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Overvalued NFL Draft Targets: RB (Fantasy Football)

by Matt Giraldi | @Mgiraldi | Featured Writer
Feb 11, 2017

Will Leonard Fournette's future fantasy value equal his popularity?

Will Leonard Fournette’s future fantasy value justify his popularity?

Welcome to the offseason degenerates. Much like Bill Belichick, many of you are five weeks late to the party. The offseason is in full effect, and the NFL Draft is less than 80 days away.

Chances are you’ve heard about the talent at running back in this year’s draft. Leonard Fournette might have the strongest name recognition, but don’t think that this draft is solely top-heavy. The issue in finding the perfect balance between scheme and talent.

A player like Ezekiel Elliott was bound to succeed in the pros. Being paired up with a top five offensive line (according to Pro Football Focus and Football Outsiders) helped. However is it difficult to assume Jordan Howard or Derrick Henry could have produced 80% of those statistics in Dallas?

Of the rookie running backs that had 70 or more carries in 2016, only two were taken before pick 130. In 2015, eight rookie running backs taken in the top 100 had at least 161 carries. If a player is good enough, he’s going to get the carries.

Which leads me to focus on the running backs that are being overvalued from a fantasy perspective. Over the past six seasons, a total of 20 running backs have had 300 or more carries.

For a position losing it’s bell-cows, perhaps re-draft leagues were hinting towards dynasty game theory with the “Zero-RB” draft style. After all, Howard was consistently going in the late second and early third round in rookie drafts last year.

The talent some of these incoming running backs have is undeniable. As we saw this season with a player like Todd Gurley however, talent is only one part of the equation.

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Leonard Fournette (LSU)
Strong name recognition has led to some believing Fournette is the second coming of Adrian Peterson. Unfortunately for Fournette, he’s likely heading to a team that will have struggles along the offensive line (think Gurley). That was a luxury afforded to him while at LSU. Les Miles’ offensive lines are routinely located near the top of Football Outsiders’ rankings each year.

Talent trumps situation though right? In most cases, sure. However, the draft is going to heavily dictate whether Fournette or Dalvin Cook ultimately goes No. 1 in rookie drafts.

In PPR formats, Cook likely will get the nod whereas non-PPR will favor Fournette. Given the likelihood that Fournette ends up on a bad team, his fantasy owners are going to be dependent on him contributing in the passing game.

One issue that will (hopefully) get cleared up as the NFL Combine begins is the condition of Fournette’s ankle. A lack of elusiveness in 2016 hindered what could have been a monster year for the junior. Originally injured prior to the season, some have described it as a “chronic ankle injury” potentially needing surgery.

While Fournette has been perceived as a “workhorse,” ultimately he did not have that many carries. Since 2000, Fournette ranks 175th in total rushing attempts. Given the short lives of NFL running backs, this could be viewed as a positive. It could also mean that we have a limited lens to focus on with Fournette.

In his three games against Alabama, Fournette had 57 carries for 145 yards (2.54 yards per carry). To me, that’s a telling stat.

In the pros, Fournette will not have the luxury of facing teams like Ole Miss, whom he racked up 284 yards against last season. Last season, Mississippi ranked 120th in rushing defense last season while Alabama ranked first.

There’s a lot of positives with Fournette. His ability to create yards as well as his ability to lay the boomstick on (much smaller) defenders is special.

His size and speed is freakishly elite. I just wonder, is Fournette that much better than the other running backs in this class?

His name is going to inflate his cost in both dynasty and re-draft. I don’t foresee Fournette being a transcendent talent in the NFL. I see him more as a mix between Knowshon Moreno and Ron Dayne.

In a vacuum, I value D’Onta Foreman over Fournette. If I did have the number one pick in rookie drafts, I would be looking to acquire additional assets by trading down. Barring the perfect landing spot for Fournette coupled with an imperfect landing spot for Cook, I likely would lean Cook as the top running back.

Joe Mixon (Oklahoma)
You knew it was coming at some point. So let’s discuss the elephant in the draft room. Mixon had issues with the law in college. That…is also a massive understatement. Officially on record as a misdemeanor,

Mixon’s violent outburst against Amelia Molitor will only slightly dampen his chances of being drafted in April. His denial to the NFL Combine could also affect his draft stock.

That in itself has led me towards taking not only a moral high ground against owning Mixon, but leads me to wonder why so many are staunch supporters. Morality aside, we are talking about a running back that is one P.R. nightmare away from being alienated by NFL owners. Is that type of risk worth the inherent talent and the cost associated?

Mixon is currently ranked as the number three running back in this year’s class by Dynasty League Football. I’ll always concede that talent should be weighed the heaviest in ranking a player.

I just cannot get behind Mixon though. Risk adversity is a skill in fantasy football. Those that take risks and succeed will always be notarized more than those that avoided a questionable player. Investing a top six pick in Mixon over the likes of Christian McCaffrey or the top-tier wide receivers seems like unnecessary risk.

However, let’s discuss some aspects of Mixon’s on field attributes. Watching some of Mixon’s highlights shows you his immense talent. He can house a run at any point anywhere on the field (just ask Texas Tech). As a receiver out of the backfield,

Mixon has soft hands and can stretch the field. That does not mean he is absolved of negative traits.

One in particular is ball security. He has a recurring propensity for bowing his ball carrying arm away from his body. “Carrying the ball like a loaf of bread” might work in college, but in the pros the tape is going to show these tendencies. Last season Mixon had five fumbles, losing two.

Mixon reminds me a lot of LeSean McCoy on the field. His talent is undeniable. The question on draft day, both in fantasy and in the NFL, will be how much risk is an owner willing to take?

Alvin Kamara (Tennessee)
The draft world is starting to introduce themselves to Kamara and the hype train is rolling. Kamara had a total of 284 touches in college football.

His path from Alabama to community college to Tennessee had many twists and turns. Much like wide receiver Cooper Kupp, his draft hype has risen at the speed of Kamara in the open field.

Much like Mixon, Kamara has a propensity to be prone to fumbles. Last season Kamara fumbled once every 32.4 touches. A situational time-share running back simply cannot cough up the football.

The other issue I have with Kamara is how he translates to the NFL. At 5’11 and 210 pounds (DLF has him listed as 195 pounds), he’s rather small to be a high usage running back. Tennessee often lined Kamara up in the slot, which would be great for his future prospects.

I am simply not buying it right now at the current cost, and I really won’t be buying it following the NFL Combine and Tennessee Pro Day. Kamara is an easy pick to be in the running for fastest running back at the combine.

Speed and draftniks are inseparable. Al Davis gets a lot of criticism but a lot of people sure do love replicating his crazy affection for speed.

If I could get my hands on Kamara prior to the combine at a discounted price, I would be all for it. Unfortunately, that just doesn’t appear to be in the cards for a lot of dynasty owners.

Overvalued NFL Draft Targets: QB

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Matt Giraldi is a correspondent at FantasyPros. To read more from Matt, check out his archive or follow him @Mgiraldi

Correspondent, Featured, NFL, NFL Draft