (and under three six times), Gurley is still held in high esteem by our mock drafters. Considering his draft pedigree and elite skill set, it’s hard to blame them. The other thing working in his favor is the lack of true competition for this spot. There are many reasons to expect 2017 to bring brighter days, but if it is still clouds and rain, Mr. Gurley won’t be long for the top-five.
Dan: Here we see the start of the next tier, and I’m fairly comfortable having Gurley here. From elite prospect, to rookie standout, Gurley struggled to keep the momentum going in his second NFL season. I personally blame a lot of his regression on the Rams and their pitiful offense. While TG has the ability to create for himself, we simply didn’t see that in 2016, so that alone can be a bit worrisome. Thankfully LA moved on from Jeff Fisher, but they still need to make many more significant improvements to help Gurley and the offense as a whole. Previously regarded as the dynasty RB1, he is going pretty cheap here. Go get yourself a share.
RB5 – Dalvin Cook (ADP 19)
Jeff: Please keep in mind, the ADP we are working off is from February. The combine may have changed things with some players, Cook being a prime example. After bombing every drill outside of the 40, posting a ninth percentile SPARQ score, Cook’s stock may have taken a hit. As worrisome as that could be, I love his tape nearly as much as I love Quigley Down Under, so I’m nowhere near panicking. Regardless of how I feel, enough people have cold feet that he is likely to drop a couple of spots in March’s ADP.
Dan: Our first rookie on the board. Wonderful. While his overall ADP seems quite high at 19, I don’t know that there is much of an issue having him as the RB5/6. There isn’t much to go on yet, so propping a rookie up this high is a bit scary, but he certainly looked the part of an NFL star while at Florida State. Cook is a dynamic back who can do it all and has the ability to take it to the house on any given play. Let the rookie hype train keep on rolling.
RB6 – Devonta Freeman (ADP 23)
Jeff: Despite taking a step back in most counting stats in 2016, Freeman has been a high-level producer for two years now. He has also become more efficient, raising his YPC from 3.8 to 4.0 to 4.8 over his career. The two concerns here are Kyle Shanahan moving on and the presence of Tevin Coleman. That mock drafters are keeping him at this lofty status tells you how they feel about both of those things. I tend to agree with them and expect Freeman to be a top-10 running back for the foreseeable future.
Dan: With his lead role in Atlanta, Freeman helped guide the Falcons to a Super Bowl berth. While his usage took a hit from 2015, Freeman was incredibly efficient and maintained his TD production. The biggest issues I have with Devonta are the loss of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and the emergence of Tevin Coleman. Coleman is likely to cap Freeman’s ceiling, but that doesn’t mean that both can’t thrive in Atlanta. I’m very comfortable with Freeman as a mid RB1 for some time to come, but with a healthy Coleman around, I don’t think we will ever see him get to the next level.
RB7 – Leonard Fournette (ADP 25)
Jeff: With a solid, if unspectacular, combine showing, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the LSU product to leap past Cook for the top rookie spot in ADP. Where each gets drafted could reshuffle things again in April, but for now, I’d expect many, and perhaps most, dynasty owners to give him that bump. With the right landing spot, Fournette could end up higher still, perhaps pushing Gurley for RB4.
Dan: It seems like Fournette has been around forever, doesn’t it? Most of the dynasty community and draft twitter have been excited to see Lenny in the NFL for some time. As a big, powerful back, we hear the comparisons to guys like Adrian Peterson and Bo Jackson. That’s exciting. There are some worries with Fournette, though. I’m not convinced he’ll be the three-down versatile back that the NFL has moved to. He struggles in pass protection, isn’t a great route runner, and doesn’t have the best hands, so I think he makes the most sense landing somewhere that has a receiving/3rd down back in place. Even with the worries, Fournette is going to be a force in the NFL.
RB8 – Melvin Gordon (ADP 26)
Jeff: Of all the guys in the top-10, there isn’t a better value than Gordon. RB8 is a bit of an insult for a guy who finished as the RB7 despite only playing 12 games and part of a quarter. Early in the season people decried him for an unsustainable touchdown pace and poor YPC, but something funny happened when the touchdowns stopped: He went from 10 scores, 3.34 YPC, 20 receptions, and 19.9 PPG in Weeks 1-7, to two TDs, 4.7 YPC, 21 receptions, and 22 PPG from Weeks 8-13. Gordon is my RB5, a ranking I fully expect him to justify.
Dan: After an abysmal rookie season, Gordon took a big step forward in 2016. He became a more efficient runner, handled more touches, and increased his TD production by…well, anything greater than zero would’ve been an increase, but you get the point. RB8 is low, in my opinion, so I think this tells us one thing: buy. I wouldn’t be remotely surprised if he gets better in 2017. Don’t sleep on Melvin, you’ll likely get burned.
RB9 – Jay Ajayi (ADP 33)
Jeff: In October of last year, Ajayi carried an ADP of 165. All the way up to 33/RB9 only four months later, the Dolphin RB rose as much as anybody over that stretch. It is hard to argue with results, as the second year player hit nearly 1300 yards and scored eight times. Even more impressive than the totals were three massive games that saw him score at least 27.9 points in each. So why isn’t he higher? There are concerns about consistency, as 52% of his fantasy output came in four games. To counter that, I’d say he averaged 16.1 PPG as the starter, a 258 point/RB7 pace. Expect more of the same from Ajayi, as he becomes a centerpiece of an ascending offense.
Dan: For clarity, let me start by saying I’m what most would call an Ajayi hater. The injury concerns remain very real. He was a fifth round pick because of them. His ability has always been there, but we have no idea how long he can hold together. That being said, he looked incredible…for three or four games. He was solid in three or four more, and not great in the remaining games where he saw starter touches. I get the boom or bust feeling from him, so I struggle having him this high. The injuries and inconsistencies keep him outside of RB1 territory for me, but it is difficult to look past those huge performances and big time potential.
RB10 – Jordan Howard (ADP 34)
Jeff: It is hard to argue with results, and boy did the rookie have them once he grabbed hold of the job in Week 4. With 5.2 YPC on 252 totes, Howard tore up the interior of defenses all season long. He is powerful and just nifty enough to consistently get to the second level. What he isn’t is a natural pass catcher, hauling in only 58% balls thrown his way, a very poor showing for a running back. If Howard can improve in that area, he will solidify himself as an RB1.
Dan: We wrap up the top 10 with another guy I’m not all that excited about. I can’t take away what he did as a rookie, but there is one glaring hole in his game and that is his ability as a pass catcher. He wasn’t very good at it in college, and he didn’t look the part in the pros. If it walks like a duck, and it talks like a duck… There’s the possibility that it all comes together and he becomes an all-around back, but the odds aren’t exactly in his favor. With a glaring question mark at QB, and a mediocre offense, Howard strikes me as a 2 down back for the time being. Should Chicago pass on adding another RB through the draft or free agency, I think this ranking is more palatable. But for now, he’s outside my top 12.
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