Three Running Backs to Avoid in Dynasty Start-Up Drafts (Fantasy Football)
It’s officially dynasty season now that the calendar has turned to April and that means three things – the NFL Draft, dynasty league rookie drafts, and dynasty start-up drafts! If you’ve never played in a dynasty league, the Fantasy Footballers writing staff has tons of dynasty content on the site, including several rookie scouting profiles for the 2020 NFL Draft class. Some of my favorite articles to read this time of year are Matt Harmon’s Reception Perception articles, highlighting the top WRs in this year’s class.
In dynasty start-up drafts, it’s all about finding value and building around young, yet productive assets who have multiple years of production ahead of them. After all, in a dynasty format, you’ll have these players on your roster for years unless you trade them or drop them. With that being said, it’s important to be smart about drafting your roster – you only get one shot!
My strategy in dynasty start-up drafts is to build around young wide receivers, as they tend to have several more years of production compared to running backs, who are typically only producing RB1 or RB2 numbers at an average of two to four seasons. Because of this and the strong 2020 running back class in this NFL Draft, it’s important to avoid running backs who have a low ceiling or are likely to be replaced by incoming rookies. Here are three running backs I’m avoiding in my dynasty start-ups.
1. Le’Veon Bell, New York Jets
For years, Le’Veon Bell was a fixture inside the top 10 running backs in fantasy football. However, that was three years ago at this point, and a lot has changed since then. After sitting out an entire year due to a contract dispute with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Le’Veon Bell, signed a 4-year, $52.5 million deal with the New York Jets in free agency in 2019.
On the surface, this level of monetary commitment is great to see in that we want our fantasy players to have a commitment from their team. However, there’s one catch – Bell’s contract has an out after the 2020 season. The Jets can move on from Bell with just a $4 million dead cap hit.
The other issue here is that while Bell is certainly a talented running back, but he plays one of the worst offenses in the NFL. The Jets ranked 31st in the NFL in first downs per game, 31st in rush yards per game, and 32nd in total yards per game. As a team, they only scored 17.2 points per game, 2nd worst in the league behind only the Washington Redskins.
The final two factors here for Bell is age and injury history. Running backs typically reach their peak production before age 26 before seeing a significant decline in their performance and production. Now 28, Bell’s best days are likely behind him. Plus, he’s had two major knee injuries, which could negatively affect him in the coming years. At this stage of his career, it’s best to let someone else take Bell, as he still has name value that will make him a higher start-up pick than what he’s worth.
2. James Conner, Pittsburgh Steelers
From one former Pittsburgh Steelers running back to the current one, James Conner is the next name on the list. Is James Conner a very good running back? Yes, he is. He finished 2018 as the RB7 in half PPR formats in what was a breakout season for the former Pitt Panther. However, Conner struggled to stay healthy in 2019, missing a total of six games due to a high ankle sprain and a sprained AC joint in his shoulder. Worth noting, Conner was one RB I predicted was most likely to miss time because of injury – more on that here.
His history of previous ankle injuries is a predisposing factor for future ankle injuries. But, that’s not the only thing working against Conner. The first issue is his contract, which is set to expire at the end of the 2020 season. Inherently, this creates risk for any player, but The Athletic’s Ed Bouchette, who covers the Steelers, recently predicted that the team would not sign Conner to an extension, making him an unrestricted free agent in 2021.
In this same article, Bouchette predicts the team will draft a rookie RB in the 2020 NFL Draft. Now, if they draft a 6th round rookie, then it’s no big deal and Conner should remain “the guy” for at least 2020. Fortunately for Conner, the team doesn’t own a 1st round pick, but they do have a 2nd and a 3rd round pick. There’s a good chance the team selects an RB with one of these two picks, and did I mention that this 2020 draft class is really good?
Conner could be another fantasy stud in 2020, but the durability concerns and the lack of long term certainty have me passing on this running back in dynasty startups.
3. Ronald Jones, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
On a recent episode of the Fantasy Footballers Podcast, Andy, Mike, and Jason debated whether or not the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would draft an RB to be their starter in 2020. I tend to think they will given the lack of RB production over the past couple of seasons and the lack of the ability of one back to take over as the lead guy in that backfield.
Another red flag for Ronald Jones is that Bruce Arians has been vocal this offseason that he wants to add a pass-catching running back. Now, I’m not here to debate whether or not Jones can catch the football, but his track record leaves room for debate. In his two NFL seasons, Jones has caught 38 passes. During his time in college at USC, he caught a total of 32 passes in three seasons. In 2019, Bruce Arians chose to utilize Dare Ogunbowale as more of the pass-catching back, as he saw a 7.7% target share compared to Jones’ 6.6%.
According to Football Outsiders, the Tampa Bay offensive line ranked 23rd in run blocking last season, suggesting that if the team needs to address the offensive line early in the 2020 NFL Draft. If they don’t, Jones (and potentially any RB on that roster) will continue to struggle to move the ball behind a bad offensive line. Even with a rookie starting lineman upgrade, the line is likely to remain subpar in 2020, which could spell bad news for newly signed 43-year-old Tom Brady…unless he has a reliable pass-catcher out of the backfield. Let’s not forget, Tom Brady made James White fantasy football’s RB8 in 2018.
As of now, Jones is the lead back in the offense, but he’s very likely to have to battle a rookie to keep his starting job. After all, Bruce Arians was not the head coach when the Bucs drafted Ronald Jones in 2018. There’s a very real scenario that Arians goes out and gets his guy. After all, the Bucs have met with 11, yes eleven, rookie running backs so far this offseason. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when the Bucs take an RB. If they draft one in the first two or three rounds, Jones’ days as Tampa’s starter could be numbered.