No position is more prone to busts than running backs. Between injury, poor performance, workload and now COVID, there are any number of factors that can work against even the highest of picks to undermine their fantasy output.
Because injuries are difficult to forecast among stalwart running backs (look at Saquon Barkley last season), it is best to look at performance history, coaching tendencies, backfield competition or a combination of those factors when determining potential workload. In an earlier piece we discussed our dislike of the high draft status of Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the poster boy for our no-offseason COVID worries regarding RB usage, so let’s focus on others.
One coaching tendency that sticks out, among RBs being taken in the first two rounds of fantasy drafts, is how Eagles coach Doug Pederson has approached his running game. To wit, LeSean McCoy is the most recent Eagles RB to top 1,000 yards. That was six seasons ago, and three teams ago for McCoy.
The five years since, four under Pederson’s reign, have produced a top rushing total of 818 yards. That was Miles Sanders last season. Yet even that can be attributed to extra work after injuries to lead back Jordan Howard — withJay Ajayi, Darren Sproles and Corey Clement also getting sidelined.
If Pederson has taught us anything, it is that he does not want to lean on a feature RB. He has an analytic approach, and much like, say, the Yankees, adheres to workload data to keep players fresh and healthy. Hence, the lack of reliance on one feature back.
Yet, Sanders is being drafted like a bellcow runner. He often is selected early in the second round, ahead of actual feature backs like Josh Jacobs and Aaron Jones, in the same vicinity as Kenyan Drake. Taking Sanders before some of these players doesn’t make sense based on Pederson’s history.
Look, we love Sanders as a talent. And we would love for Pederson to use him in a manner we deem worthy of his talents. If so, it would justify Sanders’ current draft position. But Pederson doesn’t have a history of doing that. Those picking Sanders so high are hoping Pedereon suddenly changes philosophy. Those drafters are projecting their desires onto a player rather than apply real-world coaching trends.
Sorry, we’re not investing an early second-round pick on a Doug Pederson running back, we don’t care who it is, even if it is Miles Sanders.
Often drafted in close proximity to Sanders is Nick Chubb – another superior talent. The first half of last season, Chubb was a monster. Yet, that was before Kareem Hunt entered the equation.
Over the first eight games, Chubb averaged 100.4 rushing yards per game, had six touchdowns and caught 25 passes for 161 yards. After Hunt arrived, the final eight games Chubb averaged 86.4 yards per game, had two TDs and just 11 receptions for 117 yards. He went from averaging 20 PPR fantasy points per game to 13.
Yet Chubb is routinely around the ninth RB off the boards in fantasy drafts. There is no reason to believe Hunt will be less involved this season, so that undercuts Chubb’s value.
We touched on Austin Ekeler when discussing Justin Jackson as a potential sleeper in an earlier piece. We wouldn’t have done that if we didn’t think Ekeler was a potential bust.
And though we have mentioned our worries about lack of proper preparation in this disrupted offseason, it seems many drafters aren’t listening. Other rookie running backs like Jonathan Taylor and D’Andre Swift are going too high for our liking.
None of this means the aforementioned aren’t good players. It just means we have worries that aren’t reflected in their draft cost. So be aware, and don’t overpay early for options who carry excessive risks.