Well here we are, the landscape is set as we wave goodbye to free agency and the much anticipated NFL Draft. NFL rosters are full and all the pieces are in place. Now comes the fun part of analyzing the landing spots and depth charts across the league as fantasy managers start to key in on their favorite players for draft season. But not every player or pick is going to produce a diamond in the rough for your fantasy teams.
So let’s take a deeper look into some high-profile running backs you should let your league mates spend high capital on while you avoid the landmines and laugh your way to success.
Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders:
Our first landmine to avoid finished firmly in RB1 territory at RB8 in half point PPR according to FantasyPros averaging over 14 points per game in 15 games played last season. Jacobs has been a fantasy enigma ever since coming into the league as a first-round pick in 2019. With the questionable coaching decisions of Jon Gruden’s staff to play Jacobs less than 60% of snaps in each of his first two seasons, we have seen him cede work to the likes of Devontae Booker, Jalen Richard, and DeAndre Washington to name a few. Now in addition to getting rid of 60% of what was considered a strong point of their offense, they also signed Kenyan Drake to a 2-year, 11 million dollar guaranteed contract to “backup” Jacobs and siphon more touches away.
Now you might say, “Julian, Jacobs has had competition in the backfield his first two seasons in the league” and you would not be wrong. But you have to follow the money when analyzing new moves and you do not pay a running back that kind of guarantee without planning on using them. Taking that into account and looking at the Raiders past season rushing total of 397 backfield attempts which, when extrapolated over 17 games, leaves us with 422 carries to split up. Let’s conservatively say Drake gets 150 of those touches, Richard and Riddick take up another 50, we already come in lower than his last season’s total at 222 carries.
If you divide up the same numbers for receptions you end up with a potential stat line of 222 carries and 33 receptions based on his career catching percentage. Coupling those numbers with a team that could easily finish in the basement of the AFC West limiting scoring opportunities, it seems like fantasy managers could end up drafting Jacobs at his ceiling come August and cap their upside potential.
James Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars:
Our next running back burst onto the scene in 2020 out of absolutely nowhere going from undrafted free agent depth piece to finishing RB7 in half-point PPR. It all seemed to come together for Robinson leading up to Week One as a disgruntled Leonard Fournette was released and “starter” Ryquell Armstead had a bout with Covid and had to miss what would turn out to be the majority of the season. Pairing this with an anemic offense that saw three different starting QBs who provided next to nothing through the air, we saw Robinson set records and get the volume that fantasy managers could only dream of when they picked him up off of waivers leading into Week One.
So let’s break down why Robinson went from “belle of the ball” to “old news” leading into the draft season. Unless you have been living under a rock, you now know the main concern with Robinson is that he has some new running mates that the current regime has brought into the backfield. One of which being Travis Etienne, who was considered by most analysts to be one of the top three backs in this year’s rookie class. As if this was not bad enough for Robinson’s stock, the Jags spent 1st round draft capital on Etienne to get him to prevent any possible trade-ups from teams like Atlanta, the Jets, or Miami who were all thought to be in the market for a new running back.
In the past four NFL Drafts from 2017-2020, there have been a total of eight running backs taken in the 1st round. Of those eight we have seen an average of just over 205 touches in their rookie season! To make things a little worse if you take out the questionable pick of Rashaad Penny from Seattle, that average jumps up to nearly 235! For the sake of our discussion, we will project Etienne to fall directly on the average and gets 205 touches in 2021.
Extrapolating the running back touches from this past season of 369, the Jags would have roughly 390 touches to go around the backfield with Etienne set to get over half! Now a two-headed monster in a good offense is one thing. Unfortunately, in addition to Etienne, Urban Meyer brought in a familiar face in Carlos Hyde. This move has flown a little under the radar considering Meyers even mentioned Hyde and Robinson on the same level during a press conference which is not exactly a good thing fantasy-wise for Robinson truthers.
To be clear, this is not a knock on Robinson’s skill or my opinions of him as a football player as he proved weekly that he was a threat to move the ball with every one of his 289 touches. However, this is FANTASY football and to win you have to be fluid with your analysis and expectations which most likely means I will have no shares of Robinson priced at an ADP of RB2 or higher.
Saquon Barkley, New York Giants:
Ok fantasy community, I know what you are thinking, “this guy is insane” and that might be the truth, but hear me out and do not jump ship before you completely write me off. When the NFL kicks off this season, we will be two seasons removed from his glorious 2018 rookie campaign where he took the league by storm peppered by what was left of Eli Manning’s passing prowess to the tune of 121 targets. After that season you could not have bought Barkley for all of King Midas’ silver in dynasty leagues. Fast forward two seasons and we have seen unfortunate injuries and statistical decreases across the board culminating in a less than two yards per carry average last season in the two games he appeared in.
Of course, there is no doubt that Barkley has the talent to produce and he is one of a select few running backs that could finish as the RB1 at the end of the season. But that road may not be as clear as you would expect or think.
The start of the problem is the perceived receiving work that is associated with Barkley after his rookie season. Since that initial season, Barkley saw his targets drop from 121 to 73 when Danny Dimes started to take the helm.
Now it is hard to make anything of this past season for Barkley statistically after going out for the season in week two with just nine targets. However, you can see after week two when Barkley was out, Jones and Colt McCoy with his two starts only targeted his backs 68 times or under five per game. Now do not think what I am not saying. Yes, Barkley will demand more targets out of the backfield, and yes, Barkley is much better than Wayne Gallman or Dion Lewis or whoever the Giants would trot out.
However, that will only account for so much before you step back and say maybe there is not a 100 target season on the horizon for Saquon. So, if he is not going to dominate through the air, maybe he could make up for it in the ground game right? While there is always the possibility of that being the case if we look at everything Dave Gettleman and the Giants did this offseason you have to think that they are looking at 2021 as the make it or break it year for their former 1st round signal-caller under center. Starting from free agency the Giants were aggressive and paid big-time money for the top wide receiver Kenny Golladay to come over from Detroit giving him 4-years for $72 million with $40 million guaranteed.
In case this does not seem like a lot, according to Spotrac’s tracking this was easily the 4th highest paid signing of free agency this year! Ignoring smaller moves such as signing John Ross, the Giants still went into the draft with plenty of pass-catching mouths to feed with talks that they might not be done yet. Reports were right as we played witness to plenty of maneuvering back and forth leading to the Giants drafting Kadarius Toney at 20th overall. Spending a top-five amount in free agency and their top pick on two different wide receivers screams that the Giants are going to the air more and going to have the weapons to spread the ball out potentially making just about all of them irrelevant for your fantasy team. So heed this warning managers as you stare down the decision of drafting someone such as Saquon who might have a capped ceiling versus someone who potentially has an easier route to THE RB1 such as Dalvin Cook in Minnesota.
There it is ladies and gentlemen, two high profile and one superstar running back you should avoid as we head through the rest of the off-season and get ready for the upcoming draft season this Fall. Feel free to tweet at me at @dipaoljp to tell me just how quickly Saquon is going to make me regret this analysis!