The 4th Down Decision: Fantasy impact of rookie RBs

Written by Zach Lyons, co-host of Football & Other F Words and The Flex, “The 4th Down Decision” will look at various fantasy topics from whether you should “Punt” or “Go For It”. When reading the advice please keep these league settings in mind: 12-team league, PPR, 6-pt. passing TDs. All ADPs based on FantasyPros.com‘s web site.

I think looking for fantasy impact from rookie running backs can be one of the trickiest things out there. Unless you are a rookie heading to a team in desperate need of a RB, things get murky. So let me help provide a clearer picture for some of these running backs.

Special Note: Due to COVID-19 every rookie will face more difficulty than usual in getting up to NFL speed. That’s true for all these guys and should be baked into your expectations.

Punt: Jonathan Taylor in the 4th Round

  • Current ADP: 47 (4th Round)
  • Current Positional Ranking: RB22

According to FantasyPros.com, Jonathan Taylor is currently going as the 48th overall player. This is insane. Have you guys seen this backfield? Marlon Mack is still there, Nyheim Hines is still gonna take some snaps (especially on passing downs), and we expect Taylor to just walk in and immediately see fantasy production worthy of a 4th-round pick? 

Also keep in mind that Jonathan Taylor has a lot of college wear and tear. He carried the ball 926 times in three years as a college running back at Wisconsin. Not to mention he has a major fumbling issue. Taylor fumbled 18 times and lost 15 of those in 41 games. That is super high for a college running back, and nothing gets a running back benched like a bunch of fumbles.

Jonathan Taylor is also a below average pass-blocker. This is just a recipe for a disaster of a third round fantasy pick at this stage of the draft.

As you can see in the tweet to the left you can see that this is firmly a 3 back RBBC. Marlon Mack had 71% of the running back snaps last year for the Colts. There is no way that Jonathan Taylor gets all of those snaps, and if he doesn’t he won’t be that productive in his first year.

Let’s also keep in mind the Colts will probably pass more in 2020. Philip Rivers loves to sling it, and I think game scripts will mean they will be less conservative with Rivers compared to how they operated with Jacoby Brissett under center. 

So, when you’re drafting a RB in the 4th Round, you’re expecting him to be a weekly double-digit producer for your team. Jonathan Taylor just can’t be depended on to be that guy.

Go For It: Cam Akers in the 6th Round

  • Current ADP: 65 (6th Round)
  • Current Positional Ranking: RB29

There is a lot of good value, but right now Cam Akers is going in the 7th round according to FantasyPros.com. This is a steal. You’re essentially taking a Dalvin Cook clone and putting him in a Sean McVay-led offense. On top of that, he’s six rounds cheaper than the actual Dalvin Cook with no risk of a holdout. This is a no-brainer to me. 

I was very high on Cam Akers heading into the draft because he’s a running back who never has to come off the field. Those running backs are rare, and even rarer is finding them this late in your fantasy draft. Five of the Rams’ first eight games are against subpar run defenses, too, including the first three games, so you have the chance to get off to a strong start with Cam Akers and maybe flip him for better players before he hits that rookie wall, or — if you’re in a keeper league — stash him and keep him for incredible value next year. 

You may be wondering if I feel the backfield is too crowded there in L.A., but I don’t. Darrell Henderson was a huge disappointment considering his college production, and who cares about Malcolm Brown. Cam Akers is the total package, do not over think it.

Go For It: Pass catching RBs that may have a secondary role

Clyde Edwards-Helaire

  • Current ADP: 29 (3rd Round)
  • Current Positional Ranking: RB16

Darrynton Evans

  • Current ADP: 191 (16th Round)
  • Current Positional Ranking: RB58

Antonio Gibson

  • Current ADP: 155 (13th Round)
  • Current Positional Ranking: RB52

This is a fun one, because I think Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Darrynton Evans, and Antonio Gibson are going to surprise some people, but each provide different values. 

I have long been staunchly against Damien Williams as the long-term solution at running back for Kansas City Chiefs. He is very much a product of the system. CEH is going in the 3rd Round in most drafts, and while I do not think that’s bad value, keep in mind he has Damien Williams back there and is facing the 29th hardest schedule for a running back. 

However, if you are in any form of a keeper league, you have to risk it, in my opinion, because the long term payoff is gonna be huge. There were a few, does-not-have-to come-off-the-field RBs in this class (like Cam Akers mentioned above), and he is one of them. Sometimes you have to overpay for good players and this may turn out to be one of those instances.

Antonio Gibson and Darrynton Evans are going in the 13th and 16th rounds respectively. At that point in the draft you’re looking for depth and sleepers, and these guys provide great depth and great insurance with a chance to pop. 

Huge Derrick Henry fan here, but we all know the Titans have been looking for a pass-catching compliment to him, and Evans is that guy. He can catch, he can run between the tackles, he can block… he can do it all, and do it all very well. His size is a concern, but I’ve seen the tape: he looks like Dion Lewis, plays like Derrick Henry. He is definitely a draft-and-stash, and can eventually be a viable flex option down the line in PPR formats. 

Antonio Gibson will probably outperform his 13th-round ADP. He does not have to be used as a RB because he can line up at wide receiver as well. I also thought the same thing about Tony Pollard heading into last season, and while Tony did flash, the Cowboys simply cannot take snaps away from Zeke. Gibson does not have that problem in Washington. He’s only contending with an aging Adrian Peterson, Derrius Guice (who in two seasons only has 49 touches to his name), and Peyton Barber, who is nothing special.

Punt: Running backs in a confusing backfield

Zack Moss

  • Current ADP: 129 (11th Round)
  • Current Positional Ranking: RB47

D’Andre Swift

  • Current ADP: 59 (5th Round)
  • Current Positional Ranking: RB26

Buffalo and Detroit are both good examples of confusing backfields for fantasy players. Starting with Buffalo, while I like the fit and the compliment to each other they provide, I am not in love with Bills 3rd round pick Zack Moss. I am also not in love with Devin Singletary. 

It’s weird. I was a big Devin believer last year, drafting him when I could. Buffalo fans love him, I loved him, and he should’ve got more carries, but Buffalo never did that. So earlier this offseason when I was approached by someone in my league of record to trade for Devin Singletary, I said let’s see what they do in the draft. Sure enough, here comes Zack Moss. 

I have no clue how you start these two guys as anything more than a flex. Devin is a 4th/5th round ADP, and Moss is roughly in the 10th. If you were forcing me to pick one, I am going Moss (because of the value), but I’d pass on both right now and go to a backfield with more certainty.

Then you have Detroit. People want to dismiss Kerryon Johnson, and maybe Detroit is as well, but I think there is a real chance we see Swift get eased into things. Swift is going three rounds higher than Johnson right now. I do like Swift’s value in the 5th Round from a long-term perspective, but again, Detroit makes lousy coaching decisions constantly, and you may not know who is going to get the bulk of the carries until late in the season. 

This situation reminds me a lot of the Patriots running back situations over the years. It’s always muddled, and week to week you have no clue what is going to happen. So you have to draft Swift with the understanding there are gonna be weeks he starts and he barely plays, and weeks he’s on the bench after you’re fed up with him, and he goes off. 

Go For It: Drafting Ke’Shawn Vaughn in every league imaginable

  • Current ADP: 84 (7th Round)
  • Current Positional Ranking: RB34

This is your golden goose. Ke’Shawn Vaughn landed in the most perfect spot imaginable for a running back with his skill set. This coaching staff did not draft Ronald Jones. They let Peyton Barber walk in free agency. This is their guy. This is your guy. 

I hated Ke’Shawn coming out as a player for the Titans, and I said numerous times he would have to go to the right team with the right situation to make an impact as a rookie. He landed beautifully in Tampa Bay, who faces the EASIEST fantasy schedule for a running back. 

Now that I’ve told you all of this, you’ll probably have to draft him higher than his current ADP, because it’s currently in the 7th round, but do it anyway. When you’re on the clock and you get that hot sensation on the back of your neck thinking about the risk of waiting another round for Vaughn, you’ll know it’s time to draft him. 

He has a very good run blocking offensive line, Tom Brady, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Cameron Brate, O.J. Howard, and Rob Gronkowski… defenses cannot key in on the run game, which is going to give him viable RB1 numbers. 

Vaughn is going to be so good, you are going to have people begging to trade for him. Draft Him. Do it. Do it now. Call dibs.

Love my opinions? Hate my opinions? Leave comments below, and let’s discuss!

Comments

  1. This was really good info. I will be taking Evans late as a handcuff to Henry, and loved Gibson coming out so I may have to take him too. Vaughn is the one section where I didn’t agree with you until I read it. I did not get the love some people had for him coming out of the draft, but there is just too much opportunity in that offense for cheap, easy points. It’s gonna hurt pulling the trigger on that one. I’ll try to do it. I probably won’t, but I’ll try…

    1. Hey Josh! I am with you on Vaughn. I was super skeptical of him on the Podcast. A lot of followers in the area kept trying to tell me he was gonna be a stud, but I didn’t see it. Then he landed in Tampa, and the more I think about the more he’s a guy I am drafting in every league! The opportunity is just so good there.

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