Average draft position can move sharply as the summer progresses, and understanding it is crucial to constructing an effective draft strategy. For the rest of the fantasy draft season, we’ll take a look at changes in ADP with some of fantasy’s most intriguing players to help you get the most value out of each and every one of your draft picks. This week, we examine three running backs who have experienced sharp increases or decreases in their stock during the month of August. All ADP numbers are courtesy of Fantasy Football Calculator as of Aug. 25.
Rashad Jennings, New York Giants
Player before: Vincent Jackson (34.6)
Player after: C.J. Spiller (36.1)
On July 30, Jennings’ draft stock reached its nadir. According to Fantasy Football Calculator, his ADP dipped into the fifth round on that day. Four days later, Andre Williams ran for 48 yards and a touchdown, while Jennings picked up just 23 yards on seven carries in the Giants’ first preseason game. His ADP crept back into the fourth round, but just barely, as he was the last pick in the round in a typical draft. Early in the preseason, the Jennings naysayers -- and believe me, there are many -- looked to have an argument.
Everything started to turn for Jennings in the next week. On the Giants’ first play from scrimmage in their second preseason game against the Steelers, Jennings took a handoff from Eli Manning 73 yards to the house. He finished that game with 85 yards on five carries. In the team’s dress rehearsal against the Jets last week, he had 13 totes for 67 yards, getting more than five yards per carry against what figures to be a sound run defense. Jennings’ ADP has been climbing steadily since that 73-yard score against the Steelers, and he’s now into the late-third round. That is where this breakout candidate belongs.
Even with Williams handling the goal-line duties, Jennings can be a star for fantasy owners this season. He has always performed when given a chance. Jennings has 387 carries in his career, which amounts to a little bit more than an average season’s worth for a workhorse running back. He has 1,677 career rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. He has averaged 4.3 yards per carry, flashing his home-run ability. This preseason, Jennings has two carries for at least 20 yards on just 32 totes. That 6.3-percent “big-play” rate is double what last year’s leader of 20-plus yard carries, Alfred Morris, put up over the entire season. Of course the sample is too small to draw any conclusions, but the takeaway is that Jennings has that club in his bag.
Moreover, we’ve been preaching the WR-WR draft strategy for most of the summer here at SI.com. As stated earlier, Jennings now has an ADP that makes him the last pick of the third round in a 12-team league. Starting out with two receivers like, say, A.J. Green and Brandon Marshall, then adding Jennings in the third round would be a core that could lead you to the championship.
Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens
Player before: Bishop Sankey (48.8)
Player after: Andrew Luck (49.7)
While it’s easy to explain Jennings’ rise up draft boards, it’s hard to come up with an explanation for Rice’s parallel ascent. I suppose he has looked decent in the preseason, but we’re not in the business of significantly altering a player’s ranking based on five carries. Bernard Pierce’s concussion could have something to do with it, as well. Pierce is expected to start for the Ravens while Rice is suspended, and he looms as a serious threat to steal the starting job away from the incumbent. However, if he is not at 100 percent on Week 1, it would seriously hamper his ability to show the coaches enough to earn starter’s touches with Rice back. Rice appears a bit safer from the Pierce threat, but enough to be taken early in the fifth round? I don’t think so.
Rather than looking at Rice, I think the explanation lies in the other running backs typically selected in his neighborhood or shortly thereafter. These include Sankey, Shane Vereen, Joique Bell, Chris Johnson, Ben Tate and Trent Richardson. I think fantasy owners' discomfort with some of these players, coupled with Rice’s name brand, is the primary culprit for his rising draft stock. I’m here to tell you to embrace the unknown, especially if that means taking a pass on Rice. He has no business having his name called at the beginning of the fifth round.
Rice may be just 27 years old, but he’s about as old in football years as 27 gets. Including the postseason, Rice has 2,156 touches in his career. By comparison, fellow 2008 draftee Matt Forte has more than 100 fewer touches than Rice. Marshawn Lynch, who came into the league a year before Rice, has 2,084 touches. All that mileage started to show last year, as Rice ran for a paltry 3.1 yards per carry and averaged just 5.5 yards per reception. According to Pro Football Focus’ metrics, Rice was the worst running back in the league last year. The Ravens’ line didn’t help, but, then again, Rice will have largely the same group in front of him this year.
Don’t be afraid of guys like Vereen, Bell and Tate. They all offer more upside and a higher floor than Rice. At the same time, intriguing receivers like Michael Floyd and DeSean Jackson are coming off the board right around Rice. He cannot be trusted at his ADP.
Steven Jackson, Atlanta Falcons
Player before: Golden Tate (79.3)
Player after: Sammy Watkins (80.5)
Jackson was supposed to bring an element to the Atlanta offense last year that it lacked after Michael Turner ceased being The Burner. Instead, Jackson couldn’t shake the injury bug all year, and picked up just 543 yards on 157 carries. Still, one month ago, fantasy owners were willing to overlook Jackson’s injury-riddled 2013 campaign. He had an ADP in the middle of the sixth round, a reasonable price for an aging back who can still be effective when health. Then he nicked up his hamstring early in training camp, and everything took a sharp downward turn
Jackson finally returned to practice on Monday after missing about three weeks of camp. While a veteran like him doesn’t really need training camp for the purposes of knowing the team’s system, an injury-prone player could certainly use the reps at game speed to get ready for the season. It seems unlikely that he’ll see any action in Atlanta’s final preseason game, meaning that the first time he suits up may be in the team’s Week 1 matchup with the Saints.
The news that Jackson returned to practice didn’t curb his freefall on draft boards. He’s now coming off the board late in the seventh round of a typical 12-team draft. He was once considered a potential RB2, but he’s now outside the top 30 at the position in ADP. I’d even have trouble taking him that high, with players like Darren Sproles, Bernard Pierce, Fred Jackson, Carlos Hyde and Terrance West usually still available. It’s simply too hard to believe that Jackson will stay healthy this season. Atlanta is likely to rely on the passing game as much as any team in the league, especially with Julio Jones and Roddy White at full strength. Rookie Devonta Freeman has been impressive in the preseason. The Florida State product may need to improve in pass protection, but there’s no doubt as to what he can do when he gets the ball in his hands. That should mean he’ll get plenty of touches at Jackson’s expense. I wouldn’t trust the former fantasy star as anything more than an RB4 this season.