Overvalued Draft Targets: RB (Fantasy Football)

by Jordan McNamara | Featured Writer
Feb 13, 2018

Ronald Jones lacks the receiving ability and the nose for the end zone that elite fantasy backs have

The middle of February is a bit of a dead period for NFL Draft news. Pre-combine narratives begin to settle for a few weeks but can be upended by the combine.

However, this is a critical time to identify potential tiers in rookie drafts and maximize trade value of picks. Below are three currently overvalued running backs based on our consensus rookie ranks.

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Ronald Jones (RB5 and Eighth Overall Player in FantasyPros Rankings)
Ronald Jones is a popular player in some dynasty circles. His supporters point to his explosive athleticism and game-breaking ability. Jones may ultimately test fast (sub 4.45), but his profile is a warrants caution especially in the middle of the first round of rookie drafts.

On the field, Jones can struggle with contact, and too frequently goes down on the first contact. At 200 pounds, he can also struggle in short yardage and goal-line situations.

For running backs to be elite fantasy options, they need to score touchdowns or catch a lot of passes, two areas where Jones does not profile well in the NFL. At his size, he is not built to handle goal-line work, and likely will cede short-yardage work to another back.

For Jones to truly succeed in the NFL, he needs to produce in a satellite type role where he can use his athleticism and catch passes in space. However, Jones has never produced to any elite receiving level. In his career at USC, Jones caught less than a reception per game (.8).

By way of reference, of the running backs invited to the 2018 combine, only Bo Scarbrough (.68) and Kamryn Pettway (.38) averaged fewer catches per game in college than Jones. Both are 230-pound plus thumpers who will carve out interior running roles in the NFL.

The lack of receiving production at his size is a very dangerous profile for Jones from a fantasy football perspective. Since 2008, the average running back to record a top-24 RB season averaged 1.6 catches per game in college, while top-12 RBs averaged 1.8 catches per game and top-6 RBs averaged two catches per game.

Jones does not sniff any of the averages, and all three thresholds saw average weights in excess of 212 pounds. Jones valuation is rare for a running back of his size. Since 2008, only Ray Rice has had first-round ADP in rookie drafts, while weighing less than 205 with less than a catch a game in college.

In fact, since, 2008, 10 running backs have had ADP in the top 12 and caught less than 1 pass per game in college. The list includes

Rice and Wilson are the only players on the list that weighed less than 215 pounds, and Rice is the only player of the subset to record more than two top-24 seasons (five), top-12 seasons (four) and is the only player to record multiple top-six seasons (three).

While supporters will see Rice as a favorable comparison for Jones, they have key differences. Rice was thicker at 5’8″ and 196 pounds (29.8 BMI), while Jones was listed at USC at 6′ and 200 pounds (27.1 BMI). This allowed Rice to run with more power than Jones.

Rice also produced a season with 25 receptions, after losing much of the receiving workload to teammate Brian Leonard in his first two seasons at Rutgers. Meanwhile, Jones never had more than 14 receptions in a season and ceded the workshare to multiple running backs in his career, including freshman Stephen Carr in his final year at USC.

This all points to Jones settling in as a between the 20s player, who will cede the most valuable touches for a running back to teammates. This creates frustrations felt by Ameer Abdullah owners in recent years, where big backs take goal-line carries, and Theo Riddick dominates the passing game.

With Jones going in the range of Nick Chubb, James Washington, and Christian Kirk, Jones sets up as a clear avoid player in the middle of the first round of rookie drafts.

Akrum Wadley (RB13 and 26th Overall Player)
Wadley falls in the same spectrum as Ronald Jones. At 5’9″ and 188 pounds (BMI 27.1), a running back needs a combination of electric athleticism and dynamic pass-catching ability to be relevant in fantasy football. Wadley produced 1.82 receptions per game, a strong number, but his tape shows clear athletic limitations.

Wadley would need to break 4.40 in the 40, and otherwise test well to be consistently relevant in the NFL. Based on his tape at Iowa, this is a highly unlikely outcome.  At the cost of a third round pick, you are better off being aggressive and trading up for a player like Kalen Ballage in the mid to late second or take a tight end like Dallas Goedert.

Wadley’s success is very low ceiling, and he is a clear avoid player in the top 30 picks of rookie drafts

John Kelly (RB10 and 19th Overall Player)
John Kelly is an exciting player to watch, because he hits like a Mack Truck, and backs up his jaw jacking. On the positive, Kelly had over three catches per game in 2017 (37 catches in 11 games), a healthy number for a running back. However, Kelly only averaged 4.1 yards per rushing attempt and sports a career 4.8 yard per carry mark. While yards per attempt is not the end all be all for a prospect, Kelly’s tape suggests a try hard pedestrian talent more than a potential NFL starter.

Kelly also has a pending criminal case for an October drug arrest. Kelly currently ranks as running back 10, and 19th overall in the rookie class. That current price is too rich for a player with his questionable athletic profile and off-field concerns.

Kelly could prove to be a better athlete than expected at the combine. In that case, he could warrant late round two consideration depending on his draft selection and landing spot. However, taking Kelly in the middle of the 2nd round over TE Mark Andrews or RB Kalen Ballage, who are potential foundational players, is a losing proposition.

Jordan McNamara is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Jordan, check out his archive and follow him @McNamaraDynasty.

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