Wrong Place, Wrong Time: Incorrect PPR ADP’s Part 3: Running Backs

By Brad Kinzett

(Photo: Dilip Vishwanat / Getty Images)

(Photo: Dilip Vishwanat / Getty Images)

With the fantasy season quickly approaching, many are already beginning to get drafts underway, and you need to get up to speed on ADP.

Average draft position is exactly as it says. It’s the average spot at which a player is being drafted.

You will see it posted right beside each player’s name during any online draft.

It is important to note ADP because it shows you where most people are drafting each player so you can plan when you want to pick who you want.

Each year, we see players going off the board both too high and too low. This four-part series aims to find the outliers. The third installment in our search focuses on the running back position.

 

Running Backs Too High:

 

Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams (ADP: RB10/ Overall 19)

For some reason, the fantasy community still hypes Rams running back Todd Gurley.

Gurley did not rush for 100 yards once in 2016, and he only achieved 100 total yards in a game once.

Gurley has only gone north of 90 yards once in his last 24 games.

Gurley’s value does increase with RB Lance Dunbar on PUP to start training camp. Rams head coach Sean McVay said Dunbar would have a role in the passing game, so if he does return, it hurts Gurley’s outlook even more.

The Rams have the second toughest rushing schedule this coming season, and are destined to be a low-scoring team once again. 

In 2106, the Rams ranked 31st in offensive play count. It would be a shock to see that number climb much this season.

If anything, they will be passing more due to their additions at receiver and negative game scripts.

Jared Goff threw, on average, 3.74 yards short of the first-down marker on third downs last year, good for dead last among qualifying quarterbacks.

Unless he can start taking some shots and not be so timid in his play, Gurley will still be running into stacked boxes, hurting his fantasy value.

 

Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers (ADP: RB13/Overall 29)

The rookie out of Stanford is an elusive playmaker, and I suggest you allow the thought of drafting him at his current ADP elude you.

Why avoid the Carolina back?

Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart, for one.

Stewart converted nine of 16 carries inside the five-yard line last year for touchdowns. With McCaffrey being a small back, he will not be getting carries on those short yardage situations.

Not only is Stewart’s presence bound to hurt McCaffrey, but Cam Newton’s will as well.

Last year was the first time in Newton’s career that he failed to reach 100 rushing attempts. Over his first five seasons, Newton averaged just shy of 120 rush attempts and over eight rushing touchdowns per year.

Yes, McCaffrey projects to be a serious mismatch in the passing games for line-backers.

However, we haven’t seen a Panthers running back catch 30 passes since Cam Newton’s rookie season in 2011, when Stewart hauled in 47.

With a fair number of mouths to feed in this offense, it is tough to see McCaffrey coming close to his current ADP, and there are a number of backs you can draft later with far more defined roles and track records.

 

Ameer Abdullah, Detroit Lions (ADP: RB24/Overall 66)

Lions running back Ameer Abdullah is currently being drafted on the RB2/3 borderline, and I’m having trouble seeing his value there.

Over the past three seasons under Jim Caldwell, the Lions have ranked 25th, 30th and 31st in rush attempts, and they are only missing 13 carries from last year, which is 29th in the NFL. 

While Abdullah is definitely getting the majority of the carries for the Lions this year, he is not likely to have a huge involvement in the passing game due to the presence of passing-game specialist Theo Riddick, and he is unlikely  to be a short yardage/goal line back because of the larger RBs Zach Zenner and Dwayne Washington.

There is also a question of ball security with Abdullah. He fumbled four times in his rookie season and also fumbled a kick return. 

In addition, the Lions rank 26th in strength of schedule for RBs.

Abdullah is an RB that is unlikely to catch many passes, unlikely to get goal line carries, faces a formidable run-defense schedule, on a team that doesn't run the ball much. Where is the value?

 

C.J. Anderson, Denver Broncos (ADP: RB25/ Overall 63)

Of all the running backs in this area, Broncos running back C.J. Anderson offers by far the lowest upside.

Anderson is coming off a 2016 season that fell victim to a torn meniscus.

Prior to the injury, Anderson struggled to find the yards-per-carry efficiency he enjoyed through his first couple seasons.

An increased workload could have been the issue for him, as he was on pace to more than double his previous career best in rushing attempts.

Anderson has not been much of a threat in the passing game over his career, having never caught more than 34 passes in a season. He was on pace to just barely eclipse that total last year. 

What is working in Anderson’s favor is the rest of the backfield: They have their problems too.

Devontae Booker was even less efficient than Anderson in 2016, and Jamaal Charles' knees are hanging on by a thread. Yet still, the Broncos may be inclined to lighten Anderson’s workload to try and get his efficiency back up. 

The Broncos backfield also features 2017 sixth-round pick De'Angelo Henderson, who has looked impressive thus far in camp and preseason action.

The Broncos, according to Rotoworld's Warren Sharp, face the toughest overall schedule in the NFL. Add in the fact that no defense is afraid of Trevor Siemian throwing the ball, and C.J. Anderson looks overvalued in this spot.

 

Running Backs Too Low:

 

Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland Browns (ADP: RB14/Overall 34)

If I had to put money on any running back currently being drafted outside the top 12 to break into RB1 territory, it is Cleveland Browns runner Isaiah Crowell.

In 2016, Crowell posted career bests in carries, rushing yards, yards per carry, receptions and total yards.

Next Gen Stats shows that Crowell had 5.88 YPC against eight-man boxes, good for second-best in the NFL, while Pro Football Focus ranked Crowell fourth in yards after contact per attempt at 3.2.

The Browns helped Crowell by bolstering their offensive line, bringing in right guard Kevin Zeitler and center J.C. Tretter.

While Crowell was spelled by Duke Johnson on passing downs, the numbers were much closer in 2016 than seasons past.

In 2015, Johnson had 61 catches to Crowell’s 19. Last year, it was 53-40.

This suggests that the Browns are becoming more comfortable with Crowell in the passing game and could lead to even more receptions.

There have even been rumblings Johnson could see time as a slot receiver.

Johnson is being seldom used as a runner, and with the departure of slot receiver Andrew Hawkins, Johnson could see some action in that role - at least part-time.

If that were ever to come to fruition, Crowell would be a legitimate three-down bell cow.

 

Danny Woodhead, Baltimore Ravens (ADP: RB23/Overall 62)

Baltimore Ravens running back Dann Woodhead missed almost all of 2016 due to a torn ACL.

In 2015, however, he finished the year as the overall RB3 in PPR scoring.

In fact, he almost had the exact same situation in the two years before that.

In 2014, Woodhead played in just three games before suffering a broken fibula, while 2013 saw him post another RB1 season as the 12th best among running backs.

If you want to go back one more year, 2012 with the Patriots, Woodhead finished exactly where he is currently being drafted, as RB23.

The Ravens offense is the perfect landing spot for Woodhead.

They have ranked No. 1 in pass attempts two years in a row, and have 386 vacated targets from last year, which also is top in the league.

Of those 386 targets, 153 are left behind by tight end Dennis Pitta, full back Kyle Juszczyk, and running back Kenneth Dixon, who is out for the year after tearing his meniscus.

A large share of those targets are going to find their way to Woodhead, as those positions are primarily used in short-yardage passing.

While there are injury concerns for a 32-year old running back coming off a major injury, Woodhead’s got a track record suggesting his current ADP is his floor, and a season of good health in this offense would almost guarantee he finishes closer to his ceiling.

 

Mike Gillislee, New England Patirots (ADP: RB27/Overall 71)

While many people see the Patriots backfield as tough to gauge, I see immense potential for new Patriots running back Mike Gillislee.

The Patriots lost a league high 317 carries from 2016, and Gillislee projects to be that early down grinder.

According to Evan Silva, the Patriots have averaged 18 rushing touchdowns a season over the last six years, which sits alone atop the NFL.

The goal-line carries should go to Gillislee, the biggest back on the team.

Gillislee was ruthlessly efficient last year as the back up to LeSean McCoy in Buffalo.

He posted a league best 5.7 yards per carry and scored nine touchdowns, eight of which came on the ground.

He had 11 carries inside the 10, scoring on seven of them. He converted all six of his carries inside the five into touchdowns.

While Gillislee is not going to be a pass catcher, his touchdown upside still makes him a threat in PPR scoring.

Last year saw LeGarrette Blount catch just seven passes for New England, yet he still finished the year as RB9 in PPR.

While it would be a tall order for Gillislee to match Blount’s insane 18 rushing touchdowns from a year ago, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him in double digits.

Gillislee is also a much more efficient runner than Blount, who averaged just 3.9 YPC last year and was just a big-pile mover.

The Patriots face what will be the second softest running schedule based on 2016 fantasy scoring.

They also boast a high-powered offense and play in a weak division, meaning lots of positive, run based game scripts for the team that had the third most rushing attempts from a year ago.

 

Frank Gore, Indianapolis Colts (ADP: RB28/Overall 76)

Old faithful continues to plug along.

This will be Colts running back Frank Gore’s 13th season in the NFL. Only twice in his first 12 years has he finished outside the top -20 running backs in PPR.

The first time he did it was in his rookie year. The second time was in 2014, when he finished one position shy of the top -20.

We have all heard that the cut off age for running backs is 30. Gore didn’t get the memo.

He turned 34 this year and has not missed a game since 2011.

Gore’s passing game usage has even gone up in his time with the Colts.

He had not caught more than 28 passes in his final four seasons with the 49ers. In his two years with Indianapolis, he has caught 34 and 38 passes.

While many believe RB Robert Turbin could see a much more even split this year, he came nowhere close to doing so in 2016, where Gore out-touched him by a 301-73 margin, including 38-26 in the passing game. Gore also averaged more yards per catch than Turbin.

The biggest hang up for Gore, and really the entire offense, is the health of Andrew Luck. If Luck is out, it may be that no Colts player is worth a roster spot.

It’s also possible age finally gets the better of Gore, but he is coming off yet another 1000-yard rushing and RB1 season. Warren Sharp lists the Colts as having the third easiest schedule for 2017.

I think the old dog can still get it done.

 

Theo Riddick, Detroit Lions (ADP: RB31/Overall 81)

Since I believe Lions running back Ameer Abdullah is being overvalued in PPR formats, it is no surprise I think his running mate is being undervalued.

Both Riddick and Abdullah missed significant time last season, but both were healthy and played all 16 games in 2015. Riddick finished as RB18, while Abdullah finished way back at RB43.

Over the past two seasons, Riddick has averaged over five receptions per game, which should not change this year.

I’m obviously going to be rehashing some points made from my Abdullah piece above, but it needs to be restated.

The Lions don’t run the ball much and have a tough running back schedule, whereas their quarterback, wide receiver and tight end schedules all rank 17th or better, meaning passing the ball will be a priority.

The biggest concern for Riddick is he is coming off surgery on both wrists and is currently in non-contact practice.

If he is healthy throughout the season, I would not be shocked to see Riddick and Abdullah end up close in scoring.