Late Round RBs to Target (Fantasy Football)
As the old fantasy adage goes, you can’t win a league in the first couple rounds, but you can certainly lose one. Conversely, you can’t lose a league in the last few rounds, but you can certainly win one. In 2015, if you drafted Devonta Freeman in the eighth round or David Johnson in the 10th round, you probably did quite well. In 2016, if you drafted Isaiah Crowell in the ninth round, Jay Ajayi in the 10th round, Tevin Coleman in the 10th round, or Spencer Ware in the 11th round, I’d say you’re looking at a trophy or three. I can’t tell you with any degree of certainty that the names on this list will propel you to fantasy greatness. What I can tell you with confidence is that there will be at least a couple double-digit round running backs that make a significant fantasy impact.
Here are the rules. To qualify as a “late round RB,” the RB has to be a guy you are not drafting to start. In other words, assuming a two RB + Flex league, we are looking at guys outside the top 36 in 12 team PPR scoring. ADPs are taken from the FantasyFootballCalculator.
Honorable Mention: Samaje Perine (WAS – ADP 8.03, RB36)
Literally, the first name I mention and I’m already cheating. I can’t even abide by my own rules. I’ll keep this short since technically Perine just misses and because I think his ADP will be inside the top 30 backs by the time draft season rolls around. I love Perine. He is going to take the feature back role from Rob Kelley at the same speed Jordan Howard took that job from Jeremy Langford last year.
C.J. Prosise (SEA – ADP 8.07, RB37)
My pick for the most valuable Seattle running back is Prosise. I want no part of Eddie Lacy. I am done. He is fat and slow. Furthermore, he’s going to be splitting early-down carries with Thomas Rawls (at least until Rawls’ next injury). The only back with a defined role on this team is Prosise. He’s the passing-down back. He’s also really, really good at football. Granted it was a limited sample size, but Prosise led all running backs in yards per touch last season. He was third in the league in yards after contact per touch. And he also led all running backs in catch percentage. Prosise could very well see 50-to-75 carries to go along with 40-50 receptions, and that’s on the conservative end of estimates. The Seahawks have Pro Football Focus’ worst-rated offensive line entering 2017. If they can’t run, that means a lot more of Prosise. What if Rawls gets hurt and Lacy continues to eat himself into a coma? If Prosise ends up as the lead back, he could provide league-winning dividends.
Jonathan Stewart (CAR – ADP 10.05, RB 46)
Why is everyone forgetting about Stewart? He’s not flashy, and I don’t think he will be the guy to win leagues, but in the 10th round, sign me up! At worst, he will split with Christian McCaffrey and handle the majority of the goal-line work. Cam Newton has gone on record to talk about how he needs to be more careful, and there’s been talk of him running less. If he cedes some more goal line rushing, Stewart will be the beneficiary. All JStew would need to do is finish as an RB3 to give fantasy owners a positive return on investment. Don’t aggressively target Stewart, but keep his name floating around your head in case he falls farther than he should.
Rex Burkhead (NE – ADP 14.03, RB60)
The New England Patriots went out of their way to sign Rex Burkhead to a one-year, $3.15 million contract. The Patriots don’t just sign players for no reason. Yes, they signed Mike Gillislee as well, but Gillislee’s ADP is in the sixth round. If you think he’s eight rounds more valuable than Burkhead, then this paragraph isn’t for you. Burkhead is an exceptional pass catcher with elite burst and agility. His 85% catch rate ranked third amongst running backs in 2016. He played the Giovani Bernard role in Cincinnati better than Giovani Bernard. Now, he has Tom Brady and the machine behind him. No one can know for sure how things will shake out between Gillislee, Burkhead, James White, and Dion Lewis, but I’m more than willing to throw a late-round dart at Burkhead. Lewis can’t stay healthy, and there are talks of him being released before the season starts. Even if he’s not, he’s my prediction to be the odd man out. White had an incredible Super Bowl, and we’re seeing a bit of an overreaction to that performance. The reason White was on the field so much is that the Patriots were throwing the entire game. How often do you think the Patriots will be trailing this year? It’s hard to see White’s snaps being high enough to make a consistent impact. Gillislee will probably take over the LeGarrette Blount role, and that’s okay. That doesn’t impact Burkhead at all. Burkhead can certainly split early-down work with Gillislee and possibly handle some goal line touches as well. Burkhead can also be used as a slot receiver. The Patriots have a ton of weapons, but this is an elite offense that you want pieces of. Worst case, Burkhead doesn’t work out and you drop him. Best case, you have the Patriots newest version of Danny Woodhead for nothing.
Shane Vereen (NYG – Undrafted)
How is Vereen not even being drafted? I get that Paul Perkins is the starter right now, but Vereen is clearly the satellite back. Orleans Darkwa and Wayne Gallman are replacement level players. They aren’t going to see the field much. Perkins is also nothing special. Vereen has already proven he can be successful at the NFL level. It just seems like every time he’s about to be given his shot, he comes away with a fluky injury that he plays through for an elite performance and then is suddenly gone for half a season. It happened in 2013 with New England and again last year. I totally understand the trepidation with drafting Vereen. How many times can we hype this guy to finally break out and be disappointed before we give up? But for the guy to not even be drafted? Come on. Perkins is a below-average athlete for the running back position who doesn’t really do anything well. He’s the quintessential “just a guy.” When the Giants coaching staff sees Vereen on the field and compares him to Perkins, they’re not going to want to take Vereen out. Sure, it’s entirely likely that Shane Vereen disappoints again and you’ve wasted your last-round pick. But how many last-round guys can you say you’ve seen perform at RB1 levels, even if it’s for a very brief interval? We know Vereen can do it. That’s worth the shot for me.