Trends and Takes: Running Back Values

Written by Timothy E. Lewis (@TrendsAndTakes) — August 19th, 2020


Training camp news pours in. Drafts will soon be upon us. The running back position is of notorious value in fantasy football (and debatable value in actual football). Below are a collection of RBs outside the top-20 that I believe have a high probability of exceeding their ADP. All ADPs are courtesy of Fantasy Pros.


Darrell Henderson (RB 45)

image courtesy of therams.com

I still believe. And in this unpredictable offseason, we should grasp at what is most projectable. For me, that’s continuity. I know this has been a big theme in 2020 drafts, and I believe the institutional wisdom that exists with the Rams organization cannot be overlooked.

While I like Cam Akers (a lot), he does not have reps with the offense. He doesn’t come in knowing the playbook. He doesn’t have familiarity with NFL game speed. But one thing is for certain: The Rams didn’t take Darrell Henderson in the early third round of the 2019 draft, then Akers in the late second round of the 2020 draft, to see what they have with Malcolm Brown.

During Akers’ learning curve, Henderson will have a spectacular opportunity to impress. In limited action last season, he showed the elusiveness and tantalizing athleticism that encouraged LA to draft him. Jared Goff had the following to say about Henderson heading into this season:

“Darrell is a special talent, a special player, and he can be dangerous,” Goff said. “I think he’s fast, he’s athletic, he can catch extremely well, he’s got the ability to be, I think, as time goes on, a top guy. We’re going to have to wait and see, but he’s got everything you want. He’s smart, he’s fast. He’s agile. He can do everything.”

Unfortunately, we also saw shortcomings from Henderson last season. The physical talent was there, but he still needed time to adjust to the Rams’ blocking scheme as well as life in the league. Who is to say the same won’t be true for Akers?

Ultimately, I think this backfield boils down to a thunder-and-lightning approach featuring Akers and Henderson respectively. Going as the RB 46, I think the Memphis product could operate as his team’s Austin Ekeler (2018) or Rahim Mostert (2019): an explosive, efficient play-maker who boasts monster upside with expanded opportunity.

Meanwhile, Antonio Gibson’s price is skyrocketing, so think about this: Darrell Henderson is the back who kept Gibson off the field at Memphis. He’s got a full year of experience, on a better team, in a backfield that has 273 touches vacated by Todd Gurley.


David Montgomery (RB 26)

image courtesy of bears.com

Another post-hype player is David Montgomery. He’s going as the RB 26 currently, drafted at his floor. In reality, Montgomery is one of the safer picks in the draft. There is no incumbent talent to challenge, and he is the only back of recognition on the roster who can handle a substantial workload. While his rookie year may have let down ambitious fantasy football drafters, it was not altogether a failure.

First and foremost, we should acknowledge the reservations. Montgomery’s efficiency as a runner and a receiver were poor. The team’s overall offense outside of Allen Robinson was a dumpster fire. Scoring opportunities were difficult to come by, and the offensive line is dubious at best.

Alternatively, the reasons for optimism are plentiful. The team will have an upgrade at the quarterback position in Nick Foles. While Foles has one of the stranger career arcs, the coaching staff will feel intimately familiar. He is no doubt the favorite in a quarterback competition with Mitch Trubisky.

We should also look at the achievements of the Iowa State product in context. Totaling nearly 1000 yards from scrimmage and 7 touchdowns as a rookie in an anemic offense is something of a success. Before the 2019 Draft, Montgomery was heralded for his ability to force missed tackles and create yardage. In the 2019 season, he placed 13th in forced missed tackles and 17th in yards created. As the biggest back on the team, he absorbed goal line carries as well, finishing 8th in the NFL in the category.

Perhaps Montgomery isn’t the game-changing talent some projected him as, but he’s still a reasonably talented back with a versatile skill profile. The touches will be there. An incremental improvement to offensive competency will open the door significantly, because while Montgomery can’t control the situation around him, he’s taken matters into his own hands in the offseason, reshaping his body to be quicker and more explosive. I like Montgomery more than his ADP contemporaries such as Raheem Mostert, Devin Singletary, Cam Akers, and D’Andre Swift.


Chase Edmonds (RB 54)

image courtesy of cardinals.com

A small-school back with big-time talent, Chase Edmonds is widely considered the backup for 2019 trade acquisition, Kenyan Drake. What some conveniently forget is that it was an Edmonds injury that prompted the trade — the game before which, the Fordham product took 29 touches for 155 yards.

With the 2020 season rolling around, expectations are high for the Arizona-based franchise. Kyler Murray is expected to make a sophomore leap into stardom, while Kliff Kingsbury looks to expand on a promising first year as head coach. While the Cardinals did not operate with the pace they had hoped (ranking league average), a season of experience should help in that regard.

Kenyan Drake is a tall but slender back, primarily operating in a committees, dating back to his days at Alabama. His speed makes him a homerun hitter, and he has turned heads in both Miami and Arizona. Operating on a one-season transition tag, Drake’s future is in question, and therefore the Cardinals will likely want to see what they have with Edmonds before addressing the position in the offseason. Regardless, Arizona will once again lean on their success running the ball. The talent, Drake’s history as a committee back, and the team’s rushing prowess all indicate Edmonds will see the field.

The basic premise of targeting Chase Edmonds is that he will have standalone value as the lesser half of a committee to start the season, with bellcow upside should Drake go down or underperform.


Marlon Mack (RB 35)

image courtesy of colts.com

Marlon Mack is not in the Colts’ long term plans. But he’s not toast, either. Going at RB 35, 16 spots behind rookie running mate Jonathan Taylor is an emotional projection. Do we want to see a prodigious talent like Taylor cut loose behind this offensive line? Absolutely. But that’s not necessarily how things will go down.

Marlon Mack is unfairly being tossed into this basket of bygone backs. His veteran status, understanding of the offense, and ability level will all make it difficult to bench the 4th year player. What I’m seeing is analysts’ framing Mack’s situation like that of Kerryon Johnson — a largely disappointing 3rd round pick replaced by a running back from an elite program. While there are corollary variables here, Mack is a markedly better back than Johnson.

Instead, Mack’s situation is more comparable to another veteran who is welcoming the assistance of a 2nd round pick: Mark Ingram. Both Ingram and Mack eclipsed 230 touches and 1000 yards rushing. Both occupied similar snap and opportunity shares. Both graded out extremely well in elusiveness and yards created metrics. Both are in the last year of their respective contracts. And yet, from the purview of ADP, Ingram sits comfortably ahead of his newfound competition while Mack is cast to the shadows.

The difference between Ingram and Mack is age. The Ravens’ veteran is nearly 31-years-old while his Colt contemporary has yet to reach 25. While Taylor’s talent is undeniable, we know that Mack is going to begin the season as the starter and possesses the requisite talent to produce at a high level. With Taylor’s rising and Mack’s falling ADP, it’s time to reconsider the value proposition and likelihood of each outcome.

An additional consideration is the possibility of a trade. With an expiring contract and an ascending player behind him, Mack may get moved. Should his value as a fantasy football asset deteriorate due to Taylor, there’s still a reasonable chance he ends up in a backfield that will appreciate his talent.

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