Fantasy Fool’s Gold: Running Backs

Written by: Cody Manning

One of the most significant negative effects to your roster in fantasy football is when you draft a player with a premium pick and he doesn’t meet the expectations that you had for him. Most of the time, this is because they performed at a high level during the previous season, leading to a lot of hype within the NFL community. Sometimes it could be because those players were in a contract year, so they were looking to earn that next paycheck and they don’t keep up their production the following season. They could even just be a player that found an opportunity to get on the field and took advantage of it, but it just doesn’t translate the next year. In this edition of the fool’s gold series, I look at some running backs that I believe you may want to think twice before drafting.

Jordan Howard, Chicago Bears

Jordan Howard lit the fantasy football world on fire during his rookie season when he had 1,313 rushing yards, 6 rushing touchdowns, 29 receptions, 298 yards, and 1 receiving touchdown. He entered last season with a lot of hype and went in the 1st round in most fantasy football drafts. Some felt like he didn’t meet most expectations, but he still had a productive year where he finished as the 10th best running back in fantasy football for 2017. While he did see a decrease in his rushing yards, Howard still increased his touchdown total. But, one thing that disappointed his fantasy owners, especially ones in PPR leagues, was his inability to catch the ball.

Howard finished with 23 receptions, 125 receiving yards, and didn’t find the endzone through the air at all in 2017. One thing that can affect a player’s role on the team can be a coaching change. The Chicago Bears hired Matt Nagy to become their new head coach. Nagy is the former offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs that featured the leading rusher in 2017, Kareem Hunt. That screams nothing but great news for Howard if he can win the feature back role in his offense. The biggest problem though is that most feel that he isn’t a fit for their scheme because of the lack of pass catching ability he has shown.

There were even rumors at one point during the offseason that the Bears were shopping Howard to teams. And keep in mind his teammate in the backfield, Tarik Cohen. Nagy has been quoted that he is “giddy” about how he can use Cohen in his offense. If Nagy has a big role for Cohen, then that is going to cut into Howard’s opportunities to see the ball. Lastly, Chicago made it a point to find their franchise quarterback, Mitch Trubisky, some weapons for their passing game. With all the major additions to that part of the offense, Nagy will be looking to get down the field through the air. I would consider hesitation when it comes to drafting Howard because he could see a smaller role in the new offense that has come to Chicago.

Kenyan Drake, Miami Dolphins

Kenyan Drake had a strong finish to his 2017 season. Once the Miami Dolphins traded Jay Ajayi to the Philadelphia Eagles, Drake started to see a bigger role in Adam Gase’s offense. He was seeing reps split with Damian Williams as he showed flashes of his potential until Williams suffered a season-ending injury. The following week he put up 120 rushing yards and a touchdown versus the Denver Broncos, and he officially put himself on the fantasy radar when he accumulated 193 yards the following week against the New England Patriots. He did fail to get to 100 rushing yards in the final three games, but with an offseason to grab a bigger role in Gase’s offense, has brought some hype his way heading into the 2018 fantasy football year.

Drake is currently projected to go as high as the third round in fantasy drafts, which shows people are very high on him as we head towards the fall. One of my biggest concerns is some of the moves that the Miami Dolphins made during the offseason. They brought in Frank Gore in free agency. I know most are quick to brush off Gore at his age, but he was still productive last season behind a terrible offensive line in Indianapolis with 961 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns. I expect that Gore will get 8–12 carries per game in Gase’s offense and is a prime candidate to vulture touchdowns away from Drake when the Dolphins get into the 10-yard line.

Miami also selected Kalen Ballage out of Arizona St. in the 4th round of this year’s draft . The young-back is 6’3”, weighs in at 229 pounds, and has the speed to be a lead back at the next level. He will start with a small role at the beginning of the season, but if Drake fails to grab the feature role then Ballage may start to cut into his touches as the season progresses. I believe Gase will find a way to manage the touches throughout all three backs. Drake can be the lead guy, but I would be aware of drafting him too high and passing over a proven player. Drake could be a steal in the mid-rounds, but I wouldn’t spend a premium pick on him.

Alex Collins, Baltimore Ravens

Alex Collins came to the Baltimore Ravens from the Seattle Seahawks when they decided to move on from him after drafting him in 2016. As injuries mounted in their backfield Collins started to see double-digit touches by Week 5. As Collins got more comfortable in the offense he started to become the lead back and tore up some defenses throughout the season. He had his breakout game during Week 8 versus the Miami Dolphins, finishing with 143 total yards. Collins ended his 2017 campaign with 973 yards, 6 rushing touchdowns, 23 receptions and 187 receiving yards.

Collins failed to find the endzone until Week 11, but then ripped off five straight games with a touchdown and made those fantasy owners who found him on the waiver wire very happy. However, he didn’t have the strongest finish in his final three games of the season. Against three non-playoff teams, Collins had only 19 yards on 12 rushes versus the Cleveland Browns, 51 yards on 18 rushes against the Indianapolis Colts, and managed a decent last game with 78 yards on 20 rushes with a touchdown to go along with it. But because of the lack of depth, it does appear Collins should be getting the hype as we start to get toward fantasy drafts soon.

Soon after the season, Jim Harbaugh showed no commitment to Collins being the lead back for 2018. Even though the Ravens didn’t draft a running back or bring one in free agency, they still have two on their roster they drafted. Prior to Collins seeing a bigger role, Buck Allen and Kenneth Dixon have spots on the roster before they both had to deal with injuries. While I do expect Collins will have the first chance to be the guy, I could see the Ravens finding a way to utilize Dixon and Allen into their offense. I wouldn’t overvalue Collins too much and draft him too high based on just last year’s performance. Fantasy owners should be cautious to jump on him too early in the coming months.

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