Carrying the Rock

Updated: May 18th 2016

April 28th 2007. My girlfriend sat outside her family home in the aging cracked leather seats of a still-glistening black Celica convertible on the Jersey shore, and inside I was asking her mother and father for her hand in marriage.   She was blissfully unaware how her life would change that day.  She knew the plan.  She could tell you about the drive to NYC that was to come.  The time and location of the show at the New Victory Theatre.  What she didn’t and couldn’t see was the ring designed for her in my pocket, the behind the scenes intrigue that would put her on a Broadway stage at the close of the show, and the question that would link us forever.

Earlier that day Adrian Peterson was asked “how do you feel about being a Minnesota Viking?”  Megatron got a proposal from the Lions.  The Raiders and Browns were forever changed by Jamarcus Russell and Brady Quinn…Less in a “happily ever after”, and more in “college regret your buddies will remind you of at reunions” kind of way.    This is part of the intrigue of Dynasty.   The commitment GMs make to players.  It is understood that this won’t be a fling, there will be some sickness and health involved.   In reality most human beings and NFL teams are best served by going all in with a commitment to one person.   My bride carrying that rock on her finger, and Adrian toting the rock for the Vikings nearly a decade later speak to that truth.  Fantasy, particularly in RSO, demands a certain degree of fiscal promiscuity, however, understanding that some of the costs will be lost, but ultimately it may prove cheaper to spread three contracts over an uncertain backfield than pay for the services of stud and his handcuff.

April 28th, 2016.  Nine years later the first round of the NFL draft reintroduces us to the wonder and beauty of the fantasy season in earnest after the long national nightmare of the offseason.  Dynasty fantasy GMs carefully gauge the worth of their rookie picks as players meet their betrothed teams for the first times.  Veterans on the fantasy roster rise with the well-placed selection of a lineman with high hopes, or fall as the fickle gaze of a team turns to the next hot prospect.  Last article we looked at teams with relative stability at running back position, or at least a succession plan that seems probable.  The other half of the league can be looked at in light of the majesty of the draft.  Notably, CJA and Murray owners have clear handcuffs and possible successor targets in Booker(Utah) and Henry(Alabama).  Ezekiel Elliott’s bare midriff found its way to Dallas.  This, of course, caused last year’s cellar-dwelling fantasy GMs to squeal like middle-aged women at an N’sync concert.  McFadden and Alf owners were left annoyed and appalled like teachers chaperoning Prom.  Little analysis is needed here, the best RB prospect behind a line regarded as one of the best in football immediately vaults Elliott into top three RB status in the minds of many dynasty GMs.  Experts at Rotoviz make a case that Zeke might already be the #1 fantasy back overall in dynasty.

The fate of the following teams remain in the balance, however, and wise RSO GMs do well to note better deals and opportunity in other backfields as the draft unfolded.   This is not a column advising you to sell as the draft loomed over your players.  Dave Sanders did some prescient work for you on the Dallas and Miami situations, for example.  What we need to look for here are places where the incumbent running back situation is muddled, driving down value, and producing risk and opportunity for owners.  Think like an RSO GM clearly here.  While there is significant value in getting stud running backs described in other places, bigger rosters and the contract format of RSO allows you to monopolize backfields at a reasonable cost.  This hedges against failure and produces situations like Arizona last year where Ellington, CJ2K, and David Johnson could be rostered on your team for less than a single contract for a player like Eddie Lacey.

First the NFC East (DAL, WAS, NYG, and Phi) presents the most opportunity for savvy owners.  We covered Dallas.  Washington has the same offense and a nominal commitment to Matt Jones.  There are plenty of carries to go around as Alf departs with 202 carries.  Keith Marshall landing in Washington promises to have some value this year and moving forward.  Buy Jones and the rookie.  The New York Giants introduce McAdoo as head coach, but as he was the offensive coordinator and Jennings carried the load, it should prove easy for a savvy owner to roster Vereen and Paul Perkins in the hope that one back emerges.  Finally, the Eagles have a relatively loaded, but aging depth chart, proving another opportunity to stagger short terms/trades for Matthews and Sproles to pair with a long-term rookie contract for the rookie Smallwood.

The AFC North (Bal, Cin, Cle) tells a different story.  Hue Jackson leaves behind an offense that produced two backs with over 200 touches a piece.  Hill and Bernard won’t come cheap and as Bernard approaches free agency, the best hope for an owner would be an expensive double-down anticipating the two backs split in free agency next year, but this feels like a scenario to avoid.  Baltimore requires three roster slots for the enterprising owner, as Forsett, Buck Allen, and Kenneth Dixon can all be had at reasonable cost in most leagues.  Whatever back emerges in the lead roll behind a line likely improved by the draft should provide extremely valuable.  Cleveland’s value likely lies in its receivers due to perennial game-flow questions.  Duke Johnson is the value here, unless Hue Jackson drives the hype train too hard.

Staying on the up North in the NFC.  Chicago seems to have a marginal lead back in Langford, but protecting that investment with contracts for Ka’Deem Carey and Jordan Howard should be very affordable.  Langford and company are headed for a committee under Fox and should not demand a premium.  Detroit will offer very little value in terms of opportunity at RB for rookies.  Look to consolidate Abdullah and Riddick in the event one back emerges.  Zenner may be worth a roster spot in deeper leagues.

Rounding out the NFC are two teams that demand consideration.  Chip Kelly’s unpredictability diminishes Hyde as a surefire lead but he is safer than most options in this category.  Rostering a rookie RB that is more of a pass-catcher seems particularly valuable in light of the potential for some big deficits and Kelly’s famously up tempo offense.  Your NFL runner-up is the most intriguing.  The oft-injured Jonathan Stewart is locked in to lead the Panthers in carries this year, but whatever rookie the Panthers sign in 2017 in will be coupled with a strong offense and little competition beyond Stewart, unless a man named Fozzie Whittaker moves you.

The final AFC backfields to target if you believe in gathering all the parties provide one fine situation in Indy.  Owners can trade for/stagger a short term Gore deal with a long term rookie contract.  Dion Lewis must be paired with James White.   Lewis provides the biggest boom/bust potential in terms of injury and usage of this whole group.  Finally Oakland and Miami have relatively strong incumbents, and some failed free agent flirtation by their team in the offseason suggests owners would be wise to assume a 2017 rookie in Oakland and Kenyan Drake factor into their teams’ plans long-term.

In fantasy the best GMs know how to ask the right question.  When confronted with talents like Ezekiel Elliot the answer is obvious.  The more valuable questions in terms of contractual obligations seem to lie in assuming the risk of backfields in their entirety.   Putting the rock in the right hands is such a vital part of real and fantasy football, so pay close attention to the landing spots below and consider the opportunity of the rookies as they answer “yes” to their new teams.

In list form:

  1. Ezekiel Elliot- If you have the 1.1 enjoy.
  2. Dion Lewis- Absurd PPG when healthy.
  3. Yeldon + Ivory- More touchdowns are coming.
  4. Hill+Bernard
  5. Murray + (Deandre Washington)- Breakout offense.
  6. Hyde + (Wait for 2017).
  7. Gore + Rookie (Wait for 2017)
  8. Stewart + Rookie (Wait for 2017)
  9. Baltimore Backfield (Kenneth Dixon) Forsett, Buck Allen
  10. Eagles Backfield Ryan Matthews + (Wendell Smallwood)
  11. Langford + (Jordan Howard)
  12. Jennings + Vereen (Paul Perkins)- Begging for a transition.
  13. Matt Jones + Keith Marshall
  14. Cleveland Backfield (Duke Johnson) Crowell
  15. Ajayi + Kenyan Drake- Will need a couple years for Gase to sort a lead back.
  16. Detroit Backfield (Abdullah) + Zenner/Riddick

The list is ordered in terms of my anticipated points by backfield for the upcoming season.  The backs in bold project better over a three year span.


Bio: Luke @FantasyDocOC is husband, father, doctoral student, and teacher slowly building a reality dynasty league comprised entirely of daughters. Following in the footsteps of Saint Francis, “Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” CUA. Hoya Saxa.

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