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Aug 13

Running Back Context: bonus edition, fantasy rbs 13-30

As part of our comprehensive draft guide I shared a piece on the importance of assessing a player’s team and offensive context when deciding on his relative value compared to other players at the position. Along that line of thinking, it is worth noting that six of our consensus top twelve fantasy RBs ranked as RB1s in twelve team leagues are operating in new offensive systems this year. In a series of posts, we took a look at the impact of this change of on each player.

Consider this a winstallment with some quick notes on the remaining top thirty back in new situations. Check the previous RB Context pieces at the following links: Trent RichardsonJamaal CharlesMatt ForteSteven Jackson, CJ Spiller and LeSean McCoy.

Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen – New England Patriots

The coaching structure and the starters on the offensive line remain the same so Ridley and Vereen may seem like strange names in this piece, but it is worth nothing that their situation has changed considerably – most notably so for Shane Vereen.

The presumption is, particularly in the early weeks, that New England may run the ball more given the uncertainty they have with their pass catchers. This ignores the fact of course that New England already carried the ball 32.7 times per game last season – good for second in the league. They can only add so many more rushing attempts and Tom Brady seems to be adjusting to his new receivers just fine. Ridley picked up 290 carries and added 12 touchdowns last season while starting just eleven games officially, so while he may be leaned on somewhat more heavily in the coming season, he wasn’t short on work in 2012 and the value-add may be limited.

Vereen, though, faces a different situation. Gone is Danny Woodhead (the team’s chief third down back) and indeed there is a scarcity of proven talent in the Wide Receiver/Tight End corps. Cue Vereen who caught just eight footballs last season but is anticipated to fill the void left by Woodhead’s trip to San Francisco. Vereen evidently has been used in a variety of roles in training camp, including being used as a ‘joker’ – a role previously occupied by Aaron Hernandez. The young back had four targets in New England’s first preseason game (including a touchdown reception) and stands to pick up a big chunk of the RB reception work this year. Knowing that, he’s worth a look in your draft around the time the timeshare starters begin to come off the board.

New Lions Running Back Reggie Bush should see plenty of receptions under OC Scott Linehan (Photo: USATSI).

New Lions Running Back Reggie Bush should see plenty of receptions under OC Scott Linehan (Photo: USATSI).

Reggie Bush – Detroit Lions

We know that the Lions didn’t spend a lot of time running the ball last year, given Matthew Stafford‘s league record in pass attempts; indeed their 391 rush attempts ranked 25th in the NFL. Bush isn’t necessarily a back who thrives off of a typical carry workload anyhow, despite his demonstrated ability to shoulder the load while in Miami. This year, while he projects as the team’s starting running back, you can expect Bush to be more involved running to the outside and catching the football – recall that early this offseason Lions’ coach Jim Schwartz and Scott Linehan each projected a season in the 60-80 catch range for Bush. While still playing for New Orleans in 2009 Bush graded out as ProFootballFocus’ 4th bass pass catching back and boasts a career 7.3 yards per reception. 80 catches coupled with even 175 carries should make Bush a productive back, and a season in the 1300 total yard and seven score range wouldn’t be a stretch in what should be a more diverse Lions offense. While Mikel LeShoure will likely function as Detroit’s goal line back, it’s worth noting that Bush has never been the lead dog inside the 20s and he still has never scored fewer than six touchdowns in a season with more than eight games played.

Darren McFadden – Oakland Raiders

Thankfully for Raiders fans and McFadden owners, gone is offensive coordinator Greg Knapp and his zone blocking scheme. McFadden simply was not a fit for that style of run game, and his 2012 season was forgettable – in fact, it was awful. McFadden was ranked as the worst eligible running back overall via PFF, including second worst in the pass game, and dead last in the run. It won’t be challenging to improve on last year’s numbers, but you’ll need more than that to sink a 3rd or 4th round pick into DMC. The good news is that there is reason to believe that change is coming. McFadden still carries the typical fantasy caveats and the bust meter reads very high here given his injury risk, but he did give owners 12 starts last season which is more than enough to contribute when he’s running right. While Greg Olson doesn’t arrive in Oakland with an overwhelming pedigree as an offensive coach he does bring with him a power running scheme that seems to be better suited to McFadden’s style – he works well as a downhill runner, and again the PFF numbers agree with this (10th best back in 2010 is an improvement on worst in 2012). Again while DMC bears an injury risk and as OC Olson has never participated in an offense that ranked better than 23rd in rushing yards the scheme is a better fit for McFadden and most would remind you he’s a special player when on the field. If he stays on the field for even 13 games (tying a career high) he should pay a solid return on his current draft price.

Chris Ivory – New York Jets

Former Saint running back Chris Ivory arrives in New York free of the logjam that was frustrating both for him and his fantasy owners during his days in New Orleans. Particularly with Mike Goodson‘s legal troubles the path to carries is significantly clearer for Ivory than ever before in his career and Ivory has landed on a Jets team with (if you haven’t heard already) massive issues at both the Quarterback and Wide Receiver positions; expect this offense to go through the Halfback. Last year, the Jets ran the ball 494 times and while the offensive coordinator has changed (and the QB may as well), the fact that a Rex Ryan coached team ran the ball more than all but five teams last year with a 6-10 record means that we can expect similar volume from the run game this year – no matter how tough the Jets have it. Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg hasn’t coordinated a top ten running game since 1998 while with the San Francisco 49ers, but he hasn’t had a situation quite like New York since then either (and he’s worked under the pass-happy Andy Reid for most of his career). Expect the Jets to commit to the run and for the run game to go through Ivory provided he proves capable of handling the load.

Rashard Mendenhall – Arizona Cardinals

Bruce Arians has gained much of his acclaim as a coordinator who works well with the passing game. He doesn’t try to hide who he is and we won’t espouse him as a revolutionary leader for the run game in Arizona either. That said Mendenhall now leaves Pittsburgh behind, where he struggled with health and effectiveness last year, and finds himself entrenched as the unquestioned starter in the desert. You won’t see any of Arians’ backs come up with a lot of receptions so discount Mendenhall in PPR leagues, but expect him to see a reasonable workload for Arizona if for no other reason than Ryan Williams hasn’t proven capable as an NFL Running Back as yet. The Cardinals finished last in the league in rushing in 2012 behind a woeful offensive line, but things have changed in free agency, and Carson Palmer warrants more respect as a passer from opposing defenses than the revolving door the team had under Center last year. Both factors taken together suggest that Mendenhall should enjoy more room to run in 2013 than did Arizona’s Running Backs in 2012. A tidbit worth keeping in mind: both parties were in Pittsburgh in 2012 and Mendenhall finished the season as fantasy’s 7th best back with 1440 total yards and 13 scores.

Ahmad Bradshaw – Indianapolis Colts

Let’s get one important caveat out of the way with Ahmad Bradshaw from the get-go: he’s not played 16 games since 2010 and is still hobbling from last season. In 2010 when he last played in all 16 contests though, he was fantasy’s 13th best RB; last year – despite missing two games and four starts – he was still inside the top 20. He is a productive back but if you draft him you’ve got to know that he’ll be in the he’s going to be in the “gametime decision pile” more often than not. This year in Indianapolis he’s expected to be an upgrade over Donald Brown and Vick Ballard, and the shift from Bruce Arians to Pep Hamilton’s West Coast Offense suggests that the Running Backs should be a bigger part of the offense as well. Of course backs have always been a part of the scheme in New York as well, so you shouldn’t necessarily pencil in an upgrade from last season for Bradshaw. What’s clear is that Andrew Luck and the Indy offense were missing some support from the run game last year, and Hamilton will be wise to make use of Bradshaw to try to fix that issue. When healthy, he’s a very useful back; finishing inside the top 10 of Pro Football Focus’ position grades every year since 2010. You’re getting a presumed availability discount when drafting Bradshaw, so build some depth behind him for the ‘Q’ weeks and get him on your team.

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