RB Post-Hype Candidates

published 08/02/19 1:50:18 PM EDT
by Tom Brolley

It’s said that an eye on the past can help guide the future. In this article, I’ll look back at players who had high ADPs last season who’ve fallen out of favor in 2019 to see if there’s still reason for hope for these players. Every year, there are dozens of players who fail to deliver on high expectations and 2018 was no different. For each of these players, there were reasons why they were held in such high regard before last season and there were reasons why they failed to live up to the hype. I’m ultimately looking to see if there’s still reason to believe in these players even after the masses have turned their attention elsewhere.

NOTE: PPR ADP courtesy of Fantasy Football Calculator.

Post-Hype Candidates

Todd Gurley (2018 RB1, 2019 RB8)

  • Reasons for the hype in 2018: Gurley went from being a pedestrian back under Jeff Fisher to being the undisputed top fantasy RB in one season. His fantasy owners also enjoyed the most productive fantasy playoff stretch (Weeks 14-16) in the history of fantasy football in 2017.

  • Why he failed to live up to expectations: Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you know that Gurley has been dealing with an arthritic knee since the final weeks of the 2018 season. He has been plummeting down draftboards since the spring, especially after the Rams drafted RB Darrell Henderson in the third round.

  • Should we still be excited in 2019: I’ve faded Gurley all summer long, which has me slightly worried given how dominant he was for nearly two straight seasons until his play tailed off at the end of last season because of his bad knee. Gurley clearly the upside to be the RB1 as we’ve seen in recent years, but I think he has a much better chance to hit his floor this season because of his knee and Henderson’s presence. Healthy knees are critical to executing the one-cut-and-go approach in the Rams’ outside zone running game. I’m skeptical of Gurley’s knee staying healthy enough to keep the same burst and explosion that we’ve seen from him in previous seasons.

Leonard Fournette (2018 RB8, 2019 RB16)

  • Reasons for the hype in 2018: Fournette finished as the RB8 during his rookie season in 2017, and he looked poised for another big year playing in one of the league’s most run-heavy offenses.

  • Why he failed to live up to expectations: Fournette couldn’t stay healthy as a rookie and he ran into more issues last season, playing in just eight games because of nagging hamstring, foot, and ankle issues. He also averaged a miserable 3.3 YPC and he’s now finished under 4.0 YPC in each of his first two seasons.

  • Should we still be excited in 2019: Fournette’s injury concerns and his career 3.7 YPC average are screaming for me to avoid him this year, but I can’t quit him just yet. The Jaguars dumped the pitiful Blake Bortles and brought in a competent QB in Nick Foles, and Fournette will likely benefit the most from the move. He’s set up to be a three-down back this season with T.J. Yeldon out of the picture, and he’s quietly averaged 2.8 catches per game in his first two seasons. Both Fournette and Ezekiel Elliott each had 58 career catches after two seasons playing in run-oriented offenses, and I think Fournette has an outside chance of doubling his career catches this season much like Zeke did last season. I also think Fournette should be more efficient and top 4.0 YPC this season since opposing defenses will actually have to respect Foles and this passing attack. I’m giving Fournette one more chance this summer.

Devonta Freeman (2018 RB12, 2019 RB18)

  • Reasons for the hype in 2018: Freeman regressed from being the RB7 in 2016 to the RB17 in 2017 after the loss of OC Kyle Shanahan to San Francisco. The Falcons did keep their O-line intact last off-season and they added first-round pick Calvin Ridley to the mix, so there was some hope the Falcons could get back to their 2016 form.

  • Why he failed to live up to expectations: Freeman had a season from absolute hell, picking up three different injuries (knee, foot, groin) that limited him to just two games.

  • Should we still be excited in 2019: Freeman is in a much better position to be an upper-echelon fantasy RB this season, but he’s coming in at a discounted price this summer because of his injury-ravaged 2018 campaign. Picking up three major injuries in such a short span of time last season could be a sign that Freeman’s body is breaking down, but I can’t pass up the opportunity to pick a potential workhorse at a discounted rate. Tevin Coleman (49ers) left behind 167 carries and 44 targets from last season, and Ito Smith looked in over his head last season as a rookie — he averaged 3.5 YPC and 5.6 YPR. The Falcons also spent the off-season upgrading this offensive line, especially along the interior by adding James Carpenter and Chris Lindstrom. Freeman could reach 300+ touches for the first time since 2015 while doing it behind the best O-line he’s played behind in six years. Sign me up.

Jordan Howard (2018 RB13, 2019 RB37)

  • Reasons for the hype in 2018: Howard opened his career with consecutive campaigns with 1100+ rushing yards, and he looked poised for another big season in an improved offense with new HC Matt Nagy and plenty of new receiving weapons. Howard’s ADP did dip 15-20 spots from the 2017 preseasons but there was some hope for a big season playing in a better offense.

  • Why he failed to live up to expectations: Howard once again reached 250 carries last season, but his YPC dropped for the third straight year to 3.7 YPC. Nagy had seen enough of Howard’s pedestrian skillset and traded him away to Philadelphia for a light haul (sixth-round pick) this off-season.

  • Should we still be excited in 2019: Howard’s efficiency as a runner has regressed three straight seasons, and he’s been a below-average receiver. HC Doug Pederson has also heavily preferred using RBBC in his first three seasons, and the Eagles used the #53 overall pick on Miles Sanders this spring. As long as this backfield stays intact, It’s hard to see many paths to fantasy success for Howard. He’s unlikely to see heavy volume or extensive passing-game work, so his best path is to hit double-digit TDs as the team’s goal-line back. I can certainly see a scenario in which Howard becomes a goal-line stud in this potent Eagles offense, but the odds aren’t worth it even at his severely reduced price from last season.

Royce Freeman (2018 RB15, 2019 RB39)

  • Reasons for the hype in 2018: The Broncos had next to nothing on their depth chart after releasing C.J. Anderson last off-season. The Broncos used a third-round pick on Freeman, and he looked ready to take potentially over a three-down role as a rookie.

  • Why he failed to live up to expectations: UDFA rookie Phillip Lindsay stunned the league by leapfrogging the entire RB depth chart and taking control of this backfield. Freeman finished with a disappointing 144 touches after looking like a potential candidate to see 250+ touches before the season.

  • Should we still be excited in 2019: The Broncos seemingly want to reduce Lindsay’s workload from his rookie season, and they’ve repeatedly said they want to get Freeman more involved in his sophomore season. Freeman does have the potential to be a three-down back, but he’s easily the worst receiving back in Denver right now after they added Theo Riddick on Aug. 1. This Broncos’ backfield has the potential to be one of the more frustrating fantasy groups this season. They could have three backs on the fringes of fantasy relevance without a single fantasy breadwinner in the group. With that said, Freeman feels like the best Broncos back to bet in case the Broncos brass is dead set on making Freeman their lead runner. I ended up drafting Lindsay on 5% of my best ball teams last summer because he outplayed Freeman and saw more first-team snaps last preseason. I think their preseason usage could be critical once again to see just how serious they are about elevating Freeman over Lindsay.

LeSean McCoy (2018 RB16, 2019 RB41)

  • Reasons for the hype in 2018: Shady looked to be in a potentially tough spot coming into last season with a rookie QB and a revamped offensive line, but he also looked like a smart bet to hit 250+ touches for the eighth time in nine seasons.

  • Why he failed to live up to expectations: The Bills’ offensive concerns should’ve been taken much more seriously as Shady finished below 4.0 YPC for the first time in his career. In fact, he wasn’t even close to that barometer of success at a miserable 3.2 YPC. The offense’s ineptitude held McCoy to just 195 touches in 14 games

  • Should we still be excited in 2019: I didn’t go near McCoy last season and I won’t be doing it again even at his severely reduced price. They signed fantasy pest Frank Gore, drafted Devin Singletary in the third round, and signed passing back T.J. Yeldon. McCoy is now 31 years old and has 2821 touches to his name, and he’s not even guaranteed to be on the roster before the season starts.

Jerick McKinnon (2018 RB19, 2019 RB45)

  • Reasons for the hype in 2018: McKinnon steadily improved during his first four seasons in Minnesota, and he cashed in during free agency, inking a four-year, $30 million contract with $15.7 million guaranteed. McKinnon looked locked in as the clear top runner and receiver in a 49ers offense captained by one of the NFL’s most creative offensive playcallers in Kyle Shanahan.

  • Why he failed to live up to expectations: Unfortunately, McKinnon suffered a torn ACL just days before the start of the season, which was the beginning of the end for a 49ers squad that had big expectations for the 2018 season.

  • Should we still be excited in 2019: I haven’t been a big fan of McKinnon at his price all summer. I’ve preferred to either spend up on Tevin Coleman (RB29) or spend down on Matt Breida (RB57) when attacking this backfield. The 49ers aren’t going to rush McKinnon’s return since they do have great depth at running back, and he started training camp on the PUP list. It’s even conceivable that McKinnon is a gameday inactive at times early in the season since Raheem Mostert is valuable on special teams and the 49ers may not want to dress four RBs. I like the skillset of a healthy McKinnon and what he could do in this offense, but Shanahan already has two healthier backs with similar skillsets at his disposal to start the season.

Carlos Hyde (2018 RB25, 2019 RB49)

  • Reasons for the hype in 2018: The Browns gave Hyde a three-year, $15 million contract in the off-season to make him their lead runner in an improving offense. He also posted career-best numbers in 2017 thanks to new HC Kyle Shanahan.

  • Why he failed to live up to expectations: The Browns selected Nick Chubb in the second round that spring and they also still had Duke Johnson in the fold as a passing back. Once the Browns fired Hue Jackson and Todd Haley it didn’t take long for Hyde to be shown the door, as well. Luckily, the Browns were able to salvage a fifth-round pick from the Jags in exchange for Hyde.

  • Should we still be excited in 2019: I’ve never been a big Hyde fan, and I can’t even get excited about him this season even though he’ll be playing in the NFL’s best offense. There are some who are skeptical about Damien Williams operating as a true three-down back for 16 games, but I’d much rather pay the much cheaper price on rookie RB Darwin Thompson than draft a deteriorating Hyde. Also, the Chiefs only gave a Hyde a one-year, $2.8 million contract this off-season, so they’re certainly not married to using him this season.

Dion Lewis (2018 RB26, 2019 RB56)

  • Reasons for the hype in 2018: Lewis was the most important back for the Patriots during their Super Bowl run in 2017, averaging 5.0 YPC and finishing as the RB17 in fantasy. He cashed in with a four-year, $20 million contract with the Titans, and Lewis’ versatility seemingly made him a perfect for new OC Matt LaFleur’s offense.

  • Why he failed to live up to expectations: Lewis and the rest of this Titans’ offense struggled for most of the season with QB Marcus Mariota dragging down the whole operation. When the Titans actually started to have some offensive success at the end of last season, it was based largely on the heavy workload and effective running of fellow RB Derrick Henry.

  • Should we still be excited in 2019: Lewis literally went from being a sneaky sharp fantasy selection last season to being an absolute ghost in the lead up to this season. It seems like a good opportunity to jump back in on Lewis at an extremely reduced price. Henry is capable of being a workhorse back — he carried it 395 times in his final season at Alabama in 2015 — but he’s yet to show it for 16 games in the NFL. The Titans appear ready to give Henry as many carries as he can handle, but Lewis still has a chance to carve out a passing back role here. The Titans also still have a laughable RB depth chart behind their top two backs, so Lewis could be thrust into a 20+ touch role per week if Henry would miss time.

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Tom Brolley
Tom Brolley

@TomBrolley

Tom Brolley is the better half of The Fantasy Free Agents Podcast with his partner Joe Dolan. Brolley owned a 53.8% winning percentage picking every game against the spread for his old site over the last two seasons.