Early Round Red Alert: Overvalued Running Backs

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By Harold Studer
Follow me on Twitter @hstuder36

With camps starting and the preseason only a few weeks away, the hype surrounding certain players will either grow to astronomical levels or begin to fall to levels that makes them an afterthought until later rounds of your fantasy drafts. I’m going to examine a few players whose current early round ADP could leave their owners burnt by these high expectations between now and the fantasy playoffs.

Todd Gurley – First Round ADP

Being taken in the first round as one of the top RB prospects this year, Gurley is only a second year back. Last year he finished with just over half a season of stats, but caught fantasy owners and the NFL off guard with his explosiveness and game changing ability. A continuation of this trajectory is what pushes his value into the first round, following a year of upsets and let downs by so many of the leagues RBs. I’ve argued before that such a small sample size alone makes me worry about his draft price.

The more concerning factor is the entire offense that currently surrounds him in LA. Gurley is undeniably the only offensive weapon the Rams have worth a defensive coordinators time, and now they have film on him and aren’t surprised by his talent. With time to prepare and no real threat of a passing game from rookie QB Goff and the Rams underperforming corps of WRs, Gurley will see more stacked boxes on the defensive front than a Toys R Us employee at Christmas time.

The pure volume of touches and opportunities is what makes Gurley such and appealing prospect. Like I said, I’m not oblivious to the fact he is their only real offensive weapon, but with high volume also comes injury and conditioning concerns. You only have to go back to his college days to begin your list serious injuries. Also, volume and opportunities only come into effect if the game flow dictates, and when playing from behind, the Rams can’t stick to the ground game very long and expect to be winning many games.

‘Zeke Elliot – Late First Round ADP

A rookie RB being taken in the first round of a fantasy draft. That sentence should be enough to explain how preseason hype and expectation can create an overvalued prospect. Elliot was a dynamic talent in college, but has yet to take the field against NFL level defenses which is only the first reason his draft price is way too high.

The second reason I’m skeptical about Elliot living up to his current ADP is because I don’t assume he will be the undisputed starter in Dallas. The Cowboys had an effective run game last year with McFadden leading the way, but also began the season with a stable of backs all looking to tote the ball a significant amount. This year McFadden remains, and Elliot gets drafted, but the Cowboys also brought in veteran back Alfred Morris to add depth and experience to their RB stable. I expect there to be more of a timeshare than there was last year because of the caliber of talent they have in all three of their RBs, and it shouldn’t be expected that Elliot automatically beats out the two veterans to secure the starting gig.

A third factor to keep in mind when examining the Dallas offense from last year is the injury impact of Romo and Bryant on the team. Without a sufficient starter at QB and one of the most dynamic receivers in the game, the Cowboy’s offense may have become a shell of itself and focused more on taking advantage of opportunities rather than creating opportunities. That being said, the entire offense doesn’t have to be run through Elliot like many are speculating. The offense should be more balanced creating equal shares of offensive touches for the RBs and WRs. That combined with a possible timeshare at RB makes Elliot’s fantasy draft stock well beyond overvalued.

Devonta Freeman – Mid Second Round ADP

News has come out recently that the Atlanta Falcons want to reduce Freemans workload. This workload is exactly what kept Freeman relevant at the end of last year, after breaking out between weeks 3-7. The recent report also stated that the Falcons wanted to increase Coleman’s touches and get him more involved in the game plan. After accumulating 14 TDs and 1639 combined total yards on 337 touches, there should be no doubt about the Falcons wanting to keep Freeman fresh by limiting his carries.

I think the most telling part of the report was the fact that the Falcons stated they wanted the two running backs competing. Remember last preseason, Freeman wasn’t slated to be the starter and only became so by taking advantage of an injury to Coleman. It is also important to remember that Freeman was drafted by the previous coaching staff and Coleman was brought in as the new regime’s guy. This generally means that the starting position is still undecided and might continue to be through camp and preseason. The RB situation in Atlanta seems to be heading towards the proverbial fantasy quagmire as the Falcons will likely employ a committee approach.

Freeman’s current fantasy ADP has him coming of the board as a RB1 based on last year’s total statistics. The situation however should dictate that Freeman be considered an upside RB2 at best, who will have a regression in workload, opportunity, and volume, all of which were contributing factors to his success and production last year.

The expectations with all of these backs should be tempered more than it currently is. The need to latch on to a superstar RB is one that creates hype and expectations for players who are either unproven, talented but in a bad situation, or beneficiaries of scheme and injury. I’m sounding the alarm on these players in hope of helping fantasy owners see the rocks before their teams become wreckage along the shoreline of bad draft decisions.