Identifying RB Values Behind Top Offensive Lines

Jul 11, 2019
Identifying RB Values Behind Top Offensive Lines

Fantasy football drafts of all shapes and sizes are ramping up as we make our way past July 4th and into what is affectionately termed “Draft Season”. Even as I type, I am smack dab in the middle of crafting my team in the Scott Fish Bowl and getting into the later rounds, attempting to squeeze value out of every last pick. By using every tool available to us, we can identify players who have the possibility of adding points to our team without us needing to spend high draft capital.

Below I’ve dug through the best offensive lines in the NFL to find running backs who are either one injury away from producing or set to contribute to your team immediately. To learn more about how good offensive line play correlates to running back fantasy points take a look at this article, where I dug through the correlation but also the actionable data behind it.

Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys – Offensive Line Rank #9

Current ADP: N/A (Redraft), 18.09 (Best-ball)

4for4 Rank: RB74

Dynasty Value: Fourth-round rookie pick

Our first value find has the longest shot for immediate fantasy success despite the number of snaps he is likely to see in 2019. Tony Pollard should be heavily used in the return game—where he averaged 30.1 yards and scored seven times over his 87 college kick returns—but it remains to be seen how his versatility will get him on the field consistently enough to contribute on the offensive side of things. We’ll take Cowboys CEO Stephen Jones comments that he will receive “30 snaps a game” with a grain of salt after commenting just one year ago that Tavon Austin would see two dozen of them a contest.

Regardless, there are reasons to believe he will force himself onto the field with his position flexibility, giving Dallas a lot of options with which to line him up all over the field. Pollard lined up in the slot much more often than in the backfield during his time in Memphis and his 15.5% target share put him in the 94th percentile as a running back according to Player Profiler. He’s found success on short, intermediate and deep passes but still needs work with his hands to become proficient in the NFL.

All in all, Pollard seems like a pretty raw prospect but nonetheless will have a chance to line up behind one of the best o-lines in the league. His ceiling could be somewhat like a Curtis Samuel down the line. It’s never a bad idea to have a backup plan for a previously suspended Ezekiel Elliott who has twice eclipsed the 350-touch mark in a season.

Verdict: Deep dynasty stash, last-round dart throw on an otherwise full best-ball roster

Jordan Howard, Philadelphia Eagles – Offensive Line Rank #8

Current ADP: 8.01 (Redraft), 9.01 (Best-ball)

4for4 Rank: RB51

Dynasty Value: Mid second round rookie pick

People are (rightly) concerned about Philadelphia Eagles running backs. The City of Brotherly Love have been steadfast advocates of a running back by committee approach ever since LeSean McCoy left the team following the 2014 season.

Eagles Rushing Leaders 2015 -2018
Season Player Rush Attempts Rush Yards
2015 DeMarco Murray 193 702
2016 Ryan Mathews 155 661
2017 LeGarrette Blount 173 766
2018 Josh Adams 120 511

As you can see in the chart above presenting each individual leading rusher over the past four seasons, none of them have eclipsed 200 rushing attempts or even come close to sniffing the 1,000-yard mark. For our purposes—finding value—we don’t necessarily need to find the person who will lead the team by the end of the year, as long as we can find the player who will be toting the rock at the beginning of the year.

That person looks to be former Chicago Bear Jordan Howard, who will look to reprise his role as a between-the-tackles banger with his new team. His path to carries is all but cleaned out ahead of him with rookie Miles Sanders remaining sidelined with a hamstring injury, and Corey Clement locked into his role in the passing game. While this may not last forever, Howard is going to receive a plethora of valuable carries as Sanders both heals and works on the cracks in his game.

The cracks in Jordan Howard’s game were on full display in 2018 as his yards per carry dipped all the way down to a paltry 3.7. Help is on the way in respect to an offensive line upgrade. Howard gained 1.0 yards before contact last season, by far the lowest number of his career, and Football Outsiders credited the Bears’ offensive line with 3.91 Adjusted Line Yards, ranking them 28th in the league.

With a more well-rounded o-line opening rushing lanes, I’m willing to take a cheap gamble that Jordan Howard returns to fantasy prominence for a minimum of the first half in 2019.

Verdict: Worth the price in both redraft and best-ball; price feels steep in dynasty

Tarik Cohen, Chicago Bears – Offensive Line Rank #5

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