In the Stock Market world, “Penny Stocks” are the bottom-barrel priced investments that could defy all odds and explode to yield insane value – hence “pennies” on the dollar. Of course, they come with plenty of warts, otherwise they wouldn’t be available for a “penny price.” Still, scenarios exist where, if everything bends right, these afterthoughts can be game-changers.
The Fantasy Football stock market is no different. From Dak Prescott and Jordan Howard to Cameron Brate and Davante Adams last season, often undrafted options with hidden upside explode every year. Hitting on just one or two of these can often be the difference between a title and a sad, bare trophy cabinet.
As such, you want to maximize your bench’s ceiling and load up with as many of these “Lottery Ticket” Penny Stocks as possible. Forget “floor plays” like Latavius Murray and Matt Forte who might get some touches but never prove dependable enough to use. While others are hammered and spouting out names solely on recognition in those final rounds of your draft, swing for the fences and find the hidden gems who can actually make a title-swinging difference if the stars align.
Below are the names currently being ranked after 120 (Rounds 11 and later) that need to be on your radar — so no, even if I love Kareem Hunt or Duke Johnson beyond belief, I can’t include them and their 100ish ECR / ADP.
This specific post will only touch upon Running Backs as a preview of our upcoming Fantasy Football Investing Guide: Late August Edition.
Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise (RB – SEA)
My Value: 98
Experts Value (1/2 PPR): 128
ADP Value: 113
Following my Overpriced Players to Avoid (please ignore my Kelvin Benjamin inclusion, thanks), my hatred for Eddie Lacy should be crystal clear. The guy hasn’t put on quality film for two straight seasons, largely in part to being… large. This has unsurprisingly carried over deep into camp, with Lacy totaling a robust 30 yards on his 10 carries, looking awfully heavy in the lumbering process.
Instead of the guy housing fourths at the China Buffet, give me the one who’s feasted on NFL defenses whenever available. Three 160-yard games in only 16 career starts is the sign of a special talent, and I absolutely LOVE Rawls’ running style. He’s like Beast Mode packaged into a 5’9″ frame, running to punish defenders who try to stop him with incredible zip and wiggle through congested areas.
Rawls entered training camp with some huge momentum after lighting OTAs on fire, as Seahawks Insider Greg Bell noted: “Thomas Rawls is flying around the field. The third-year running back is the first to every drill. He’s sprinting through carries and catches 30, 40 yards past the end of the play… Rawls looks dutifully motivated upon Lacy’s arrival.”
This strong play has undoubtedly carried over into camp and has led to Rawls securing the No. 1 RB gig here. Rawls was the first back in with the ones during their first preseason contest after Seattle Times’ Bob Condotta had tweeted:
Lacy working solely with backup units during team drills. Rawls appears clear number one right now.
— Bob Condotta (@bcondotta) August 9, 2017
Indeed, Rawls’ current ankle concerns are worrisome — after all, ankle surgery ended Rawls’ explosive rookie year and seemed to have sapped him for much of 2016. Yes, this line is pretty poor, and Lacy isn’t just evaporating overnight.
Still, Rawls has proven to be a bonafide RB1 when on the field and getting featured work. If he continues outshining Lacy as he should, Rawls will get 15+ touches in a strong power-heavy scheme that meshes his physical style perfectly. Give me that type of upside to begin Round 11 all day. The fact Lacy is going before Rawls at all, never mind by 3+ rounds, is disgraceful.
My Value: 95
Experts Value: 118
ADP Value: 125
Of all the backs in Seattle, Prosise’s change of pace and passing down role gives him the most clarity — yet, he’s often the last of their backs taken in fantasy drafts. As a rookie, the team lined up Prosise all over the place, and they could get even more creative with him in his sophomore campaign. ESPN Seahawks reporter Sheil Kapadia suggests “10 touches a game” and catching “60 passes is not a stretch” for Prosise in 2017, which makes perfect sense. Prosise is easily one of the top talents on his team and the only back with true breakaway speed.
Of course, the kicker with all these statements is Prosise’s own health. He only appeared in six games as a rookie and was constantly dinged up with a wide range of ailments (hamstring, hand, and shoulder). Pete Carroll has already publicly admitted concerns about Prosise’s durability, and the oft-injured dynamo is currently dealing with a groin ailment he suffered in pregame warmups (c’monnnn).
Still, Prosise is easily among the Seahawks most exciting offensive talents in both the running and passing game. Though 16 games is a stretch, the ones you get will be highly useful. On his projected 10 touches a game, Prosise has the explosiveness to approach 80-100 yards every week, in addition to racking up some huge plays. That type of upside is well worth a double-digit round gamble, health concerns notwithstanding.
James White & Rex Burkhead (RB – NE)
In an eerily similar situation to Seattle above, two Patriots backs are flying completely under-the-radar in a perceived crowded mess of a backfield. Yet, after Mike Gillislee missed time with a hamstring ailment, some backs are gaining serious separation…
My Value: 94
Experts Value: 122
ADP Value: 132
Did America miss Super Bowl 51, arguably the greatest game ever played? And James White’s heroic 139 total yards, 14 catches, and 3 TDs apparently never happened?
Of course, that moment will almost assuredly go down as the highlight of White’s career, and he won’t put up stats even close to this in a more-crowded Patriots backfield and overall offense.
Still, according to Patriots Insider Ryan Hannable on our own Fantasy Fullback Dive, this epic performance did secure the trust of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady and thus the ever-valuable Patriots third-down back role for White. “He is gonna be the third-down back, he’s gonna catch a lot of passes out of the backfield… those PPR leagues, he’s gonna be great for because he’s a big part of their third-down offense.”
This jives with ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss, who added:
“He’s won over Bill Belichick, quarterback Tom Brady and Co., with his steadiness and continued improvement, elevating from a player who was inactive in Super Bowl XLIX to becoming unquestionably the Patriots’ go-to guy in the all-important ‘passing back’ role. White played 30 snaps as a rookie in 2014; upped it to 290 in 2015; and played 425 last season…Because of how often the Patriots throw the ball, the ‘passing back’ role is vital, with Kevin Faulk, Danny Woodhead, and Shane Vereen among those who have played it well over the years. White…has now seized the spot with authority.”
In my one visit to Patriots camp this year, White was the true star:
J. White= star of #Patriots camp so far. By far most reps w. 1st O, all 2 minute snaps, peppered with tgts. 2 rec. TDs, one on deep wheel rt
— Wolf of Roto Street (@RotoStreetWolf) August 2, 2017
Yes, the backfield is crowded. This does not excuse a key cog in one of the league’s most explosive offenses being labeled and drafted as a fantasy bench afterthought. He’ll be a reliable PPR flex option most weeks, with upside that’s going completely unrecognized right now.
My Value: 116
Experts Value: 170
ADP Value: 175
If White is the safe “floor” play in New England, consider Burkhead the complete wild-card “ceiling” look. All offseason Bill Belichick has preached about adding “versatility” to his backfield, stating:
“I would say that I think this year we’re trying … we have a little bit more versatility than we had in the past… Hopefully, this year, we’ll have a little more balance between the running game and passing game. Again, LG was primarily a runner. He didn’t have a lot of receiving production. The reverse is true of James White. So hopefully with our backs this year we’ll have a little more balance and be a little less predictable from that spot.”
Part of the reason the Patriots backs were so valuable in 2016, particularly LeGarrette Blount, was because they were actually predictable. This comment, unfortunately, suggests a nightmarish, tough-to-project committee. Yet, if any back on this roster actually benefits from a “versatility” standpoint, it’s Burkhead.
The former Bengal is equally impressive in the passing game as he is blasting the ball up the middle. He’s short but very powerful and excellent at getting behind his blockers and scampering once he finds the space. This was on full display in Preseason Week 2, where Burkhead logged 13 of 16 snaps with Tom Brady and the ones and shined in his extended look, touching the ball 10 times (or 77% usage rate) and racking up 70 yards and a TD.
Of all the backs who can make this offense “unpredictable,” Burkhead is the clear guy. The offense moved a noticeable clip with Burkhead in and the full playbook at their disposal. His dazzling performance may be a sign of the future, especially if Gillislee can’t make up for the lost time. For a last round stab, Burkhead has sneaky high-end RB2 upside, especially if Gillislee suffers a setback.
My Value: 115
Experts Value: 179
ADP Value: 157
Williams’ preseason has been befuddling, which is often the case when dealing with a “Shanahan” backfield. Yet, fighting through the confusion and finding the light is key here, as this zone-blocking scheme has regularly yielded monstrous RB1 seasons, often out of no names. Just look at how beneficial Kyle Shanahan has been to overall running games:
Should we be factoring in the "Kyle Shanahan bump" for Carlos Hyde this season? pic.twitter.com/RiOZKRWYAb
— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) March 1, 2017
As such, let’s start with the positives for Williams himself. In Preseason Week 1, Williams was clearly the best back on the field and fit for this scheme. Sure, his work came against third stringers, but Williams absolutely gashed the Chiefs. His patented acceleration and speed were immediately on display with two 17-yard bursts to open the night. Kyle Shanahan continued to feature Williams in a number of different ways – outside zone runs, inside zone runs, toss sweeps, toss counters – and Williams excelled at everything. He ultimately finished with 60 yards on seven attempts, a healthy 8.6 YPA, but his numbers could have been even more impressive after having 17-, 15-, and nine-yard plays all called back due to penalty.
So, what was Williams’ reward for shining? One carry and only four snaps in the next contest. Go figure.
Fortunately, Shanahan’s post-game comment suggest this was entirely by design after Tim Hightower and Kapri Bibbs saw no action in the preseason opener:
“We’re trying to give them a chance to compete…We have a tough competition at back. If you rotate them every series, you don’t really give anyone a chance to show what they are. We try to do it that way. I’ve really tried to do it that way my entire career. You try to select which games you’re going to try to give guys a number of carries, so you have enough when it’s all said and done after four to try to make a decision.”
Even more fortunately, Hyde, Hightower, and Bibbs were all horrendous in their action. While looking slow and indecisive (two traits that simply can’t succeed in this system), Hyde totaled six yards on five carries versus the first team. He has ultimately netted 26 yards on 10 preseason carries. Not to be outdone, Hightower fumbled his first carry and totaled -1 yards on three carries. Bibbs made an equally big impression, netting six yards on his four carries against reserves. Vomit.
To say the door is open would be an understatement.
Preseason Week 3 will be widely telling, and hopefully, Shanahan will give Williams his chance to shine. After all, the fourth-round rookie was hand-picked by Shanahan, who said “If we don’t get him, I’ll be sick,” while pushing GM John Lynch to draft him. Meanwhile, Shanahan has never been bashful about starting rookies if they fit his system the best. Not long ago, Alfred Morris (undrafted) and Steve Slaton (third round) tallied 1,600+ total yard and 10+ TD rookie campaigns under the new head coach. Williams has a real shot at being the next name on this list if he’s afforded the chance.
Amidst such lackluster play around him, alongside Shanahan’s willingness to ride a rookie, Williams seems bound to make starts in the uber-productive zone blocking scheme he was handpicked for. He ripped off 179, 332, 172, 181, 149, 97 and 222 yards in his last seven collegiate games while posting the second highest Speed Score at this combine. The talent is there for at least a “Tevin Coleman” type of committee role, with the upside for true featured back work. Going beyond Round 14, Williams could be the steal of the draft.
My Value: 130
Experts Value: 193
ADP Value: 193
2017’s rookie running back class is among the most heralded in NFL history. Amidst this fierce competition, D’Onta Foreman led the nation in rushing and ultimately won the Doak Walker award as the nation’s best back. He’s already flashing this talent in early preseason looks.
During the Texans’ preseason opener, Foreman totaled 76 yards on nine carries, including a 41-yard burst up the sideline, as well as a tackle-shredding 14 yarder up the heart of the defense. He continued making massive plays in Week 2, ripping off a 63-yard reception where he must’ve broken six tackles:
Of course, these highlight plays are coming deep into the third quarter, and Foreman is currently rotating well behind Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue while splitting time with Tyler Ervin. He clearly has some ascending to do and cannot be counted on for an immediate impact.
Still, long term, Foreman has the real upside to become Houston’s workhorse of the future. His speed is unfair for 240 pounds of man, and Miller has proven time and time again that he’s far from special. Plus, in the short term Foreman could carve out a role at the stripe, where the Texans were notoriously horrible last season. The goal line back for a mildly explosive offense is not a bad “worst case.”
All-in-all carries will be available. Bill O’Brien leads all active play callers with an average of 422 rush attempts per season. Plus, if Miller continues to be ineffective and injury-prone, this monster could be unleashed sooner than later. Indeed, Foreman is still carving out his role, but with serious work up for grabs and a lack of talent ahead of him, his slice might be larger than anyone’s anticipating right now.
My Value: 131
Experts Value: 169
ADP Value: 203
With both Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson seemingly ahead of him, Kamara would be an afterthought on most offenses. This is the Saints, however, who’ve led the league in passing yardage five of the last 10 years and never finished below fourth in that category during that time frame. Meanwhile, Sean Payton unsurprisingly leads all play callers with 168.4 RB Targets per season — 30 more than the next closest team. From Reggie Bush to Darren Sproles to even the lowly Travaris Cadet, the pass-catching running back consistently plays a major role in this offensive attack.
Early OTA speculation had Kamara slated for this ever-valuable role, and the explosive rookie has done nothing but strengthen his claim throughout the preseason. In his first NFL action, Kamara showed surprising power by shedding tackles on runs of 22 and 12 yards, ultimately finishing with 35 yards on just four carries. In the next contest, Kamara ripped off a 50-yard TD on his first carry and finished with 81 yards on just six touches. He’s clearly maximizing every opportunity he receives, making himself impossible to keep off the field.
Indeed, this backfield is crowded, but no play caller ranks higher in “Weighted RB Opportunities” per game than Payton. The offense is explosive, the workload pie is huge, and Kamara has earned himself a prominent seat at this fantastic buffet. Star him on your cheat sheet, especially in deep leagues.
My Value: 117
Experts Value: 138
ADP Value: 137
Over camp, Williams has established himself as the clear No.2 back on a Packers team with obvious scoring potential and an uncertain starter in Ty Montgomery. Though he hasn’t flashed anything particularly noteworthy quite yet, Williams did operate as the clear lead back with Aaron Rodgers and the ones while Montgomery sat out with a leg injury.
Securing this role was no given with the Packers drafting two other rookies, and Williams is now in position to push for regular season carries with the ones. This will only happen if Montgomery continues to falter in pass protection… but all reports suggest he is doing just that. Williams has a real chance at making some starts in the league’s most explosive attack, which is well worth a double-digit dart throw.
Deep RB Penny Stocks
These backs are going largely undrafted and carry ADP and ECR price tags of well beyond 200. Keep these names on your watch list or deep-league draft radars.
Tarik Cohen (RB – CHI)
With Jordan Howard sidelined, Cohen got the start last week, and boy did he deliver: 11 carries for 77 yards, including three runs of over 15 yards. Despite a smaller frame, he is fearless when he hits the hole, and Cohen’s impressive play has reportedly earned him a significant role:
Chris Mortensen said that Tarik Cohen will touch the ball 8-12 times per game this year for the #Bears. Looked good vs ARI pic.twitter.com/rTLKmuvGWi
— Adam Pfeifer (@APfeifer24) August 22, 2017
Though the offense as a whole is lackluster, the Bears line is actually among the top-10 in the game. If Cohen truly receives 8-12 touches per game, he is going to net worthwhile flex production, at least. Expect Cohen to be among 2017’s most popular waiver pickups. This guy can ball.
Branden Oliver (RB – LAC)
Oliver might be the sexiest handcuff no one is talking about. He’s been drawing rave reviews as a pass catcher, which could open up similar usage to Danny Woodhead. At minimum, Oliver is an injury away from a lead-back role in one of the league’s most exciting attacks. That alone warrants draft day consideration, something Oliver is not currently receiving.
Wendell Smallwood (RB – PHI)
This backfield is a complete quagmire, but Smallwood could end up with the most fantasy value when all’s said and done. He’s reportedly “ran like a man possessed” in padded practices, which has some writers predicting he could push for the No.1 role: “In something of a surprise development, Wendell Smallwood may be the starting running back this season. Sproles aside, Smallwood has been the best back in camp by a significant margin.”
Presumptive starter LeGarrette Blount is certainly doing his part to keep this possibility real, notching 17 yards on his 9 carries thus far. This backfield might be too clogged for any serious value to emerge, but anyone with starting potential should not be falling into the 200s in drafts.
Nicholas Traicoff is a correspondent at FantasyPros. For more from Nicholas, check out his archive and site Roto Street Journal or follow him @RotoStreetWolf.