Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Fantasy Football Draft Prep: Your late-round RB wish list includes two rookies and a former Fantasy stud

I wish I had known that Elijah Mitchell would have been the 49ers‘ top running back last year. I should have known Cordarrelle Patterson was going to be the Falcons‘ top running back last year.

Patterson didn’t get much hype during the preseason — he didn’t even collect a stat in a game — but he received some praise from his quarterback in an interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio, and he did partake in the Falcons’ joint practice with the Dolphins, which I attended. Somehow, I overlooked the praise and didn’t notice him during the joint practice. If I had done either, he would have made last year’s version of this list and you would have been rewarded for reading it.

Mitchell got very little publicity last August, and he barely played in the preseason. No one knew where he was on the 49ers depth chart except for the 49ers coaches. He was a harder guy to peg.

But there are lessons we can take away from both. One: anytime there’s some lip service given to a below-the-radar player, or if a player gets work with the starters in practice, we should take notice. It might not mean a whole lot — I’m sure nice things were written about Nyheim Hines last year but it didn’t matter — but it’s worth monitoring, especially when it’s someone unexpected. Two: When a running back feels like a good fit with his offense, we should remember it. Mitchell was a zone-runner in college and meshed quickly with the 49ers scheme. 

I kept these pointers in mind when I made this list of my five favorite late-round running backs. Keep this list handy on Draft Day as it’ll give you some names to chase when you get into the back half of your drafts. And you’ll be in good company because I’ll have the same exact list in my drafts.

Lastly, you’ll see a “Commitment level” for each running back. This is how strong of a commitment you as a Fantasy manager should expect to make to this player if you draft him. It’s important — you don’t want to be the person to draft someone and cut him only for someone else in your league to benefit from him.

All of these runners have a FantasyPros Average Draft Position of 100th overall or later as of August 3. I also included another one whose ADP is just barely north of 100th.

James Cook, Bills (ADP of 114.0)

Projected role to begin season: Passing-downs back and perhaps the preferred running back in the hurry-up offense. Unlikely to get involved in short-yardage situations but could see a few first- and second-downs per week. Floor feels like eight touches per game.

What would it take to become a top-24 RB? A combination of Devin Singletary becoming ineffective and Cook proving he has the physicality to handle carrying the ball at least 10 times per week. Bills coaches would have to fall in love with Cook.

Can it happen? It’s possible. Buffalo’s offense is Josh Allen, so anyone who can catch the ball and make plays after the catch is prioritized. The Bills clearly wanted to add Cook’s strengths to their offense; while that means he’s sure to see plenty of targets, it might also mean the coaches won’t want to risk him breaking down from having too much work.

Commitment level: Medium-high. If Cook struggles to see a lot of touches and/or doesn’t make a bunch of breakaway plays each week, then Fantasy managers won’t even view him through the same lens as Nyheim Hines or J.D. McKissic (around 11 PPR points per week). In this instance, he’d be a disappointing pick and managers would eventually give up on him. Hopefully Cook is at least as good as Hines & McKissic, which would easily warrant a roster spot. 

James Robinson, Jaguars (ADP of 113.3)

Projected role to begin season: Primary running back for the Jaguars, including short-yardage/goal-line opportunities.

What would it take to become a top-24 RB? Honestly? Probably staying healthy and proving he still has some explosiveness coming back from his Achilles tear. Robinson’s best traits involve his vision and his physicality, neither of which should have been affected by his injury.

Can it happen? Absolutely, making Robinson one of the easiest bargains to target in Fantasy drafts even if he were to go 20 picks sooner! We just need some evidence that Robinson is back to being a trusted part of the Jaguars’ offense first.

Wait a sec, not even a peep about Travis Etienne?!?! Etienne appears to be past his injury and will definitely play a major role in the Jaguars’ offense, but it remains to be seen if he’ll handle the rushes between the tackles that Robinson has in the past. That includes at the goal line. Jacksonville would be wise to find ways to use both backs but Robinson shouldn’t be a discarded part of the offense unless he’s slow.

Commitment level: High. Any running back with Robinson’s track record and potential is going to stick to rosters anyway, so you shouldn’t be too worried about what he can do for you. This is why he probably won’t go in this range for long. Even if you’re getting him in Round 8 you should be happy. 

Darrell Henderson, Rams (ADP of 128.7)

Projected role to begin season: Part-time running back in Rams offense, potentially working passing downs.

What would it take to become a top-24 RB? Cam Akers would have to either miss time or get benched. Without any serious threat to his touches to start last season, Henderson averaged 16.9 touches and 13.4 PPR points over his first 10 games with eight touchdowns.

Can it happen? It’s happened each of the past two seasons. Akers missed most of 2021 with his Achilles tear and got hurt early in 2020. Henderson took over both seasons and was a usable No. 2 Fantasy rusher … until he himself got hurt. Sean McVay is already mentioning them as effectively co-starters, foreshadowing a potential tandem. Both have had trouble staying healthy but Henderson hasn’t lost his explosiveness because of injuries. We can’t quite say the same for Akers, and that might be what costs Akers playing time.

Commitment level: Medium. It’s entirely possible Akers winds up as the Rams’ preferred back and leaves minimal work for Henderson. In such a case, Henderson would be a benchwarmer who wouldn’t be useful unless Akers misses time. But it’s also possible Henderson overtakes Akers. You shouldn’t be in a rush to ditch Henderson within the first month of the season.

Dameon Pierce, Texans (ADP of 138.0)

Projected role to begin season: Part-time running back in Texans offense with Marlon Mack and Rex Burkhead. Pierce’s versatility could get him into high-value opportunities, however.

What would it take to become a top-24 RB? A lot. Pierce would have to displace his competition so he sees more playing time. That’s the easy part — the hard part is having enough opportunities in a Texans offense that managed to be around league-average in running back rushes in 2021 but dead last in rushing average, running back rushing touchdowns and run-blocking grade according to Pro Football Focus.

Can it happen? Most of the low-end No. 2 Fantasy rushers in total points last season found over 1,050 total yards with seven or more scores. That seems kind of high for Pierce, but David Johnson and Carlos Hyde achieved close to those totals in 2020 and 2019 respectively. It helps that Pierce has been a standout through the early camp days, including on the Texans’ first day in pads.

Commitment level: Medium-high. Fantasy managers should be ready to stick with Pierce for as many as eight weeks, which includes the Texans bye week. What’s debatable is if his ceiling is worth such a commitment — he’s a talented back but was a committee back in college and probably will be stuck in one as a rookie.

No longer past 100th overall but let’s throw him in anyway

Rhamondre Stevenson, Patriots (ADP of 99.0)

Projected role to begin season: Secondary running back behind Damien Harris with 10-touch per-game potential, possibly including pass-down work depending on the health of James White and the play of other Patriots third-down candidates.

What would it take to become a top-24 RB? Harris would have to fumble/run poorly/get hurt for Stevenson to earn more reps, especially in short-yardage/goal-line situations. Harris dominated those when both were healthy in 2021.

Can it happen? Definitely. Bill Belichick has banished running backs for being late to meetings! It might take more than one bad game or one fumble by Harris for Stevenson to leap-frog him, but the Patriots have proven they are not beholden to any one player, much less any one running back.

Commitment level: High. Even though the Patriots are tricky with their running backs, Stevenson is an attractive lottery ticket worth a bench spot on any roster. Managers would only be encouraged to cut him if his playing time got reduced.

Six more longshot RBs

Tyler Allgeier, Falcons (ADP of 161.0): Allgeier is a physical power back with good receiving skills. His upside includes being a modern-day Derrick Henry. His downside is sharing with Cordarrelle Patterson in a Falcons offense without much pop. It’s been four seasons since the Falcons as a team had 12-plus running back rushing scores.

D’Onta Foreman, Panthers (ADP of 177.0): The Panthers didn’t bring Foreman to Carolina to sit. His physical rushing style, which wasn’t terrible with the Titans last year, figures to give the Panthers a change-up to McCaffrey. And in the event McCaffrey misses playing time as he has in the past two seasons, Foreman would theoretically be the lead rusher.

Kenneth Gainwell, Eagles (ADP of 131.7): Miles Sanders‘ fall from grace isn’t happening as fast as some expected, and the Eagles seem destined to share running back touches all season. Jalen Hurts‘ rushing role isn’t going away, either. Gainwell would need a sizable boost in touches in order to be a weekly starter, but it could happen at some point.

J.D. McKissic, Commanders (ADP of 139.0): McKissic has averaged at least 10.9 PPR points per game in his past two seasons. As bench running backs go in leagues where catches count, you could do a lot worse.

Khalil Herbert, Bears (ADP of 147.3): Herbert had a good run last year because of David Montgomery’s violent style leading to an injury. The new Bears coaching staff should be open to not only leaning on Herbert as the next man up in case Montgomery misses time but also as a complementary back to take some work off of Montgomery. A sketchy offense complete with a suspect O-line makes Herbert hard to feel great about.

Jeff Wilson, 49ers (ADP is over 180th): The 49ers are known for using multiple backs and will continue to do so even when Elijah Mitchell is upright. There will be some sort of role for Trey Sermon and bulky rookie Tyrion Davis-Price, but my hunch is that Wilson would take Mitchell’s role in the event of another Mitchell injury. It’s up to you how long you’d want Wilson on your bench waiting for such an injury to happen. 

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