Three Undervalued Passing-Down RBs

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As selecting wide receivers in the early stages of redraft leagues becomes an increasingly popular strategy, it is critical to identify valuable running backs to target later on in drafts. In theory, it makes sense to stockpile elite talent at the wide receiver position in the beginning phases of a draft due to the competitive advantage it can present against other teams in a league. This is especially true in PPR formats, as there are only a select number of running backs that can be relied on as true featured weapons in both the running and passing game. However, there is an opportunity cost associated with bypassing running backs in the initial rounds of a draft, which could severely impact the construction of a fantasy football roster. Fortunately, there are numerous passing-down running backs that can be targeted late in drafts to make up for exclusively selecting wide receivers in the beginning of drafts. Below, I make a case for three passing-down running backs that are currently undervalued heading into 2016.

Shane Vereen

Over the past three seasons, Shane Vereen has collected a minimum of 47 receptions out of the backfield. Even more, he compiled a total of 112 catches in 2014 and 2015 alone. Remarkably, Vereen’s reception totals from the past two years are more than wide receivers like Donte Moncrief (96), Michael Floyd (99) and DeSean Jackson (86). I do not mean to discredit the talent of any of these players, but rather emphasize how undervalued Shane Vereen currently is at his ADP of 13.08 in 12-team PPR leagues.

For a closer look at how consistent Vereen’s passing-down volume has been with both the New England Patriots and New York Giants over the past three years, please reference the table below:

Year Receiving Line Targets PPR Finish Among RBs
2013 47-427-3 69 RB36
2014 53-447-3 78 RB20
2015 59-495-4 81 RB26

Clearly, Vereen has established himself as one of the premier receiving specialists at the running back position in the NFL. According to ESPN, the New York Giants called a pass play on 84% of Vereen’s 400 snaps in 2015. Sure, entering 2016 Vereen will face competition in Rashad Jennings and Paul Perkins. However, Jennings has failed to eclipse over 224 total touches in a single season for his entire career to this point. In addition, he is entering his age-31 campaign, and has only played in a full 16 game slate once in his eight-year career. Paul Perkins is a tantalizing rookie out of UCLA, but poses as an early-down threat, which should not impact Shane Vereen’s passing-down role. Considering Vereen ranked fourth in targets among all running backs in the NFL last season, it makes sense to invest in him in what figures to be a rather secure role. After all, Vereen did finish as the RB26 in PPR formats in 2015, which firmly places him in the RB2/Flex discussion.

Charles Sims

Believe it or not, Charles Sims finished as the RB16 last season in PPR formats. He flew under the radar largely in part to Doug Martin’s resurgent 2015 campaign. Nevertheless, Sims carried the ball 107 times for 529 yards last year, in route to averaging 4.9 yards per carry. Even more, Sims collected 51 receptions for 561 yards and 4 touchdowns on 70 targets. According to Pro Football Focus, Sims also forced a missed tackle on 23.4% of his total touches last year, which represented one of the best elusive ratings among running backs in the NFL. Despite being viewed as merely a receiving threat out of the backfield, it is also worth mentioning that Sims earned double-digit touches on seven different occasions in 2015. Evidently, Sims is an integral piece of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers backfield, and should be viewed as such in fantasy circles.

With an ADP of 8.06 in 12-team PPR leagues, it is clear that Sims is available at a bargain compared to Doug Martin. In fact, Martin’s current ADP stands at 3.06. Entrenched as the clear favorite for passing-down work under Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter, a case can be made to wait on Charles Sims in drafts in favor of Doug Martin. At his current value, Martin is being selected near Demaryius Thomas, Sammy Watkins and Randall Cobb (all of which I would select over Martin in PPR scoring). Although Martin will continue to see considerable volume as an early-down workhorse, Sims still figures to maintain a significant presence in passing-down situations. Keep in mind, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ranked 8th in the NFL in 2015 with 455 rushing attempts. Considering Doug Martin has missed 15 games due to injury over the past three seasons, Charles Sims is well worth an investment come draft day. Often viewed as a handcuff, Sims has proven that he can provide standalone value in virtually all scoring formats.

Bilal Powell

Perhaps the most undervalued of the bunch listed in this article, Bilal Powell is a definite bargain at his current ADP of 9.06 in 12-team PPR leagues. While sharing time with Chris Ivory in 2015, Powell received double-digit touches in 6 of his 11 active games. Powell made his largest impact in the passing game last season, as he garnered 47 receptions for 388 yards and 2 touchdowns. As a result of his extensive usage in passing-down situations, Powell ranked as the RB4 in PPR formats between Weeks 11 and 16. Over that span, he accumulated 32 receptions for 299 yards and 2 touchdowns, which accounted for nearly 75% of his total production. That’s right, Powell was an RB1 for nearly a quarter of the regular season last year. According to Pro Football Focus, Powell also ranked ninth in targets among running backs, further proving that his production was no fluke when he was on the field.

After the New York Jets acquired Matt Forte this offseason, Bilal Powell’s fantasy stock has been viewed as somewhat murky entering 2016. Over the course of his career with the Chicago Bears, Matt Forte has been the epitome of a featured back. In each of his last eight seasons, he has recorded a minimum of 203 rushing attempts and 44 receptions. However, Forte is now approaching his age-30 season, and reports have indicated that a committee approach will likely be implemented under offensive coordinator Chan Gailey. Remember, the New York Jets elected to sign Bilal Powell to a three-year deal worth $11.25 million ($6 million guaranteed) after the addition of Matt Forte. In fact, Forte’s contract was also a three-year deal worth $12 million ($8 million guaranteed), which speaks volumes to how the team views both as a tandem. The similarity in contracts obviously bodes well for the value of Bilal Powell, as he figures to be regularly involved in passing-down situations. At his current price, Powell is an ideal RB3 selection in PPR leagues. In the event that Forte were to become injured or receive a lighter than anticipated workload, Powell could certainly surface as a back-end RB1 as he did late in 2015. At this moment in time, it appears to be a strong possibility, as Matt Forte has been battling a strained hamstring since the beginning of training camp. During his absence, Powell has reportedly been working with the first-team offense on a regular basis, which can only increase his chances of carving out a prominent role in 2016.

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