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Uncertainty at RB Defines 2016 Fantasy Football Season

Brandon C. Williams December 30, 2016 2:49PM EST
Alas, our weekly group therapy sessions have come to an end. As our focus turns from touches and targets to OBP and WHIP, I’d be remiss if we didn’t have a final gathering to discuss what we’ve learned about this now-fading Fantasy Football season, while also keeping an eye on what lies ahead for your 2017 drafts.

Why We Should’ve Answered the Bell Earlier….

Le’Veon Bell’s penchant for burning tree led to his second suspension in as many years, resulting in his average draft position falling to 12.5. While Adrian Peterson (5.9) and Lamar Miller (11.5) went ahead of Bell, owners in position to withstand his three-game absence were rewarded with a back who enters Sunday’s regular season finale with a record-setting 157 yards from scrimmage per game.

Even with the brief absence, Bell is a solid third in total Fantasy points (PPR format) behind David Johnson and Ezekiel Elliott. Prorate his average Fantasy points per game over 15 games, and Bell surpasses Elliott. About the only “flaw” on Bell is that he has just nine touchdowns, pale in comparison to the 20 amassed by Johnson and the 16 visits to the goal line Elliott accumulated.

Suffice to say, Bell will be a top five pick next season so long as he avoids the sticky stuff. He will make a strong case for being the first overall pick, especially when you consider a full season of TE Ladarius Green and the return of WR Martavis Bryant will make an already lethal Steelers offense more devastating.

As great as Le'Veon Bell was this season, imagine if he had played the full campaign...(Photo Credit: Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire)

As great as Le’Veon Bell was this season, imagine if he had played the full campaign. Photo Credit: Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire

Never, Ever Draft a TE Early Again

We knew Rob Gronkowski wasn’t strong enough to overcome the Curse of the Madden cover, yet he still went off draft boards on an average of 9.9. Jordan Reed (37.9), Greg Olsen (42.4) and Travis Kelce (57.4) were also Top 60 picks. While Olsen and Kelce lived up to expectations, the rise of lower-tiered players at the position and overall depth provided concrete evidence that waiting in the later rounds for a tight end is a commandment worth noting.

Delanie Walker (third behind Kelce and Olsen in total Fantasy points) put up another stellar season, yet the revivals of Jimmy Graham and Jason Witten, a healthy Dennis Pitta and Kyle Rudolph, and the late-season emergence of Zach Ertz and pre-injury Cameron Brate only bolstered the expanding depth at the position, which will be stronger next season.

Next season may be the deepest the position has seen in years. Entering the final week of regular season play, sixteen players at the position scored at least 100 Fantasy points (again, PPR format), a list that does not include the likes of Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen and potential 2017 breakout candidates Vance McDonald, Clive Walford and Ladarius Green. Tyler Eifert should be healthy after an injury-plagued season neutered a follow-up to his 13-TD performance in 2015, while the position may also receive a possible star when Alabama’s O.J. Howard (a projected first round pick) is selected in the upcoming draft.

There is no longer a need to reach for a tight end early. Owners can sit back and build the foundation of their teams with full confidence a quality player will be available between rounds 7-12.

Everything We Thought We Knew About the RB Position is Wrong

If you didn’t have Johnson, Elliott or Bell, you learned a lesson that also best defines 2016; consistency is as elusive at running back as it is in life. Assuming Todd Gurley (3.3 ADP) will be your bell cow was as disruptive to your Fantasy team like Donald of Orange was to the political system. Expectations of an Eddie Lacy rebound (20.4 ADP) went the way of the Indians’ 3-1 lead in the World Series, while Jamaal Charles (22.3 ADP) rewarded owners who ignored the warnings about his health with a robust 14 total touches and 54 total yards.

The regime change at RB was one of the more pronounced discoveries of this past season. No longer will Peterson, Lacy, Charles, Frank Gore, Matt Forte and Jeremy Hill be considered worthy of consideration in the first 70-100 picks. Despite remarkable rebounds from DeMarco Murray (a tremendous bargain considering his ADP of 48.1) and LeSean McCoy (24.4 ADP), the position offered little consistency beyond the top three backs.

The offseason will lend us time to consider whether the arrivals of Melvin Gordon (66.3 ADP yet is seventh at the position in points), Jay Ajayi (108.8 ADP) and Jordan Howard (ranked as the 65th best back in preseason) are ushering in the next wave of RB1-caliber stars. Speaking of the next wave, the upcoming draft offers a Christmas-like feel of new “toys” at RB, as Leonard Fournette (LSU), Dalvin Cook (Florida State), Christian McCaffrey (Stanford) and D’Onta Foreman (Texas) lead the way in what is the deepest crop of incoming backs in years.

Unless you are sitting on a top three pick in next year’s draft, you will have questions about how to handle the backs you draft. Having been around Fantasy Football since Herschel Walker was a first-round selection, I have never seen running back offer so much uncertainty. In a way, it kind of sums up the world around us.

(One Last) Oodle of Numbers

*Fifty-two players entered Week 17 with at least 100 targets, with Johnson (116) the sole RB and Olsen (125), Rudolph (117), Kelce (116) and Pitta (105) at TE. As much as I like Jarvis Landry, the Dolphins wideout was one of the hollower producers among the 100-target club, managing just three touchdowns on 119 targets. He did improve his yards per catch from last year’s 5.3 to a more respectable 7.1, a number that offers hope he can find the end zone more often in 2017.

*The 100-reception club will be less crowded, as only Antonio Brown (106 catches) and Larry Fitzgerald (102) are already in the Champagne Room. Entering Week 17, Odell Beckham Jr. (96 receptions) stands the best chance to hit the century mark, while Doug Baldwin (92), Jordy Nelson and Mike Evans (both with 91) will need a high volume of targets to approach the mark.

*Based on what I’ve seen this season, this is how I would project the first round (PPR format) next summer:

  1. David Johnson, RB, Cardinals
  2. Le’Veon Bell, RB, Steelers (please, oh, please stay away from the weed…)
  3. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Cowboys
  4. Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers
  5. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Giants
  6. Julio Jones, WR, Falcons
  7. Mike Evans, WR, Buccaneers
  8. Leonard Fournette, RB, Jaguars (someone will gamble that he becomes the 2017 version of Elliott)
  9. Jordy Nelson, WR, Packers
  10. DeMarco Murray, RB, Titans
  11. Jay Ajayi, RB, Dolphins
  12. Jordan Howard, RB, Bears

Oh….what the hell. Let’s have one last embrace as we do Round Two:

  1. Devonta Freeman, RB, Falcons
  2. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
  3. A.J. Green, WR, Bengals
  4. Dalvin Cook, RB, Colts (most pro-ready of the incoming rookies. Could be devastating in a PPR format)
  5. LeSean McCoy, RB, Bills
  6. Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons
  7. Melvin Gordon, RB, Chargers
  8. Brandin Cooks, WR, Saints
  9. Amari Cooper, WR, Raiders
  10. Lamar Miller, RB, Texans
  11. Todd Gurley, RB, Rams (has a chance to be a steal depending on who becomes the Rams’ next HC)
  12. C.J. Prosise, RB, Seahawks

It’s been a thrill and an honor to do this column. Not to worry, lads, I’ll resurface either on the court or patrolling the outfield. Eh, who knows? Perhaps I might get to lace up the skates and play left wing on a penalty-killing unit…..

 

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