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Hitting on late-round dart throws can be the difference between being an also-ran squad and a best-ball league champion. The following backs all fit the profile of late-round options with each carrying an average draft position (ADP) of RB50 or later using their ADP at MFL10 and RTSports combined — Draft.com’s ADP is a bit wonky at the moment and was excluded for this piece.
Nyheim Hines (RB – IND): ADP – 147.5, RB50
Hines is coming off of a disappointing sophomore campaign. After amassing 739 yards from scrimmage and averaging 3.9 receptions per game as a rookie, he dipped to 519 yards from scrimmage with just 2.8 receptions per game in his second season, per Pro-Football-Reference. The Colts were dealt a significant blow just before the season when quarterback Andrew Luck surprisingly retired, and the offense took a significant step back as a whole. Football Outsiders (FO) ranked the Colts 10th in offense Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) in 2018 before they slipped to 19th in offense DVOA with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback in 2019.
Additionally, the Colts operated at a slower pace in 2019. In 2018, the Colts played at the fastest pace and second-fastest situation neutral pace, according to FO. Last season, they ranked 14th in overall pace and 25th in situation neutral pace. The offense should see a sizable change in how they operate in 2020 with veteran quarterback Philip Rivers reunited with his former offensive coordinator and current head coach Frank Reich. Having said that, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll play at a breakneck pace like they did in 2018.
The addition of Rivers could be a boon to Hines’ value, though. TJ Hernandez of 4-for-4 Football tweeted the following graphic of running back target share for active quarterbacks who hit a couple of qualifying thresholds.
Yearly team RB target share for active QBs (minimum 1,000 career attempts, 10 starts to qualify in a season.)
Could a pass-catching back emerge in Indy? Does Brady’s late-career trend mean a rookie RB like CEH balls in TB? pic.twitter.com/dZGIdJELFr
– TJ Hernandez (@TJHernandez) April 14, 2020
Rivers has the third-highest running back target share percentage among the quarterbacks pictured in the graphic at a whopping 26.0%. Going back to his two seasons with Reich as the offensive coordinator in San Diego, Rivers posted a 19.1% running back target share in 2014 before busting out a 26.1% running back target share in 2015. Pass-catching back Danny Woodhead was limited to only three games in 2014, but, in 2015, he set new single-season highs in targets (106), receptions (80), receiving yards (755), and touchdown receptions (six).
Last year, Austin Ekeler enjoyed great success as a pass-catching option for Rivers. He finished third on the Chargers in receiving yards (993), second on the team in targets (108) and receptions (92), and led the way with eight touchdown grabs. For Reich’s part, he’s also shown a willingness and aptitude for integrating a pass-catching back into his offenses.
In 2019, Hines finished 42nd in full-point point-per-reception (PPR) scoring among running backs. After eliminating Wes Hills from consideration due to playing only one game, Hines also finished 54th in points-per-game in PPR scoring among running backs. Even a mere repeat of last season would make him a solid if unspectacular pick at his current ADP. Although, there’s upside for a significantly better finish, making him a tantalizing pick worth reaching a round or two earlier than his ADP to secure in best-ball drafts.
Justin Jackson (RB – LAC): ADP – 158.5, RB52
Last season, we received a taste of what an Ekeler and Jackson backfield looks like. Melvin Gordon held out the first four games of the 2019 campaign, and Jackson was healthy enough to play in the first three games of the year. From Week 1 through Week 4 in 2019, Jackson was RB54 in overall fantasy points in PPR formats and RB49 in points per game during that stretch. From that perspective, he’s a fair selection at his current ADP.
The team reportedly remains “very high” on Jackson as part of a combo backfield with Ekeler. Frankly, why shouldn’t they be? The sample of work from Jackson is small, but it’s impressive. In two seasons as a pro, Jackson’s proven an elusive runner breaking nine tackles on 79 carries, according to Pro-Football-Reference. That breaks down to a broken tackle per 8.78 carries in his young career. To put that mark in perspective, among qualified runners last year, David Montgomery had the seventh-best mark at 8.6 attempts per broken tackle and Alexander Mattison finished eighth with 9.1 attempts per broken tackle. Jackson’s career mark is sandwiched between Montgomery’s and Mattison’s marks last year.
It gets better! Among running backs who rushed the ball between 20 and 99 times last season, FO ranked Jackson first in DVOA. Looking back at the first three games of 2019 while Gordon was holding out, Jackson touched the ball between seven and nine times in each game and twice eclipsed 60 yards from scrimmage. Even without injury to Ekeler or an increase in his share of the backfield workload, Jackson could post a few starter-worthy weeks in best-ball formats.
Should the injury bug bite Ekeler, though, Jackson’s college career suggests he might be capable of handling an every-down role. Jackson touched the ball more than 250 times all four years at Northwestern, bested 1,300 yards from scrimmage all four years, and surpassed 1,500 yards from scrimmage each of his last three years in college. Further, in the lone start in his two-year professional career made in Week 15 of his rookie season in Kansas City, Jackson carried the ball 16 times for 58 yards and a score while hauling in three of four targets for 27 receiving yards. Jackson’s among my favorite handcuffs with the added bonus of potential to contribute occasional best-ball starter fantasy numbers even without injury ahead of him on the depth chart.
Rashaad Penny (RB – SEA): ADP – 175.0, RB56
Penny’s 2019 season came to a devastating and abrupt end just as he was hitting his stride. The second-year back was coming off of his two highest offensive snap percentage totals of 49% in Week 12 and 47% in Week 13. He ripped off more than 100 yards from scrimmage in each of those contests with 129 rushing yards and a score against the Eagles before pummeling the Vikings for 74 rushing yards and a score on the ground as well as 33 receiving yards and a touchdown reception on four grabs. He played only one offensive snap the following week and suffered a torn ACL.
Back in the middle of February, Kevin Patra reported Penny was on the bike as part of his rehab process. In the linked piece, he also noted that after the season head coach Pete Carroll indicated Penny was ahead of schedule in recovery from surgery to repair his ACL and “clean up some other issues.” Recovery timetables are fluid, and tossing a pandemic and social distancing into the mix makes things even murkier. However, the latest report regarding Penny is somewhat promising. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer voiced optimism regarding Penny bouncing back.
It’s not all rainbows and butterflies, though. Noted in the linked piece is that Carroll told reporters at the NFL Draft Combine that Penny Could miss the start of the 2020 season and be a PUP candidate. Every recovery from injury and surgery is different.
To that end, Jerick McKinnon missed both the 2018 and 2019 season after tearing his ACL just prior to the 2018 season and having his ACL graft fail to fill back in following surgery. On the other end of the spectrum is Adrian Peterson’s superhuman recovery. Peterson tore his ACL December 24 2011 and played in all 16 games rushing for more than 2,000 yards the following season. Comparatively, Penny tore his ACL earlier in December, so there’s at least some hope he can avoid the PUP list.
Regardless, even missing the early going in 2020 doesn’t sound the death knell for Penny’s 2020 fantasy outlook. Coming back with fresh legs could make him an impact addition to the Seahawks and fantasy squads during the year.
As for what Penny’s done to this point in his career, he’s been extremely efficient and ran well in limited chances. He’s averaged a whopping 5.3 yards per carry on 150 career carries, and he flamed defenses for 5.7 yards per carry on 65 carries last season. Further, he led backs who carried the ball 20 to 99 times last year in Defense-adjusted Yards Above Average (DYAR) and ranked second to the aforementioned Jackson in DVOA in that group of backs, per FO. Penny’s a high-upside dart throw late at running back. If you select him, you’d be wise to grab an extra back given his uncertainty for the beginning of the year. That’s a price of roster construction worth paying for Penny’s upside on the cheap, though.