While all of the attention that’s on the NFL is focused on the draft (and Odell Beckham), it’s important not to forget about players already in the league even this far ahead of the season. Below, I explain two running backs that I want to target in trades this offseason.
Things have changed quite a bit from one year ago for Ajayi, after a midseason trade and a disappointing performance in 2017. Along with those changes has come a drop in his keeper/dynasty value. One of the simplest indicators being that he has dropped from an early fourth round pick (RB 11) to a mid sixth round pick (RB 25) in startup dynasty leagues in the past year. However, he has a change to regain that value as his situation entering 2018 is similar to that of 2017 with the offseason departure of LeGarrette Blount. He is once again the lead back on his team, remains in his prime years of production, and is a part of one of the more efficient offenses from last season that figures to be strong again in 2018.
That makes now the time to acquire him. Gone with Blount are 173 carries with no obvious back to take over carries currently on the roster other than Ajayi. While it’s possible the Eagles add a running back in the draft, they have only one pick in the first three rounds. That means unless they add a back with their first round pick, any rookie selected isn’t likely to step in and immediately cut into Ajayi’s role in a meaningful way. While admittedly anecdotal, Ajayi is also set to be a free agent after the 2018 season meaning the Eagles shouldn’t be hesitant to use him heavily.
While Ajayi isn’t likely to ever make an impact in the passing game, his workload could approach 2016 when he had 260 carries and was the goal-line back in Miami. After being overvalued one year ago, Ajayi’s stock has swung back too wildly the opposite direction. He should be valued in the range of Derrick Henry, Jordan Howard, and Mark Ingram, who are currently 15th, 16th, and 18th respectively in current running back ADP. Check in on how attached his current owner is to him, and try to buy low on him.
Mixon is a more speculative add due to his potential, and yet his value remains insulated. That makes him one of the most worthwhile types of investments entering the 2018 season. Despite averaging only 3.5 yards per carry and splitting touches with Gio Bernard fairly evenly in 2017, Mixon’s price has gone up in dynasty startup drafts from 16 to 12 among running backs.
Based on where the rookie running backs who performed well last year are being taken — Alvin Kamara is the sixth running back off the board, Kareem Hunt seventh, Dalvin Cook eighth, Leonard Fournette ninth, and Christian McCaffrey 11th — Mixon has the opportunity to gain even more value with a good performance this season.
While Mixon’s failure to perform last season can’t be explained away entirely by a poor Bengals’ offensive line, it certainly played a role in his struggles. The good news is that the Bengals have identified that issue and made efforts to correct it with the biggest move being the trade for Cordy Glenn. There’s speculation that they could continue to add in the draft, which wouldn’t hurt Mixon’s cause.
All wasn’t lost with Mixon’s individual performance either last season. Based on advanced metrics that can be found on playerpfrofiler.com, he ranked 13th in yards created per carry indicating his ability to evade the first tackler. In addition, he was used as a receiver out of the backfield, he caught 30 of his 34 targets, even with Gio Bernard still in the fold. While he may lose snaps in bad game scripts, his ability to be a receiver won’t reduce him to a bench role either, steadying his value on a game-to-game basis.
Given the combination of individual talent, investment in the offensive line by the Bengals, and insulated value, Joe Mixon is a player to target in trades before the season even given his steep price.