Kicking off the 2021 series of Sirens Song it is time to break into things that are just too good to be true.
For the first part of the series, I need to acknowledge a few things; first, running backs are the most scarce commodity, second, each rookie class is going to offer at least two to three running backs to obtain a RB24 role.
Going back to the article of potential trends that are developing in the NFL (found here) we see around 2.3 running backs each class land in the top-24 of their rookie season. This 2021 class stands to be no different with Najee Harris and Travis Etienne seeming like locks as a top-24 back with Javonte lurking not too far behind. Great right? College keeps producing running backs profiling to be productive running backs in the NFL. Wrong. The worst kept secret is how poor the 2022 rookie class is looking on paper. Things can absolutely change but as of right now you have one true bell cow in Breece Hall. A tier behind you have guys like Isaiah Spiller, Jerrion Ealy, Eric Gray. All three guys have profile concerns mostly centering around lack of production and inability to carry a workload in the NFL.
Which leads to the point of this article. The 2020 running back class gave the NFL an unprecedented amount of fantasy contributors in year one. The 2020 class contributed six top-24 running backs (almost three times the average of any other class). In fact, however you feel about Cam Akers you could argue given a full season of the opportunity he saw the last few games he could have made it seven. The best part of this is that none of the running backs show any signs of regressing to the point of getting kicked out of the top-24. The only outlier is James Robinson and Cam Akers seems primed to fill that vacancy.
Given the projections of the 2021 and 2022 running back classes, it seems that there is an impending shortage of young quality running backs the next few years. Outlined on “Running back Handcuff Shuffle: you want running backs who are going to average 20 touches a game” (article found here). I am just not seeing a bunch of incoming rookies that will be boasting profiles to obtain a role that will allow for 20 or more touches a game.
Thus, the predicament I wanted to outline here. This year and next year, (two dynasty seasons) are currently projecting to offer an underwhelming amount of viable fantasy running backs. Dynasty owners now have hard decisions to make about the future of their team. Teams with aging prospects hoping to retool at that position in rookie drafts are going to be constantly drafting glimmers of hope instead of rock solid prospects. The alternative, and the inspiration of this article is, find a way to obtain one of the six to seven 2020 running backs. Below I will lay out a quick synopsis of each rookie and how much I would be willing to buy at.
Below is their current startup ADP, what I would offer, how I would dissuade the current manager from keeping that player, and why I think they are worth acquisition.
Jonathan Taylor ADP (1.08)
My Offer: a solid RB2, two first round picks and a second round rookie pick.
When it comes to which 2020 running back has the highest upside and ability to be a consistent running back 1 with top 5 upside the list starts and ends with Jonathan Taylor. Sure others have the potential to broach the upper echelon every once in a while, but none will have the consistency of Taylor. With that projection comes the same lofty price, the time to buy low on Taylor was approximately five months ago. The price has soared since. This is a player I am willing to buy at the current value instead of waiting for a dip.
How I would approach the team manager with Taylor:
● I would discuss the split of games that the Colts were trailing and how Taylor was scripted out last year.
● Point out the fact that the Colts seem more than happy to go with a committee approach.
● Discuss how his PPR ceiling is a projection likely to be diminished by Hines and Mack.
James Robinson ADP (2.02)
My offer: Rookie pick #15.
A player who has been and will be hotly contested every week he sees the majority of the snap share from the Jaguars backfield. Robinson being undrafted is a double edged sword, the coaching staff does not need to invest in a new running back due to the production and price they are currently being afforded. Robinson is unlikely to see 90+-percent of the snaps but he can still be productive seeing less opportunity. The best part of this is, with the draft looming, the owners are skittish due to more and more mocks that are showing the Jaguars selecting a running back day 2.
How I would approach the team manager with Robinson:
● The coaching staff is new and has zero allegiance to last year’s production.
● Working from a smaller opportunity share will impact his less than stellar efficiency metrics (#32 in true yards per carry and #32 in yards per target).
● The offensive line is unlikely to see huge improvements within a year and with a smaller opportunity share could crater his weekly fantasy output.
De’Andre Swift ADP (2.10)
My Offer: RB2 and first and second round rookie picks.
Swift is another player that is starting to hit the spin cycle during the offseason, the minds are mixed as to whether or not he is going to benefit from the minimal talent currently residing in Detroit. In a PPR setting, Swift should continue to see an uptick in touches strictly from a vacated production standpoint, currently it is Swift, Hockenson, Jamaal Williams. They are expected to add in the wide receiver department in the draft and hopefully will begin retooling their offensive line. I believe Swift can break the Detroit curse and reward those brave enough to keep him on their roster.
How I would approach the team manager with Swift:
● Jamaal Williams being brought could signal the coaching staff wanting to stay in a committee.
● Williams will also vulture goal line carries and some receiving work, work Swift ‘needs’ to be a high end fantasy asset.
● The lineage of Detroit running backs is a hurting history dating far back, sometimes a good folklore can shake a person’s soul.
Antonio Gibson (ADP 2.12)
My Offer: RB2 and rookie first, second and third.
If you read my previous Washington Football Team fight night article, you know I have been hyped on Gibson from the start. Managers with Gibson are a hard bunch to get him from now, previously like Taylor his buy low window is closed and sealed shut. Gibson figures to not only be more involved in the running spectrum of the offense but also should see a more even distribution of targets between McKissic and him moving forward. Gibson has already showcased his raw skill last year, with an entire offseason under his belt, all signs are a go for him in 2021.
How I would approach the team manager with Gibson:
● The addition of Curtis Samuel lends the fact that the target opportunity is dwindling, especially if McKissic retains his giant target volume.
● Not having showcased any sort of workhorse ability in college, Gibson’s durability is in question. Some have found correlation between a lower college workload and a higher injury rate.
● Having a rookie season propped by touchdown production is not a sure way to continue fantasy production at that similar level in the future. In fact, it is more likely to regress to a point, that an expected increase in targets may not be able to salvage a similar fantasy points per game.
Cam Akers ADP (3.02)
My Offer: RB2, rookie first and second round draft picks.
Most people are currently in love with Akers, I am actually shocked his current ADP is so ‘low.’ I have seen people take Akers at the ADP of Taylor. The fans of his know no bounds if it means they can walk away from the draft with him on their team. Akers dichotomy comes in a two-part. The beginning of the season he was underwhelming thanks to injury and McVay not getting him fully immersed. As he was getting settled he got injured which opened the door for Henderson to take off sprinting away with the job. It was his, until he got hurt and Akers was able to see 20 plus touches a game. He himself said, he feels he is a better runner when he can get into rhythm and see a higher workload. The question is, will McVay run the Akers system that got them past the Seahawks in the playoffs or play the hot hand approach game to game.
How I would approach team managers with Akers:
● There is no sure bet that McVay is going to lean on Akers or that he will see that needed 18-20 touches a game. His game splits will show just how detrimental of a fantasy asset he is when he sees below that.
● While injury proneness is a myth, Akers runs with a style and habit that leads him to be more susceptible to injury, already shown his rookie year.
● McVay is no longer handicapped by Jared Goff, Stafford is going to allow him to throw the ball more often, resulting in less opportunity for Akers even if he is the bellcow.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire ADP (3.07)
My Offer: Rookie first, second and third round draft pick
A lot of managers got familiar with the myth that is Icarus; they flew too close to the sun and their wings melted right off. CEH had an ADP of 1.09 at one point. The likelihood he was ever to return that investment was slim to none especially as a rookie with his collegiate profile. However, one man’s loss is another’s gain. People as a whole have soiled on CEH writing him off as nothing more than a mediocre running back 2. That couldn’t be further from the truth, with the dismissal of Damien Williams, CEH holds the keys to the backfield. All it is going to take is Kelce, Hill or the Offensive Line faltering and CEH could easily actualize his running back one billing.
My approach to CEH team managers:
● Patrick Mahomes is not conducive to a high running back floor with his current offensive weapons at his disposal.
● CEH is more of a boom – bust running back than a consistently high running back, simply because of how diverse the Chiefs offense is and how many different ways they can score.
● The Chiefs don’t NEED CEH to win, so he is an ancillary piece on that offense instead of a main gear in the system.
J.K. Dobbins ADP (3.08)
My Offer: two rookie firsts and a second.
A running back that was highly touted coming into last year but lost some significant steam throughout the season. Dobbins was not given a lot of opportunity throughout the season, but what little opportunity he was given he did not make anyone regret it. On a fantasy spectrum, Dobbins was a headache trying to find which week he would benefit your roster and which week to skip. Luckily, Ingram has departed the team, which leaves Edwards and Dobbins as the main threats out of that backfield.
My approach to Dobbins team managers:
● Lamar Jackson does not need to check down the ball given his ability scrambling, thus significantly impacting Dobbins receiving upside.
● Since Lamar Jackson was drafted the Ravens have not had a ball carrier crest more than 30-percent of the rushing share
● Justice Hill may be slept on but could play a role in the receiving game even further impacting Dobbins lack of passing opportunity.
The bottom line is, the running back crop that is coming into the league the next two years is underwhelming. To help alleviate your teams running back bottleneck you don’t need all of these runningbacks, just enough to create your teams foundation and build from there. Don’t hamstring your dynasty team by making yourself rely on older, less productive players. Bite the metaphorical bullet now to help bolster your team for the future.