Running backs going too early in fantasy football drafts: Plenty of reasons to fade these five big names

Dalton Del Don
·5 mins read

ECR stands for “Expert Consensus Ranking,” which means the average ranks of many members of the fantasy football industry and is typically similar to ADP (which differs from site-to-site). This will be an ongoing series highlighting some big differences between ECR and my own ranks. In general, it’s usually best to regress to the market some, and knowing your league’s ADP remains equally important when drafting, but I rank the following players a lot lower than the general fantasy community.

Players who should go higher: QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs
Players going too early: QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs

Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings (ECR = RB5 vs. DDD = RB9)

He’s absolutely one of the best running backs in football and in one of the league’s best situations with Minnesota the most run-heavy team in the league last season. But Cook’s injury history is simply too serious to be a top-five overall pick, including a torn ACL, multiple hamstring issues, a chest injury and a significant chronic shoulder injury. Sports Injury Predictor has only Leonard Fournette as a bigger injury risk among backs this season, projecting Cook to miss 3.5 games. Cook has played in just 60% of possible games during his NFL career, so I’m not drafting him ahead of Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Derrick Henry. Also, make sure you grab the right reserve running back in Minnesota.

Todd Gurley, Atlanta Falcons (ECR = RB15 vs. DDD = RB29)

He has an NFL-high 54 touchdowns over the last three seasons and joins an Atlanta team with an incredibly favorable setup with elite skill position players aside from an otherwise totally thin backfield (and also getting two 2019 first-round offensive linemen back from injury). But Gurley has an arthritic knee that’s never going to get better, and it’s not only at risk of sidelining him at any time, but it’s an injury that clearly compromises his performance. Gurley still helped fantasy teams last year thanks to playing in Sean McVay’s system that resulted in a bunch of touchdowns, as this was Gurley’s “best play” from last season, when he ranked 40th in Juke Rate and finished last in yards per route run by a wide margin. Moreover, after offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter openly questioned Gurley’s health status throughout summer, the back was reportedly recently walking “with a noticeable limp,” no longer possesses the ability to “put his foot in the dirt and go like the old Todd Gurley” and is already requiring “load management.” All this seems suboptimal for someone being drafted in the third round. Grab Judge Ito Smith at the end of drafts instead.

Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars (ECR = RB17 vs. DDD = RB30)

He’s coming off a rough season in which he ranked No. 90 in fantasy points per opportunity and is almost certain to see a big decrease in volume moving forward. Fournette shouldn’t sniff 100 targets again with Chris Thompson now in Jacksonville, and the Jaguars project to be arguably the worst team in the league. Fournette still has an outside shot of being released before the season (the Jaguars couldn’t give him away when trying to trade him), so it’s pretty wild Fournette is being drafted in the third round of fantasy leagues. Even if Jacksonville again treats him as their lead back and he somehow stays healthy again, touchdowns should remain limited given his situation (the Jaguars rank bottom-three in carries inside the five over the last two years and have the lowest Vegas projected win total in 2020). I can’t get behind drafting Fournette over James Conner or Jonathan Taylor.

David Johnson, Houston Texans (ECR = RB21 vs. DDD = RB28)

An ankle sprain can be partially blamed, but Johnson ranked last in YPC after contact last season, and Kenyan Drake exploded after replacing him in Arizona’s backfield. DJ finished 60th out of 61 backs in Elusive Rating, with only Kalen Ballage worse and behind Patrick Laird. Despite a multi-time “Bust of the Year” winner, DJ is back on the fantasy scene thanks to Bill O’Brien, who made one of the worst trades in recent sports memory that resulted in Johnson entering 2020 as Houston’s new feature back. There’s ample evidence Duke is the best Johnson on the Texans’ roster, but O’Brien’s opinion is all that matters, so it might take an injury for any switch to happen. David Johnson hasn’t been any good since 2016, is a major durability concern and isn’t even the best DJ in his own backfield, so don’t be surprised when he burns fantasy managers yet again.

Devin Singletary, Buffalo Bills (ECR = RB25 vs. DDD = RB37)

He proved he was a better football player than his workout metrics might indicate during his impressive rookie campaign, when Singletary got 5.1 YPC and took over as Buffalo’s lead back down the stretch. Unfortunately, there are many hurdles moving forward, as Singletary has the league’s best goal-line runner as his QB to steal touchdowns and a new rookie back in Zack Moss to steal touches. Josh Allen is an incredibly inaccurate passer but has the eighth-most rushing TDs over the past two seasons, which is the worst of both worlds for Singletary.

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Moss is also 20 pounds heavier, so touchdowns should be limited for Singletary, who also struggles as a receiver, finishing bottom-three in yards per route run last season. Meanwhile, Moss led all RBs in college football in yards per route run last season, when he was one of only two Power-5 backs to rank top-10 in both missed tackles per rush attempt and per reception. Moss is one of the better receiving RB prospects coming out of the draft in recent memory, while Singletary is currently one of the NFL’s worst. The Bills also might have the toughest fantasy RB schedule, so as a back with 4.66 speed who’s not looking at many catches or red-zone touches, Singletary isn’t a top-35 RB on my board.

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