Dynasty Running Back Busts (2020 Fantasy Football)
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When we talk about a “bust” in fantasy football, it is rather subjective. One person’s definition of a bust, especially from a dynasty perspective, will vary from person to person.
For me, it is twofold. It comes down to the cost of acquiring a particular player versus future results at the time of acquisition, as well as maintaining the value of that purchasing cost. Of course, this will change from year to year and, with how fickle the dynasty community can be, even day to day. It is extremely easy to look back at past results and point out who has not lived up to the hype or expectations. I’m looking at you, Corey Davis.
The challenge is to identify players with strong past results that we do not expect to continue. There lies the advantage. I am certainly not suggesting that the two running backs mentioned below have been busts up to this point. Moving forward, however, their production might not match their current price, or we could potentially begin to see a decline in their perceived value.
In a recent article, I included Leonard Fournette and Derrick Henry as dynasty sells pre-draft. For the sake of not repeating myself, I will leave those two out of this piece, even though they certainly fit the bill as future dynasty busts at their current acquisition cost.
Dalvin Cook (MIN)
I know it seems crazy to look at a running back like Dalvin Cook (RB5 ADP) and think he is going to be a bust moving forward. However, we see this every single year in dynasty. Going back to 2014, at least two running backs have dropped out of the top 12 startup position ADP from one year to the next.
The above table shows the top-12 startup running backs dating back to 2014 (ADP from DynastyLeagueFootball) with any player highlighted in red not returning to a top-12 running back ADP. It also includes the age of the running backs during that season, as well as the number of seasons already played. For example, Eddie Lacy was 25 years old and already had two years under his belt heading into 2015.
There are a few possible situations that could negatively impact Cook’s dynasty value and hinder his future production. First, another serious injury would have a far greater negative impact on his stock than it would other top-tier running backs. By no means am I saying Cook has a higher likelihood of sustaining a serious injury than any other running back, nor am I predicting one, but he has already missed 19 games in his three-year NFL career, I don’t believe his dynasty value could withstand another serious injury.
Another somewhat alarming item when it comes to Cook’s long-term prospects, which we could say about so many running backs, is his current contract situation. He is about to play in the last year of his rookie deal. It has been reported that there have been some talks around extending Cook, who reported to the Vikings’ virtual offseason program. However, the cause for concern increases as more time passes with no deal in place. With the Vikings currently sitting at only $33M in cap space for the 2021 season (27th-most), it is going to be interesting to see if they are willing to invest the necessary money to extend Cook.
We also must look at the Vikings as a team. In 2019, they were tied with the 49ers for the second-lowest percentage of passing attempts (51%). The NFL average was 59%. While Kevin Stefanski was technically the offensive coordinator in 2019, he adopted much of the philosophies of Gary Kubiak, who will now assume Stefanski’s role.
Per Dynasty League Football’s coaching history app, Kubiak — as both a head coach and offensive coordinator — only had one season under a 52% pass percentage from 2007 to 2016, with a cumulative average of 56%. An expected increase in passing attempts in 2020 would certainly impact Cook’s usage and production from a rushing perspective. While the Vikings bolstered their offensive line by drafting offensive tackle Ezra Cleveland in the second round, they still must make significant improvements to have one of the league’s better blocking units.
I’m a fan of Dalvin Cook, but several red flags (injury, contract, usage, offensive line) make me hesitant to acquire him at his current price of RB5.
Josh Jacobs (LVR)
When looking at the current top-12 dynasty running backs according to DLF ADP (outside of Henry, as I mentioned earlier), Josh Jacobs (RB8) was the one who really stood out to me. This in no way is an indictment on him, as he was my post-draft rookie RB1 last year. However, there are a couple of reasons we could see Jacobs drop well below RB12 in startup drafts by this time next year.
Jacobs has been no stranger to the injury report while in college and the NFL. After suffering a broken ankle at Alabama and still playing at a high level in 2019, Jacobs battled through a shoulder injury for a large portion of his rookie season. The injury narrative, real or not, certainly will impact his perceived dynasty value going forward. Although not nearly as drastic as the risk associated with Cook, Jacobs’ value would also suffer significantly if enduring a major injury in 2020.
The larger concern for me is his capped upside caused by limited usage in the passing game. Looking at Henry and Nick Chubb, a lack of receiving involvement is not necessarily a fantasy death sentence for running backs. Raiders general manager Mike Mayock also discussed getting Jacobs more passing work in 2020. However, what the Raiders said and what they have done up to this point don’t seem to line up. Back in February, they extended Jalen Richard — who has seen 124 targets over the past two seasons — for an additional two years. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Raiders not only drafted polarizing prospect Henry Ruggs III in the first round, but they also landed Lynn Bowden Jr. in the third. Bowden fits the bill as a Swiss Army knife-type player who can play the hybrid role of a running back/wide receiver.
While Jacobs is an extremely talented back, he’s coming off a season where he saw just 27 targets in 13 games. There is no arguing that his upside is severely capped in that Vegas offense, making it difficult to gamble on him.
We have seen time and time again the slippery slope that running backs can go down. There is also a drastic difference when looking at production versus perceived value, but in both situations, Cook and Jacobs could see a decrease in both. While I hope we never have to find out if their production or value will decline due to an injury, both seem to be in precarious situations if a multi-week or season-ending injury were to occur. Until Cook secures a second contract and Jacobs offers some upside in the passing game, both are strong contenders to drop significantly in startup drafts next offseason.