Fantasy Football Slack and Forth: Running Backs to Fade in 2020

In a majority of fantasy football leagues, running back is a position where supply has a hard time meeting demand. As a result, hitting on the backs you do select is crucial. Therefore, knowing which backs to fade is paramount to success.

Having an idea of which players you want to target is a great starting point, but if 2020 is any evidence, life rarely goes according to plan. Chances are that many of your targets won't be there when it's your turn to make a selection. That'll result in you looking elsewhere on your board to fill needs at a thin position. When you do look elsewhere, there will be some backs you need to pass on, especially at their current cost.

In order to get an idea of which backs you should be fading, I once again Slacked (Slack chatted? Chat Slacked? Slatted?) with fellow numberFire editor Austan Kas.

Here's what we had to say.

Elisha Twerski: Knowing which running backs to fade is critical to having a successful draft. With that in mind, which backs are you down on? No parameters here. Early picks. Late picks. Whatever. Everything's fair game.

Austan Kas: A guy I probably won't have any of this year unless his ADP falls some is Derrick Henry. If he's on the board in, say, Round 3, sure, I'll snatch him up. But at his current cost of seventh overall (RB6) in July drafts on BestBall10, I can't stomach him in any sort of PPR or half-PPR format.

The main reason is his lack of pass-game work. Henry had just 24 targets all of last season, and he never saw more than 3 looks in a game. While he's a monster on the ground, the lack of pass-game work makes him very reliant on avoiding negative game scripts. The Titans did a lot of that last season, especially down the stretch, when Henry went bonkers. He ended up finishing as the PPR RB5 despite catching only 18 passes. Every other back in the top 10 caught at least twice as many balls. Prior to 2019, Henry had played 50% of the snaps in a game in just 7 of 47 games.

Could Tennessee push for 10 wins again and Henry lead the league in rushing while continuing to be an outlier at the running back position? Yes, it's in the range of outcomes. But I think it's more likely Henry sees some negative regression in the scoring department, and the Titans' offense as a whole experiences negative touchdown regression.

Am I overlooking something with Henry? Is he worthy of going in the middle of the first?

Elisha Twerski: I was hoping you'd bring up Henry, so I didn't have to.

I'm not entirely sure how I feel about him, especially given his drastic value differences in standard versus PPR formats, but I do know that I won't be taking him at his current cost (7.50 overall since June).

However, I will say this. Many analysts (including myself) were down on Henry prior to last season for many of the very reasons you mentioned. The result? He only had three games in half-PPR formats where he failed to reach double-digit fantasy points, compared to nine games with 16+ and seven games with 23+. He finished second in points per game in half-PPR and fourth in full-PPR.

As far as game-script is concerned, per FanDuel Sportsbook, Tennessee faces just three opponents next season that currently have win over/unders of 9.0 or higher. That could mean a lot of close games.

I also don't think we should be relying too heavily on what Henry did prior to 2019, because that does happen to be the season he put the league on notice. In 2019, Henry was on the field for more than 50% of snaps in all but one contest. That's notable.

I wouldn't take Henry in the top-10 because he doesn't get those all-so-valuable receptions and is likely headed for a bit of scoring regression, but I'd certainly be comfortable taking him in the teens.

Austan Kas: Fair enough. I agree with a lot of what you said.

Elisha Twerski: Let me ask you this -- who are the backs going after Henry that you'd be comfortable taking ahead of him?

Austan Kas: I'd take Joe Mixon, Miles Sanders and Kenyan Drake before Henry.

What about you? Would you take any of them before Henry?

Elisha Twerski: If it's full-PPR, without a doubt. In half-PPR formats, I'd have a real conundrum on my hands. In that scenario, Mixon's the only guy I can confidently say I'd pick ahead of Henry.

Austan Kas: I didn't mean to give off the impression I think Henry is wayyy overpriced. It's just if I'm taking a back in the first, I want that back to get a ton of volume, both rushing and receiving, and that's just not Henry.

OK, so who is a back you're staying away from, Elisha?

Elisha Twerski: I feel you there. Taking Henry in the first in any sort of PPR format is a risk.

As for who I'd fade, I'd have to say Leonard Fournette. I just can't get on board with his ADP.

In 15 games last season, Fournette finished as the RB20 (half-PPR) or worse in 9 of them. He finished as the RB10 or worse in 12 of 15. That's not a lot of upside for a guy being drafted inside the top 25.

As far as efficiency, "yikes" would be the best description. Among backs with at least 75 carries last season, he finished 29 in Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) per carry and 43rd in Rushing Success Rate (i.e., the percentage of carries that lead to positive NEP for a team’s offense). He also finished 30th in the more traditional yards per carry.

It's hard to imagine, but Fournette was even less efficient as a receiver. Among the 46 backs to garner at least 30 targets last year, he ranked 44th in Reception NEP per reception, 43rd in Target NEP per target, and 39th in Reception Success Rate. Yowzers.

Ryquell Armstead didn't fare better as a rusher, but he did in his limited work as a receiver. Both he and newly-acquired Chris Thompson should eat into Fournette's workload in that department for the Jacksonville Jaguars. That lowers his upside significantly.

How do you feel about Fournette? Are you comfortable selecting him at his current ADP?

Austan Kas: Well, I wouldn't say I like him, but I also wouldn't say I don't.

Once you get past the first couple tiers and you get into the teens at the position, it's not easy to find guys who should get a lot of volume. Fournette should get that, so that keeps him on my radar. I hear you on the efficiency, and Jacksonville may be miserable offensively. But we have LF projected for 276 total touches (229 rushes and 47 receptions). I can handle that around his price of RB15. I got him as the RB19 (as my third back) recently in my Scott Fish Bowl draft, and I'm more than OK with him there.

So, in short, he's not a guy I'm queuing up at the start of my draft, but I'd be OK with him as my RB2 based on his volume projection.

I do think the upside is lacking, though.

Elisha Twerski: I don't love our projection of 47 receptions. I think that's very optimistic. But as the RB19, I don't hate your pick.

Who else are you fading at the position?

Austan Kas: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who is going 23rd overall as the RB14. I love the player, but I don't like the price. I get the allure. CEH is really good at football, and the landing spot couldn't be better. As soon as that pick popped up on my TV on draft night, I let out an "Oh, ----."

But I think the hype is a little much in redraft. I'm not sure the upside will be there in Year 1. Our model has CEH ranked as the RB18 in half-PPR, and I think that's a more realistic price.

If CEH gets a workhorse role, then the ceiling is incredibly high. But I think Damien Williams will eat away at enough work each week to cap the upside. We project Williams for 143 carries and 24 catches, and the Chiefs' running backs coach just talked up Williams. Maybe that was pure coachspeak, but at the end of the day, I don't think CEH gets enough consistent volume each week to pay off at his price.

Where do you stand on Edwards-Helaire? Is this a fade I'm going to be embarrassed about when he takes a screen to the house every other week?

Elisha Twerski: Embarrassed? No. Perturbed? Perhaps.

The fact that Williams is still there is something that many seem to be overlooking. DWill has been excellent for Kansas City, and I don't see him being relegated to a minuscule role.

But -- and this is a big "but" -- CEH is a unique position. He was the first running back an Andy Reid-team has ever drafted in the first round, and until that pick, the Chiefs had been one of those front offices that didn't seem to be keen on investing much capital at the position. I also let out an "Oh, ----!" when he was drafted, though I'm not sure if my "Oh, ----" was the same as your "Oh, ----."

Another thing to remember is that Damien has missed at least five games in two of his last three campaigns. The possibility of CEH falling into a workhorse role is not too far-fetched.

Would I select him as the RB14? Probably not. But I would be comfortable drafting him in the 25-30 range of my drafts.

Austan Kas: Yeah, I'm definitely fearful I could miss out on something big here, but I think we start to see CEH's ceiling in 2021, assuming Williams is gone.

Do you have another running back you're fading?

Elisha Twerski: Boy, do I ever!

Remember all the inefficiencies I mentioned with Fournette? Well, one guy who was even less efficient was David Montgomery.

Of the 50 backs to receive at least 75 carries, Montgomery ranked 45th in Rushing NEP per carry and 41st in Rushing Success Rate. Among qualifiers, he was 41st in yards per carry.

Montgomery failed to reach double-digit fantasy points (half-PPR formats) in 10 of his 16 games last year. On average, he finished as the RB32 (31.6, to be exact). Just gross.

His current ADP has him going ahead of guys like D'Andre Swift, Mark Ingram, and Cam Akers. I can’t get on board with that. I’m not sure I’d even take Montgomery ahead of Damien Williams, who we just touched on.

What are your feelings on Montgomery? Are you expecting a second-year turnaround?

Austan Kas: I want no part of Montgomery, and if I was in a draft and got to a point where I was so bad at running back that I thought I needed to take him and start him, I might quit the league. Like I said with Fournette, any back getting a ton of volume is a guy we need to have at least some interest in. But not only is Montgomery really inefficient, he also loses a lot of pass-game snaps to Tarik Cohen, so I'm with you and probably won't have any shares of Monty this season.

Elisha Twerski: I'd quit the league right along with you if I was in that situation.

While we're on the topic of quitting, this seems like a good time to wrap things up.

As usual, thanks for the fantastic insights! You'll definitely have people thinking twice about some high-profile names.

Austan Kas: Thanks for asking me to do this. I always come away feeling like I want to do a draft immediately.

Elisha Twerski: Now's as good a time as ever haha