I want to start this off with what I think was a fantastic article by J.J. Zachariason, one of the better analysts in fantasy, he is the creator of the late-round QB theory, and has actually since taken a position as the Editor-In-Chief of FanDuel - a piece he wrote for NumberFire earlier this summer, called How to Spot a Breakout Running Back. I'm using his article, because here at BDGE, I like to say I'm the middleman. The Zachariasan's are the Pablo's of the fantasy football world, y'all are the nickel and dime crackheads, I push weight in the middle - I mean I just try to find the best info out there and give it to the masses - not everything is always my research, but if I find good stuff, you can trust I'll bring it to you and you can trust I'll give credit where it's due - this is one of those instances. The article is linked in the description, it's free to read.
Anyways, I want to show you guys this list from the article that he compiled:
He looked all the way back to 2011, and found all of the RBs, with an ADP of 100, and put them in order in terms of most fantasy points that they outscored their ADP, so they have a chart basically that says at pick 100 the average player scores this many FPs each year, at pick 141, the average player scores this many fantasy points - so using that chart, he looked at all RBs since 2011 to see who outperformed their ADP expected points by the most and this is it.
Now, y'all can go read the article but I kind of wanted to summarize the points he made - and I don't want this to sound like I'm just reading straight off of it - all credit to him, please listen to his podcast the Late-Round Podcast & LiveTheStream as well as follow him on Twitter @LateRoundQB - his pod was listed as one of my top podcasts in my draft guide - I don't like very many fantasy analysts in the industry tbh, but he's one of the few that I really respect their work.
He identified 4 trends that are common between almost all of the guys that broke out in the chart above - and keep this in mind when you're drafting and selecting late round RBs guys.
Trend 1 - They are almost never handcuffs.
Trend 2 - Part of ambiguous backfields - meaning they're unclear and all of the guys in the chart were not the first guys taken in fantasy drafts out of their respective backfields.
Trend 3 - They are pass-catchers: the craziest part is that of the 24 guys listed above, they averaged 50 receptions during that season.
Trend 4 - They come from good offenses. No surprise here.
Now, these aren't end-all, be-all of course, but they should give you a good baseline for what you're looking for, because as always, guys emerge that you wouldn't expect and when they do, you can almost definitely look back and say that they checked a minimum 2, probably more likely 3 of these boxes.
So, let's dive in.
Peyton Barber - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Current ADP: 116 Overall, RB43
Y'all are probably sick of hearing me talk about Barber at this point, as I really haven't stopped since the preseason began, but don't worry I have added information and new things I'd like to say believe it or not, so stay tuned.... And people still think Jones will be the starter by Week 3 or 4. It doesn't make sense to me.
All summer reports had Barber pulling ahead of Jones. Then preseason games started and you say, hmmm, maybe that was all talk and Jones will emerge as the guy. The literal opposite happened. In Week 1, Barber played on 13-of-14 snaps with the starters. It was much of the same throughout Weeks 2 and 3 of the preseason. He'd finish the preseason rushing 15 times for 87 yards and two touchdowns, 5.8 YPC, 4.1 YAC, 0.33 TA/A (0.23 was the highest mark in 2017 among RBs w/ at least 100 carries - Alvin Kamara). He caught 3-of-3 targets as well. Meanwhile, Ronald Jones out here racking up 18 yards on 18 carries, dropping 2-of-his-3 targets, looking like the second coming of Ameer Abdullah had his powers got sucked out of him like Space Jam.
We have Dirk Koetter out here saying that they would be comfortable giving Barber 20 touches in a game aka they can use him as a workhorse. Barber is a guy with a 3-down skill set. We talk about handing a big load - bruh - he's like the Rachell Star of that... Over the last 5 games in 2017, Barber averaged over 18 touches/game. He's a big back, 5-10, 225lbs, he can handle it. Early-down work - he's already getting all of that as it stands. Pass-catching: like I said, he proved that he can do it, caught 3-of-3 this preseason, and he caught multiple passes in 4 of those 5 games last year down the stretch. Now, with Charles Sims on the I.R. - it's really just between Barber & Jones for that work - and Jones came out of college with the pass-catching as a red flag - he caught 32 passes in 40 college games at USC - the Buccaneers RBs coach Tim Spencer literally came out and said there's "probably a reason" second-round RB Ronald Jones wasn't more involved in USC's passing game. Do you know how bad or frustrated you have to be with a player, after working with him for months already to come out and publicly say that? That tells me Jones is far behind Barber for that role - which like Zachariasan said, is a key piece of a breakout running back. And what are the other valuable carries for a back? Oh yes, the GL work. Well, Barber is also that guy - 20lbs heavier than Jones - he got the GL carries with the starters this preszn, one of his 2 TDs was from the 4-yard line, I expect him to maintain that role.
I'm afraid people are just writing Barber off as just a guy, but I think he deserves more credit. His YPC (3.9) was low last year, but his YAC was 2.7, so think of that, his YAC was nearly as high as his YPC - that is a line problem, not a running back issue. And during that 5-game stretch when he operated as the workhorse, his YPC shot up to 4.3. He was a top-15 RB per FOs DVOA and ranked 14th in yards created per carry per PlayerProfiler.com.
Barber is set up for a big workload in 2018 - don't pass him by because he's not a flashy name. He checks 3-of-4 of JJ's boxes above, the only question mark is how good will this offense actually be? But the volume should be there.
Corey Clement - Philadelphia Eagles
Current ADP: 131 Overall, RB51
Mr. CC. After foregoing the running back position this summer, the Eagles are left with Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement and Darren Sproles on their backfield depth chart.
Clement is an UDFA out of Wisconsin, turning 23 in the middle of his 2017 rookie campaign. He a big mf, 5-10, 220. What stuck on a lot of people's minds was the Superbowl win for the Eagles, Clement went for 108 and a tuddy, wrapping up a lowkey nice rookie season. He scored just 6 times on 84 touches while splitting the backfield with 1,000 running backs. He beat out Wendell Smallwood, Pumphrey is about 130lbs, went to the I.R. and is in danger of not making the team. LeGarrette Blount and his 181 touches from a year ago are in Detroit, and Darren Sproles is 35 years old, coming off of a torn ACL, my money is on him not being a big contributor to this Eagles team.
Ajayi is the guy in this backfield, but, and I know this is horrible analysis, if something were to happen to him, Clement is in line for a monster workload in a really, really good offense. Clement missed the last couple weeks of Eagles practice with an ankle injury, but he's since returned and will be all systems go for their Week 1 matchup at home against Atlanta, who I might mention gives up the most goddam fantasy points to opposing RBs by way of pass catching. However, Ajayi has now missed nearly two weeks of practice with what is being called a "lower body injury" and is yet to return. It could be completely cautionary with no legs to it at all, but it also could not. We're less than a week away, considering they play on TNF and he's not back at practice yet.
But the Eagles as a team, again, are pretty good, wouldn't you say? This is a very, very good offensive line, and they will have a ton of scoring opportunities. Clement, like I mentioned is a big back, 220lbs, and with Blount gone, it's possible Clement occupies that GL role. Blount ranked 10th in the NFL last year with 10 rushes inside-the-5. Ajayi didn't have a single GL carry during the entirety of the 2017 regular season.
Clement also showed his chops in the passing game. He caught a pass in 8 of their last 9 games, including the playoffs, where he had a 5-catch game against Atlanta and then that explosion in the SuperBowl, catching 4 passes for 100 yards and a score. What else might keep Clement on the field more on third downs, which could ultimately lead to more early-down work is his pass-blocking. Clement graded out as PFF's 2nd highest graded rookie running back (only behind Jamaal Williams) and 7th overall graded pass-blocking RB, of a qualified 46 backs.
Looking at Football Outsiders, I wanted to see Clement's efficiency numbers last year. His sample size wasn't high enough to qualify for the normal RB section, but his rushing grade among about 56 RBs that had less than 100 carries ranked 5th, and his receiving grade ranked #1 among all of them.
So, just like Barber, I don't want to write Clement off as just a guy. But, we'll have to see what shakes up with Ajayi, and it's probably going to take a few things to break right for this Clement take to come to fruition, but he's not only a guy to stash and wait on, he'll have a role in this offense with some standalone value.
Jordan Wilkins - Indianapolis Colts
Current ADP: 157 Overall, RB58
There's arguably no running back situation as murky as Indy's, or as J.J. would put it - ambiguous, considering the amount of names here. I'm interested to see if they keep all five of these guys on the roster on cut day - sophomore Marlon Mack, rookies Jordan Wilkins and Nyheim Hines, and journeymen Robert Turbin and Christine Michael. Wilkins definitely has the lowest floor of everyone I've talked about in this video, but I also think given his skillset, he has the opportunity to make almost all the backs in Indy's talent redundant and not needed.
We'll start with Mack - who was presumed to be the starter, and he was in Week 1 of the preseason, but pulled up with a hamstring injury and has been sidelined since - with no assurance that he'll be ready for week 1 - hamstring injuries entering the season scare the shit out of me if they're not fully, 100% recovered heading into the regular season. Mack is also missing valuable practice time while fighting for the top depth chart, giving away first-team reps to other backs, namely Wilkins. He's been running with the ones at practice and got the start in their 3rd preseason game, leading the team with 14 carries. With a new regime and offensive scheme in Indy, it's no guarantee that Mack holds onto that starting role when he returns.
Nyheim Hines profiles as an athlete, someone you design plays for out of the backfield - 5'8', 198lbs - he never had a shot at taking over this backfield and has played just absolutely awful this preseason. He's the one I'm least concerned with giving Wilkins trouble.
Christine Michael is the other back that will probably split time with Wilkins on early downs if Mack isn't healthy. This will be his 6th year in the league without making an impact - I think we're seeing what Michael is, and that's just a guy. So, the difference between these two would be the unknown factor of Wilkins.
Turbin is suspended for the first 4 games because of PED use, and when he comes back the only role I'd imagine he'd have is on the GL, but after four games it's very possible that Wilkins shows that he can stuff it in on the GL and there's not a need to insert Turbin back in there.
So, there are obviously a lot of dominoes that need to fall, but I don't think they're unreasonable. The injury to Mack is very real. Hines has been very bad. Michael has proven nothing in 6 years, and Turbin is suspended for 30% of the fantasy regular season.
As I was saying, Wilkins has a 3-down skillset, which we saw during his last year at Ole Miss. He rushed for over 1,000 yards and 9 touchdowns, averaging 6.5 YPC in the SEC. He also showed his passing down skills by catching 26 passes for 241 yards. 26 passes is not a number to shake off in college. He caught 3 or more passes in 5 games and had multiple games with 5 or more receptions. And like I said, he played in the SEC, against some stout defenses. Against Alabama, he went 12-101, Miss St.: 14-110-2, Auburn 13-65-1 (limited but still 5.0 YPC).
He's 6'1, 216lbs so he has that workhorse size if it comes to that.
The good thing about Wilkins is this. You can get him extremely late in drafts, and I think you're going to know what you have right out of the gate. If he gets the start and starts the season off very strong, it's going to be his job to lose. But if he starts slow, doesn't perform over the first couple of weeks, only a handful of touches, Mack returns, etc. - you'll know you can safely drop him.
He's a guy you're investing very little capital in with the chance to return crazy upside.
- I couldn't put these guys on the list because their ADP isn't technically over 100. They should be picked inside the top-100, but if they're not in your league - they are what we call steals: Chris Carson, Jamaal Williams.
- Aaron Jones is a guy that would fit basically all of J.J.'s criteria above, but I think people are too high on his talent and not looking at the situation realistically. He's missed almost the entire summer with hamstring and concussion issues. He's suspended for two games to start the year - the Packers just based on last year's numbers, they had a single RB touch the ball 20+ times in 10-of-16 games in 2017, they want to have a workhorse and Williams, if he can stay healthy will get first crack and be that guy.
Vikings - Latavius Murray
Chiefs - Spencer Ware
Cardinals - Chase Edmonds
Steelers - James Conner
Chargers - Austin Ekeler
Cowboys - Rod Smith