Draft Strategy

5 Running Backs to Target in 2017

The RotoViz staff has been compiling projections for the upcoming NFL season. This series of articles is about players that popped in my personal projections relative to current ADP. Keep in mind that a projection represents what I consider a median expectation, and does not take into consideration how someone may rank a player when factoring in other variables such as upside and injury risk.

Here are the running backs that I like more than the current consensus.

Mike Gillislee, NE
ADP – 28, FP RANK – 11, DELTA – 17

The Patriots backfield is one that costs fantasy players constant consternation, but I expect Gillislee to be the most valuable of the bunch in 2017. He has the best rushing profile of all the New England backs.

NE RB Rushing

Averaging a yard per carry more than the next closest Patriot, and with a TD rate more than double the next closest, there should be no doubt that Gillislee leads the 2017 Patriots in rush attempts. This becomes particularly apparent if we look at the money each player is making.

PlayerSignedYears17 CapGTD
Mike Gillislee20172$3,968,750$1,500,000
Rex Burkhead20171$3,150,000$1,100,000
James White20174$1,789,272$4,690,000
Dion Lewis20162$1,487,500$600,000

The Patriots signed three RBs this off-season: Gillislee, James White, and Rex Burkhead. Of the three and Dion Lewis, Gillislee is making the most money this season and has the second-most money guaranteed to him overall. New England also gave up a fifth-round pick for Gillislee, as he was a restricted free agent.

The most years and guaranteed money are committed to White, but he has just 70 carries in three seasons with the team, and will most likely spend most of his time running routes.

The Patriots lead the league in rushing TDs over the past five seasons, including LeGarrette Blount’s 18 last season. With Blount gone, there is a ton of upside for Gillislee in that role, especially if the latter can tack on some extra receiving numbers.

Gill v Blount Receiving

Gillislee’s receiving usage may not look especially impressive, but it’s important to remember that he was a backup the last two seasons to LeSean McCoy. When McCoy was out, Gillislee averaged two targets a game. The presence of White definitely caps his ceiling there, but even if Gillislee can get to the 20 reception mark, that would be a nice boost to his bottom line.

C.J. Prosise, SEA
ADP – 37, FP RANK – 21, DELTA – 16

If there is going to be a Marshawn Lynch-esque bell cow for Seattle this season, there should be no doubt that it is Prosise.

SEA RBs and Lynch

Prosise and Lynch look like doppelgangers based on the key elements in Kevin Cole’s RB success model. Meanwhile, Eddie Lacy is a potential upgrade on Thomas Rawls if he can make weight.

A converted receiver who averaged 2.8 receptions last season,1 Prosise should be very useful even if he is splitting carries with one of the bigger backs. In fact, I only have him down for 164 carries, and that still makes him a massive value. There is RB1 upside here for Prosise if he can capture the majority of Seattle rush attempts.

Danny Woodhead, BAL
ADP – 29, FP RANK – 15, DELTA – 14

The comparisons between Woodhead and Kenneth Dixon are obvious. The former is one of the best receiving backs in the NFL, while the latter was one of the best in the 2016 draft class. A true competition between these players would have been very fun to watch.

However, Dixon is suspended for the first four games for violating the league’s PED policy, which means that Woodhead will have whatever receiving role the Ravens have to offer all to himself, while Terrance West complements him with a little more muscle in the run game. If Woodhead plays well while Dixon is suspended, one has to wonder if he doesn’t just keep his role all year.

But just how much work could Woodhead be in for? Here is how often Marty Mornhinweg has thrown to RBs in his last five years as a coordinator.

YearTeampaATTRBTRG%
Total-282150417.9%
2016BAL67915723.1%
2014NYJ4968216.5%
2013NYJ4758618.1%
2012PHI61810016.2%
2011PHI5537914.3%

Last year the Ravens threw the ball 23.1 percent of the time to RBs, a clear outlier from the rest of the seasons, and one that reflects the lack of receiving talent Baltimore had. Now that Jeremy Maclin has been added to the receiving corps, that number is sure to come down, as should the overall number of pass attempts.

If we use the 611 attempts I have projected for Joe Flacco as well as the overall target share of 17.9 percent, that gives us about 109 RB targets for 2017. It is easy to imagine Woodhead having 60+ targets, with upside for more. He has also seen at least 18 red-zone carries in his past four healthy seasons, scoring 10 total red-zone rushing TDs. It isn’t outside the realm of possibility Woodhead develops a healthy short-yardage role in addition to his receiving work, much like he did during his years with the Chargers.

Duke Johnson, CLE
ADP – 40, FP RANK – 28, DELTA – 12

Here is the list of all RBs in the last 30 years with 100 or more receptions in their first two seasons:

  • Herschel Walker
  • Gary Anderson
  • Troy Stradford
  • Eric Metcalf
  • Glyn Milburn
  • Marshall Faulk
  • Edgerrin James
  • LaDainian Tomlinson
  • Domanick Williams
  • Reggie Bush
  • Ray Rice
  • Matt Forte
  • LeSean McCoy
  • Devonta Freeman
  • Le’Veon Bell
  • David Johnson
  • Duke Johnson

This list is littered with top fantasy RBs, including multiple Hall of Famers. Being a member of this club is a major feather in Johnson’s cap.

That said, I’m not delusional. Isaiah Crowell was excellent as the lead back for the Browns in 2016 and should continue to be featured in the run game. But Johnson has finished as a top 30 RB each of the past two seasons and was a collegiate workhorse. He has a very safe floor, and could threaten to be an RB1 should anything happen to Crowell.

C.J. Anderson, DEN
ADP – 24, FP RANK – 13, DELTA – 11

Anderson has struggled with the injury bug the past couple of seasons but has been fantastic any time he has received at least 15 carries in a game.

Anderson Splits

 

Anderson also has a great shot to be the lead dog in 2017. Devontae Booker averaged just 3.5 YPC as a rookie and did nothing to warrant taking work from Anderson. The team signed Jamaal Charles, but he still isn’t participating in drills.

After two injury-riddled years, one has to seriously wonder if Charles even makes the final roster. However, his presence has had a tremendous effect on Anderson’s value.

CJA ADP

Since Charles signed at the start of May, Anderson has dropped from a top 40 pick to outside the top 60. As a sixth-round pick, he’s a tremendous value.

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  1. Despite being a part-time player for most of his six games and leaving one early due to injury.  (back)
By Anthony Amico | @amicsta | Archive

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