This article is part of our DRAFT NFL series.
With NFL best ball, the distinction between pre-draft and post-draft leagues is almost comparable to that of two entirely different seasons. The first is more of a speculative task, spending picks on players despite not knowing where they'll play or who they'll compete against, whereas the second is a game where the terms are less ambiguous, with the range of possibilities narrowed somewhat.
For all of the spring I was advising people to target Rashaad Penny and Royce Freeman, whose respective DRAFT.com ADPs were as low as 115.2 and 175.2 at one point. Now that the NFL Draft is past us, you'll never see prices half that cheap again. With Penny going in the first round to Seattle and Freeman going in the third to Denver, I think you'll see Penny's ADP price jump from the ninth round to the fourth or fifth, with Freeman's ballooning from the 14th to as high as the fifth or sixth. That's one side of the sword – the other is that I feel dumb for not catching any Christian McCaffrey shares after the Panthers added no running back competition in the draft.
The game has changed, in any case, and it's time to recalibrate our senses in light of the shifting terrain. In upcoming articles I'll talk about some players on DRAFT.com who may need ADP readjustments in our new environment. This article will be about RBs, and WRs will be in the next one.
1. Christian McCaffrey, CAR
The Panthers have obsessively pursued a Thunder-and-Lightning running back tandem since pairing DeAngelo Williams with DeShaun Foster in 2006, then Jonathan Stewart with Williams in 2008, then McCaffrey with Stewart in 2016. Particularly with former GM Marty Hurney back running the show – the same guy who drafted Stewart and signed Mike Tolbert to a then-lucrative contract in 2012 – it seemed like a foregone conclusion that the Panthers would add a power running back of considerable expense following the departure of Stewart this offseason.
But seven rounds passed, and still no thunder. It appears to be just McCaffrey at running back, with Fozzy Whittaker, Cameron Artis-Payne, and maybe Curtis Samuel sprinkled in otherwise. With no obvious power candidate to complement McCaffrey's in-space game, does that mean McCaffrey is set to serve as a true workhorse? It sure seems that way, even if you're generous in your Whittaker/Artis-Payne projections.
I'm not convinced McCaffrey will average four yards per carry in his career, yet even I have to consider him a rising asset. McCaffrey finished last year with an average of 11.9 fantasy points per game in DRAFT's 0.5 PPR scoring. Given that Stewart saw 198 carries last year, McCaffrey's total should jump from 117 to around the 200 range himself. Even if McCaffrey's target volume drops from 113 to 100 or so, he should comfortably project for at least 1,400 yards from scrimmage following a rookie season where he posted 1,086. Even as someone agnostic on his talent, I can't really argue against him as a top-15 pick.
2. Jerick McKinnon, SF
I was worried that the 49ers would draft someone like Royce Freeman and leave McKinnon in a timeshare as a result, a risk that I didn't think was properly factored into his pre-draft ADP, which was trending toward the top of the third round. The 49ers did no such thing, and now McKinnon needs to only withstand competition from Matt Breida, Joe Williams, and Jeremy McNichols.
I still think Breida and McNichols are threats to McKinnon if he doesn't run more effectively than he did in Minnesota. I'm not convinced that a fifth-year back who played behind Latavius Murray last year, with a career 4.0 YPC and 5.2 YPT, is some kind of immovable force. But for now at least there's basically no doubt that San Francisco will give him multiple opportunities to pull far and away as the lead back.
I won't be picking McKinnon in the third all that often myself, but I would take him over Jordan Howard, Jay Ajayi, and maybe Joe Mixon. Those invested in McKinnon undeniably are on sounder footing than they were a couple weeks ago.
3. Lamar Miller, HOU
Miller is injury and inconsistency-prone, and he was long written off as a guy soon to be replaced by D'Onta Foreman. But Foreman's Achilles tear has his early season availability uncertain, and the Texans finished the draft without otherwise adding competition for Miller.
When an incumbent starter has as little competition as Miller would appear to, the question of how good you think he is starts to matter less. The opportunity level alone appears to more than justify the price. Miller finished last year with 1,215 yards and six touchdowns from scrimmage, yet you see him falling into the sixth round at times, even behind runners who are clearly headed for rotational roles. I'm lukewarm enough on Miller's skill that I won't specifically target him in drafts, but I'll take him over Carlos Hyde and Royce Freeman.
1. Carlos Hyde, CLE
The Miller blurb might have given it away, but Hyde's value is in the basement for me following the selection of Nick Chubb in the second round. Yes, Hyde is a pretty good player, and his veteran status gives him an initial advantage. But understand: Hyde cannot compete with Chubb. To project Hyde as the clear starter is to presume the competition will be rigged. That does happen plenty in the NFL, but it's rarely the prized draft pick who gets the worse end of the rigging.
Hyde is a two-down player in this offense with Duke Johnson around, and in those precious two downs he'll have to hold off a better player than him – a better player in whom the team has much greater investment. I just saw Hyde go in the third round of a DRAFT.com 12-team league and I just can't imagine what that person is thinking. I probably wouldn't take Hyde before the 10th round or so, and maybe not even then.
2. Samaje Perine, WAS
I like Perine enough as a prospect, but the second-round selection of Derrius Guice all but makes him irrelevant. Like Hyde in Cleveland, Perine won't see passing snaps with Chris Thompson around, and the talent differential between Perine and Guice is even greater than that between Chubb and Hyde. And I think Chubb is a lot better than Hyde.
Perine was better than Rob Kelly last year and lost the Washington competition anyway, but I don't think Guice is at risk of the same outcome. Guice is explosive, powerful, flashy, head-turning. Even at his best in theory, Perine is a steady, plodder type who grinds out yardage. Even coaches who rely solely on their eyes and digestive organs for player evaluation will quickly spot the fact that Guice's talent towers over Perine's. I don't think I'd select Perine before the 14th round or so.
These are two guys I liked as RB5 targets in rounds 13 and onward prior to the draft, but that's not as much the case now that Kerryon Johnson is in Detroit and Ronald Jones is in Tampa.
The Tampa backfield seems a little more straightforward – Barber is the incumbent and ostensible power back, while Jones is the speed complement. As much as Jones is a problem for Barber, it's still easy to imagine Barber retaining half of the RB1 snaps and the short-yardage work. So he's still on my board as an RB5 guy, just a round or two later.
Blount is the one who's on especially shaky ground. The Lions already had Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick as passing-down types, limiting Blount's upside to that of a between-the-tackles specialist. The addition of Johnson as a candidate between the tackles, then, poses an obstacle for Blount that Barber doesn't have to deal with in Tampa. We'll see if Blount can hold off Johnson for the goal-line running role, but Detroit didn't trade up in the second round to leave Johnson on the bench. Barber is still on my board, but Blount probably isn't.