Fantasy Football: RB3’s With RB1 Potential
There are a few times every fantasy season where we see a player drafted outside the top-24 at their position finish inside the top-12. At the end of the season, we’re left wondering, “How did we not see that coming?” Sometimes, it’s as clear as day, while others were impossible to predict due to an injury or suspension.
We’re here to predict those top-12 finishes before they happen. Today we’ll be taking a look at running backs who are being drafted as RB3/RB4-type players, but have top-12 upside. And no, we won’t be discussing those who are sleepers being taken late in drafts. That’s for a different article all together. This is for those who are being drafted to start on your fantasy team, whether it be your last RB slot or your flex slot, but can wind up being much more.
Adrian Peterson (NO) Current ADP: RB26
No matter how you feel about Peterson and his advanced age, you can’t just dismiss what the man has done. He’s defied odds before, coming back from a torn ACL in under a year to almost break the all-time record for rushing yards. In fact, the last time we saw Peterson on the field for an extended period of time was 2015 when he totaled just under 1,500 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. Do I need to remind you that last year’s leader Ezekiel Elliott was at 1,631 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground? Just sayin’. The fact that he’s on a Saints team that has been a top-12 scoring offense since 2006, including multiple No. 1 finishes. In my recent study that spanned over five years, 73.3 percent of top-six running backs have come from top-12 scoring offenses. Peterson has never played a full season in which he didn’t score at least 10 rushing touchdowns.
Paul Perkins (NYG) Current ADP: RB29
This one is odd to me, and one that we could look back on to say, “how did we miss that?” I haven’t missed it with Perkins, as he’s on what should be a top-12 scoring offense, and has received the support of his head coach Ben McAdoo, saying that he is their clear-cut starter. Anytime you have a clear-cut starter on any team, you need to take notice because there were just 22 running backs who saw 182 or more carries in 2016, and every single one of them finished as a top-24 running back. Think about that, just 11.4 carries per game, stay healthy, and you’re a top-24 running back. Perkins situation reminds me a lot of Devonta Freeman‘s heading into 2015, as most wanted to dismiss the idea of him being the workhorse, and he was drafted in the RB3 range, as Perkins is. Another bonus with him is that between Rashad Jennings and him last year, they saw eight-man defensive fronts (stacked boxes) on just seven percent of their carries in 2016 because of the way the offense is designed.
Derrick Henry (TEN) Current ADP: RB32
This is the player on the list who shouldn’t surprise anyone. Henry was drafted to be the Titans starting running back of the future, and although DeMarco Murray is still going to have a big role, Henry has the upside to finish as a top-three running back. He plays behind one of the best run-blocking offensive lines in football and should now see much lighter defensive fronts thanks to the arrivals of Corey Davis, Eric Decker, and Taywan Taylor. Last year, Henry saw loaded boxes on 52 percent of his carries, which was the highest percentage in the NFL. On those carries, he averaged 4.21 yards per carry, while Murray averaged 3.95 yards per carry on his against those stacked boxes. You have to know when a player passes their prime and Murray’s pending decline coincides with the emergence of Henry.
Duke Johnson (CLE) Current ADP: RB46
How has Johnson fallen so far this offseason? He almost felt wrong to put on this list, as he’s questionable to be a starter on fantasy teams out of the gate. This time last year Johnson was considered a strong RB3, regardless of format. The Browns have only built up their offensive line to be one of the best in the league since that time. While Isaiah Crowell is the lead-back, Johnson will be called upon in the receiving game even more than in his first two seasons, which says a lot. He’s seen 74 targets in each of his first two seasons, and the Browns have already said he’ll be working out of the slot for them with Andrew Hawkins gone. He can run the football better than most think, as he is the all-time leading rusher at Miami, which is not a small accomplishment. He has standalone value, but if something were to happen to Crowell, or should he struggle, Johnson has a higher ceiling than you’d expect.
C.J. Prosise (SEA) Current ADP: RB45
If it wasn’t for Prosise’s injury in last year’s training camp, he may have been the starting running back for the Seahawks. The only knock on him thus far is his inability to stay on the field, according to Pete Carroll. We’ve only seen him register 47 touches in the NFL, but from what we’ve seen, they were promising touches. With the Seahawks offensive line in the state it’s in (bad), you can argue that the Seahawks need Prosise to be the guy more than they need Eddie Lacy or Thomas Rawls to be. Think about it in terms of the Packers backfield where some are expecting Ty Montgomery to have massive upside, but Prosise actually knows and has played the running back position. Both are former wide receivers playing in top-10 scoring offenses, but you can get Prosise about 80 picks later.
Writer’s note: Mike Gillislee would’ve absolutely been on this list, but he just missed the cutoff.