I was asked last week by a fantasy football newbie why running backs were taken so high in the draft and wide receivers and quarterback – even the great ones – had to wait their turn to get selected.
I explained that it has always been that way. Back when every team ideally had a franchise back who would touch the ball 20 times a game to now, where specialization has led to teams having multiple backs, the value of running backs who consistently remain the primary runner are viewed as the most valuable players on a fantasy roster. You can win without an elite running back, but most teams don’t.
To emphasize that point, I suggested that he follow the 100-yard club this season – those players who top 100 yards rushing or receiving in a given week. The number of players who top 100 yards receiving is getting more pronounced, while the number of 100-yard rushers is dropping and being concentrated among players you expect to hit that number.
Through two weeks of the season, there had been 37 players who had 100-yard receiving games. In that same span, there had been just 11 players who rushed for 100 yards and one of them was a quarterback (Lamar Jackson).
When you look at the 100-yard rusher list, there are very few surprises. Saquon Barkley and Dalvin Cook have done it twice and the other six players are Ezekiel Elliott, Christian McCaffrey, Marlon Mack, Mark Ingram, Aaron Jones and Matt Breida. With the exception of Breida, all of them were drafted to be regularly weekly fantasy starters.
When it comes to players who have 100-yard receiving days, it’s all over the board. You’re never sure who is going to have the huge day and it isn’t concentrated merely to the guys who are the top couple of receivers on fantasy rosters. While most of the running backs who have 100-yard rushing games were drafted in the first couple of rounds, the same can’t be said for the receivers. I posed the question, “Where were these guys drafted?”
It is a list that includes Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson, John Ross (twice), Michael Gallup, DeSean Jackson, Marquise Brown, D.J. Chark, Terry McLaurin, John Brown, Chris Godwin, Tyler Boyd, Courtland Sutton, Kenny Golladay, Christian Kirk, Larry Fitzgerald (twice), Nelson Agholor, Greg Olsen, Calvin Ridley, Tyrell Williams, Danny Amendola, Ted Ginn and A.J. Brown.
Those players represent two-thirds of the list of players that have topped 100 receiving yards and most of them were drafted very late (if at all) or pulled out of the $1-2 auction bargain bin.
The reality of the new age of football and how it translates to the fantasy game is the running backs are still the king because those who get a steady dose of production can be more accurately predicted than trying to figure out why guys like Andy Dalton and Larry Fitzgerald can put up huge numbers even if their teams don’t win games.
The time is coming when quarterbacks and receivers are going to find more equity with fantasy owners because of their ability almost singlehandedly win a week for them, but, for the time being, running back is still the Big Daddy of fantasy football even if they are becoming something of an endangered species
Here is the Week 3 Fantasy Market Report:
Darren Waller – He hasn’t found the end zone yet, but Waller is the most targeted receiver in Oakland’s offense (15) and leads the team in receptions (13). Jon Gruden is finding ways to isolate Waller as the primary receiver on routes and the touchdowns will come. At a time when many fantasy owners believe there are only three tight ends you want to start every week (Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz and George Kittle), Waller may be making a claim to be included in that group.
Dalvin Cook – Minnesota said it was going to run the ball more and the Vikings have made good on that. Cook has been the offensive bell cow, rushing 41 times for a league-best 265 yards and two touchdowns. It has come at the expense of the passing game, where Kirk Cousins has thrown for just 328 yards and two touchdowns, Adam Thielen has just eight catches and Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph have caught just three each. Cook has elevated himself among the elite running backs in the league and, if Minnesota continues to feed him the ball 20 times a game (he also has five receptions) and he stays healthy, Cook could be a fantasy MVP this season.
John Ross – One of the anomalies of fantasy football is that losing teams can be productive for fantasy owners. Last year when the Bengals lost A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd was the player who emerged as a bona fide fantasy star. This season, it has been Ross, who was largely a disappointment in his first two seasons. Through two games, he has caught 11 passes for 270 yards and three touchdowns, including scores of 55 and 66 yards. He is living up to the hype that made him a first-round pick in 2017 and showing the Bengals they don’t need Green to be a potent pass offense.
Marlon Mack – There are only two running backs that have averaged more than 18 carries a game through the first two weeks of the season – Mack and Dalvin Cook. Mack leads the league with 45 carries and is third with 225 yards. While he was bottled up by Tennessee Sunday, what fantasy owners look for is volume of carries for running backs. At a time when teams are routinely sharing time between two or three running backs, Mack is a ball hog. Colts running backs have rushed 56 times and Mack has 45 of them (more than 80 percent). He showed late last year what he could do and he is expending on that this season.
Case Keenum – The Redskins likely aren’t going anywhere this season and they have the franchise QB of the future in Dwayne Haskins waiting in the wings. But, unlike the Giants – where Eli Manning’s grip on his starting job in trouble – it’s hard to blame Keenum for the struggles of the Redskins to win games. In his two starts, he has thrown for 601 yards with five touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 111.2. At a time when fantasy owners are scrambling to replace Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger, Keenum is putting up the kind of numbers he did in Minnesota and he is available in most leagues.
Devonta Freeman – Freeman was one of the players who fantasy owners were strongly divided about. Some looked back at his dominance earlier in his career where he was a dual-threat back who wreaked havoc when he got his hands on the ball. With Tevin Coleman out of the picture, they theorized the Freeman was due for a huge season. Others pointed to injuries that rendered him unavailable for a lot of games and ineffective when he did play. Through two games, he’s not even his team’s leading rusher. He has run 19 times for just 41 yards (a 2.2 yard average) while backup Ito Smith is averaging 6.3 yards a carry on 10 runs. Those with other RB options are likely going to be forced to bench Freeman until he shows he can turn things around.
Cam Newton – I’ve never been aboard the Cam train because quarterbacks whose primary fantasy value is as a runner have a shelf life and can be wildly inconsistent. Newton has been throwing a lot (89 passes in two games), but has yet to score a touchdown, has a passer rating of 71.0 and has minus rushing yardage. There will be big days coming along the way, but the days of Newton being a weekly auto-start in fantasy leagues is over…for now anyway.
Eagles running backs – Philadelphia reshaped in running backs room in the offseason, trading for Jordan Howard and drafting Miles Sanders. The belief was that Sanders was going to be the primary back, but, while he leads the team with 21 carries, he is averaging just 2.5 yards a carry and 19 of his 53 yards came on one rush – leaving just 34 yards on the other 20 carries. Howard leads the team (14 carries for 62 yards), ageless Darren Sproles has the most rushing yards in a game (47) and the only two rushing TDs have come from QB Carson Wentz and WR Alshon Jeffery. This is a muddled mess and, as of now, it’s hard to endorse any of the running backs to put in a fantasy lineup.
Damien Williams – With Kareem Hunt out of the picture, big things were expected from Williams. That changed in the minds of many when Shady McCoy was released for salary reasons by Buffalo and was reunited with Andy Reid. The two have been in a dead heat timeshare for carries, but McCoy has made more of his opportunities (21 carries for 104 yards) than Williams (22 carries for just 34 yards and a TD). McCoy suffered an ankle injury Sunday, but if he is good to go, Williams’ value is going to bottom out until he proves he deserves to get the majority of the carries – something he has failed to do in Kansas City’s first two wins.
Anybody from Miami – The Dolphins have made it clear they’re staring down the No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft, but their numbers through two games are astonishingly bad. They have been outscored 102-10, rushed for a total of 63 yards on 27 carries, their leading rusher has 10 carries for 31 yards, their leading receiver has seven catches for 87 yards, their quarterbacks have combined to throw one touchdown with six interceptions and they have almost a 2:1 disparity in time of possession (21:41 to 38:19). Miami wasn’t a hot ticket on draft day for fantasy leagues, but the best option now may simply to get rid of any of them you have on your roster and don’t look back.