LeGarrette Blount is a Safe Investment (Fantasy Football)
LeGarrette Blount is the food on the shelf that is technically past its ‘best by’ date but is actually still perfectly edible. No, he won’t repeat his 18-touchdown season. The Philadelphia Eagles are worse than the Patriots by pretty much any standard and will not visit the red zone as frequently. But the fantasy community is frowning upon Blount to spite his high touchdown numbers last season. The Eagles obviously saw something they wanted in Blount, and beat reporters have virtually assumed since the signing that the team expects Blount to replace the oft-injured Ryan Mathews.
Mathews didn’t excite anybody last season, but there’s reason to hope with Blount. Mathews managed to score on the ground eight times (adding another touchdown through the air) in just 13 games, only five of which he was (kind of) healthy. Blount has a significantly lighter injury history, and with his high Body Mass Index he is able to withstand a beating while running between the tackles. He may not be the best or most efficient running back, but he was a reliable workhorse in 2016 for the Patriots. The Eagles needed a running back like Blount to help take the pressure off Carson Wentz while he continues to transition to the NFL.
What’s Not to Like?
The community does have reason to doubt Blount’s ability to produce fantasy points. From a tape perspective, Blount is underwhelming. As someone who watched every Patriots game last season, I can verify that Blount routinely ran between the tackles for exactly what was blocked for him plus about a yard after contact. He wasn’t pretty to watch, but for the most part he was dependable. Dependable is pretty much exactly the opposite of Mathews last year.
His yards per carry weren’t phenomenal either. On 299 touches, Blount averaged 3.9 YPC, which isn’t very high, but those 299 touches demonstrated his ability to handle a full season’s workload. When Mathews was unhealthy head coach Doug Pederson was hesitant to use Darren Sproles as his primary back, despite how efficient Sproles had been during the season. Pederson displayed an unwillingness to use either as the lead back, or even to admit that either was.
Given Blount’s complete lack of a pass-catching resume, it is absolutely reasonable to assume that he will be the first- and second-down back, and that Sproles will resume his pass-catching back role. The backfield roles may even continue to be as muddled as before. Duce Staley, running backs coach for the Eagles, recently stated that Blount “…will scare some people,” in the passing game, assuring, “he can catch the ball.” That being said, Blount is now over 30 years old and there’s an argument to be made along the lines of “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” The Eagles already have a gifted aging pass-catching back (and even drafted a promising new one), so it seems unlikely that Blount suddenly starts catching passes. We want three-down running backs on our fantasy teams, and it’s just not probable, despite Staley’s comments, that Blount becomes one.
So, Why Blount?
In fantasy football, we all love certainty. We revel in the fact that Le’Veon Bell is a guaranteed workhorse, pass-catching back and will get at least 20 touches a game. We dislike seeing the Eagles’ stable of running backs and not knowing for sure which, if any, will rise to the top. That uncertainty is scary for drafters, but it also represents an opportunity for value. Blount is currently the RB30 in our Expert Consensus Rankings, which should realistically represent his floor. Mathews finished last season as the RB30, and Sproles finished as the RB24. If Blount is able to maintain steady carries, he could definitely finish in that range or even better.
Blount may not be a special talent, but his offensive line sure is this year. Check out Mike Tagliere’s Offensive Line Rankings. The Eagles are the sixth-best offensive line unit in the league this year. We saw last year with Latavius Murray and the previous year with Darren McFadden how a great offensive line can turn an average running back into a fantasy stud. This outcome is entirely possible for Blount this year with the Eagles offensive line.
I mentioned that he runs for pretty much exactly what is blocked for him with a little spare change (Blount generated 1.2 yards after contact per touch in 2016). If his offensive line is creating big holes for him and he is able to get some inertia behind that big frame, Blount could drastically increase his yards per carry. The Patriots offensive line was great for pass-blocking in 2016 (allowing the fifth-fewest sacks), but their run-blocking wasn’t quite as effective. With an upgraded offensive line, we could see Blount break off explosive runs at a higher frequency and really “scare people.”
After a great start last season (and an easy schedule), Carson Wentz looked like the dream scenario for drafting a first-round quarterback. He promptly came crashing back down to earth, and finished the year with a total of 16 passing touchdowns. Those 16 passing touchdowns were tied for the fourth-fewest across every team in the NFL. Only the Rams, Browns, and Texans scored fewer passing touchdowns. That’s scary company to have.
Dak Prescott, on the other hand, managed to throw 23 passing touchdowns while minimizing interceptions. Some of the key differences between these two teams? The Cowboys had an elite wide receiver, an elite offensive line, and an elite running back. It remains to be seen whether Alshon Jeffery still has the stuff, and LeGarrette Blount is not Ezekiel Elliott, but the Eagles have made it clear that they are trying their best to surround Wentz with a nurturing environment. They’ve given Wentz legitimate NFL-caliber receivers to throw to, and now they should have a reliable run game to take the pressure off of him.
Wentz had 607 pass attempts last season, the fifth-most in the league. The Eagles will no doubt look to curb those pass attempts and establish a sturdy run game. While the Eagles have just the 19th easiest schedule for running backs this year, they also have the 16th most difficult schedule for wide receivers. The difficulty of the running back schedule implies that Blount won’t have an easy time when he carries the ball, but the gap between the difficulties of his schedule and the wide receivers’ schedule is small enough that the coaching staff won’t try to completely ignore the run game.
All in all, Blount looks set to have another passable season as a fantasy RB2. We’ve seen in the past that good offensive lines can propel fantasy production from weaker running backs, and Blount should be set for a stable, sizeable workload behind a great offensive line. It is entirely unreasonable to expect him to score 18 times again, but the eight touchdowns a beat-up Ryan Mathews scored last season seems like a solid floor projection for Blount in 2017. At his current ADP as the RB30 he makes for a solid match-up play and a perfect bye-week fill-in.