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Fresh Auction Draft Strategies

Imagine planning an event in which a dozen or so people will be there to get a limited amount of cakes. In the real world, the outcome of such an arrangement is an auction. Not one person would agree everyone should just draw out of a hat to form a line to get the cakes, especially when only a handful of those cakes will be truly coveted. The only people who would agree to it are cheapskates who would rather rely on luck.

Don’t let luck dictate some undeserving clown getting Christian McCaffrey, thanks to a roll of the dice. There’s enough luck involved in fantasy football already. Most people I’ve talked to who have actually done an auction draft prefer it to snake drafts.

In recent years, auction drafts have gained a lot of steam in the fantasy community. The only problem is the fact they take an extremely long time to complete. Auctions typically take somewhere between three to six hours, depending on whether they’re live or online. Online auctions don’t take as long due to the automatic timers, but if you are doing a live auction, prepare for it to be a lot slower. Despite the time investment, the strategic advantages of an auction outweigh the negative aspects. If they want the best cake out there, they’re going to have to pay up to get it.


The Fruit Cake Strategy

Does anyone really like fruit cake? No, not really. We think others do and we get fruit cakes for others in the holidays since it’s perceived to be a good gesture, but we know what we’re doing. To quote Jim Gaffigan, “Fruit…Good, Cake…Great, Fruit Cake…nasty crap.”

With the fruit cake strategy, the same reasoning applies. When it’s your turn to nominate a player, you nominate a player who is perceived to be popular, that you want no part of. You do this for one reason, to reduce the money pool and increase the chances you can get the players you actually want. The important part is, the players have to be good enough to warrant some bids, and you should only open the bidding with one dollar. Otherwise, you may end up nominating a guy and get stuck with him.

This strategy works wonders because you can employ it early in the draft, and if you know someone else knows you really don’t like that player, it won’t change anything. I had one season where I was called out for it and later in the draft, I shifted strategy and started nominating players I low-key valued. It worked and others avoided bidding on them with me. Unlike some of the other strategies which focus on positions, you can utilize this strategy throughout a good portion of the draft. I typically use it for the first half of a draft and then shift to other strategies to close.


The Chocolate Cake Strategy

This strategy is quite the antithesis on the fruit cake strategy. In every draft, there will be at least a couple of managers who go straight for the players they want. Chocolate cake people are very direct with their love of chocolate and will target it at every opportunity. Don’t be surprised when the same couple of people in your draft continue to nominate every elite breakout candidate from every major fantasy publication. When the purpose of auction drafts is to get the people on your list, this strategy can be detrimental to everyone else in the draft.

Alas, the point is to get the players on your list you really want, so this strategy goes at it with a very “Leeeroy Jenkins” approach. Regardless of whether you decide to use this strategy or not, keep in mind, more than one person in your draft will be using it.


The “Better than Sex” Cake Strategy

This strategy focuses on the one or two actual recipes perceived to be good. Much like the tight end position, there are only a couple of great variants of this cake. The tricky part is, the recipe is known to be a home run when executed perfectly, but it can come at a great cost if you don’t get it right. Unlike snake drafts, where the elite few tight ends go pretty early and the rest go rounds later (in groups, mind you), the importance of the position in auction is rarely overlooked.

Typically, the top three or four tight ends go in the price range of an RB2 to as high as a back-end RB1 (Unless you’re in a TE premium, of course). However, If you’re looking at the drop in value at the position every season, you should be valuing the top guys a lot more. If you’re planning on prioritizing this position, this is the strategy for you. To successfully execute this strategy, you should open the draft by nominating the tight end among the top three you want least on your team. I’ve done this probably seven times in drafts and even in the first nomination slot, it’s gone well. Usually, the player will go for or slightly over their average draft cost, because everyone’s bankrolls will be healthy and they understand getting a good tight end is crucial.

This is the only position you can do this with because it’s so top-heavy. By getting the least desired of the top tight ends out of the way early, you can focus on waiting for one of the other two to get nominated and hope everyone’s funds are a little more exhausted. However, to utilize this strategy to its maximum effectiveness, you should keep nominating potential breakout guys at the position and hoping either people continue to outbid you, or you end up with one for the minimum bid. Having a bonified top three guy and one of the many breakout candidates at the position is the ideal end-game for this strategy.


The Angel Food Cake Strategy

Angel food cake is always pretty good, but it’s overlooked on the cake power rankings because it misses the key elements that make you want cake when you’re thinking about cake; most notably, the frosting. Player buzz is a lot like frosting. If there isn’t a lot of buzz around a player prior to a draft, there’s a slim chance that player will fall out of nomination queues. When that happens, they become angel food cake, thus opening the window to use this strategy. It’s just like that old quote from that Christmas movie nobody watches, “Every time a nomination bell rings, an undervalued player gets his wings.”

Every draft, without fail, there will be a handful of receivers and quarterbacks who fall out of favor and tumble down the nomination queue. Keep this in mind in your auction drafts. For the past few seasons now, I’ve realized this and spent most of my money on a pair of good RBs, one or two good WRs, and one elite TE. With this setup, it allows you to have some money in the bank later in drafts to get a couple of pretty good QBs.

Keep in mind, the fluctuation at this position is huge, so you’ll likely get great value waiting. There should be a WR or two who should be solid, but fall out of everyone’s favor each year (i.e. Julian Edelman, Marvin Jones). To properly utilize this strategy, you’ll need to be one of the top three bankroll teams when you get later in the draft. Going top-heavy with elite RBs and tight ends while saving your money elsewhere will give you the ability to snag those pieces of angel food cake with little resistance later.


The Cheesecake Strategy

Much like cheesecake, quarterbacks can be very unpredictable. If you get a good one, it can be the best cake you’ve ever had, but you can also get one that turns out to taste like it was made in a bathroom of a convenience store. The key here is to look where to get them. As unpopular of a strategy as this may seem to be, there’s one store that gives you a majority of the high-end quarterbacks; the dual-threat bakery.

At the dual-threat bakery, you can get undervalued guys who overperform. You can also get the more expensive dual-threat guys who give you less variance and a high floor. Though there is reason to be concerned of an increased injury risk due to all the running, the data in recent years suggests pocket QBs are almost as likely to suffer a major injury. For whatever reason, it took a lot of people a long time to realize there was less variance and higher floors with the dual-threat guys, but don’t worry, a lot of people still haven’t figured it out.


The Tres Leches Strategy

This strategy typically only works if you’re the first or second nomination in the draft, and much like the cake, it’ll go bad if you wait too long on it. The conditions have to be right for this to work. Traditionally, everyone makes it on-time to a draft, but on occasion, not everyone is present for the first couple picks in a draft. When this happens, it’s time to pull a fast one and open with the Tres Leches.

I’ve noticed, over nearly a decade of doing auction drafts, it takes a couple picks for people to feel comfortable enough to dive-in and open up the checkbook. If there’s a player you really want, who is popular and at a rich position like WR or RB, it’s a risk. However, nominating them out of the gate typically yields solid results. Before the landscape settles in an auction draft, people often play things a little more conservatively, so use it to your advantage and get that moist Tres Leches before it becomes a soggy, congealed mess.


The Cupcake Strategy

The final strategy is the cupcake strategy, which can be used for multiple reasons. Much like cupcakes, wide receivers come in a wide variety and the variance of taste is unpredictable as it is vast. As I mentioned earlier with the Angel Food Cake strategy, there will always be receivers who go well beneath their average cost later in drafts. The cause is inflated spending at other positions earlier in the draft. The receiver position is so vast, there will undoubtedly be guys available late for next to nothing.

With the Cupcake strategy, you’ll want to nominate some of the lower-end WR2 and WR3s early in the draft, knowing they’ll certainly go for more than a dollar. With these guys out of the way and other rosters filling up, you’ll have two advantages. For one, you can either spend your money on the receivers you want when someone else nominates them, or you can save up your money for the more competitive positions. I like to go get one elite receiver early and focus on other positions, knowing if I save my money, there will be plenty of good value receivers available when everyone is broke. Unlike a snake, where players typically don’t fall too far from their ADP, there will be a few solid guys available with only a few capable bidders to compete against.



Fruitcake – Nominating relatively popular players early on, knowing you don’t want them, for the purpose of exhausting opposing team budgets.

Chocolate – Nominating players you want, period.

Better than Sex – Getting an elite TE and a sleeper TE.

Angel Food – Saving money for the point where you have a top 3 budget, so you can grab good value guys late.

Cheesecake – Getting a solid dual-threat QB and a sleeper dual-threat as insurance.

Tres Leches – Opening the draft nominating a player you want, understanding draft spending will be hesitant at first.

Cupcake – Nominating WR2s and WR3s the whole time, taking those who nobody wants for value, while exhausting everyone else’s budgets.



Generally, people don’t like change in the world of fantasy football. For years, I stood firm in my main league that we should keep it as a snake draft. When 2011 rolled around, the voting time came and auction won. I wasn’t thrilled about it at the time, but it’s now 2020. I’m in an auction league in the majority of my leagues and prefer it greatly over snake drafts. The big reason why is equality. Going into every draft season, there are a few players at the top that you know will finish in the top five by the end of the season, if healthy. The players drafting outside the top eight are not getting the same guarantee and likely won’t have very good odds finishing the season with one of those elite players.

In auctions, everyone gets their shot. Auction is a free market economy and in that, the true value of a player can be reflected by his draft price. Another way of looking at it is, would anyone give up the number one pick and the 24th pick for the 12 and 13? Of course, they wouldn’t, because the production you’ll get from the top player alone will likely outweigh what you’re going to get from the 12 and 13.

The other big advantage for auctions is the lack of runs. In snake, if you’re at the top or bottom of a draft and a run on tight ends happens, you may not have a shot at drafting a tight end until all the good ones are gone. You’ll just sit there helplessly as your aspirations go down the toilet and all everyone will say is, “Well I guess you should’ve taken one early.” You know what, screw that guy. Get into an auction league and go for the players you actually want.

It’s time to move away from the antiquated system of drafting, where the people at the front of the line get the best cakes and leave you with the ones with veggies in them. With auction drafts, you can have your cake and eat it too.

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How to Approach Rookies in a Dynasty Startup

In many ways, rookies in dynasty leagues are like icing. Too much can doom you and too little can shorten your window to win. But, just the right amount, combined with the other right ingredients, and you’ll have a delicious cake you can eat. The only difference between re-draft and dynasty is that you’ll be eating that cake for a few years in dynasty, so you’d better hope it ages well when you freeze it.

Rookies tend not to be completely necessary (or particularly relevant) to fantasy success early in dynasty, but they are a critical part of your team’s long-term success. I recently took part in a dynasty startup with the RotoBaller staff on FFPC. You can view the full draft board here. My approach to rookies in this draft may have been more aggressive than usual but there is a method behind the madness, which will be explained below.

If you’re in a dynasty startup league and you’re trying to figure out how to approach rookies, there are a few routes to take. Before you decide, you have to understand there are different peaks and ranges for each position. In dynasty, you have to consider the situations, coaching staffs, and schemes from a long-term outlook. Most of all, you have to consider the positional variance.


Running Backs

Running backs typically peak between the ages of 23-27, with relevant fantasy production within the same age range. Running backs’ effectiveness is measured by a number of metrics, but one metric that can’t be measured is “juice.” Juice is explosiveness and the best way to determine whether someone still has it, is by watching film and that’s about it. With running backs, if their numbers drop or they become noticeably less effective, they tend to be replaced and discarded rather quickly.

Rookie running backs have a good track record for having a quicker and more significant impact than other fantasy positions as rookies. Starting off a dynasty team with rookie running backs in favorable offensive situations is a good way to get the most from an investment on a rookie. There will always be people willing to trade for backs in their third or fourth year, so you can get a lot of production from a back early on and trade him while the value is high to maximize your return. It’s safe to say, if a running back has already had three or four great seasons and they’re over 24 years old, the value you’ll get on return for him will drop, perhaps substantially, over the next couple seasons.

2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
1 Charles L. Bell D. Freeman D. Johnson Gurley Barkley McCaffrey
2 Forte D. Murray Peterson L. Bell L. Bell McCaffrey A. Jones
3 McCoy Forte Woodhead Elliott Kamara Gurley Elliott
4 Moreno Lynch De Williams McCoy Hunt Kamara Ekeler
5 Lynch Foster D. Martin D. Murray M. Gordon Elliott D. Henry
6 D. Murray Lacy L. Miller D.Freeman Ingram Conner D. Cook
7 R. Bush Charles Forte M. Gordon McCoy J. White Fournette
8 Lacy Forsett C. Johnson Ingram Hyde M. Gordon Chubb
9 C.Johnson L. Miller Gurley Blount Fournette D. Johnson Kamara
10 Peterson CJ.Anderson Ingram Howard McCaffrey Mixon Barkley

The table tells us a lot. For running backs since 2013, carrying high-end value for more than three seasons is not as common as you think. Only Le'Veon Bell and Ezekiel Elliott have accomplished the feat and neither did so in consecutive seasons. However, Marshawn Lynch, LeSean McCoy, Matt Forte, Demarco Murray, Le'Veon Bell, Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley, Alvin Kamara, and Christian McCaffrey have all had two seasons of top five finishes in that span. No one has done it four times in that seven-year span.

Now, if you want to consider guys over the course of their entire careers (since 2001), the list grows and you get guys like Lynch, Foster, McCoy, Peterson, Forte, MJD, Rice, Priest Holmes, and Ladanian Tomlinson all in the group with three seasons as top-five running backs. Only LT and AP had more than three seasons in the top five (LT had six and AP had five). This means, over the past 19 seasons, only 11 players have had three top-five finishes at the position for their career.

McCaffrey, Kamara, and Barkley are still young and just one season away from that achievement, so let's be generous and say they get there. If they do, that means there's still an average of less than one running back in each rookie draft who will potentially have three top-five seasons in their career.


Wide Receivers

Wide receivers are more of a longer-term, higher-risk move than running backs. Unlike running backs, receivers typically peak from age 25 to 30, but their effectiveness as relevant fantasy assets can stretch much longer than that. Although it’s true even the elite receivers tend to not offer the same ceiling as elite running backs, the longevity of their value is typically greater. The issue with receivers is, they also tend to be slow starters in terms of having fantasy value.

Since 2016, only an average of two rookie receivers each year rank in the top 30 of PPR rankings by the end of each rookie season. If you’re investing in rookie receivers, you have to be patient.

2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
1 D. Thomas A. Brown A. Brown A. Brown A. Brown D. Hopkins M. Thomas
2 J. Gordon D. Thomas J. Jones J. Nelson D. Hopkins D. Adams C. Godwin
3 A. Brown J. Nelson B. Marshall M. Evans K. Allen T. Hill J. Jones
4 AJ Green D. Bryant D. Hopkins O.Beckham Fitzgerald J. Jones Kupp
5 B.Marshall E. Sanders O.Beckham TY Hilton J. Landry A. Brown D. Hopkins
6 C. Johnson J. Jones A.Robinson J. Jones M.Thomas M. Thomas K. Allen
7 D. Bryant O.Beckham Fitzgerald M.Thomas J. Jones Thielen J. Edelman
8 A. Jeffery R. Cobb AJ Green D. Baldwin Thielen JuJu S-S A.Robinson
9 E. Decker J. Maclin J. Landry D. Adams T. Hill M. Evans Golladay
10 A. Johnson A. Jeffrey D. Baldwin B. Cooks AJ Green Diggs A. Cooper

Looking at the table, it’s worth noting wide receivers could potentially offer the greatest degree of variance in ranking, but also have a longer range of relevancy among the elites. Antonio Brown has finished third once, first four times, and fifth once from the span of 2013-2018. Julio Jones has finished in the top seven in each of the last six seasons. You likely aren’t going to see that from anyone at the running back position. Will the high-end running backs have bigger seasons? Most of the time, yes. However, you’re only likely to see the high-end backs produce at that level for a two to three-year stretch.



Quarterbacks likely shouldn’t be valued very high in rookie drafts, unless they’re dual threats. Consistency among pocket passers offers a wide variance from season to season, even among those pocket passers who finish in the top 10. With dual-threat quarterbacks, the floor is always so high, investing in a dual-threat quarterback as a rookie carries strong upside. Variance at the position is more prevalent than many know, as only Peyton Manning (2013-2014), Russell Wilson (2014-2015), and Deshaun Watson (2018-2019) have finished consecutive seasons as a top-five fantasy quarterback since 2013.

2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
1 P.Manning Rodgers Newton Rodgers Wilson Mahomes Jackson
2 Brees Luck Brady Ryan Newton Ryan Prescott
3 Newton Wilson Wilson Brees Brady Roeth. Winston
4 Luck P. Manning Bortles Luck Smith Watson Wilson
5 Dalton Roethlisberger Palmer Cousins Wentz Luck Watson
6 Rivers Brees Brees Prescott Cousins Rodgers Allen
7 Stafford Ryan Rodgers Stafford Stafford Goff Murray
8 Wilson Tannehill Cousins Taylor Rivers Brees Mahomes
9 Kapernick Brady Stafford Bortles Brees Wilson Wentz
10 Romo E. Manning E.Manning Carr Roeth. Prescott Rodgers

Consistency at the quarterback position is hard to come by, but the positive to take away from this is Russell Wilson has finished top 10 six times over the last seven years. Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers have finished top 10 five times in that same span. Matt Stafford has finished in the top 10 four times. Newton, Roethlisberger, and Ryan have finished top 10 three times. Dak Prescott has finished top 10 three times in the four seasons he’s been in the league.

The point here is, if you can get a quarterback relatively early in a startup, there’s a good chance the guy can eventually become a viable long-term asset in the league for a long time. In terms of immediate success, dual-threat guys tend to be valuable off the bat. Mahomes was immediately valuable in year two. Both Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen were valuable from year one when they took over past the midway point of their seasons. Kyler Murray, Dak Prescott, Cam Newton, and Russell Wilson were also very valuable their rookie years as well. In case you are noticing a theme, the value here is drafting dual-threat quarterbacks, because their high rushing totals give them a high floor and almost always propel them into being very valuable in fantasy, very early on.


Tight End

I didn’t feel a chart would be an accurate representation for tight ends, because the position holds little value past the third or fourth-best tight end each season. As for drafting tight ends, you’re likely better off trading for one past his rookie season. Only one rookie tight end has finished in the top five or top ten at the position in the past nine years. That guy was Evan Engram in 2017 and much of it was due to a lack of target options in their offense that season.

Also, tight ends who don’t measure as athletic freaks really don’t stand much of a chance to ever produce at a consistent level worthy of high-end starting consideration. Consider the top tight ends over the past six seasons. Who among them isn’t a SPARQ standout? When it comes to career longevity, tight ends take a beating. Some continue to produce into their thirties, but for those who have proven themselves durable at the NFL level, they've been athletic enough to lose a step or two and still be a mismatch against defenders.

Crafting a Rookie Draft Strategy

Rookie drafts are more about striking gold on players more than anything else. If you’re drafting to improve upon your current roster, consider how strong your team is beforehand. If your team doesn’t jump off the page as being a potential league winner, you may be better suited to pursue rookies based on their long-term appeal, rather than drafting the guys you think are going to pop in year one. However, even if your team is a potential league-winner, drafting for positional need over immediate impact probably isn’t the best way to go in dynasty. Just look at N'Keal Harry a year ago. Harry was the consensus top rookie receiver taken in dynasty. The opportunity appeared solid. Production potential seemed to be there, but Harry wasn't a polished route runner. He profiled as a contested ball guy whose athletic measurables were nothing special. He was also headed to a team with a very old quarterback, so long-term appeal simply wasn't there. If you were a contending team last season who drafted him, you were probably doing so because you were filling a positional need. It's hard to believe anyone watched his tape and thought, "There's not much separation on the routes, he's not an athletic freak, and his quarterback was born in the seventies. I'll take him."

I mentioned teams who are potential league winners MAY consider drafting to fill positional needs. However, drafting rookies to fill positional needs is a bit silly in itself. Players in dynasty leagues are much like stocks. It doesn’t matter what position they are, because all of them carry some level of value and that value carries over from position to position. Therefore, if you have an opportunity to draft a player to fill a big positional need, drafting a guy and hoping he hits isn't your only option.

You should draft a player who has the best opportunity to thrive early on. Since the value of that player will undoubtedly be greater by the midway point or end of the season, you’ll be able to have a great asset by which you can trade in order to fill your positional need. You may even be able to get a player and future picks. This general strategy works no matter the makeup of your team.



  1. Draft the most talented players in the best position to succeed immediately in the league.
  2. If you’re going to go with a quarterback, make sure his draft capital is high and he’s a dual-threat. If you draft a pocket passer with high draft capital, the odds they become a quarterback with multiple top five seasons are substantially lower.
  3. Maximize rookie hype by trading the guys you don’t have a lot of faith in, but are off to good starts in the league (such as a receiver with a quarterback close to retirement).

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Rookie Wide Receivers Set to Make an Impact in 2020

Situation is key in fantasy. This is especially the case for rookies looking to make an instant splash in the NFL.

For many of us fantasy football competitors watching the 2020 NFL Draft, we were rooting for the rookie receivers to fall into situations where they can be properly utilized. In many ways, that happened. Most of the early wide receivers taken will have the opportunity to shine in 2020, but even a few players drafted later may also be able to carve out a substantial role in their respective offenses.

Here’s a look at rookie WRs who could actually have an impact in 2020, in order of projected fantasy production.


1. CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys

Many of you are saying, “The Cowboys have Gallup and Cooper, so where does Lamb get his?” Ceedee Lamb will come in and be immediately better than Michael Gallup, and I believe his usage will be that as a starter in year one. Ceedee Lamb was drafted into the best situation among the rookies at the position. I had Lamb as the top receiving prospect in college, and he’s coming into Dallas as likely the second-most talented receiver on the offense.

Lamb ran 40% of his routes from the slot at Oklahoma in 2019 and had 35 targets, 25 receptions, and seven touchdowns. He’s likely going to work out of the slot a majority of the time and stands a chance to work outside on two-receiver sets, assuming he can overtake Michael Gallup as the team’s number two receiver.

Lamb joins the most productive offense in the NFL with a young secondary, which means the Cowboys could be involved in a lot of high-scoring games. All the signs are there for a big rookie season.


2. Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings

With Stefon Diggs being traded to Buffalo, the Vikings were able to go younger at the position and reduce the drama at the position as well. Justin Jefferson was a huge weapon at LSU in 2019. His numbers were incredible, and his skill set should make him the second or third most NFL-ready receiver in this class.

Though the Vikings may be leaning slightly more on the run game in 2020, Jefferson should be able to secure the number two receiver role in the offense immediately. His volume should be pretty steady in 2020 as the Vikings will look to compete for the division title in 2020. Jefferson should be a tough matchup for number two corners in the NFL and has a chance to be extremely productive.


3. Jalen Reagor, Philadelphia Eagles

Jalen Reagor may have been the number two guy on this list, due to the offensive schemes of the Eagles and their passing rates. The only thing keeping him in the three spot is the concern surrounding his early role in the offense.

If DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffrey can stay healthy, Reagor may be off to a very slow start in Philadelphia. The Eagles also favor two-tight end sets, which could limit Reagor’s snaps, as he would need to leapfrog either Jackson or Jeffrey to get in more snaps.

Reagor was my fourth favorite receiving prospect coming out of college. He ran 84% of his routes from the outside, 14% from the slot, and 2% out of the backfield (per Ben Fennell at NFL Network). The Eagles love to push tight ends out wide to cause matchup issues, leaving two receivers the opportunity to work close to the line. Reagor will likely be lined up all over the place and should eventually work his way up in snaps by the end of the season.


4. Denzel Mims, New York Jets

Denzel Mims is a bodied, athletic outside receiver. His big knock coming out of college has been his drops. I’ve seen a lot of film where he makes some incredible catches, demonstrating balance, body-control, field awareness, and incredible athleticism.

Mims is a tall, fast, weapon the Jets will surely be able use immediately. Last season, Robby Anderson had 52 receptions for 779 receiving yards and five touchdowns. With Anderson gone and the offensive line improved, I think it’s realistic to expect 100 targets for Mims this season with an expected finish around WR30 this season.


5. Tee Higgins, Cincinnati Bengals

I love Higgins from a talent standpoint. He’s similar to Denzel Mims from a build perspective, but a little less explosive. In the right situation, I’d have Higgins near the top of this list, but the landing spot for Higgins isn’t ideal for a year one breakout. Part of this article is taking into consideration the health of the other receivers on each team, so it’s worth noting, if A.J. Green can’t stay healthy, the door would be open for Higgins to have a substantial impact.

Green is the undisputed one in this offense, while Tyler Boyd is the outright second guy in the passing game. Boyd works out of the slot, so there’s a chance Higgins could start immediately, assuming he can displace Auden Tate from the other starting role. The assumption with the Bengals is that they will construct an offense similar to what Joe Burrow ran at LSU.

At this point, it’s all we can hope for. Regardless, Higgins should get a decent amount of work in his first season when it’s all said and done. The perceived volume and assumption he will be a starter at some point in the season, should result in a late season push in a blossoming offense that will have fantasy owners scrambling for Higgins in re-draft leagues.


6. Jerry Jeudy, Denver Broncos

Jeudy is the most polished receiver in this class, to me. Unfortunately, he’s been drafted into a situation where the passing volume is low. Even though Jeudy should come in and be the immediate number two receiver, the high snap count won’t translate.

The team has a bona fide WR1 (Cortland Sutton), a young and talented tight end (Noah Fant), and a big free agent signing at running back (Melvin Gordon). Drew Lock only broke the 200-yard passing mark in one of his five games started in 2019. He averaged just 204 yards passing per game. Compare that to David Blough of the Lions, who also started five games and averaged 196 yards passing per game. Lock’s numbers, when projected out for an entire season are around 22 touchdowns, nine interceptions, and 3,300 yards.

Sure, you’re probably thinking, “He was a rookie and they didn’t want to put a lot on his plate.” That’s fair, but if you think the Broncos are planning on leaning more on Lock this season, just realize the team went 4-1 with Lock starting, and then consider why a coach would move off this formula. This is a run-first team and despite how Jeudy may be the most polished receiver in this class, the volume ceiling isn’t high.


7. Henry Ruggs III, Las Vegas Raiders

Ruggs is a burner, but as far as production is concerned, he was definitely not the top guy at Alabama. He profiles very similarly to Mecole Hardman coming out of college, which is why I was even more confused he went first among the receivers. His best seasons in college resulted in only 46 and 40 receptions, but expect the Raiders to try to get him the ball through screens, quick slants, and the occasional deep ball.

Despite the lack of overall college production, Ruggs was extremely dangerous with the ball in his hands. Ruggs may get a handful of deep balls this year, but it’s going to pay off for him. The volume is the big question here, as Bryan Edwards should also compete for a starting role as an outside receiver at some point.

The Raiders are still very run-focused and the presence of Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow really take away from the ceiling of Ruggs in year one. The lack of camp time will hurt Ruggs as well, as he still lacks the overall polish at the position to be able to come in and make an immediate impact, but the speed is undeniable. His big play upside will serve well in best ball leagues and inflate his overall performance perception, but consistency may be hard to come by early on.


8. Devin Duvernay, Baltimore Ravens

Duvernay makes this list based on a couple things. First, the Ravens had 19 touchdown receptions to receivers out of the slot in 2019. Now, I get the majority of those were to tight ends, but Willie Snead had five of them. Snead was also heavily involved in the playoff loss to the Titans. He was targeted eight times in that game and had six receptions for 56 yards. He also had a few key drops.

Duvernay is faster, reliable, and should come in and be able to make an immediate impact in this offense. I expect Duvernay to take over the primary slot receiver role, and his speed and dependability should make him a viable weapon in the offense.

The concern is volume, as the Ravens tend to keep a relatively low passing volume and favor the tight ends. He’s definitely a wildcard in 2020, but similarly to Ruggs, I expect he will have a handful of big plays and could carve out a decent role in the Ravens’ dynamic attack.


9. Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco 49ers

Aiyuk is the YAC king coming out of Arizona State. He’s widely considered one of the best prospects with the ball in his hands among all those in this class. Unfortunately, Aiyuk is limited in his route running ability and struggles against the press. The upside here is the 49ers' schemes. Aiyuk should get a decent dose of touches near the line of scrimmage, so his value should be leveled when you work his lack of intermediate route running into the projection.

Aiyuk will be somewhat of a specialty weapon in the offense and probably won’t be a high-volume guy, but he should provide a decent amount of big plays throughout the season in San Francisco.


10. K.J. Hamler, Denver Broncos

I mentioned earlier the quarterback and philosophy in Denver makes Jerry Jeudy less appealing. The same goes for KJ Hamler. Hamler is an explosive speedster who should find success in the slot, but he’s probably going to be the fourth or fifth option in a run-focused offense in 2020.

He should be able to assume the slot role in Denver, but unless we see a change in schemes, Hamler’s volume doesn’t warrant much appeal in 2020.


11. Bryan Edwards, Las Vegas Raiders

Edwards is a solid prospect out of South Carolina. He’s a big bodied receiver at 6’3 and 220 pounds with amazing hands. Unfortunately, he’s in a situation now where he’s going to be likely the fourth guy on the depth chart and will have to battle Henry Ruggs or Tyrell Williams on the outside for a starting job. He’s also stuck in a system with a quarterback who doesn’t push the ball down the field.

At this point, Edwards is a stash, but injuries in the depth chart and a change in philosophy would need to occur for him to have a substantial impact in 2020 and I just don’t see it happening.


12. Michael Pittman Jr., Indianapolis Colts

Pittman is stuck behind T.Y. Hilton, Parris Campbell, and Zach Pascal in the offense. He’s a solid prospect, but the landing spot has him buried in the depth chart.

I wouldn’t anticipate much from him in year one, and beyond that, the quarterback situation in Indianapolis leaves me uneasy about his future. It also doesn’t help the Colts went after another running back early in Jonathan Taylor, indicating they are committed to being a run-first team behind a solid offensive line.

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Running Back PPR Rankings, Tiers & Analysis

Welcome back RotoBallers! Is it too early to rank running backs for the 2020 fantasy football season? Never. Getting a good idea of the fantasy football landscape before training camp isn’t a bad idea, and we're constantly bringing you fresh analysis here at RotoBaller HQ.

Today I'm here to discuss our fantasy football rankings for running backs, analyzing the first few tiers. The following rankings are based on the RotoBaller staff rankings (full-point PPR), brought to you by several of our site's lead analysis.

It’s time to get yourself prepped for the 2020 season. Be sure to also check out our quarterback tiered rankings tiers and analysis, IDP rankings, dynasty rankings, best ball rankings and so much more when you're done reviewing these running backs.


Running Back PPR Rankings and Tiers

Position Tier Position Rank Player Overall Tier Overall Rank
1 1 Christian McCaffrey 1 1
1 2 Saquon Barkley 1 2
1 3 Ezekiel Elliott 1 4
1 4 Alvin Kamara 1 5
1 5 Dalvin Cook 1 6
2 6 Joe Mixon 1 9
2 7 Derrick Henry 2 11
2 8 Josh Jacobs 2 15
2 9 Austin Ekeler 2 16
2 10 Nick Chubb 3 18
2 11 Aaron Jones 3 19
2 12 Kenyan Drake 3 20
2 13 Leonard Fournette 3 22
2 14 Miles Sanders 3 26
3 15 Todd Gurley II 3 30
3 16 Le'Veon Bell 3 32
3 17 Melvin Gordon III 3 34
3 18 Clyde Edwards-Helaire 4 39
4 19 Chris Carson 4 43
4 20 Jonathan Taylor 4 44
4 21 D'Andre Swift 4 46
4 22 James Conner 4 48
4 23 Devin Singletary 4 50
4 24 David Johnson 5 52
5 25 Cam Akers 5 61
5 26 Mark Ingram II 5 63
5 27 David Montgomery 5 67
5 28 Kareem Hunt 5 69
5 29 Raheem Mostert 6 75
6 30 James White 6 79
6 31 Matt Breida 6 81
6 32 Derrius Guice 6 84
6 33 Marlon Mack 6 86
6 34 J.K. Dobbins 7 91
6 35 Kerryon Johnson 7 93
6 36 Ke'Shawn Vaughn 7 97
6 37 Jordan Howard 7 100
6 38 Sony Michel 7 104
6 39 Phillip Lindsay 7 107
6 40 Damien Williams 7 108
6 41 Ronald Jones II 7 110
7 42 Latavius Murray 8 117
7 43 Tevin Coleman 8 118
7 44 Tarik Cohen 8 119
7 45 Darrell Henderson 8 123
7 46 Zack Moss 8 130
7 47 Nyheim Hines 8 131
7 48 Duke Johnson 9 139
7 49 Boston Scott 9 140
7 50 Alexander Mattison 9 142
7 51 Jamaal Williams 9 146
7 52 Chase Edmonds 9 148
8 53 Joshua Kelley 10 159
8 54 Adrian Peterson 10 160
8 55 Tony Pollard 10 164
8 56 Justin Jackson 10 165
8 57 A.J. Dillon 10 169
8 58 Giovani Bernard 11 178
8 59 Justice Hill 11 185
9 60 Rashaad Penny 12 202
9 61 Anthony McFarland Jr. 12 203
9 62 Gus Edwards 12 204
9 63 Malcolm Brown 12 206
9 64 Ryquell Armstead 12 216
9 65 Jaylen Samuels 13 218
9 66 Darrynton Evans 13 222
9 67 Devonta Freeman 13 224
9 68 Antonio Gibson 13 227
9 69 Ito Smith 13 231
9 70 Rex Burkhead 13 237
9 71 Jalen Richard 13 240
9 72 Benny Snell Jr. 13 244
9 73 Royce Freeman 13 247
9 74 Darwin Thompson 14 251
9 75 Dion Lewis 14 254
10 76 Damien Harris 14 263
10 77 Chris Thompson 14 267
10 78 Carlos Hyde 15 275
10 79 Peyton Barber 15 285
10 80 DeAndre Washington 15 287
10 81 Lamical Perine 15 289
10 82 Eno Benjamin 15 293
10 83 Ryan Nall 15 294
10 84 Dare Ogunbowale 15 299
10 85 Patrick Laird 15 305
10 86 Dwayne Washington 15 306
10 87 DeeJay Dallas 15 309
11 88 Bryce Love 16 315
11 89 Jordan Wilkins 16 321


Tier 1

Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott, Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook

The Tier 1 running backs are those who should be the "Slam Dunk" backs for the season. They're all high-touch, talented, and dynamic backs who serve as centerpieces of their respective offenses. Each has their own concerns, but their upside isn't in-doubt, and the likelihood they finish near the top is very high, assuming they can stay healthy.

Look, it’s kind of insane to imagine Christian McCaffrey having a repeat of last season. That being said, it’s equally insane to imagine he shouldn’t be in the top three for running backs in 2020. We all saw what happened to Saquon Barkley and Alvin Kamara in 2019, fighting through injuries throughout the season. Injuries are hard to plan for, but the running back position is the most dangerous position when it comes to injuries because it simply makes sense. These guys near the top of the lists touch the ball over 25 times a game, so the mileage, play calls, and beatings they endure make them high risk candidates for injury. Christian McCaffrey has been an anomaly in that sense. McCaffrey hasn’t missed a game in his professional career and much of that can be attributed to his weight gain, conditioning, and playing style. Last season, he rushed for nearly 1,400 yards and had over 1,000 yards receiving. Though we don’t expect him to repeat it, Teddy Bridgewater loves a good check down, so McCaffrey isn’t going to suddenly become less valuable in the passing game. Even if Kamara and Barkley hadn’t gotten injured last year, there’s a slim chance they’d have finished ahead of McCaffrey in a PPR format. His volume is high, his production is high, and he’s incredibly durable.

Saquon Barkley had a fluky injury last season and it was clear it lingered for some time. Barkley and McCaffrey are seemingly the two most talented backs in the league right now, and Saquon has the potential this season to have a monster year. In 13 games last season, Barkley had 52 receptions, but averaged 8.4 yards per reception. In all likelihood, the Giants will try to use him a little more in the passing game and the Giants will be even better on the offensive line, especially after their draft. Barkley is easily the best weapon they have on offense and we expect the Giants to use him as such.

Zeke may have seemed out of gas for much of the season last year, but the reason he’s so high on this list is more about the situation, the opportunity, and the lack of defensive improvement for the Cowboys. Zeke signed his big extension, and the Cowboys added another big offensive weapon who will help free up the box in 2020 when they drafted CeeDee Lamb. The fact is, Zeke is 24 and he’s playing in one of the most potent offenses in the NFL. He had 355 touches last year and that’s hard to ignore. Zeke is as close to a safe bet as any in the league, especially when you factor in his insane durability.

The Saints might be even better this season and should be in a positive game script even more than they were in 2019. Because of that, we likely won’t see Kamara on the field a whole lot in the fourth quarter of games. The Saints have made key additions to their team through free agency, and the presence of Michael Thomas and Latavius Murray should be a cause for concern. We know Latavius Murray isn’t an amazing back, but we’ve seen Sean Payton utilize a split backfield now for years. It would be ambitious to expect the kind of output we saw from Kamara two seasons ago, but a realistic expectation should be that Kamara still gets heavy usage in the pass game and light to moderate usage in the run game.

Dalvin Cook is a complete back, but the workload is a little questionable going forward. There’s a risk the workload takes a hit this season as the Vikings plan to get Mattison a little more involved in 2020. Alexander Mattison was extremely efficient in the Vikings offense a year ago. Mattison was slightly better in YPC (4.6 to 4.5). Though Cook was the guy who found the end zone much more (13 to one), it was clear the Vikings like what Mattison can provide for them. Cook has a lengthy injury history and an offense that got a little easier to game plan against in the offseason. Cook may draw a few more defenders in the box this season, but he’s an elite back and has plenty of juice left. I think Cook will get around 16 carries and four receptions per game. He had over nine YPR in the passing game, so his usage there should be similar in 2020.


Tier 2

Joe Mixon, Derrick Henry, Josh Jacobs, Austin Ekeler, Nick Chubb, Aaron Jones, Kenyan Drake, Leonard Fournette, Miles Sanders

The second tier contains a number of backs who could potentially finish at the top. There are more concerns for usage rates and time shares, but it's a talented and dynamic group with only the threat of coaching adjustments holding them back.

This may be the last great season for Joe Mixon. Over the past two years, people have severely underestimated him. In 2018, he was the AFC’s leading rusher, behind a very average offensive line. In 2019, his receiving value went up as the YPR increased by 1.3 yards. Despite the eight fewer receptions in two more games in 2019, the Bengals coaching staff will likely take note and give him increased receiving work in 2020. Mixon’s offensive line was historically bad at opening holes, and yet he surged late in the season and finished with 1,137 yards on the ground. Mixon is in his prime and should have a more potent passer to de-pressurize the run game and open the pass game for him. With the return of their 2019 first pick, Jonah Williams, at left tackle, the line should be better than in 2019.

Henry was the NFL’s leading rusher in 2019. Though he had less than 20 receptions for the fourth straight year, Henry made the most of his receptions, going for 11.4 YPR. Henry is as good a bet as any to compete for the rushing title again in 2020, but they did lose one of their linemen to free agency, so they’ll have to fill that void if Henry hopes to repeat again in 2020. Despite the lack of usage in the run game, Henry was a machine on the ground, rushing for over 1,500 yards at 5.1 YPC and 18 total touchdowns. We can’t realistically expect Henry to repeat his touchdowns and overall performance in 2020, but if he’s anywhere close to the same form from 2019, he’s a strong candidate to finish in the top 10 again. Expect 20 carries again per game and one to two receptions per game. Henry should be good for another 1,400 yards on the ground, 175 in the air (25 receptions) and 11-16 touchdowns in 2020.

In case you can’t tell, everyone is high on Josh Jacobs this year. Though the Raiders have not done much to this point to improve their line, they made strides in adding weapons on offense. That being said, Jacobs remains THE guy in Las Vegas. Last season, Jacobs was on a tear before his injury, sitting in the top five in standard formats. Mike Mayock, the Raiders GM, has already expressed their desire to get Jacobs more involved in the passing game, so it’s probable to see some uptick in receptions this season. In 2019, Jacobs was on pace for 1,400 yards rushing and nine touchdowns, but still managed 1,150 yards in only 13 games. His 4.8 YPC was among the best in the league. His Vegas line for rushing in 2020 is 1,500 yards. There is every indication Jacobs should have a monster, breakout season, if he can stay healthy. Jacobs had only 20 receptions last season but averaged a massive 8.3 yards per reception, so the increased usage in the passing game appears imminent.

Ekeler is a tough call for me in 2020. The consensus fear is that the Chargers will utilize Justin Jackson and Joshua Kelly as platooning first and second down backs. Even with three backs in the fold, it was hard to ignore Ekeler’s effectiveness a year ago in his relatively limited workload. Ekeler should account for over 50% of the touches in that backfield, even though his best role is a true passing down specialist. He may be the most difficult man in the NFL to cover out of the backfield as a pass-catching back. Last season, Ekeler had 92 receptions for 993 yards. He has gone over 10 YPR in each of his three NFL seasons, which is the best in the NFL over that span. The closest to him is Alvin Kamara but even in Kamara’s best year, Ekeler still had a better YPR. Ekeler is a risky call in dynasty leagues and offseason trades, but his prospects in full PPR for a single season look good.

Nick Chubb is incredible as a rusher but his ceiling in the passing game is suspect, given the presence of Kareem Hunt. Though Hunt and Chubb both had the same YPR (7.7), Hunt had one more reception in just half the amount of games. If that’s any indication of the split going forward, you can’t be very high on Chubb’s receiving upside in 2020. Even though Chubb has demonstrated an incredible ability as a rusher (5.0 YPC), the mere presence of Hunt is frightening. The Browns have beefed up their offensive line, which ranked among the worst in the NFL in 2019, so the upside for increased efficiency should be there. There are a lot of factors surrounding Chubb, but the bottom line is, the guy produced as a workhorse back last season, rushing for nearly 1,500 yards on almost 300 attempts. We expect Hunt to cut into the rushing load a little, but expect similar outputs for Chubb in 2020. Chubb should have around 17 carries and two receptions per game, but the YPC should be around or over five.

Aaron Jones was an anomaly in 2019. With just 285 touches and 4.6 YPC, Jones scored 19 touchdowns. With the focus on getting Rodgers more help at receiver, the world watched in awe as the Packers drafted their quarterback of the future in the first round, followed by a big-bodied back out of Boston College, AJ Dillon. The Packers new second-round pick should immediately serve as a platooning back in a three-headed ground attack. Aaron Jones was a capable running back last season, toting the rock 236 times and pulling down 49 receptions. With touchdown regression very likely to hit Jones in 2020, his value is that of the lead man in a trio on a good offense.

Drake is a curious case for 2020. In many ways, we all love the offseason moves of the Cardinals, as Drake appears positioned well for a breakout. The concern is his Jekyl and Hyde game logs. Drake’s speed and breakaway ability is a tremendous advantage for him, but if he doesn’t get that one big run in a game, his output could be on the lower end amongst the rest of the league. He’s one of the riskiest players in 2020, among the top half of projected backs. In 2019, he was great since arriving to Arizona, as he scored eight touchdowns in the eight games he played for the Cardinals. The caveat was seven of them came in the last three games. Though there are red flags, particularly with the volatility of the front office and the questions about the offensive line, Drake is carrying a great deal of momentum into 2020. It’s reasonable to expect 16 carries and four receptions a game.

Fournette’s fifth-year option was just declined by the Jaguars. Last season was the healthiest season for Fournette, but his outspoken behavior and attitude have worn on the brass in Jacksonville. Though his YPC jumped to 4.3 behind a shaky O-line, Fournette’s rushing touchdown total dropped to just three. He’s a good candidate for positive touchdown regression in 2020. The prevailing thought in 2020 is that the Jags either trade Fournette or just run him into the ground. The latter is more likely, given the reports of a general lack of interest from other teams. I can’t imagine many trade destinations that would actually boost his value in 2020.

Following the draft, no one was too worried about Miles Sanders’ stranglehold on the backfield in Philadelphia. The issue here is the committee approach the Eagles have maintained over the past four seasons. It took the Eagles most of the season to realize they wasted a whole lot of money on Jordan Howard, but once they did, Miles Sanders was finally unlocked, and the results were promising. Sanders is shifty, has good speed, catches the ball well out of the backfield, and shows promise between the tackles. Sanders carries tremendous upside this season and could potentially finish as a top five back in 2020. Last season, his 10.2 YPR put him in the same zone as Austin Ekeler in the pass catching department. His 4.6 YPC was better than Howard’s, but the touchdown numbers were half of Howard’s. Sanders should get an increased role this year, though it isn’t like the Eagles to feature a workhorse back, so quell your lofty workload expectations on this one.


Tier 3

Todd Gurley, Le'Veon Bell, Melvin Gordon, Clyde Edwards-Helaire

The third tier is where things really get risky. Three of the four guys in this tier were considered elite running backs in recent years, while Edwards-Helaire will be put in a high powered offense that has struggled to find consistency and durability at the position over the past couple seasons.

Todd Gurley is coming off a very pedestrian season in Los Angeles, due primarily to load management. Gurley has had a well-documented history of Knee injuries and concerns, but he appears to be fresh heading into a good situation with a strong offense in Atlanta.

Le'Veon Bell left the Steel City for a big free agent deal in New York a season ago, but had a disastrous 3.2 YPC in what was ultimately a dissappointing 2019 campaign with the Jets. It's going to be interesting to see if the Jets did enough in the offseason to improve their offensive line and better adjust the offensive schemes to put Bell in a better position to succeed in 2020.

Melvin Gordon's 2019 holdout really hurt his season and ruined his prospects in LA. Following a four-game absence, Gordon returned but his YPC dropped from 5.1 YPC in 2018 to 3.8 in 2019. He was outshined by Austin Ekeler in the big play department and finished the season with a little over 900 total yards. With a new situation leading the backfield in Denver, Gordon has a chance to rebound in 2020 with a better offensive line in 2020. The only question is whether or not Gordon be able to hold off Phillip Lindsay to lead this running back committee in 2020.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire is the best football player Joe Burrow has ever played with, according to Joe Burrow. Edwards-Helaire draws a lot of Maurice Jones-Drew comparisons, and not because they both have hyphenated last names. CEH is a short, elusive, hyper-talented back who joins one of the best offenses in the NFL. Though Damien Williams looked as if he could've won Super Bowl MVP, the Chiefs clearly covet CEH's ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and make guys miss in the open field. CEH's size and first step makes him very difficult to cover out of the backfield and should serve him well in this dynamic Chiefs offense in 2020.

As the season grows closer, be sure to check out RotoBaller for more player updates and updated rankings.

More Fantasy Football Analysis

Check out all of RotoBaller's fantasy football rankings. Staff rankings are updated regularly for all positions and include standard formats, PPR scoring, tiered rankings and dynasty leagues.

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Instant Reaction: NFL Draft Rounds 4-7 Winners/Losers

With the conclusion of rounds two and three of the NFL Draft Friday, many of the big-name running backs and tight ends of this class saw their names called. The second tier of wide receiver prospects quickly diminished as well, which leaves us with the true sleepers at the skill positions who will be vying for both starting jobs and roster spots.

The past five seasons have given us valuable gems late in rounds 4-7 of the drafts. Here are some potential winners and losers from day three, both current roster guys and draftees, following the conclusion of the NFL Draft.

To look back at our previous winners and losers, check our Round 1 here and Rounds 2-3 here.


NFL Draft Rounds 4-7: Winners

Antonio Gibson - Running Back, Washington Redskins

The big winner here is recently-drafted Antonio Gibson. Over the past few seasons, we’ve seen what versatility out of the backfield can do for a team’s production. With Adrian Peterson taking an extended farewell tour and Derrius Guice seemingly incapable of staying healthy, Gibson should get a decent amount of work in both the run game and the passing game out of the backfield.

Keep in mind, Gibson took over in the hybrid running back/receiver role at Memphis, occupied by Tony Pollard the year prior. Pollard’s success last season as a rookie likely paved a path for guys like Gibson going forward. Gibson averaged 11.2 YPC and ran a 4.39 forty-yard dash at the combine. Though the Redskins have Guice, Love, Ferguson, Peterson, Barber, and McKissic on the roster, expect Gibson to get a decent amount of work as the year goes on, as he acclimates to serving more as a running back in the NFL. He should be a good deep value player in dynasty formats.

Antonio Gibson's situation seemed rough when he was drafted yesterday, but a few key moves have improved his value. The Redskins took Saahdiq Charles the LSU left tackle who slid due to character issues and injury, early in the fourth round. Charles should be able to improve upon a position the Redskins ranked 29th and 43rd in 2019, according to PFF’s grading system.

The expectation is that Charles should come in and immediately compete for a starting job. In the fifth round, the Redskins took a center, Keith Ismael from San Diego State. Both should be able to help this offensive line, which has been devastated by injuries over the past few seasons.

Raheem Mostert - Running Back, San Francisco 49ers

Mostert won the day before round four even started. On Saturday, San Francisco made two key trades. The first was trading a fifth-round pick and a future third-round pick to Washington for tackle Trent Williams. The second was trading Matt Breida for a fifth-round pick, which the 49ers turned into West Virginia tackle, Colton McKivitz.

With the 49ers backfield now a little less crowded, one of their three backs comprising their three-headed monster backfield, stands to benefit most. Tevin Coleman is the designated receiving back, but Raheem Mostert is the main man, for now. By solidifying the line and thinning out the backfield, Raheem Mostert is poised for a seemingly more consistent 2020 season.

Josh Allen - Quarterback, Buffalo Bills

The third-year QB is a winner here, albeit not a big winner. Allen makes this list because his receiving corps got a lot deeper. The Bills sent offensive help in round three via Zach Moss, but the Bills made a sneaky-good pick in the fourth round with UCF wide receiver, Gabriel Davis. Davis doesn’t profile as an elite talent, but he’s a good contested ball receiver with decent speed and size. In the sixth round, Buffalo took Isaiah Hodgins, a 6’4" receiver from Oregon State with tremendous ball skills.

Both should serve well as an ancillary receiving option in Buffalo and could be good insurance policies for John Brown and Stefon Diggs. At worst, they give the Bills depth in the receiving corps and offer a nice talent pool by which they can develop when John Brown eventually ages out (30 years old).

Baker Mayfield - Quarterback, Cleveland Browns

Mayfield has to be feeling a little dangerous right about now. In the fourth round, the Browns took a tight end, Harrison Bryant out of FAU. The Browns continued their trend of overhauling the offensive line, drafting center Nick Harris in the fifth round.

In round six, the Browns got a steal from the bog-bodied, underutilized receiver from Michigan, Donovan Peoples-Jones. Peoples-Jones ran a 4.48 and probably slid further than he should have, thanks to poor QB play by Shea Patterson. These three consecutive picks should add depth to a more complete Browns offensive unit in 2020.


NFL Draft Rounds 4-7: Losers

Le'Veon Bell - Running Back, New York Jets

Bell may be the big loser by the time the season rolls around. The Jets made a couple picks to boost their offensive depth in round four. Their first pick, Lamical Perine is an explosive, powerful runner, who may be the antithesis of Le'Veon Bell from a running style standpoint.

Bell’s 3.2 YPC average from 2019 didn’t reflect the massive free-agent contract he just signed with the Jets, and Perine could very likely put a dent into Bell’s workload in 2020.

Justin Jackson - Running Back, Los Angeles Chargers

Those stashing Jackson in dynasty couldn’t have been happy with the Chargers selection of Joshua Kelley in round four of the draft. We knew, coming into the draft, the Chargers running game would likely be a split, headlined by the dynamic, electric Austin Ekeler.

The question was whether the Chargers would draft another back to compete with Justin Jackson for those carries. The Chargers answered that question with the speedy, downhill back from UCLA in Kelley. Any perceived value Jackson held as a deeper option in leagues will likely be in flux in 2020.

Justin Herbert - Quarterback, Los Angeles Chargers

It’s kind of like Justin Herbert arrived home to a surprise party and no one showed up. The Chargers made the obvious play by drafting Herbert, but many are skeptical of both Herbert’s potential and his current ability. You might be wondering why Josh Allen is listed as a winner and Herbert the loser, considering both teams ignored O-line and drafted two receivers each. The explanation is their individual styles.

Buffalo, Houston, and Seattle were able to have offensive success despite all having poorly rated pass protection units. They’re all mobile quarterbacks. Although Herbert is quite an athlete himself, his elusiveness in the pocket isn’t on par with the others I mentioned. If the Chargers want him to properly develop as a passer, as well as generate good offense, they need a line more than Buffalo.

The Chargers traded their second and third-round picks to slide into the back end of the first round and take a linebacker, Kenneth Murray. When round four rolled around, the Chargers had a chance to give Herbert protection behind a line ranked close to the bottom by PFF. PFF grading had the following ranks at their respective positions:  51st at tackle, 31st at guard, 29th at center, 47th at guard, 15th at tackle.

Despite the abysmal line, the Chargers feel like the addition of Brian Bulaga was good enough, as they opted to avoid the offensive line altogether. The additions of Joe Reed and KJ Hill are nice to bolster their thin receiving corps, but none of these picks are going to help Herbert stay upright and properly develop.

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Are Rookie Receivers Trustworthy in Redraft Leagues?

When I started planning this article, it reminded me of a draft I had last year in a very deep league. It was a re-draft league and a guy drafted Emanuel Hall, a Missouri receiver with 4.39 speed, signed to the Bucs a few days prior.

Sure, it was a deep league, the Bucs' offense was high-flying, and it was his final pick, but there were plenty of better veteran options on the board. For whatever reason, I just sang, “Don’t go draftin’ Emanuel Hall. Please stick to the players and the veterans you’re used to.” It was a parody on TLC’s “Waterfalls"... it's a 90s thing.

In the moment, a 1995 hit song about cautionary tales served equally well in hammering my point across in a fantasy football draft. At the time, it seemed like a really dumb pick, but after completing the research for this article, my impromptu outburst seemed all the more appropriate.


Moving Too Fast

There’s a simple solution to this question about whether rookie receivers are trustworthy in re-draft leagues. The answers to this can be found in the historical data of a great number of websites. For this article, I used Pro Football Reference. There’s a famous quote from George Santayana (Spanish Philosopher) and paraphrased by Winston Churchill that goes, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The same is true in fantasy football.

With all the movement towards analytics in both the NFL and fantasy football, it would be silly for us to forget how important that quote is in this context. Alas, people often don’t like to dwell on the past, especially if the past is full of failures. When there are trendy hype trains inviting people to get on, why wouldn’t they?

With all the attention surrounding this year’s deep and talented rookie receiving group, it’s important we look back on rookie receiver performances over the past few years to really put things into perspective when considering them in re-draft leagues.

Let’s take a look at who finished in the top 30 among rookies at the wide receiver position over the past four years in Half-Point PPR.


Top Rookie WRs

Year Rank Player Rec Yards TDs Fantasy Pts
2019 15th A.J. Brown 52 1051 8 191
27th Terry McLaurin 58 919 7 163
29th Deebo Samuel 57 802 3 161
2018 20th Calvin Ridley 64 824 10 175
2017 22nd JuJu Smith-Schuster 58 917 7 163
26th Cooper Kupp 62 869 5 146
2016 7th Michael Thomas 92 1137 9 210
22nd Tyreek Hill 61 593 6 169

Four years isn’t a high sample range, but anything past that would be cloudy, given all the changes in NFL offenses. It's better to have a short, relevant data set than going back further and needlessly skewing the data. From what the last four years tell us, there are only an average of two rookies, each season, who finish within the top 30 among wide receivers in a half-point PPR format. Each of those eight players has a good reason as to why they finished as high as they did, but people really want to know what it is that separates these guys from everyone else from their respective draft classes.


Is there correlation with player type and rookie success?

The first thing I noticed about these players from 2016 to 2019 was route running and/or separation ability (as well as the fact half of them operated primarily out of the slot). If there were common traits among this big group of success stories, those three factors are the closest I got to finding a correlation. Part of me wanted it to be true, so I could feel like I unlocked some magic formula for predicting player success.

The truth is, route running, separation, and favorable matchups via the slot appear to be very important, but the landing spot, situation, and offensive schemes are what really make the difference. Let’s take a look back at how these rookies were able to flourish out of the gate, so we don’t get a false sense that there’s one special attribute that makes a receiver more valuable than the rest.

A.J. Brown was off to a decent start in 2019, but the transition from Marcus Mariota to Ryan Tannehill unlocked Brown's potential far sooner than most anticipated. Brown’s route running out of college was praised by some and questioned by many. His work in the slot plus a scheme-friendly offense meant Brown wasn’t challenged as much by defenses as evaluators prefer to see. His YAC ability was his big strength coming out of Ole Miss and we all saw it in full effect his rookie year. His strong finish in 2019 propelled him into the top 15 of fantasy receivers, breaking a two-year slump by rookie receivers.

The Titans' run-heavy offense forced defenses to commit defenders to the box and opened up the secondary for both Brown and the NFL’s 2019 leader in passer rating, Ryan Tannehill. Brown appeared to fit very well in this Titans offense.

Terry McLaurin was a strong route runner in many ways, with only a few deficiencies to be concerned about. He was highly valued in a few mocks but generally sat somewhere between the sixth and 20th ranked receivers in the class, pre-draft. McLaurin’s blazing speed was enough to extinguish some of the early doubters’ concerns for him in the NFL, as his big Week 1 had many people asking why he was the 12th receiver taken in the draft.

Before the season began, Bleacher Report’s Alex Kirshner cited McLaurin was a favorite in the advanced stats circles, due to his number one ranking in the class for both Marginal Efficiency and Yards Per Target (YPT). The signs were there, but this is one of those cases where a guy being at a major program, surrounded by a strong supporting cast, may have been detrimental to his draft stock. In 2019, McLaurin was on pace to finish as a top-10 receiver before a quarterback carousel and a lingering hamstring kept him from finishing the season where he probably should have. Regardless, his ability to take the top off defenses proved to be a perfect fit for an offense void of weapons.

Deebo Samuel served the 49ers as more of an offensive weapon than a great receiver. Samuel’s 159 yards on 14 rushing attempts (three touchdowns) added a lot of value for him, especially considering the lack of targets wide receivers got in the 49ers offense. He was able to have a strong output, despite averaging just 5.4 targets per game. It was Kyle Shanahan’s offense that allowed him to get favorable touches (heavy play action and second-highest rushing rate in the league). Shanahan’s offense was able to maximize Samuel's potential, while limiting his opportunity to be exposed in certain routes as a traditional receiver. Credit to Deebo for making the most of a situation, but hats off to Shanahan for the calculated usage.

Calvin Ridley was highly regarded for his route running in college. His separation was highly praised as well. Though Ridley’s separation prowess didn’t immediately carry over into the NFL, he was good enough to get significant playing time and establish himself as a solid, productive slot receiver. His fantasy value came mainly from his 10 touchdowns, as he was able to capitalize on all the attention paid to Julio Jones around the red zone. It’s fair to say Ridley profited from being an ancillary offensive threat in a pass-heavy offense. Atlanta was third in the NFL in passing rate (65.25%) in 2018, so Ridley’s targets (92) were both a reflection of the offensive scheming and Matt Ryan’s trust in his talented rookie.

Cooper Kupp was a third-round pick for the Rams in what turned out to be a surprisingly strong offensive season for the Rams as a whole. Not many expected the 9-7 Rams to make a jump the following year, but with the evolving offense under Sean McVay, Cooper Kupp proved to be a valuable asset. He was already as polished of a route runner in college as many NFL receivers. What unlocked Kupp was Sean McVay’s new offensive schemes and Kupp’s subsequent performance from the slot. Per Football Outsiders, the 2017 Rams ran 11 personnel (3 WR sets) on 81.4 %, the highest in the league, by far. Their success differential in 11 personnel groupings versus non-11 personnel was a whopping 46.7%, which was also first in the league. The next best was just 32.2% (Chargers). His targets (94) were 26th among wide receivers. His yards per reception and touchdowns were both 28th among wide receivers as well. Kupp was dropped in an absolutely perfect situation to maximize his skill set.

Juju Smith-Schuster was a second-round pick out of USC and the youngest receiver in the draft. His draft profile on PFF suggested he was good at separation on certain routes, great physically at getting contested balls, and had a great feel in space. His ADP was all over the place in fantasy, but he was generally taken in the late rounds on average.

Going into the 2017 fantasy season, Kupp was on people’s radars but there wasn’t a lot of confidence in that offense going into the season (there was some optimism, but not confidence). Few expected the Rams to make the leap they did. For Juju, the perception in the league was that Antonio Brown, the consensus number one pick in fantasy, and Martavis Bryant would undoubtedly be ahead of Juju on the depth chart. With LeVeon Bell still warranting a heavy workload, there were few who believed Juju would be able to get much of the workload in Pittsburgh. When JuJu emerged as a viable starter, Big Ben took advantage of JuJu’s many favorable mismatches. Contributing to JuJu’s success was the fact the Steelers also had the NFL’s second-highest passing rate (67.39%) in 2017.

Michael Thomas had truly a remarkable rookie season. Coming out of camp, Thomas was thought by most to be the number four receiver in the depth chart. Expectations weren’t high out of the gate. He was praised for his improved route running and lauded for his ability to reel in balls in tight coverage. It played out perfectly for Thomas with Drew Brees’ insane accuracy and propensity to put balls over tight coverage. With the Saints' high volume passing offense (fifth in the NFL in 2016), Thomas had a decent shot at getting opportunities within the offense at some point in the season. As it turns out, it happened sooner rather than later, thanks to subpar play from the rest of the receiving corps, as Thomas finished the season number seven among fantasy receivers. For the season, he was number nine in receptions (92) and number three in wide receiver catch rate (76%).

Tyreek Hill was especially raw, ranking as the 53rd-best wide receiver prospect in the draft. Despite his lack of positional polish, his quickness, speed, and ability with the ball in open field was what allowed Hill to be an immediate impact weapon in Andy Reid’s dynamic offense. Hill was a big question mark coming out of college (more due to character concerns) but he ranked fourth in the NFL as a rookie in separation and number one in cushion (eight yds).

Though his volume was relatively low, Hill wasn’t especially potent his rookie year as a receiver. His value, like Samuel, came from the added rushing he provided (267 yds, three TD). Neither Hill nor Thomas were valued in fantasy drafts, as Hill was a troubled fifth-rounder going widely undrafted in fantasy, while Thomas floated around the late rounds to undrafted range in fantasy.

One surprising find in all this was where most of these guys were going in fantasy drafts. Most fantasy analysts were able to aptly sift through the aftermath of the NFL draft and put out decent projections for a few of these guys, but for the most part, a lot of analysts were further off than you would expect. A major contributing factor to this is pre-draft rankings. Situational factors lead a lot of analysts down the right path in predictions, but some just couldn’t move much off the pre-draft grades for these players following the combine.


Rookie WR Pre-Draft Grade Rankings

Player evaluation is hard. Do you want to know just how hard it is? As painful as it may be to accept, the Patriots may be the best-run organization in the NFL. Here’s a fun fact: The Patriots have failed to draft a fantasy-relevant receiver over the past nine years. They have drafted nine receivers over the past nine years and none have been worth anything for fantasy over the course of their collective careers. That should tell you all you need to know about how difficult the draft can be.

While the N’Keal Harry pick hasn’t been scrutinized as heavily as we might have expected (and he’s still young), it was odd they took Harry when Harry was considered by many to be the third to sixth-best receiver in the class.

In fairness to the Patriots, going off script for pre-draft rankings shouldn’t be surprising after you see where our eight outstanding rookies were graded in their respective years, pre-draft:

Year Player Grade Rank
2019 AJ Brown 6.7 4th
Terry McLaurin 6.1 20th
Deebo Samuel 6.4 5th
2018 Calvin Ridley 6.8 1st
2017 JuJu Smith-Schuster 6.3 6th
Cooper Kupp 6.2 10th
2016 Michael Thomas 6.3 5th
Tyreek Hill 5.1 53rd



It doesn’t appear to matter where these guys are being graded or viewed by the scouts. The situation and offensive schemes appear to have the biggest impact on whether a guy will have a big rookie season or not. Each year, we follow podcasts and hop on the hype trains we feel are destined for greatness. The reality is, very few rookie receivers will have an impact in re-draft leagues every year. Maybe it’s the appeal of the shiny new toy or the optimism that comes with seeing a guy go to a great team with a powerful offense.

It’s imperative you temper your expectations for rookie receivers in re-drafts, don’t let pre-draft rankings be the foundation for your opinion of a player, and remember my own cautionary tale from 2019: Don’t go draftin’ Emanuel Hall.

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Measuring the Measurables: NFL Combine Truths

The other day, a friend asked for my opinion on a restaurant he'd read a review on. I told him, “In my experience, it was amazing. I liked the style in which certain dishes were prepared. It’s not for everyone, but if you like things the particular way they make them, you’ll love it.” It’s a lot like the NFL Combine. Certain players have strengths in some areas everyone likes (40 times), but nearly all players will have some deficiencies. What may matter to some doesn’t really matter as much to others. The entire thing is relative.

There are certain attributes star players have that separate them from their peers in the NFL. For guys like Antonio Brown and Cooper Kupp, they’re just two among hundreds of current and former NFL stars whose careers haven’t reflected their combine numbers. However, there are two sides to every coin and there’s some validity to the debate around the NFL Combine and whether the events matter. For every Cooper Kupp or Antonio Brown, there are 48 other guys who had bad Combines and never did anything worthy of mention in the NFL.

Before we talk about what events matter, we have to talk about the two types of people in NFL Combine debates.


Combine Truthers

We hear the same chatter before every NFL combine. It typically revolves around discussions about whether hand size matters for a quarterback. We also hear about how critical a good 40-yard dash time is for everyone. Combine truthers will cite Jared Goff, whose hands measured just nine inches at the combine. Goff has fumbled 22 times over his past two seasons. Hand size is a legit concern for NFL teams, unless you’re a guy who maneuvers the pocket with both hands on the ball like Joe Burrow typically does.

In Burrow’s case, it shouldn’t be as important because of what he does to counter his hand size. Burrow tends to put two hands on the ball and usually displays keen pocket awareness. The combine truthers will also tell you that the ultra-instinctive players like Manti Te’o (who posted a 4.82 40-yard dash), simply can’t stay on the field in many situations. That’s a fair case and one there really isn’t a great counter for. The problem is, Terrell Suggs posted similar numbers and Vontaze Burfict ran a 5.09 40-yard dash. So, what’s a fair threshold? Is there even a threshold?


Combine Deniers

The combine deniers will cite Antonio Brown and Cooper Kupp as reasons why the combine doesn’t mean anything. Antonio Brown ran a 4.56 40 time, a 4.18 shuttle time, and a 6.98 three-cone drill. Those numbers would be decent for a linebacker or a tight-end. However, for a guy who’s barely 5’10" profiling as a great player in space and a solid possession receiver in college, it’s worrisome. Cooper Kupp ran a 4.62 40-yard dash. Anquan Boldin ran a 4.7 40-yard dash - dead last among receivers that year. The combine deniers will use these arguments to say, “Measurables don’t matter.”

So, who’s right? The truth is, both are right and wrong. The NFL Combine is a fitness test designed to put quantifiable data into a database so evaluators can get a better idea of your actual size, speed, and strength. It helps evaluators avoid constantly comparing your film and making assumptions against varying levels of competition. They want to know if you were able to overpower your blockers from Week 11 against Youngstown State the year prior because you’re actually strong, or if the guy blocking you was just weak.

The NFL Combine is a measuring stick that means more to some teams and less to others. Just as people love to say, “Well, this event doesn’t really matter much to us,” it may matter to other teams. So, just what should we focus on in the NFL Combine? Let’s take a look at some of the events and go through what actually matters for offensive players.



Height matters more for receivers and tight ends than it does for quarterbacks. According to a University of Idaho report by Cole R Blender, the average height of an NFL Offensive lineman is six feet four and three quarters. The idea that a quarterback who is under six feet tall will struggle is a bit odd when you consider a quarterback at 6’1 should struggle just as much. When you consider both should be obstructed from a clear view downfield, why do we not hear that as much with the guys in the 6’0"-6’2" range?

For receivers and tight ends, height matters more. Plaxico Burress ran a 4.6 40-yard dash, but his size was unique and reflected his style of play at the position (great at jump balls, blocking out defenders, and positioning himself to have an advantage on contested balls). Burress’ 6’5" height meant his speed wasn’t as important as it would have been for someone who was 5’8"-5’11". The same is true for tight ends.


Hand Size

I touched on this earlier with Jared Goff. Goff has the same hand size as Joe Burrow and people are concerned. Hand size with quarterbacks is about judging whether a quarterback will be able to hold onto the ball under pressure, hold onto the ball on pump fakes, and ball security in bad weather. As much as we downplay it, it’s proven to matter to an extent.

The issue with applying it to Burrow is that Burrow protects the ball well. He uses two hands on the ball in the pocket and has demonstrated great pocket awareness in college. This past year, Burrow only fumbled four times in 15 games, and he managed to recover three of them. With receivers, hand size is associated more with an ability to grip the ball better and hold onto it through contact and contested catches.

Again, the key here is, “what does the tape tell us?” If a receiver has small hands and a propensity to fumble, based on how he holds the ball or carries it, his hand size is significant. If the receiver doesn’t have a propensity to fumble and he protects the ball well on tape, hand size shouldn’t be much of an issue.


40-Yard Dash Time

40-Yard dash times are tricky. I have personal experience to use as an example. When I was in college, I was working out for walk-on tryouts one spring. In preparation, I watched a few videos on proper form (even though I thought it was silly at the time). I had run a 60-yard dash a year prior and was timed at 6.9, so I wasn’t too worried about my 40 time. I developed a separate form to try in the 40 and said to myself, “I’m going to run my way first and then try the way I had practiced on my second attempt.” On the first attempt, I ran a 5.09 laser-timed. I was confused. I expected it would be slower than the “proper form” but had no idea it would be so much slower, even with the laser. The second time, I changed my form to the “proper form” and ran a 4.71. I felt like the second time was slower, but the form worked.

When I see guys running it at the Combine, I notice when they’re using proper form. So, if a guy runs a good time outside of the proper technique, I give that guy an added bump in my considerations for that player. The reason I value the guys who don’t utilize the proper form is that these guys are going to run this way on the field. The guys using the proper form aren’t running that way in a game, so why do we give them a bump in value during the combine?

“Track Speed” and “Game Speed” are two entirely different things. The combine organizers could simply put the guys in pads and have them run the events, but they choose not to. What’s even more of a factor than pads are blood oxygen levels and adrenaline levels. Neither of those can be measured at the combine, but both can have a massive impact on a guy’s speed in-game. Think back to playing the game yourself, or any other sport.

For me, I always ran sluggish for the first few plays. For whatever reason, it took around 10 minutes or me to get hit hard for it to kick-in and find my legs. Once it kicked in, I felt a surge of energy and it typically lasted the duration of the game. I recently heard an interview with a player who explained it like I just did. He said, “I just need to get hit early, so my adrenaline kicks in and I can get into gear.” Some players will get more of a boost than others, which is why it’s absolutely critical to not just look at a player’s 40 time. You have to watch tape too.

You have to apply some common sense with this stuff too. Not everyone is going to run their best on an event like this, outside a live-game scenario. Some guys just can’t run cold and put up good times. If a receiver runs a 4.5, I wouldn’t be shocked if the guy would eventually be considered one of the fastest guys in the league in a few years. We have numerous examples of players like this. If a receiver runs a 4.6, I’m not going to expect he’s ever going to be that fast. It might change your opinion on the perceived role in the offense that player can best succeed. If a receiver runs a 4.7, I’m concerned. At that point, he’d better be an excellent route runner or a tall, red-zone threat for me to consider him. As far as I’m concerned, if you run a 4.2 – 4.3 time, that’s just icing on the cake.

Do yourself a favor and look up the fastest receivers of all-time at the combine and tell me it actually made a difference. If you look up who the fastest 15 receivers since 2009, according to combine numbers, the list is pathetic. The most accomplished receiver in the group is Marquise Goodwin, the record-holder is John Ross. The elite receivers in the NFL typically run between a 4.4 and a 4.5. Don’t overthink it.


Strength Drills

If there’s anything more worthless in the NFL Combine, please let me know. How can anyone rationalize “bench press reps” as being an important event in the NFL for skill positions? In a sport where the average play lasts just a few seconds, explain to me why muscular endurance in your chest means anything for a wide receiver. If there was a 200-meter swim, it would be more relevant. At least that could give me a better understanding of a player’s cardiovascular fitness and endurance.


Agility Drills

Agility drills are helpful to evaluators in their quest to paint a better picture of a player. If a team sees a guy is agile on tape and he isn’t so much in person, all it’s going to result in is that team saying, “Maybe he’s not as quick as we thought.” Agility drills serve better to reveal some clues as to who a player might be able to become. If you have a short receiver with insane agility numbers who has decent hands and is good in space, that guy could serve well as a slot receiver. If you have a short receiver with average to below-average agility scores, you may just rule that guy out altogether if he’s a nobody, but if he has good college film, you may say to yourself, “He didn’t measure well, but if this guy goes undrafted, I want to bring him into camp to see him in action.” If you get a tall receiver with great agility, it can reassure you that this guy could legitimately turn into a great outside receiver. Evaluators have to look at the numbers and ask themselves, “can we utilize this guy in our offense?”

When you look at a guy like Cooper Kupp, he ran a decent time (4.12) on the 20-yard shuttle and a 6.75 on the three-cone. Those are decent times for the combine, but Kupp ran a 4.61 in the 40-yard dash. The 4.61 was a big red flag for some teams, but it shouldn’t have been. Kupp has demonstrated decent speed and agility at the NFL level, but his route running was so polished from day one, the speed issue wasn’t a major concern for the Rams. Kupp put up monster numbers at Eastern Washington. His college tape showed elite route-running potential. Even if you’re moderately slow for an NFL receiver, elite abilities at route running can offset speed deficiencies.

For D.K. Metcalf, he had tremendous straight-line speed but scored horribly on his agility drills. As a result, Metcalf slipped out of the first round and nearly all the way out of the second. Metcalf’s agility drills were ranked around #28 among receivers at the combine. Fast forward to 2019, and Metcalf was one of three rookie receivers in consideration for Offensive Rookie of the Year. So, did his agility drills matter? They didn’t matter much to the Seahawks, because the Seahawks were smart about it. The Seahawks integrated Metcalf into the offense by choosing to incorporate his strengths and limited the opportunity for his weaknesses to be exposed. Metcalf ran a lot of deep routes, crossing routes, sluggos, and hitch and go routes. It sounds elementary, but this is how you’re supposed to handle talent in the NFL at every position. Your goal is to put the guys in the best position to succeed. Cooper Kupp and DK Metcalf were no different. As far as I’m concerned, NFL teams need to adopt the Bill Belichick adage of, “Don’t tell me what he can’t do. Tell me what he can do.”


Parting Words

I’d like to take us back to one curious case that will leave you even more confused about the NFL Combine than you were when you started reading this article. It’s the tale of Antonio Brown. Antonio Brown is truly an odd case study, but certainly not the first of his kind, nor the last. In college, Brown was a solid receiver/returner, who ran decent routes, had great hands, and showed a lot of promise anytime he had the ball in his hands. On film, he seemed shifty, though not particularly quick. His top speed was good on film, but his level of competition at Central Michigan made it hard for anyone to be convinced he would be worth selecting in the draft. He was essentially a “B” version of what Tony Pollard was in college.

In the Combine, Brown ran a 4.56 40-yard dash and ran a 6.98 second three-cone. His sub-nine-foot broad jump was the worst among receivers that year. Brown was drafted in the sixth round by the Steelers and eventually blossomed into one of the fastest, most explosive receivers in the NFL. So, what does this mean for evaluations in the Combine?

It tells us that this is a test that measures a select group of young adults on their physical capabilities at the present time. It tells us the Combine doesn’t measure determination and work ethic. Sure, it can give you insight as to a player’s actual speed compared to their game film, but the true measurables are what the player does once he’s on a roster.

So, what did we learn about the Combine and what we should we take from the results this year? It’s a lot like online restaurants. You may read some questionable reviews because of the taste or the service, but until you expose it to your own palette or hold it accountable to your own level of etiquette, you won’t really know just how good it can be to you.

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Dynasty Debate - Derrick Henry vs Melvin Gordon

Derrick Henry turns 27 next January, while Melvin Gordon turns 27 in April. That’s where we need to start when we’re discussing their value in a dynasty format.

For running backs, you can chart their production on a line graph and you’ll typically get a production distribution similar to a mountain. With most, they start out fast, ascending quickly, peaking for a couple of years, and then quickly descending. With these two, we need to first identify where they are on that line graph.

For the sake of the added variance, I am focusing on rushing yards per game and not total yards. I am also listing touches per game for the best way to track the wear on a player throughout his career. First, let’s take a look at Derrick Henry.


Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans

Henry is the more valuable asset here, based on production, age, mileage, and durability. I think there’s a good chance he stays with Tennessee, but he’s about a year younger than Gordon and he’s coming off a career year. Henry is interesting because both his volume and production have gone up massively over his time in the league.

Henry’s volume in the NFL by touches: 123, 187, 230, 321

Henry’s production by YPC: 4.5, 4.2, 4.9, 5.1

Henry’s Rushing YPG: 33, 47, 66, 103

It’s easy to look at spreadsheets of NFL running backs over the years and say, “running backs hit the cliff at age 27 or 28.” Pro Football Reference cites 57% of running backs have worse seasons after age 27 than their previous season. Then again, these guys aren’t all the same, their situations aren’t the same, and they aren’t all built the same. Regardless, I tend to trust the historic numbers and if someone proves me wrong by having success past age 27, I’ll take that loss knowing I’ll be right if I make that decision six out of 10 times.

Derrick Henry has been destroying defenses since high school. You can say he’s had a lot of mileage, but the Titans were careful to work him into his current usage by limiting him in his first three seasons. Part of it was the perceived value of Dion Lewis, a coveted third-down back coming off a solid season with the Patriots. However, more of it was caution by the Titans and difficulty effectively working him into the offense with Mariota. Henry’s contract is now up, which begs the question, should the Titans re-sign him? After the season he just had, it would be very difficult to say no.

I think the Titans will re-sign him, but if I were in their front office, I would try to limit the contract to a front-loaded, short deal. Ideally, a two-year or possibly three-year contract around 11-14 million per year would make sense. I don’t have much insight into what the current likelihood of Henry re-signing is, but if he stays with the Titans, it’s going to be a better scenario than 90% of the other potential suitors out there.


Impact in Dynasty

From a dynasty perspective, Henry is still valuable and for dynasty purposes, should be a fringe top-10 running back in valuations. If Tannehill, Conklin, and Henry all sign new deals with the Titans, Henry is probably close to the seventh-most valuable running back. If Henry leaves the Titans, he’s likely leaving to sign a deal with more guaranteed money and probably more years. If Henry leaves, his value will really fluctuate based on where he goes. He could be anywhere from RB #7 to RB #12. In either case, Henry still has the juice, for now. If you have him or acquire him this offseason and don’t like the prospective offensive line and offensive system he goes to, sell him before the start of the season.


Melvin Gordon

Gordon has had a very challenging career to analyze thus far. He’s had five minor injuries in five different places since entering the NFL and has missed nine games due to injury over a span of five seasons. He’s also had an offensive line of varying talent over that period, ranking in the bottom ten for the majority of his time in the league. To me, Gordon had been undervalued as a talent during his time with the Chargers.

Gordon’s volume in the NFL by touches: 217, 295, 342, 225, 204

Gordon’s production by YPC: 3.5, 3.9, 3.9, 5.1, 3.8

Gordon’s Rushing YPG: 46, 77, 69, 73, 51

What’s startling about this is the amount of touch disparity between Henry and Gordon. Gordon has 1,283 touches in five seasons (256 per year). Henry has 861 touches over four seasons (215 per year). It’s worth noting Austin Ekeler has taken a significant number of shares over the past two seasons and Gordon has missed eight games over this two-year span. With that considered, Pro Football Focus (PFF) graded Gordon as an 86 in 2018 and just a 66 in 2019. According to the NFL’s Player Profiler, Gordon evaded tackles at a rate of 6.6 per game in 2018 (#6 in the NFL) and only 4.1 per game in 2019 (#22 in the NFL). Line woes aside, the Chargers have had a bottom-ten offensive line over the past two seasons, so the line isn’t the reason for this drop. Gordon rushed for 5.1 YPC in 2018 and just 3.8 in 2019. The evidence is clear. Melvin Gordon appears to be on the back nine of his career.

I expect the Chargers will move on from Gordon in 2020 because, well, they should have internet access and a reasonable amount of common sense. In the likely scenario Gordon leaves, he still offers upside for potential suitors, but the question is, how much juice does he have left? If Gordon wants to get money and have the best situation to maximize his talents, he’ll move on to a team with a better offensive line.


Impact in Dynasty

From a dynasty standpoint, I would rank Gordon somewhere between 11 and 23. It’s not a bold ranking, but consider how little we know about his future situation and how he’s already on the back end of his career. Henry still has juice, from what we saw in 2019. Gordon is losing it. The fall for running backs in dynasty is often swift and harsh. Gordon would be amazing in a handful of offenses going forward, but his mileage is already quite considerable. I would expect he could have one more above-average season as a feature back and two to three more decent seasons in a timeshare.

If you can sell him for top-12 value right now, it’s probably a wise move. Gordon will likely follow the money, as he should, but the places who can afford to pay running backs big money typically have a lot of cap room because they often don’t invest it where they should be investing it; the offensive line. Gordon has two options here. He can chase the money and sacrifice production, or he can take the best situation available and maximize his production. If you’re bullish on Gordon, you’d better hope he goes with option two.

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Managing Running Backs in the Modern NFL

Who among us saw the film Gremlins and didn’t want their own little pet Mogwai like Gizmo? He was cute and curious and had a propensity to sing calming melodies. He was one little creature you weren’t ashamed to admit you liked and why not?

The tricky part was that little Mogwai would multiply if you spilled water on him (great business plan if you can keep that up) but he would turn into an evil, mischievous, nasty little creature known as a Gremlin if you were to accidentally feed him after midnight.

NFL running backs these are like Mogwai. If you limit their touches and resist the urge to utilize them on every down and give in to their demands, you can avoid turning your running back into a locker room-distracting, salary cap-wrecking monster.


Trouble Is Brewing

Ezekiel Elliott has become a Gremlin. We saw it happening early on. He had his “Feed me” celebration after every first down, big run, sideline shot, camera pose, Postmates delivery, etc. The signs were there. We just had too much fun with it all. Now, the Cowboys have a Gremlin in their backfield.

Zeke wanted to be fed. He wanted to amass carries. He wanted to score touchdowns. He wanted to be the force behind the Cowboys’ success. This was great news. I mean, who doesn’t want a running back with that kind of drive?

Unfortunately, the excessive feeding of Elliott and other heavily-utilized backs (Melvin Gordon, Le'Veon Bell, Todd Gurley, David Johnson) does three things. First, as volume increases, his opportunity for touchdowns, rushing yards, receiving yards, exposure, and fantasy value all climb. Yes, the perceived value of players can be influenced by fantasy football. Second, you give them the leverage they need in contract talks. Third, you set your organization up for a tough decision when the contract holdout happens and it risks unsettling your team’s trust. The Cowboys’ excessive usage of Zeke was simply a tactic to exploit the value of a guy on a rookie contract. The idea of riding your young running back until he has no tread left is nothing new. The problem is, these running backs are getting smarter about how to deal with this organization-driven tactic.

Two seasons ago, we saw the high-profile holdout with Le'Veon Bell. We saw the same this season with Melvin Gordon and Ezekiel Elliott. It’s very likely we will see it even more moving forward, especially if a running back has between 300 to 400 touches in a single season. How will this affect fantasy football and roster construction moving forward? First, let’s take a look at both sides of the argument on running backs.


Running Out of Time?

On one side, there is the “running backs are overrated” stance, which makes a strong case as to why an offense’s schemes and run blocking is more important than who is running the ball. The other side of it is the “if you’re going to use me at unprecedented usage rates, I should be appropriately paid” argument, which also makes valid points. By running a guy into the ground while he’s still on his rookie deal, a team is maximizing the value of the player under his current, team-friendly contract. It’s smart from a team-building perspective, but it also takes advantage of the pay ceiling for rookie running backs. So which side is right? The simple answer is both.

The core problem at hand in 2019 is running backs holding out. Fantasy football has contributed greatly to this, whether we like it or not. Imagine being a running back in the NFL and being 15th in yards per carry (YPC) among all backs with a minimum of 50 carries. In your third season, your team gives you the second-most touches in the league. Let’s also say you’ve benefitted from the highest amount of red-zone touches and finish the season with more touchdowns than any other back in the NFL. Also, understand the fact your backup came in and averaged 1.1 yards per carry more than you and had been cut by two other NFL teams that very same season (and the Raiders were one…the Raiders). What’s the best argument you can make for demanding a big contract? Volume is the answer. In this scenario, you were Todd Gurley and your backup was C.J. Anderson.

Before Zeke’s six-year, $90,000,000 contract, Todd Gurley was the highest-paid back in the league and C.J. Anderson had just signed with his fourth team in the past three years. Following Gurley’s year-three breakout, he was signed to the biggest contract among running backs in the NFL at that time. The wild part of all this is that Gurley averaged more yards per carry as a rookie than he did in his third year. Jeff Fisher, the coach from his rookie year, was ridiculed and labeled as incredibly inept that season and the team suffered offensively. Gurley’s coach from year three, Sean McVay, was hailed as Jesus Christ reincarnate. Yet, despite the offensive prowess of McVay and a passing game that should spread out defenses to open up the run game, Gurley’s yards per carry average fell.

The only difference in Gurley’s performance was the huge spike in usage/volume. Usage is also what dictates whether someone will go number one in a fantasy draft, or whether they go undrafted. Regardless of the success rate and the talent of a running back, volume is king in fantasy and volume is also key in providing leverage for running backs in contract discussions.

As Zeke’s fourth NFL season wrapped up, the contract extension had been signed and the evidence for his decline in production was already apparent. Using metrics from his three full seasons, the YPC went from 5.1 to 4.7 to only 4.5 in 2019. His speed appeared sapped as well since his carries of 20+ yards dropped from 14 to 11 to just four in 2019. His longest carry this year was just 27 yards. We aren’t even a year into his extension and we’re already seeing the decline. Meanwhile, Tony Pollard, who served more time as a receiver in college, came in and averaged 5.3 YPC and had the same amount of 20+ runs (four) on less than a third of the carries.


Taking Action

With numerous examples of how running backs are replaceable circulating in the NFL, the solution seems quite clear. Teams should split duties among multiple backs on rookie contracts, or risk having to commit a huge salary to the most injury-prone position in the sport. Had the Rams platooned Gurley with another back in 2017, it’s very likely they could’ve avoided committing such a huge salary to their running back, and likely could’ve replicated their success that season, regardless. Instead of committing salary to other, more impactful positions, they committed four years to a guy who very likely has an arthritic knee. The Steelers let Le'Veon Bell hold out and eventually walk, following a 400+ touch season. James Conner came in last season and scored more touchdowns in two fewer games, while also averaging a half-yard more per carry in rushing.  Meanwhile, Bell had a career-low 3.2 YPC with zero carries over 20 yards.

Was it scheme issues, wear and tear, or age? The truth is, it was probably a combination of all those things, which is why having a split backfield of two rookie contracts would prevent all that from cropping up. When you limit their carries, you limit their leverage. When there’s no leverage, there’s no holding out for absurd salary demands. It’s really that simple.

So, NFL GMs, if your team chemistry goes on the fritz, your salary cap blows up, your contract discussions conk out, or you let a lineman walk in free agency, tune out all the fans, check all the metrics and running back research, and look at the Patriots’ running back model, 'cause you never can tell - there just might be a gremlin in your backfield.


Impact on Fantasy Drafting & Dynasty Leagues

You may be wondering what the fantasy impact is here. The truth is, many organizations are moving towards a committee approach. Others are still sold on the idea of having their best guy on the field as much as possible. Over time, as more analytics folks inhabit NFL front offices, you’ll start to see less big running back contracts and more split backfields with guys on rookie deals. Take a look at Green Bay if you want an idea of what the future will look like.

Green Bay has two backs, both who are capable receivers, on rookie deals. Both still have plenty of juice, too. By splitting the backfield, they’re preserving the lifespan of their guys, while keeping defenses guessing as to what the play may be. For the Patriots, as well as they do things, one thing they do poorly is tipping their playcalling tendencies, based on the running back in the backfield for that play. When Sony Michel is in, it’s almost certainly a run. When James White is in, it’s pretty much always a pass. The Packers have the smart backfield of the future and I expect many teams will go down this road. For fantasy purposes, there are a few running backs I’m afraid of for the 2020 season (based on what we know of the current backfield situations).


Buyer Beware

  1. Ezekiel Elliott- He finished as the RB #4 in half-point leagues. I’m a little worried from a production standpoint since Zeke still got around 77% of the carries against Pollard’s 23%. What’s even more concerning was Pollard’s YPC was nearly a full yard better, and his big-play ability is much greater than Zeke’s. Zeke had nine games this season under 20 carries, including four of the last five games of the season. If you think Zeke is still the explosive, fast, powerful, angry runner from his first season, check the tapes. He’s certainly lost a step and doesn’t have the same burst of acceleration he once had. Maybe some of that is due to conditioning but why risk it? I’d sell him high while you still can in a dynasty league and go after picks and someone like Nick Chubb if possible. In re-draft leagues, I wouldn’t consider him as the top pick or even in the top-five this year. I think he’s probably going to finish somewhere closer to the RB #10 than RB #1. Don’t fall for it this season.
  2. Melvin Gordon – Gordon is a big question mark going forward because we don’t know where he’s going to land. I am always wary of him, due to his injury history, but Gordon should still physically be fine, when healthy. Just keep it in mind before giving up much for him in a dynasty format. In the past, Gordon has been fairly touchdown-dependent. It’s certainly skewed people’s perceptions of him, but he is still very elusive and capable of having a big year. The Chargers had a pretty bad offensive line and much of Gordon’s success came despite the O-line, not because of it. He’s completely situation-dependent, but I think people may be underestimating how talented of a back he actually is. If you have an opportunity to buy-low, go for it.
  3. Le’Veon Bell – There’s not a lot for us to be excited about with Bell’s future prospects. He didn’t have a great line last season, but he also didn’t look very good. If the Jets don’t make an effort this offseason to prioritize fixing the line, steer clear of Bell in re-drafts and try to get rid of him as the season gets closer to kickoff. If they bring in a rookie running back, you could very well see the Jets working towards a 75/25 timeshare, maybe even something that becomes closer to 50/50 if the new back is effective. I still think it’s more of an issue with his age, lack of explosiveness, and the line, so I want no part of him this season.
  4. Todd Gurley – Sell, sell, sell. He was the most touchdown-dependent rusher this season in the NFL. Ever since the Rams O-line started falling apart and teams realized Jared Goff is one of the worst quarterbacks in the league when under duress, Gurley’s impact has been minimal. He had zero 100-yard rushing games in 2019. He did have 12 rushing touchdowns. To me, he should be valued at the highest around Mark Ingram and at the lowest, Latavius Murray. His knee may actually be deteriorating at a slower rate than the Rams O-line. Gurley finished 14th this season and that was extremely fortunate for his owners, so I’d trade him away in dynasty and I wouldn’t take him anywhere near where his ADP will be in 2020 in redraft.


RB to Target in 2020

  1. Nick Chubb – Nick Chubb finished seventh in half-point formats last season. Meanwhile, Kareem Hunt just got pulled over with all kinds of substances in his car recently. If there was any hesitation on your behalf for the Browns backfield in 2020 due to Hunt being there, this should quell your nerves.In addition to the uncertainty surrounding Hunt, Kevin Stefanski was named the new head coach. As the Vikings offensive coordinator, Minnesota was fourth in the NFL in rush attempts and sixth in rushing yards per game (133). This bodes well for Baker Mayfield’s errant play to calm down yet offers even more upside for Nick Chubb. Chubb’s breakout season as the league’s #2 rusher was a good preview for a possibly bigger year this upcoming season. Chubb only had eight rushing touchdowns in 2019, despite being #2 in rush yards. I expect a more positive regression to the mean next season, especially with Stefanski leading the team. Regardless of Hunt’s status, the Browns are going to run the ball a lot. I think Chubb should be a top 10 pick in re-draft leagues and should finish in the top-five among running backs in 2020.
  2. Miles Sanders – Typically, I steer clear of guys in committees where the splits are unclear, but this one could work to our advantage. I think the predominant thoughts going into fantasy drafts in 2020 will be that Philly will continue to use a timeshare, be it with Jordan Howard or another RB. If that’s the case and Sanders slips past the RB12 or so, snatch him up.Sanders got better as the season went along, though injuries did hamper his late-season stretch. As the season progressed, it became apparent Sanders was much more talented and explosive than Howard, so even with the two backs splitting time early on, I think the team will lean more on Sanders as the season progresses. He finished as the RB17 on the season and his pass-catching upside is huge. Best case, he could break into the top-seven if the Eagles make some scheme improvements and upgrade their weapons outside. Worst case, he finishes around where he did this year and it’s not a huge sacrifice for your draft capital.

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