Prior to Sony Michel’s knee injury this offseason, Rex Burkhead was considered an afterthought in New England’s backfield rotation. He was viewed similarly as a member of the Cincinnati Bengals from 2013 to 2016, but now his talent is being recognized as a versatile chess piece on offense. Fast forward to 2018 and Rex suddenly appears to be one of the more valuable mid-round running back options to target in drafts. With that idea in mind, this article will make a case for Burkhead delivering more than flex value this season for his fantasy owners.
New England’s Backfield Track Record
A primary reason to invest in Rex this season is because of New England’s track record of success with tailbacks in fantasy football. For a closer look at how recent players have fared, view the table below:
|2015||LeGarrette Blount/James White/Dion Lewis||RB39/RB40/RB42|
|2016||LeGarrette Blount/James White||RB9/RB26|
|2017||Dion Lewis/James White/Rex Burkhead||RB15/RB38/RB39|
As indicated above, the Patriots tend to utilize numerous running backs on an annual basis. A committee is usually avoided in fantasy football, but New England is the exception to the rule. The team can support more than one relevant option out of the backfield on a weekly basis, even though volume is difficult to predict. Assuming his durability holds up in 2018, drafting Rex essentially translates to rostering a reliable flex with upside for more value based on the success of tailbacks in Foxoboro since 2014.
2017 Sample Size
During his first campaign as a Patriot, Burkhead appeared in ten regular season contests. He accrued 264 yards rushing and five touchdowns over that span, while adding 30 catches for 254 yards and three scores as a receiver for good measure. Overall, Rex finished as the PPR RB39 in a remarkably efficient debut season under Bill Belichick.
While his collective totals do not indicate that Burkhead was a valuable fantasy asset in 2017, the running back’s stretch from Weeks 8-15 proves that he is being overlooked. Over that time frame, Rex paced as the RB11 in PPR formats. In other words, he performed as an RB1 for over half of the regular season for fantasy football purposes. Burkhead’s success is often dismissed due to the low volume he received a season ago, but he is bound to surpass the 94 offensive touches he earned last year in 2018.
Another factor that limited Rex’s overall production was his availability, as he missed six contests due to injury a season ago. If his stats were to be extrapolated over the entire course of New England’s schedule, Burkhead easily would have been in the high-end RB2 conversation. Consider that he recorded double-digit touches in five of the ten games that he was active for in 2017, and it becomes clear that he served an integral role on offense. The Patriots obviously took note of his success as Rex signed a three-year, $9.75 million contract this past March. It should then come as no surprise that he is listed as a starter on the team’s first unofficial depth chart for this upcoming campaign.
At the moment, Rex has an ADP near the sixth-round of redraft leagues. His price tag is bound to increase as a result of Sony Michel’s ailing knee, but Burkhead is well worth the investment in all scoring formats.
In the middle rounds of a draft, very few players offer the floor or ceiling that Burkhead currently projects to deliver. In season-long leagues, owners should feel comfortable with him being an RB3 on a roster with upside for legitimate RB1 output based on his 2017 success. In dynasty formats, Rex should be valued as an emerging talent who will warrant at least a second-round rookie draft pick to acquire. The lone blemish that is working against his long-term value is age, as Burkhead already turned 28 years old this offseason. Regardless, savvy dynasty owners should ignore his veteran status since he has accrued limited mileage (151 career rushing attempts) over the course of five NFL campaigns to date.
In summary, Rex is an appealing asset to target via a draft or trade leading up to the regular season. Remember, he was on track to finish as an RB1 last year with rushing/receiving splits of 53-215-5 and 25-194-2 over a dominant eight-week span. Based on the fact that Burkhead can be rostered outside of the top-fifty picks in a draft, he appears to offer league-winning upside in 2018. At this point, flex value should be considered his absolute floor.