This article is part of our DRAFT NFL series.
Following another flurry of signings and trades, perhaps most notably the Brandin Cooks trade and Cam Meredith's offer from New Orleans, the ADP landscape is set to evolve from what we generally saw in the prior couple months.
I joined two more 12-team NFL Best Ball leagues on DRAFT.com, and the terrain already looks a bit different to me. I'll talk about the picks I've made so far as well as some general observations on how the DRAFT market has adjusted in recent days.
Through four rounds in one league and five in the other, I have the following players: DeAndre Hopkins (1.07), Saquon Barkley (1.09), A.J. Green (2.04), Mark Ingram (2.06), Derrick Henry twice (3.07 and 3.09), Adam Thielen (4.04), Kenyan Drake (4.06), and Sammy Watkins (5.07).
Here are my initial reactions:
The Market is Wrong on Derrick Henry
As you can see, I'm about to go on a Derrick Henry buying spree. The drop in his ADP – 26.4 and still falling on DRAFT – is of course due to the Titans signing Dion Lewis. This followed a brief surge in Henry's ADP following the release of DeMarco Murray. I think Lewis is a fine player and it's reasonable to knock Henry's projection at least a little following the signing, but I still think this is one of the most easily-spotted market errors I've seen in some time.
2. Even so, the Tennessee offense should have enough shares of rushing production to go around that both Henry and Lewis can finish the year as top-25 fantasy running backs.
There seems to be some amount of momentum behind the idea that Lewis was signed to be Tennessee's lead back. The distinction wouldn't necessarily mean anything even if Lewis did claim it, but there's also not much reason to think he'll claim it, especially if we're defining 'lead back' to mean the greatest producer from scrimmage. Maybe Lewis will play more snaps than Henry due to the prevalence of passing in today's NFL, but Lewis will see significantly lower usage per snap than Henry will.
It's important to understand that Henry is a more talented runner than Lewis, and it's not especially close. Henry has 4.54 speed at 247 pounds. Lewis ran a 4.56-second 40 at 193 pounds. Derrick Henry is faster than Dion Lewis even though Henry was 54 pounds heavier. Lewis ran for 5.3 yards per rush over 544 carries in the Big East. Henry averaged 6.0 yards per rush over 602 carries in the SEC. Lewis will turn 28 in September, Henry just turned 24.
Lewis is a superior route runner to Henry, and I think he'll be plenty busy in that capacity. I think he'll get about eight carries per game, too. But that's about all.
Whatever the specific split between Henry and Lewis in usage rates, I think the Tennessee offense is a good bet to lead the league in rushing, leaving a big pie for the two runners to split. The Titans hired Matt LaFleur as offensive coordinator, and after working under Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan, LaFleur's approach should be a sharp contrast to the silly, lethargic schemes of Mike Mularkey. Expect the tempo and motion to increase drastically, and expect the combo rushing threat of Mariota and Henry to break open big running lanes. Shanahan and McVay are both tempo innovators, and head coach Mike Vrabel should be inclined toward a high-tempo approach as well after working under Bill O'Brien and Bill Belichick, both of whom reliably lead the league in tempo from year to year.
In some projections I did quickly by hand, operating under the premises that Tennessee's playing pace will be among the league leaders and that general success within the Tennessee offense will yield more extended drives than in the past, I projected about 470 touches from scrimmage to be split between Henry and Lewis. I broke it up to 130 carries and 55 receptions for Lewis, yielding 650 rushing yards and four touchdowns, and 414 receiving yards and three touchdowns. For Henry I projected 262 carries for 1,247 yards and 13 touchdowns, plus 25 receptions for 252 yards and a touchdown.
If Henry were to hit 1,499 yards from scrimmage, it would have ranked eighth-most in the league last year. If he were to total 14 touchdowns from scrimmage, that would have ranked second. Lewis would have plenty of fantasy value of his own in this scenario, with his 1,065 yards and seven touchdowns from scrimmage would have respectively ranked 19th and 16th among running backs.
There is a First-Round RB Bubble and the Elite WRs are Underpriced
Something strange is going on: the running back pool is stronger than it's been in years, yet people are paying more for running backs. The first round of drafts are dominated by running backs. Scarcity is at its lowest level in some time just as the prices peak.
While I wouldn't fault anyone for taking Antonio Brown first overall, I generally side with the consensus that places Le'Veon Bell, Todd Gurley, and Ezekiel Elliott in the first three picks. You could, and many certainly do, argue that David Johnson should be included in the same group, pushing Brown as far as the fifth or sixth pick in some leagues. For a player who hasn't regressed a bit, that's an almost unthinkable devaluation from recent years, when Brown was locked into the top three in almost any sensible league and a conventional first overall selection otherwise.
After Brown goes off the board, you're basically left at the sixth pick with options like DeAndre Hopkins and Odell Beckham at receiver, and Alvin Kamara and Kareem Hunt at running back. Most people are taking both running backs over both receivers. For a rookie coming off a modest-volume rushing workload and a result close to the best-case scenario, Kamara strikes me as risky in this range. Hunt, meanwhile, will always have capped carry volume due to Andy Reid's compulsive tendency to abandon the run, and who knows what specific threat Spencer Ware might pose in his return from injury.
Look: Kamara finished last year with just 120 carries. Do you want to bet on him averaging 6.1 yards per carry again? Do you want to bet on him again catching 81 passes, averaging over eight yards per target? What about if the Saints sign Cam Meredith? Do you think Hunt is likely to post 1,782 yards from scrimmage again with Ware back in the fold? Some regression is likely with these two runners, great as they both are, simply because their plausible usage rates need unsustainable explosiveness to provide the production presumed by these acquisition costs.
Despite paying up as if these two runners will repeat or even improve on last year's numbers, it should be noted that Hopkins averaged more points per game last year in DRAFT's 0.5 PPR scoring than either Kamar or Hunt. Hopkins checked in at 17.6 while Kamara and Hunt respectively averaged 17.1 and 16.9. Beckham's per-game scoring was at just 15.5 over his last 20 games, but in his (more healthy) 27 prior games he was around 19 fantasy points per game. Given the higher injury risk at running back and the need to start three WRs versus two RBs, I'm only taking Kamara or Hunt over Hopkins or Beckham if I'm trying to hedge against my other lineups. Maybe on a 70/30 sort of split.