With Kenneth Dixon Sidelined, You Should Probably Still Avoid Terrance West in Fantasy Football
The Baltimore Ravens -- with no standout wide receiver, no proven running back, and a bunch of dad runners at tight end -- opted to forgo selecting an offensive skill player in late April's draft.
There's a chance they're regretting that today.
Hypothetical starting running back Kenneth Dixon was already a lock to miss the first four games of the 2017 season for violating the NFL's policy on performance enhancing drugs, but now he's going to miss all of them after undergoing surgery to repair a meniscus tear.
That leaves the Ravens with the relatively inexperienced Terrance West as their starting running back to go along with Danny Woodhead as the primary pass-catching option out of the backfield. It feels like a duo you'd end up with in a Madden fantasy draft after completely forgetting to snag a running back in the first 30 rounds.
But, seriously: can a back who's bounced around the league since entering it (three teams in three seasons) paired with a 32-year-old receiving threat coming off an ACL tear really be relevant in fantasy football this season?
Dixon Was It
Strictly from a performance standpoint last year, it was very clear that Kenneth Dixon was the best runner in the Baltimore backfield. Here's how he stacked up against Terrance West -- the only other relevant rusher for the Ravens last year -- within our Net Expected Points (or NEP, which you can read more about in our glossary) metric in 2016:
|Name||Rushes||Rushing NEP||Per Rush||League Average||Success Rate|
Though Dixon had a middle-of-the-road 4.34 yards per carry average, his efficiency, per our expected points model, was pretty top-notch. In fact, among all 50-plus attempt rushers last season (a nice 69 of them), Dixon tied for third with his 0.15 Rushing NEP per rush rate. And the difference between Dixon's performance versus his teammates -- mainly Terrance West -- was largest among any running back in our database last year.
All I'm trying to do here is twist the knife in the heart of Kenneth Dixon truthers. And I apologize for that.
The information above might matter, but it also might not. Great advice, I know. But the reason West's inefficient play last year could be a concern is if there's competition that comes in for the starting, early-down running back gig. (Read: that competition could easily be better than Terrance West.) While that's no guarantee, ESPN's Jamison Hensley has already noted that West's top competition might not currently be on the team.
What if that's not the case?
Volume Is King
Over the last two seasons, no team has thrown the ball more than the Baltimore Ravens. Naturally, that's created fewer rushing opportunities for running backs -- the Ravens ranked fifth-lowest in rushing attempts over this time.
There are reasons to believe Baltimore will at least attempt to be more run-heavy in 2017, namely due to the hiring of Greg Roman as an offensive assistant. Roman's known for implementing run-first offenses, as he did in San Francisco from 2011 to 2014 as offensive coordinator (ranked as the third-, third-, second-, and sixth-most run-heavy offenses in football) and Buffalo in 2015 (most run-heavy offense in the league).
Even if they continue to throw the ball a lot, though, West has the potential to see a strong market share in the offense. Dixon missed the first four games of the season last year, and while he was sidelined, West split the backfield workload with Justin Forsett. Forsett was inactive for Week 4, and in that contest, West's share of the backfield was elite.
|Week||West Market Share||Forsett Market Share|
West finished as the 14th-best running back in PPR formats that week, but having the backfield to himself was short-lived, as Dixon returned in Week 5. But even from that point on, West averaged a 53.82% market share in the Ravens' backfield. That's about a top-15 number in the NFL.
So let's work with what we know: with no signing, West would probably be the early-down runner in the offense given the current depth chart, the team would probably give him a higher-end market share, and the Ravens will probably be at least a tad more run-heavy in 2017. That's not just because of Roman, either: it may just be difficult to sustain a high-volume passing offense, too.
Even just a 50% market share in that backfield (18 running backs hit this mark last year) with the same number of rush attempts that they averaged over the last two years (375) would give West roughly 188 attempts (he had 196 last year). Change the team's pass-to-run philosophy even a little, and you can see that there's certainly potential for 200, 210, or even 220 carries. That figure is strong in the 9th or 10th round of fantasy drafts.
Of note, too, is that the Ravens have thrown the ball to their running backs more than every team outside of New Orleans during this two-year, pass-first time. Danny Woodhead could eat as a result of that, but any early-down back seeing the field as much as West could potentially see would benefit as well. Of course, his ceiling is capped as long as Woodhead -- a pass-catching specialist -- is healthy.
The elephant in the room here is obviously that the Ravens aren't a powerhouse offensively. And West, while seeing a high market share last year, finished behind 23 running backs in top-24 PPR performances, and he had just two top-12 ones, which was hit by 35 backs. That's not good.
Last year, Baltimore's running backs ranked 21st in fantasy points scored. In 2015, they were 19th. I mean, guys, last season, the group totaled 10 -- 10! -- carries from within the opponent's 5-yard line. That number was matched by 22 individual running backs around the league. That's also not good.
It's not a situation for fantasy football gold, despite potential volume.
As you can tell, things are still really up in the air right now. West's average draft position is currently at RB43 according to FantasyFootballCalculator.com, but that'll surely rise a bit with the Dixon news. So while he may be a value right now because of that average cost and the fact that there's little competition in Baltimore, things will undoubtedly change.
How high is too high to draft Terrance West, then? Well, let's think of it this way: 10 running back spots higher in average draft position sits Frank Gore, who's projected to have a similar role in his offense. The difference, you could argue, is that Gore may not have the same potential competition for touches that could come West's way, and Gore's in an O that's scored 18 more touchdowns than the Ravens have over the last two years.
Granted, Gore, to me, is one of the most undervalued players in fantasy football. Even still, the logic -- maybe aside from the age argument, which Gore's smashed throughout his career -- just doesn't add up.
So to be straightforward: If no competition comes to Baltimore for Terrance West, then, sure, he'll be a value at his current cost. His cost isn't going to remain the same in that case, though, and in a mediocre Baltimore offense with a pass-catching running back stealing looks through the air, there's not much room to grow.
And if competition does enter Baltimore, watch out, West owners. Given his performance last year, he could be in trouble.