Fantasy Football: Do We Need to Start Worrying About Dion Lewis?

Lewis is still on the New England Patriots' PUP list and hasn't practiced at training camp. Can we still justify taking him early in our fantasy football drafts?

There's nothing like starting your Thursday off with a big, heaping pile of donkey doo to flush all optimism down the tube.

In that post, MassLive's Kevin Duffy outlines Dion Lewis' continued absence from the New England Patriots' training camp and the possibility he could start the season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, meaning Lewis would miss the team's first six games.

Insert dog-in-fire meme. This is all so fine.

Now, Duffy did mention that the PUP list was still unlikely, a sentiment that ESPN's Mike Reiss echoed in response to a question about Lewis' injury.

Even with the relative optimism, it's time to start worrying about Lewis for fantasy purposes. He's going in the fourth round of PPR drafts, according to Fantasy Football Calculator, so the cost here isn't cheap, and any missed time -- especially six weeks -- would be a death blow at that price.

Do we need to move Lewis down our draft boards? Let's take a look.

Absurd Upside

In order to fully craft a thought on Lewis as a fantasy asset, we have to first go back to last year to see why the sentiment on him is so high entering 2016. Once we do, the hype will be easy to understand.

We can measure this using numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which tracks the efficiency of both teams and players. This illustrates the expected points a player adds or subtracts to the team's offense over the course of a season, helping us see who would be the most desirable option.

This table compares Lewis to the other running backs on the team who had at least 20 carries last season. Rushing NEP per carry is simply the average expected points added each time the player carried the ball, and Success Rate is the percentage of carries on which the player increased the team's NEP for the drive.

RusherAttemptsRushing NEPRushing NEP per CarrySuccess Rate
LeGarrette Blount1652.910.0241.2%
Brandon Bolden63-9.88-0.1631.7%
Dion Lewis499.300.1946.9%
James White22-3.80-0.1727.3%
Steven Jackson21-2.12-0.1033.3%

Not only did Lewis smoke 'em in Rushing NEP, but he was also the more consistent back in terms of Success Rate. And this is supposed to be the area in which he is less valuable as a running back. When he got carries, dude put in serious work.

As a receiving back, we can also see why the team gave him a two-year extension last season only a month into his tenure as the lead dog. Of the 33 running backs with at least 40 targets, Lewis ranked fourth in Target NEP per target, which deducts the expected points lost on incompletions and interceptions on which the player was targeted. He was elite both as a rusher and as a receiver, which is a rare combo in the NFL.

All of this is before we consider that Lewis is currently the third-most-expensive fantasy asset on one of the best offenses in football. There are few guys with a ceiling this silly in PPR leagues. That's why the lofty expectations are absolutely warranted.

Still Worth It

But it doesn't answer the question of how we handle Lewis now with the additional concerns around his knee. Can he still be worth such a high draft pick given the continued absence?

For right now, yes, it does seem as if he is. Both Duffy and Reiss -- guys with much more knowledge of the situation than we have -- have said that it's too early to get overly concerned just yet. When it comes to weighing injuries, we should be deferring to the thoughts of the beat writers to guide our judgments.

Additionally -- as Duffy pointed out -- Lewis was active for the team's OTAs back in June.

It's certainly not much, but it does show that the team had enough faith in his knee to use him over two months ago. They likely wouldn't have done that if he were still early in the recovery process, and it leads you to believe that this could all be an attempt to conserve a guy who was a vital member of the offense last year.

Finally, fantasy football's nature allows you a bit of leeway if he were to miss a week. Lewis was a top-24 PPR running back in five of the seven games he played last year, and he had as many top-12 finishes as Eddie Lacy and more than Giovani Bernard -- guys who played a lot more games than Lewis. When he plays, he's insanely valuable, and using a replacement-level player for a few weeks if Lewis can't go right away is acceptable.

Fantasy Implications

Lewis is currently coming off the board as the 19th-ranked running back in PPR leagues. Based on what we saw last year, that means you're already getting the injury discount on him. And if the current news continues to be negative, that price will only continue to drop. He could go from being worth his price to a value selection.

Obviously, this sort of investment will require you to track news surrounding Lewis like a dog. If the sentiment from the team's beat writers suddenly shifts, then the equation will change a bit. But as things stand right now and given their optimism, we're not at that point just yet.

There's always the risk that Lewis will begin the season on the PUP list, in which case he clearly wouldn't be worth his ADP. That doesn't seem to be the most likely scenario right now, though. As long as we gain some clarity prior to the third preseason game, Lewis is still a worthy selection in the fourth or fifth round of your PPR drafts, and he could become a value if he falls any further.