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Fantasy Football Roundtable: Rhamondre Stevenson, Breece Hall, D’Andre Swift & More (2023)

Fantasy Football Roundtable: Rhamondre Stevenson, Breece Hall, D’Andre Swift & More (2023)

As we head into Week 2 of the preseason, FantasyPros analysts Derek Brown, Andrew Erickson, Pat Fitzmaurice and Mike Maher continue a series of preseason roundtables by discussing how Ezekiel Elliott and Dalvin Cook will affect the fantasy value of their new backfield mates, how to handle the Eagles’ running backs in fantasy drafts, and whether to confidently draft pass catchers playing with unproven quarterbacks. And check out last week’s fantasy football roundtable for even more expert advice.

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Ezekiel Elliott signed with the Patriots earlier this week. How much do you think Elliott’s presence will harm Rhamondre Stevenson‘s fantasy value, and do you have any interest in drafting Elliott as a backup RB?

Andrew Erickson: I don’t think it moves the needle too drastically for Stevenson. At least not more than it will for the market, which sets up a perfect “buy the dip” scenario. At worst, Elliott will just take away goal-line opportunities. That hurts Stevenson’s upside, but banking on Stevenson delivering another fantasy RB1 performance was never about him having a massive TD ceiling. He only scored six times last year, and the Patriots’ offense will be average at best. You draft Rhamondre at his soon-to-be suppressed ADP because the dude is a damn good RB and will stay heavily involved in the passing game. As for Zeke, why on Earth would I want a strict goal-line back with no juice on a mediocre offense? I can list a handful of other lesser names than Zeke that I would much rather stash on my bench.

Derek Brown: The Elliott signing only makes Stevenson a better value. I’m not overreacting to this news. Nope. Elliott proved last year that he was on his last legs. Last year, among 42 running backs with at least 100 rushing attempts, Elliott ranked 35th in yards after contact per attempt, 30th in explosive run rate, and 35th in missed tackles forced per attempt (per Fantasy Points Data). These aren’t numbers to fret over, especially when you compare them to Stevenson, who ranked fifth, second and fourth in those categories. Stevenson will own the passing downs, as Elliott is a catch-and-fall-down player at this juncture. I know everyone is also worried about Elliott vulturing Stevenson at the goal line, but Zeke’s prowess in this area is being overstated. Yes, Elliot ranked fifth and 18th in red zone TD conversion rate over the last two seasons, but if we look back further, he was 42nd and 30th in this metric in the two years prior (per Elliott is a decent late-round draft pick if he falls into RB4/5 range, but outside of that, I’ll happily continue fading him.

Pat Fitzmaurice: Stevenson handled 59% of the Patriots’ 356 RB carries last year, and we’ll probably see a similar percentage this year. Zeke is going to be more of a straight backup to Stevenson than a platoon partner. My concern is that Elliott could poach goal-line carries, limiting Stevenson’s ceiling. Even with Zeke’s efficiency cratering in a lot of categories last season, he still had 12 TD runs and the fourth-best TD rate in the league on carries inside the 5-yard line. (Hat tip to Fantasy Life’s Ian Hartitz for that stat.) Stevenson’s TD rate inside the 5 was barely half of Zeke’s 56.3% TD rate on those short-range carries. I’ve dropped Rhamondre to RB12 in my rankings. That doesn’t mean I’m interested in drafting Zeke, who’s ranked RB47. Elliott will probably outkick that ranking, but it’s mostly going to be TD-driven value, and I have no interest in trying to guess which week Elliott will punch one into the end zone. If he doesn’t score, you’re probably getting something like an 8-31-0 rushing line out of him.

Mike Maher: Elliott’s 231 carries in 2022 were the fewest of his career, and yet that’s still more than the 210 carries Stevenson received last season. Do those numbers actually mean anything? Probably not. But I do worry ever so slightly that we could see a somewhat rejuvenated Zeke with a lighter workload in a new home. Then there’s the fact that, as others have pointed out, Elliott still managed to find the end zone a dozen times last season despite his declining efficiency. If Stevenson is going to justify an ADP that has him flirting with the second round (at least for now), we’re going to need more than the five rushing touchdowns he scored in 2022. With Elliott lurking and ready to jump into the game in the red zone after Stevenson gets the offense there, the fear is legitimate. I’ll be monitoring Stevenson’s ADP over the next couple of weeks. If he starts going late in the third rounds of drafts, then he might just be a perfect buy opportunity. As for Elliott, my guess is his production will be inconsistent and touchdown-dependent, and he doesn’t have the kind of ceiling I want in a depth RB for my fantasy teams.

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A few hours after the Zeke Elliott signing was announced, the Jets agreed to terms with Dalvin Cook. What sort of fantasy value does Breece Hall have with Cook around, and are you interested in drafting Cook?

Pat Fitzmaurice: The case for Hall is that he would have been a top-5 overall pick in this year’s fantasy drafts if he hadn’t gotten hurt, and the odds of a successful comeback are good because (1) it was a clean ACL tear and not a multi-ligament tear, (2) he’s young, and (3) he has a tip-top athletic profile. I’ve been in on him, and I’ll still be in if the Cook signing makes Hall even cheaper in drafts. I’d still take Hall in the fourth or fifth round of a 12-team draft. And while I’ll concede that Cook is a bigger threat to Hall’s workload than Zeke is to Rhamondre’s, I don’t think there’s any chance Cook takes over the lead-RB job, barring a Hall injury.

Mike Maher: Dalvin Cook, meet Breece Hall. Breece, meet Dalvin. I wrote about Cook signing with the Jets earlier this week, and I still feel the same way about the signing now. The main headline for me is that it isn’t great for Cook or incumbent Hall. For Cook, it’s certainly an opportunity, but it isn’t the best landing spot for him given the presence of Hall, who the team isn’t just going to abandon now that they’ve added a veteran to the room. For Hall, it makes his 2023 outlook extremely murky. It sounds like he will be “ready” to start the season, as he was activated off PUP this week. But what does his early workload look like? It’s pretty much a lock that the Jets are going to ease him back into things, and I wouldn’t even rule out him being inactive for a week or two to start the year. Even when he’s healthy, the Jets are surely going to monitor his workload now that Cook is in town. This situation might be gross for the entire season. If Hall’s ADP falls far enough, he’s probably the RB I want because he has the higher ceiling and could be peaking in time for the fantasy football playoffs. But man, I don’t feel confident in either back now.

Derek Brown: Cook’s arrival dings Hall this year. With Cook in the building, the Jets aren’t pressed to push Hall early and can ease him in this season. Hall falls into the RB2 range in my ranks, while Cook is a low-end RB2/high-end RB3 depending on your early-season outlook on Hall. New York should have ample rushing volume to support these two players overall and in the red zone. With Nathaniel Hackett calling plays in Green Bay from 2019 to 2021, he orchestrated an offense that was 17th in rushing plays per game and 13th in red-zone rushing rate. Cook is most appealing in Zero-RB builds for me.

Andrew Erickson: This Jets backfield is a mess. Hall not only has to not only return from torn ACL but now faces stiff competition in the form of Cook. The Jets paid a hefty sum to sign the FA running back, and there’s no doubt Aaron Rodgers played a big role in acquiring the ex-Viking. Cook is going to play, especially in the early going. But how effective he will be without a full workload remains to be seen. Cook is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, and New York faces a brutal schedule through the first six weeks of the season. All in all, I think both guys are in that fantasy RB2 conversation, but trusting Hall early on seems like a case of simply anchoring to your priors. Nobody will be surprised if Cook is the Jets’ RB1 through the first month of the season, making Hall somebody who needs to fall substantially in ADP before you draft him. He might be a better buy-low trade target than an RB you should come away with on draft day. Again, we have seen the Jets slow-play Hall before. Over the first three weeks of his rookie season, Hall never played more than 52% of the snaps. He was drafted as the RB18 last year (45th overall). I think that’s an appropriate price to pay in 2023 with an RB-by-committee imminent.

Let’s stay on running backs and focus on the Eagles’ backfield. In Philadelphia’s preseason opener, Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott were held out of the game — often an act of deference to veteran players with job security to protect them from injury — while D’Andre Swift and Rashaad Penny both played. What’s your read on the Eagles’ backfield in terms of fantasy value?

Derek Brown: We’re overanalyzing this to an extent. It’s one game, people. Breathe. As noted by Eagles beat writer Zach Berman of The Athletic, head coach Nick Sirianni stated to the media that the coaches wanted to see Rashaad Penny play because he hadn’t seen live tackling reps in a game for a while. Sirianni stated that he’d be rotating the rest of the guys, and it was simply Swift’s turn. We are looking for every micro edge for drafts, but we need to take this with a grain of salt and realize it was one game and probably not actionable.

Pat Fitzmaurice: It’s a Goldilocks and the Three Bears setup in the Philadelphia backfield, except with ADP replacing porridge. D’Andre Swift’s ADP is too hot. Kenneth Gainwell’s ADP is too cold. Rashaad Penny’s ADP is just right. I don’t see how Swift returns a profit at his overinflated RB25 price (half-point PPR) when he’s not even going to be the passing-down back for the team that had the fewest RB targets in the league last season. Gainwell, who’s reportedly been working as the Eagles’ passing-down back throughout the season, has limited upside in a three-man committee but is still a nice value at an ADP of RB56. (But I agree with DBro that we’re making too much of Gainwell being held out of the preseason opener.) Penny has a worrisome injury history but is the best pure runner in this backfield and seems fairly valued at an ADP of RB35.

Mike Maher: I don’t read much into Gainwell and Scott sitting out the team’s first preseason game because the Eagles are playing another game on Thursday, and HC Nick Sirianni said Swift and Penny will likely get that game off as he rotates backs. For fantasy purposes, I’m not worried about Boston Scott at all, so we can just end that portion of the conversation here. From there, it’s anyone’s guess. My guess is that the team wants to feature Swift, at least as the lead of their crowded committee, but that they also want to keep their options open. They love Gainwell, and they brought in Penny before trading for Swift. But I think the Eagles recognize the injury histories of Swift and Penny and the ceiling of Gainwell. In their perfect world, they have trouble keeping Swift off the field but have a solid rotation to keep him fresh. The Eagles didn’t throw to their RBs much last season, but that’s also because one of those RBs was Miles Sanders, who can’t catch, is a poor route runner and struggles in pass protection. That’s why, despite his explosiveness, Sanders started losing playing time to Gainwell late in the season and into the playoffs. They’re never going to lead the league in RB targets because they’re obsessed with explosive plays, but new Eagles OC Brian Johnson has been emphasizing this part of the offense in training camp (especially when it comes to targeting Swift). What does this all mean for fantasy value? It means it’s a giant mess. Swift has the highest ceiling but also the most expensive ADP. Gainwell is the opposite. Penny is in the middle, but there are rumblings he might not even make the team. (I don’t buy that, but beat reporters are at least whispering it.)

Andrew Erickson: I think Gainwell remains the best fantasy value at the cheapest price point. Because right now, I still think the Eagles are trying to sort through what their backfield will project as in 2023. Among the top five running backs in EPA per carry last season, Penny (1st), Gainwell (2nd) and Swift (5th) are all on the Eagles’ roster. GM Howie Roseman is a wizard. Unless Gainwell struggles as the main incumbent — or the newer backs prove they are so much better — I think the Eagles just go with the guy they trusted to play over Sanders during last season’s playoff run.

How comfortable do you feel drafting some of the pass catchers paired with new and unproven starting QBs? Are you enthusiastically targeting Christian Watson (who’s paired with QB Jordan Love), Terry McLaurin and Jahan Dotson (Sam Howell), and Drake London and Kyle Pitts (Desmond Ridder), or are you shying away because of their quarterbacks?

Mike Maher: I wouldn’t say I’m enthusiastically targeting any of these pass catchers because of their QBs. And in the case of London and Pitts, I also worry about the offensive philosophy. But this is going to come down to ADP and value. London might be my favorite name on this list. But he’s also the most expensive and, as I mentioned above, has arguably bigger question marks than the others because of his offense. Coming off an incredibly disappointing campaign, Pitts could be great value at his current ranking (78th overall, TE6) if he can stay healthy and if Ridder is even slightly better than Marcus Mariota was. With Watson, I worry about Love’s consistency and wonder if the offense will give me flashes of the run-heavy 2021 Philadelphia Eagles. For McLaurin and Dotson, I’ll probably utilize the old fantasy analyst cheat code of targeting the cheaper option (Dotson at 80th overall, WR37) to get a piece of the offense without paying up for the more expensive player.

Andrew Erickson: I want to approach WRs with “bad” quarterbacks with a value strategy. I don’t find myself needing to reach on these players because I want their floor outcomes baked into their ADPs. So, if they fall in drafts, I take them because each has an upside case if their QB performs above expectation. Dotson is the cheaper of the two Washington WRs, so I like taking him more than McLaurin. Sure, McLaurin has proven more as a locked-and-loaded fantasy WR2, but Dotson flashed huge potential as a first-round rookie. If Howell flames out, missing on Dotson as a Round 7/8 pick hurts me much less than McLaurin as a fourth-rounder. In the case of Watson, I think he can thrive agnostic of QB play. That’s because he was one of the rare WRs last season (along with A.J. Brown and Jaylen Waddle) to finish inside the top 10 in YAC per reception with an average depth of target of 12.7 yards or more. Watson can create his own yardage with the ball in his hands, making him less reliant on Love delivering on every single throw. I dove deeper into WRs with problematic YAC and how it influences their bust potential in this article.

Derek Brown: Drafting these wide receivers means betting on their talent. We don’t need these young signal callers to be transcendent talents for these immensely talented pass catchers to pay off in fantasy. Will it help if these quarterbacks take the next step and show off a ceiling we didn’t know they possessed? Sure. At this point, I’m not overreacting to any news with these quarterbacks and moving these pass catchers up or down my ranks.

Pat Fitzmaurice: I’m bullish on all of these talented young pass catchers. In Atlanta, the overall target pie is going to be smaller in a run-heavy offense, but London and Pitts will carve themselves enormous slabs of that pie. The Falcons’ potent running game is going to set up the play-action passing game and make things easier on Desmond Ridder. And if Ridder face-plants, head coach Arthur Smith can turn to Taylor Heinicke, who adequately floated the fantasy value of Terry McLaurin and Jahan Dotson in Washington last year. Same thing for the Commanders: If Sam Howell is terrible, the Commanders can turn to Jacoby Brissett, who was perfectly adequate as a placeholder for Deshaun Watson in Cleveland a year ago. I like Watson, too, but it’s a little unnerving that the Packers don’t have an adequate safety net if Jordan Love turns out to be terrible. Green Bay doesn’t have a decent backup QB on the roster.

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