Why Joseph Randle's Average Draft Position Isn't All That Bad

As the likely starting running back behind a loaded Dallas offensive line, Randle could be ready to produce in 2015.

Running behind the Dallas offensive line is a dream situation for a running back. Just ask Demarco Murray, who, behind the strength of the Cowboys’ elite lineman crew, reached a career best 1,845 rushing yards last year.

Murray is undoubtedly a talent in his own right, with 998 of his rushing yards coming after contact. That said, his line often gave him plenty of yardage before he had to do any dirty work, as he averaged roughly 2.16 yards per carry before contact on his 393 rushing attempts. To give that figure some perspective with respect to other elite backs, Matt Forte averaged 1.71 yards before contact last year, Eddie Lacy was at 1.84, and Marshawn Lynch at 1.72. Two top-flight backs with a similar yards before contact mark were LeSean McCoy (2.15) and Le’Veon Bell (2.25), but the Eagles’ line is widely considered an elite unit, and the Steelers placed top 10 in run blocking last year per Pro Football Focus.

This offseason, the Cowboys managed to actually add talent to their already stacked offensive line by signing undrafted free agent La’el Collins from LSU. Normally, a UDFA signing is hardly worth noting in a preseason fantasy article, but Collins is not a normal case. He would have likely been a first-round draft pick, but was linked to the murder of his ex-girlfriend right before the draft, which scared off every team. He has been found of no wrongdoing, and now finds himself trying to earn a starting spot on the line, most likely at a guard position. Regardless of how much he plays, he adds a nice insurance piece should someone along their offensive line get injured.

With Murray out of the picture, and the only truly experienced back on the roster being the oft-injured Darren McFadden, there are carries up for grabs in Dallas. A lot of them. Joseph Randle is the man many assume will take over the lion's share of the carries in the backfield, making him an intriguing fantasy selection. With his ADP on the rise, it's worth looking at Randle’s potential as the man in Dallas.

Randle By the Numbers

Here at numberFire, we use our very own metric, Net Expected Points (NEP), as a means of evaluating position players. NEP is a measure of how many points a player adds to his team’s expected total through his on-field performance (see more on NEP in our glossary).

Seeing as Randle only has 105 career carries (51 last year), we aren't working with a large sample size here. What we can do, though, is look at Randle’s performance in various metrics compared to backs who saw a similar number of touches last year. The following shows where Randle ranked amongst the 35 backs who saw 25 to 75 carries last year across multiple categories:

Rushing NEPPer RushSuccess Rate

Clearly, he ranks highly amongst his peers in terms of Rushing NEP and his efficiency per carry. That's a good sign for a young back, but the Success Rate is reason for a bit of pause on the excitement. Success Rate is a percentage of how many of a running back’s carries yielded a positive NEP. For Randle, that happened just over 35% of the time. In other words, he was a bit of a boom or bust back in 2014.

Our own Brandon Gdula compared Randle to Lance Dunbar, and found that Dunbar fared far worse than Randle in Rushing NEP and efficiency in that same sample. Dunbar had 28 carries to Randle’s 51, but his metrics were worse across the board except for a marginal 4% improvement at Success Rate. Dunbar doesn't have the prototypical size (5’8”, 195 pounds) of a lead back, and figures to serve as more of a change-of-pace pass catcher than full blown threat to Randle’s touches.

McFadden is really the only danger to Randle’s carry total, but his best days as a runner seem behind him. He’s had three straight seasons of sub-4.0 yards per carry, and last year was the first time he managed to play in all 16 games in his entire career. He posted the second worst Rushing NEP among all running backs to have received a carry last year, and his Success Rate falls almost exactly where Randle’s was. To be fair, the Oakland line he was running behind cannot match the prowess of what Dallas has, but it seems highly unlikely a good offensive line will completely rejuvenate his relatively disappointing career.

Randle’s Upside

The Cowboys were one of only four teams last year that had over 500 rushing attempts (including quarterback runs). Of their 508 total attempts, 472 of them went to running backs. Murray saw over 80% of those running plays, making him one of the league's true bell-cow backs in 2014.

I find it doubtful that the Cowboys stress the running game quite as much this upcoming season as they did last year due to the relatively unknown abilities of their backs. Expect the Cowboys to lean more on Tony Romo this year without the presence of a proven feature talent like Murray on the roster.

This isn't to suggest there won’t be plenty of carries to be had in Dallas next year. A bunch of rushing attempts is the clearest path a running back has to fantasy relevance, so it is important to take a look at how many carries Randle might see next year.

Let’s assume that the Cowboys will, in fact, run the ball less in 2015. The Giants had the 10th most carries in the league last year with 449 (419 carries for running backs), so that seems like a reasonable landing spot for the Cowboys next year. If Randle even gets 65% of those carries, a far lower percentage than Murray had last season, that would put him at roughly 272 carries next season. Only four backs in the NFL had a greater number of carries than that last season, but it doesn't seem like a ridiculous projection considering Randle is likely to be the Cowboys’ lead back, and we know they like to feed their top back carries. If Randle is given carries in the mid-200 range, he could easily see upwards of 1,000 yards to go along with plenty of scoring chances.

The ADP Question

As I have covered thus far, Randle performed well in a limited sample size last season, and he stands to see a huge uptick in opportunity this year. Those are two signs that a player could be on the verge of breaking out, and makes Randle a very attractive option in upcoming fantasy drafts.

The only thing preventing Randle from being a slam-dunk sleeper pick, however, is that he is basically the worst kept secret in fantasy football. He is currently being drafted as an RB2 in most leagues, and his ADP has absolutely skyrocketed over the past few months. Per, his ADP was sitting in the mid-11th round (for a 12 team league) in early May. Now? He’s all the way up to being an early fourth rounder. His ADP has been roughly that high for about a month now, but I expect another spike to the mid-third range once preseason games roll around.

Clearly, the cat is out of the bag with Randle. Still, though, his fourth-round price tag is not overly concerning to me. He's being drafted in the same range as players like Latavius Murray, Carlos Hyde, and Todd Gurley -- players who all have question marks themselves. I would have loved to nab him in the later rounds, but it was only a matter of time until people started to catch on. Regardless, Randle has the makings of a big time fantasy contributor in 2015.