2017 Initial Rankings: A Closer Look at Bilal Powell, Danny Woodhead and Theo Riddick
Our 2017 projections are up, so it’s a good time to discuss a few players that jump out at each position. I tackled the quarterbacks yesterday, so next up are the running back ranks, which look especially top-heavy this season. After 10-12 backs who are likely to see a big workload, there are all sorts of uncertainty in the RB2 ranks (#13-#24) and beyond.
Much had been written about the “wait on RB” approach, and I’m not going to delve too far into the weeds about draft strategy at this point in the offseason. However, two options immediately spring to mind: 1) go WR-heavy at the start and worry about RB later, or 2) draft one stud RB in the first two rounds and play RBBC at the RB2 spot.
Either way, owners will need to find good value running backs in the middle rounds, so I’m going to discuss a few players (mainly for PPR formats) whose ADPs look too low at this point in the offseason.
Bilal Powell, Jets (7th round in 12-team drafts)
Before he took over as the lead back, Powell was the #32 RB through Week 13, so he should have flex value even if he doesn’t win the starting job by Week 1. Powell is currently the 28th RB off the board, so there's quite a bit of value here if Powell does end up leading this backfield in touches.
Powell averaged 5.51 YPC compared to Matt Forte’s 3.73 YPC, so it’s hard to imagine that the Jets will feed the ball to Forte given Powell’s play down the stretch. In the final four games, he averaged 23.7 fantasy points (PPR) and was second only to LeVeon Bell during that stretch at his position. In those four games, he turned 25.8 touches into 138 total yards and 0.75 TD per game.
In 21 career games where Powell has received at least 10 carries, he has averaged 84 total yards and 0.38 touchdowns. This equates to 13.7 fantasy points (PPR), which is better than what Frank Gore averaged as the #12 RB in PPR formats in 2016.
Frank Gore, Colts (9th round)
Speaking of Gore, he’s coming off of back-to-back finishes in the top 15 (PPR and standard) and is currently the 38th running back off the board. The Colts did draft Marlon Mack in the 4th round, but it’s still Gore’s job. Given his current 9th-round ADP, I’m not sure that owners can find more guaranteed touches at that point in the draft.
Theo Riddick, Lions (7th round)
Riddick finished the 2016 season with the #8 PPG in PPR formats (16.2 per game). Ameer Abdullah is back, but that doesn’t mean Riddick is going to fade into the background. In Week 1, while Abdullah was still healthy (17 touches for 120 yards), Riddick turned 12 touches into 108 total yards and two touchdowns against the Colts.
In fact, over the past two seasons, Riddick has averaged 5.1 receptions and 41 receiving yards per game, so he seems like a good bet for 70-80 catches and 500-600 yards receiving if he plays a full 16-game slate. Figure 75 catches and 550 yards, and he’s already at 130 fantasy points (PPR), which is about what Rob Kelley scored as the #37 RB last year. Throw in a few touchdowns and some work in the running game (80-100 carries?) and suddenly Riddick is right in the middle of the RB2 conversation.
He’s a great option for those looking for RB value in the middle rounds, especially in PPR leagues.
Danny Woodhead, Ravens (8th round)
Regular readers know that I was all in on Woody last year. In Week 1, he turned 21 touches into 120 total yards and a touchdown, and then he tore his ACL in Week 2. Sigh.
Now he lands with the Ravens, who have attempted 1,355 passes over the last two seasons, the most in the league. They’re also trying to replace 214 targets left up for grabs after the departure of Steve Smith (101), Kamar Aiken (50), Kyle Juszczyk (49) and Justin Forsett (14). Juszczyk and Forsett’s 63 combined targets are a good start for Woodhead, who is likely to take over the bulk of the pass-catching role in the Baltimore backfield.
Neither Terrance West (34-236-1 on 45 targets) nor Kenneth Dixon (30-162-1 on 41 targets) are natural pass catchers, so it wouldn’t be shocking if Woodhead ends up with 80-100 targets in 2017, provided he’s fully healthy.
The good thing about the ACL tear is that he suffered the injury early in the season, so he’ll have nearly a full year to recover to be ready for Week 1. Based on this workout video from January, Woodhead was “six weeks ahead of schedule” at the time, per Chargers beat writer Michael Gehlken.
With Dixon suspended for the first four games, Woodhead should have the pass-catching role all to himself in September. He should provide PPR RB2 numbers for that span, maybe longer.
I just can't quit you, Woody.
Duke Johnson, Browns (10th-11th round)
Johnson finished as the #23 PPR running back as a rookie and followed that up with a #30 finish in his sophomore season, so naturally he’s the 43rd back off the board in early drafts. In his second season, he showed some juice as a runner (4.9 YPC) after struggling with a 3.6 YPC as a rookie, so if anything happens to Isaiah Crowell, Johnson should serve as the lead back in Cleveland.
Paul Perkins, Giants (7th-8th round)
HC Ben McAdoo (somewhat surprisingly) confirmed Perkins is the starter heading into the summer of 2017, so he’ll have first crack at RB1 touches for the Giants.
Over the final five games of the year (including the playoffs), Perkins averaged 14.4 carries for 60 yards (4.17 YPC) as the team’s lead back, though he wasn’t much of a factor in the passing game. If Shane Vereen is healthy, it will limit Perkins’ upside in PPR formats.
Other Running Games to Watch:
News broke on Wednesday that the Eagles signed LeGarrette Blount to a one-year deal. He'll likely take over Ryan Mathews' role on first and second down and assume all the goal line work. The Eagles were 5th in the league in rushing attempts inside the opponent's 5-yard line last year, so he has a chance to hit double-digit touchdowns. The Eagles did draft Donnel Pumphrey in the 4th round, so he’s a player to monitor in the offseason as he competes with Wendell Smallwood (a former 5th round pick, for what it’s worth) and veteran Darren Sproles. Sproles continues to be a good value in PPR formats.
Beat writer John Keim (ESPN) believes that rookie Samaje Perine will beat out Rob Kelley to be the team’s starter in Week 1. Perine is currently going in the 9th round while Kelley is going in the 10th. Meanwhile, PPR specialist Chris Thompson (the #27 RB in that format last year) is going in the 16th round. Hmm.
New England signed both Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee to replace LeGarrette Blount (299 carries, 1161 yards, 18 TDs last year) and then they turned around and extended Blount a $1.1 million May 9 tender which gives the team exclusive negotiating rights if Blount isn’t signed by July 22. If Blount signs elsewhere, I really like Gillislee to win the short yardage job, with upside from there. Burkhead is also better than most people think. Meanwhile, Dion Lewis and James White will vie for the pass-catching role. Lewis has shown more as a runner, but the Patriots extended White for three years after he caught 14 passes and scored three touchdowns in the Super Bowl.
The Bucs (including Jameis Winston and GM Jason Licht) have been raving about Doug Martin this offseason, but he’s suspended for the first three games of the season, and was vastly outplayed by Jacquizz Rodgers (4.3 YPC vs. Martin’s 2.9 YPC) last year. Charles Sims is the best pass-catcher of the bunch. Complicating matters, the Bucs drafted Jeremy McNichols in the 5th round. This backfield is very much up for grabs, but don’t be surprised if Rodgers is the RB1 come September.
Denver signed Jamaal Charles, which makes one wonder if he’ll play the Danny Woodhead role in new OC Mike McCoy’s offense. If fully healthy, Charles could turn into much more than that, but questions swirl about the health of his knees. C.J. Anderson’s stock took a hit with Charles’s arrival, but it could bounce back if Charles isn’t fully healthy by training camp.
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