Top 5 Riskiest Fantasy RBs for 2012
T.S. Eliot once said, "Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." It's a beautiful, and true, sentiment. And it also lets me know that if fantasy football existed in the 1920s, T.S. Eliot would have been an extremely poor fantasy GM.
Some things that apply in the real world just don't work in the fantasy football world. Sure, the Seahawks can try a flier on Terrell Owens and if it doesn't work, cut him before the season with no harm done. If you try a flier with Mr. Driveway Sit-ups, however, then that's one less potential steal you can grab late in your draft. It's all about minimizing risk in fantasy, especially at the top of your draft board. In our Fantasy Draft Kit, we try and help you out with who is risky who isn't, giving a player's "Risk" right next to their fantasy points projection. And this year, there are some guys clearly riskier than others. Here are numberFire's top five running backs that you should probably keep an eye on this season (or at least get a good backup with). Getting one of these guys is flirting with danger, getting two is trying to date Kim Kardashian.
(Note: All average draft positions are accurate as of 8/27/12.)
numberFire's Top Five Riskiest Fantasy RB Picks
Just like a fine wine and most of my past relationships, the main issue here is age and experience. Murray is one of the highest upside picks in the draft, but the flip side to that equation most people forget is that he could also fall a long way. Last season as a rookie, Murray's numbers were spectacular for a back, especially the advanced statistics we like to look at here at numberFire. His +0.04 NEP per play rating was one of the best for all starting backs (especially considering that rushing is usually less efficient than passing), and his 43.6% success rate increasing his team's chance of scoring was the best for any back with at least 125 carries (just barely edging out LeSean McCoy's 43.2%). However, those numbers don't necessarily translate to success the next season. The only two backs with over 125 carries in 2010 to manage a 40% success rate were Jamaal Charles and Shonn Greene, and if they were the core of your fantasy backfield last year, your team has my condolences. I'm also not sold that the Cowboys are entirely giving up on Felix Jones quite yet either - be aware that no single player has had 250 carries for America's Team since Julius Jones in 2006.
I think Run-DMC couldn't have had a better nickname with fantasy owners this year: when you're dealing with him, It's Tricky. On one hand, he's clearly going to be the feature back in Oakland with Michael Bush out of town. But on the other hand, can he handle the load? McFadden's only had over 125 rushing attempts once in his four year NFL career, and he has never played in more than 13 games in a season (7 last year). After looking at him play, it's so easy to swing back the other way because of his talent - he wasn't the fourth overall pick in 2008 for nothing. However, when you look at his advanced numbers, they simply aren't that good. He has never had a positive NEP per play total in his four years in Oakland (his -0.02 NEP per rush last year was his closest), meaning that every time he's rushed the ball for Oakland, he's had a better chance of decreasing their scoring opportunities than raising it. In addition, his success rate has never been above 33% any of his four years (2010 was his highest). The two ways a player can typically bust out are a large number of carries or efficiency with a small number of carries, and McFadden hasn't proven he can do either. I'm sure not going to Walk This Way with a first or early second round pick.
Now that his alma mater's finally out from under a postseason ban, Reggie Bush can finally escape his past behind and become one of the top backs in the league? I wouldn't quite put that on him quite yet if I were you. Just like almost a fifth of the other teams in the league, the Dolphins will start the season with a rookie in Ryan Tannehill under center. And unlike the Colts and Redskins who will get some respect for their rookies, expect teams to stack the box early against the Dolphins and force Tannehill to beat them through the air (spoiler alert: it may not happen). As for his own questionable merits, Reggie Bush proved last year for the first time that he can be a 1000 yard back, but can he sustain it? He wasn't exactly efficient, finishing with -0.07 NEP per rush and a 34% success rate. His 217 rushes were easily the most in his career, even including his college numbers at USC. And for those relying on him getting some yards through the air in case of a low rushes total, his catches are down in Miami's system compared to his years in New Orleans - his 43 receptions in 2011 were the second-lowest total of his career. New Head Coach Joe Philbin and Offensive Coordinator Mike Sherman have never really been known for featuring backs either, coming from Green Bay and Texas A&M, respectively.
In my article about numberFire's Top 5 Fantasy RBs this year, I put a large asterisk next to Jones-Drew's name, saying that he's only a top back if he comes back, and quickly. That article was originally written on Thursday night. Now it's Monday, and... absolutely nothing has changed. Coach Mike Mularkey says that Jones-Drew could play in the opener with the extremely positive phrase, "I don't know where we're at right now. I have no idea." Well now, I sure feel confident about drafting Jones-Drew in the first round of my fantasy draft, don't you? On his own merits, Jones-Drew is absolutely a first round pick, if not top five: 1300+ yards and 200+ fantasy points each of the past three seasons will do that to you. But the recent statistics about backs coming off holdouts aren't pretty. Chris Johnson had the single worst season of his career last year after holding out in Tennessee, and after two straight 1700+ yard seasons in Kansas City, Larry Johnson would never hit 900 yards rushing again after his 2007 holdout. And as a reminder, CJ2K ended his holdout on September 1 last year, and Larry Johnson ended his on August 21, 2007. Today's date is August 27. Let's increase that asterisk from the size of Jacksonville to the size of Florida, if we could.
Any time that you go to google to type in a guy's name and the first suggested item is (Player's Name) Suspension, that's probably not a good thing for your fantasy hopes. To be fair, Lynch isn't likely to be suspended this season due to his July DUI arrest, mostly because he'll be able to push the court dates back far enough so it won't be a factor during the regular season. But if you don't think that will be hanging over his dreadlocked-head, you have much more faith in Lynch than I do. Sure, I'll give you that the stats were there last season, but his 1204 yards in 2011 were the most of his career and the first time he hit the millennium mark since his sophomore year on the Buffalo Bills. Both his NEP per rush rate (-0.08) and his success rate (33%) were the highest marks of his career, indicating that he's either turned a corner or that last year was an outlier (I'll go with the latter). And to pile matters on, he'll now have a rookie QB starting for him, with the announcement today that Russell Wilson has won the starting job in Seattle. If you're an opposing defense, who are you keying in on: the rookie third round draft choice, or the man with 1200+ rushing yards last season? If you can't answer that question correctly, then I don't think I can help you much here.
Zach Warren is a writer and editor for numberFire. Don't agree with what you read? Let him know in the comments, or make your voice heard by shooting him an e-mail at Zach@numberFire.com or on Twitter at @ZachWWarren.