2018 Fantasy Football Draft Prep: Making sense of four RB committees
SportsLine.com's Matt Franciscovich breaks down four potential running back committees before the season.
Editor's note: You may have heard of SportsLine.com. We want to introduce you to what they can offer, so today all over CBS Sports, we'll be posting some of their exclusive content here. That includes their newly launched Fantasy analysis, featuring experts from around the industry. This piece comes from Matt Franciscovich. Franciscovich is a former Fantasy football analyst for NFL Network, is a content strategist and writer for EA Sports/Madden NFL competitive esports. He'll be providing in-depth analysis all season long. Here's his latest.
Don't let a little mid-August speculation by a Vikings beat-reporter fool you — When Dalvin Cook is finally unleashed, healthy again from a torn ACL he suffered in a Week 5 game last season, he's going to serve as the featured back in Minnesota. A report earlier this month that Cook and his teammate, Latavius Murray, could "split a good bit of the rushing load this season" got Fantasy drafters in a tizzy, so much so, that Murray's ADP has jumped an entire round in the last week, according to Fantasyfootballcalcluator.com. This is the same Murray who fumbled twice (on six carries) in the first quarter of the Vikings second preseason game and average just 2.4 yards per carry on his 10 attempts in the team's dress rehearsal this past weekend.
Folks will look at Murray's end of season numbers from last year and assume he'll be a factor again this season, at least in short-yardage situations and vulture valuable goal-line looks. But despite Murray's top-10 rushing touchdown total among backs last year, he also logged the fewest yards from scrimmage (945) of that group, and the fewest standard FPPG (8.9). He saw rushing volume too, but just 17 targets, as Jerick McKinnon (now in San Francisco) absorbed 68 targets. McKinnon arguably outplayed Murray in the first half of the season and even outscored Murray in total Fantasy points in both full and half-point-PPR.
In the three-and-a-half games Cook was active as a rookie before getting injured, he averaged 13.6 FPPG, over 5.0 yards per carry in three of those four contests, and saw 16 targets in that span, putting him on pace for over 1,200 yards and eight rushing scores. Cook is simply lightyears ahead of Murray in terms of versatility, and is an elite weapon on the Vikings offense who will keep opposing defenses guessing and Fantasy owners stacking points.
Kenyan Drake has had himself a solid preseason, averaging 6.8 yards per carry on his 15 attempts for 102 rush yards, while adding five receptions for 47 yards. He's ripped off chunk plays in each of Miami's last two exhibitions, with a 30-yard dash against Carolina and a 36-yard catch against Baltimore. So, it makes sense that his draft cost has crept up into the earlier half of Round 4 in the last few weeks. Most of Drake's highlight reel plays are either outside runs or short-yardage receptions in space where he can use his best asset, his speed, to either turn the corner or burn the coverage. On tape, his elite acceleration and speed are hard to miss. If Miami continues to use Drake in this kind of versatile role, I might just pivot on my take that his Round 4 ADP is too risky.
Fantasy owners shouldn't ignore Gore as a late-round flier just because of his age and the Drake hype, though. One of the most common knocks against Gore that you'll see is his 3.7 ypc average the last three years. But keep in mind that he's logged no fewer than 260 attempts in any of those seasons and the veteran has been running behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league in Indianapolis. If Miami is indeed going to use Drake as the lightning, it'd make sense that Gore provides the thunder between the tackles. The guy is a literal battering ram. Gore's workload might get trimmed as he shares the load with Drake, but he could provide sneaky goal-line vulture value as a basically free pick late in redraft formats.
Following his two straight seasons with 10-plus rushing touchdowns and over 1,000 rushing yards (the only NFL running back to achieve this feat) Freeman came back to earth in 2017 totaling just over 800 rush yards in a Falcons offense that lacked a true identity. But it's the combination of his wrecking-ball running style combined with his finesse as a pass-catching back that keeps Freeman in the conversation among the best backs in the league, and in Fantasy. It's easy to forget that just 12 months ago at this time, Freeman was a consensus first-round Fantasy back. His mid-second round cost this year feels like a major bargain.
At this point, it's no secret what you're investing in when you take Tevin Coleman. He's a floor play, with potential for so much more, but only if Freeman is forced to miss playing time. Coleman's speed can be deployed by Atlanta at any time to keep opponents on their toes. But his workload will be limited as long as Freeman is healthy. For what it's worth, Coleman averaged 28.3 snaps per game last year compared to Freeman's 39.4. Coleman was more efficient with his opportunities, averaging 33.1 Fantasy points per 100 snaps compared to Freeman's rate of 29.7 points per 100 snaps, per FantasyData.com. Either way, Coleman's should continue to get enough reps to keep him relevant as a low-end flex play, at worst, in the Falcons second season under offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.
There seems to be this narrative in Fantasy circles that Jordan Howard is nothing more than an early-down power back, and the Bears are going to slot in Tarik Cohen on third downs, in turn reducing Howard's value. But a constant drumbeat coming from Chicago's offseason program that new head coach Matt Nagy believes Howard can play all three downs, a notion he mentioned earlier this summer and recently reiterated, signals otherwise.
Howard has put up over 1,000 rushing yards in each of his two NFL seasons to go along with 15 rushing touchdowns. The biggest knock against him is his drop rate — and, while he doesn't have hands like upper echelon elite backs like Le'Veon Bell or David Johnson, he's no slouch. Howard saw 50 targets his rookie year and caught 29 passes. Last year, when the Bears coaching staff basically put the entire offense on Howard's (injured) shoulders, he caught 23 balls on 32 targets. The real story here shouldn't be how many balls Howard dropped, it's how incredibly tough this guy is. He suffered a painful shoulder injury early last season, and played through it all year, amassing 299 touches. At times, he could be seen jogging to the sideline dangling his injured arm delicately, before mustering up the strength to get back on the field.
Sure, Cohen will be a factor in the Bears' offense this year and the guy has an incredibly versatile skillset. But keep his size in mind; Cohen is about 180 punds and stands at 5-foot-6. He can't take a beating the way Howard can, and will likely be deployed more as a receiver than a running back under Nagy. In an ideal world, Cohen and Howard will share snaps to keep defenses guessing — a refreshing change of pace for an offense that under former coach John Fox, was completely predictable most of the time.
Howard's current ADP has him going off draft boards as the 13th running back at 2.07 per Fantasyfootballcalculator.com. In my eyes, that's value for an absolute workhorse that cannot be passed up. Cohen, on the other hand, has an ADP in Round 8, which feels steep considering players like Duke Johnson, James White and Chris Thompson, all of whom have proven track records of Fantasy success are coming off the board later.
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