I’m back to follow-up on last week’s overrated and underrated players. In this article, we’ll shift over to the running back position. This is one of the most divisive positions in the fantasy game, but no matter when you want to draft running backs, the focus should be workload and ensuring any back you draft as a starter is in a good position to receive the bulk of the carries in their respective backfield. With that said, here are some running backs who are being overvalued and undervalued in April.
Devonta Freeman: Atlanta Falcons (Overvalued)
Devonta Freeman finished as the seventh overall running back in points scored per game last year in PPR formats after posting 1,079 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns, while also tacking on 54 receptions for 462 yards and two more touchdowns. With those numbers, it makes sense that he is currently the seventh running back off the board according to most ADP sources. However, there are two related factors that make Freeman’s ability to sustain success at that level questionable.
It seems relatively safe to say that Freeman will remain the lead back in Atlanta in 2017 over Tevin Coleman, as Freeman out-carried Coleman consistently when both were healthy enough to play last season. Though Freeman remained potent in terms of yards per carry, in games where both Freeman and Coleman played, only once did each of the backs score a touchdown. Freeman’s numbers looked excellent despite this, but that was a result of efficiency that cannot reasonably be expected to continue for the Falcons’ offense as a whole.
In 2016, the Falcons scored 33.8 points per game, the highest number in the league. It was also the highest team average over an entire season since 2013, when the Broncos posted a mark of 37.9 points per game. A look at how other league leaders have fared since 2013 illustrates that expected a number anywhere near that high this season would be a mistake.
For example, Denver slipped to 30.1 points per game in 2014 after its 37.9 per game mark in 2013. Green Bay had the number-one offense in 2014, scoring 30.4 points per game, but that mark fell to 23 points per game in 2015. Carolina had the number one offense in 2015 averaging 31.3 points per game, and that figure dipped to 23.1 in 2016. The point is, it’s incredibly hard to replicate the best offense in football over multiple seasons.
This carries over into the fantasy realm, as on each of those teams, the most prominent fantasy assets took a hit in value and were disappointments in the season following their big performances. Likewise, with fewer scores to go around, the fantasy assets in Atlanta will take a hit. That could come mostly off of Matt Ryan’s ledger, but investing the risk in Freeman with the 11th overall pick is something fantasy owners should not feel comfortable doing.
Jay Ajayi: Miami Dolphins (overvalued)
Jay Ajayi emerged onto the fantasy landscape in 2016 after consecutive 200 rushing yard games against the Steelers and Bills. He added in another 200-yard performance on Christmas Eve for good measure. Those three performances vaulted his fantasy numbers for the season and accounted for 49% of his entire season-long yards production along with half of his touchdowns. That leaves 648 rushing yards and four touchdowns spread out over the other 13 games of the season.
Even taking out the first three games of the season where he wasn’t given the majority of the Dolphins’ carries doesn’t make his per-game numbers impressive. While excluding or extrapolating production is a dangerous game to play in many scenarios, it is more reasonable in this case because 200-yard rushing games are exceedingly rare.
Also hurting Ajayi’s case as a high round pick in 2017 is his lack of involvement in the passing game. He recorded four or more receptions in just one game in 2016 and never recorded over 31 receiving yards in a game.
On the other hand, there are reasons to buy into Ajayi. The Dolphins should have a very solid, if not elite, offensive line. In addition, Ajayi is just 23 years old, which gives him room for improvement. Finally, barring the Dolphins spending a high draft pick on a running back, Ajayi should have little competition for carries behind him. There’s little doubt he comes with a high ceiling, but at pick 2.02 (his current ADP), I prefer floor over ceiling, and there are plenty of those options available with the likes of Mark Ingram, Carlos Hyde, and Lamar Miller all going several picks later.
Ameer Abdullah: Detroit Lions (undervalued)
Ameer Abdullah appeared ready to break out as Detroit’s leading playmaker at the running back position in a very small sample size in 2016. Much has been made of the “competition” Abdullah now faces to regain a major role in the offense. However, concern over this seems rather misplaced.
Zach Zenner has always been a trendy name in the fantasy community, yet he had just 3 games where he had 10 carries or more. He managed 11 carries in the Lions playoff game, but recorded just 34 yards. Meanwhile, the other competitor for playing time at the position is Dwayne Washington, though he managed just 2.9 yards per carry. Of course, Theo Riddick remains on the team as a third down back, but he should not be any threat to take over early down work. Abdullah should get every chance to remain the starter given his high acquisition cost and ceiling in comparison to the other options at the position.
Abdullah is currently being taken in the middle of the seventh round around players such as Rob Kelley, Matt Forte, Paul Perkins, and Dion Lewis. Perkins is the only player of these that is in a good position to have a major role on their current team in 2017. Other players going ahead of Abdullah include Jamaal Charles, Derrick Henry, and Doug Martin. Questions abound with these players as well.
Fantasy owners should be comfortable taking Abdullah as high as a top-20 running back, which would put him among the likes of the aforementioned Tevin Coleman. Given his current ADP in the seventh round and the three round gap between him and Coleman, Abdullah is a draft steal.