Draft Strategy

Identifying 2016’s Devonta Freeman

I was on the RotoViz Mailbag Free Agent Extravaganza last week where host Jeremy Hardt and I got a question about Doug Martin‘s re-signing, and what it meant for both his value, and the value of Charles Sims. I offered that I see the situation playing out much like 2015 in Tampa, but that I’d prefer Sims in that case, “because that’s how you back into a Devonta Freeman.” What I meant by that line was simple. Going into 2015, Atlanta had a two-pronged backfield. Freeman was slotted into the receiving back role, and Tevin Coleman was to be the early-down back. Coleman saw 20 carries to Freeman’s 10 in Week 1, but injured his ribs in Week 2. Freeman slid right into the early-down rushing role, and next thing we knew he was one of the most valuable backs in football. This type of absorption of an injured backfield mate’s opportunity usually only goes one way. While the receiving back is often seen as capable of handling the early-down work, the inverse doesn’t usually happen, because there are more options for available targets than rush attempts. Take the 2015 Jets as an example. While Bilal Powell averaged five receptions in the nine games he played more than 30 percent of the snaps, he missed or was below 15 percent of snaps in a six-game stretch between Week 4 and Week 10. Over that stretch Chris Ivory had just over two receptions per game, less than a half-catch-per-game increase over his season average. In other words, that passing volume either goes to other backs1 or gets distributed to wide receivers and tight ends. Additionally, the pass-catching back in a split backfield almost always costs less to acquire in fantasy football. Regardless of backs with higher ratios of receptions to carries rising up the final fantasy-points-per-game ranks every season, potential early-down backs continue to be assigned the higher ADP by the fantasy football community. Thus, the premise is to look for crowded backfields with a rushing back and a receiving back, to target the receiving back with some standalone value, and to hope his workload fills out due to injury and he finds his way into a feature role.2 We’re not rooting for injury here, but we have to acknowledge that turnover at the position is simply much higher than any other. Let’s take a look at six pass-catching backs that might benefit from teammate tumult, in descending order of ADP3 from the Best Ball App.
  1. For the Jets, Zac Stacy and Tommy Bohanon combined for 10 catches in that span, while catching just three combined balls in the season’s other 10 games.  (back)
  2. This would arguably also be the formula for nabbing this year’s David Johnson.  (back)
  3. Looking at over 60 drafts from March 10 to March 17.  (back)

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By Ben Gretch | @YardsPerGretch | Archive