Top 5 RB Values for 2016
Over the last few seasons, there has been a major shift in fantasy football draft strategy. When most of us started playing, we selected running backs with each of our first 2 to 4 picks. Today, the safest early round choices are WRs: they score more points, especially in PPR leagues, and their success is much easier to predict for the most part. This has led to a draft strategy often referred to as Zero RB. Basically, teams will take WRs for at least their first 4 picks. This means that more and more teams need to fill their RB spots later in drafts. Here are 5 RBs for you to target in the middle and late rounds of your draft that, when paired with your early round WRs, should lead you to the fantasy playoffs and a #FootClanTitle.
DeMarco Murray, Tennessee Titans
In 2014, DeMarco Murray’s stock was through the roof. He led the world in rushing yards and was the #1 fantasy RB and by a wide margin. Dallas let him walk and his small stay in Philadelphia was a disaster. So, Murray finds himself with his 3rd team in 3 years. Even in his disastrous 2015, Murray was the RB15 overall, scoring 7 TDs and averaging 3.6 YPC in an offense that was not suited for him. He has had a solid preseason in Tennessee; he’s averaged 8 YPC and scored 2 TDs. Yes, the Titans did add Derrick Henry in the draft. And yes, Henry has played well this preseason and carved out a nice role for himself, but Murray will be the lead back in 2016. He is currently being drafted as the RB18 in the 4th Round, but considering his worst season gave us a RB15 finish, he is the definition of a value pick this season.
Danny Woodhead, San Diego Chargers
I find myself struggling to understand the approach fantasy drafters take with Danny Woodhead. He has been with the Chargers for 3 seasons. He finished as the RB16 in 2013 and RB6 last year. His value is definitely inflated in PPR formats, but he was a Top 20 RB in Standard scoring in both of those seasons. The knock on him is mainly the emergence of Melvin Gordon, but Woodhead caught 76 balls in 2013 while only rushing the ball 106 times to Ryan Mathews’ 285 carries. He does not need to be the primary back in order to find success. So where does last year’s RB6 find himself going in fantasy drafts? As the RB20 in the 5th Round. It seems to me that the worst case scenario for a healthy Woodhead would be that Gordon is fantastic and that Keenan Allen continues his historic pace from last year. I still think that leaves Woodhead with 70 catches, 800 total yards, and 8 TDs. That would put him near the RB top 15, and that is a low projection. Pretty solid for a guy you can get after the 3rd Round.
Rashad Jennings, New York Giants
Getting a starting running back in the 6th Round is always a value. Getting a RB who was top 10 during the 2015 fantasy playoffs is insane value. Rashad Jennings rushed for 446 yards and 2 TDs over the last 5 game of the 2015 season. He finished the year as the RB21 despite being involved in a committee that seriously under-utilized him. Training camp reports and preseason action seem to show that the committee approach is dead and gone. Jennings will be the lead back on a team that was top 10 in rushing attempts last year. Health is the #1 concern when drafting Jennings, but almost every starting back in the league has some sort of injury concern. Jennings is being drafted as the 2nd lowest starting back in the league. He can be had as the RB31 and should easily outperform that.
LeGarrette Blount, New England Patriots
The only starting back being drafted lower than Jennings is LeGarrette Blount. Blount only played 12 games last year, and most of those were in the shadow of early season breakout Dion Lewis. Those circumstances led to an overall RB37 finish for Blount. The scenario sets up much better in 2016. Lewis is going to miss at least the first 6 games, probably more, and Tom Brady will miss the first 4 games. During those 4 games, the Patriots will look to play it safe and Blount will be the benefactor. If his workload rises to 200 carries, he will be a top 25 back. It’s not too often you can get a back who had double-digit carries in 75% of his games in the 8th Round of your fantasy draft. It’s even less often that you can get a guy with RB2 upside as the 37th RB in your draft.
Darren Sproles, Philadelphia Eagles
Since 2009, Darren Sproles has never finished outside of the RB top 40. He’s finished as high as overall RB6. Sproles is another PPR gem that is just inexplicably ignored on draft day. How ignored you ask? He is being drafted in the 11th Round as the RB47. A guy who has been in the positional top 40 for 7 straight years is being drafted as the RB47. There is no question that Sproles will be the passing down back in Philly. The coaches have said it all through training camp, and they’ve shown it all through the preseason. They want to get him the ball, and that is going to lead to fantasy success. This is a coaching staff that has worked with Danny Woodhead during a top 10 season as a passing down back, worked with Jamaal Charles during a 70 catch season, and flat out used Dexter McCluster as a WR in 2013 when he saw 87 targets and only 8 carries. They know how to use pass-catching backs, and Sproles is a lock to finish as a solid RB3 with major upside.
With this list, I tried to give 5 guys going at different times in the draft. That way if you miss on one, you could get another later. Don’t be the guy forcing yourself to take RBs early just to fill your starting lineup. Be flexible with your strategy. If someone takes the guy you are targeting, be ready to take the best player available for your team and look for value later in the draft. Remember, you won’t win your league at the draft, but you’re building your foundation. By taking the best available player whenever possible, you not only get the best team, but the best trade capital to use throughout the season.