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Fantasy Football: Which RBs are being drafted too early?

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ECR stands for “Expert Consensus Ranking,” which means the average ranks of many members of the fantasy football industry and is typically similar to ADP (which differs from site-to-site). This will be an ongoing series highlighting some big differences between ECR and my own ranks. Knowing your league’s ADP/scoring remains equally important when drafting, but I rank the following running backs lower than the general fantasy community.

Players who should go higher: Quarterback | Running Back | Wide Receiver | Tight End

Players going too early: Quarterback | Tight End

Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals (ECR = RB12 vs. DDD = RB16)

There’s a bull case to be made for Mixon. He's the clear lead back now likely to see more passing-down work with Gio Bernard gone on a team with a bunch of young, exciting weapons around him. Mixon is a rare projected workhorse who’s still just 18 months older than rookie Najee Harris, but there are also a few concerns for someone costing a second-round fantasy pick. Mixon has missed multiple games in three of four years in the NFL, and he’s already been banged up in training camp while his offensive line has been consistently overwhelmed by a mediocre Bengals defense. Mixon finished bottom-five in rushing yards over expectation last season (and wasn’t good in RYOE in 2019 either) and must deal with shaky coaching while facing the Ravens, Browns, and Steelers defenses six times.

That said, if you’re high on Joe Burrow and company making a leap, Samaje Perine should be a late-round flier.

J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens (ECR = RB15 vs. DDD = RB19)

Dobbins got 6.0 YPC, scored a bunch of touchdowns, and graded as one of the league’s best runners as a rookie. There’s certainly a lot to like. But Dobbins also has a few hurdles for him to be worth his current ADP, including a rushing quarterback who’s a big goal-line TD threat and doesn’t throw to his backs much. In fact, Dobbins saw just six(!) targets over the second half of last season (a common theme among running QBs). And while there were early rumblings about Dobbins seeing increased receiving work this season (it would be hard for him to see less), the latest news from a beat reporter suggests otherwise.

Baltimore Ravens running back J.K. Dobbins
J.K. Dobbins' upside is capped without real receiving work. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

Dobbins has been reportedly struggling with drops, and Baltimore’s backfield could be a 60/40 split with Gus Edwards as the goal-line and third-down back. While Dobbins remains plenty valuable in a run-friendly Ravens system, he’ll be fighting TD regression and a limited role that unfortunately caps his upside. Give me Travis Etienne over Dobbins.

Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders (ECR = RB20 vs. DDD = RB25)

Jacobs led the NFL with 35 carries inside the five-yard line last season (15 games), which is certainly good news for fantasy value. But that volume didn’t result in Jacobs being a top-10 RB in fantasy points per game, and his new teammate Kenyan Drake tied him with the same number of carries inside the five last season. While it’s reasonable to expect Jacobs to get more short-yardage work than the smaller Drake, he now has more competition at the goal line and should see even less work as a receiver. In fact, Jacobs is no longer setting any receiving goals with Drake in town. The Raiders’ highly questionable recent draft history is catching up to them, and the team’s “revamped” offensive line is a euphemism for “got much worse” during the offseason. Jacobs was never treated like a workhorse in college and has continued to battle durability concerns over his first two years in the NFL. Jacobs has the higher floor, but I’m wacky enough to draft Trey Sermon ahead of him.

Kareem Hunt, Cleveland Browns (ECR = RB24 vs. DDD = RB29)

Hunt scored 11 touchdowns last season and will continue to benefit from a strong system and arguably the league’s best offensive line. And although Hunt’s efficiency went way down when he took over the starting role last season, his fantasy value would unquestionably shoot through the roof should Nick Chubb go down. But it very well might take an injury (from arguably the best player at his position in the NFL) for Hunt to be startable in fantasy leagues with a little touchdown regression, and that’s tough for someone being drafted as a top-25 fantasy back. When Chubb returned and was fully healthy last year down the stretch, the Browns made it clear he was their main back (they confirmed this with a big new offseason contract as well), as Hunt averaged a meager 6.8 carries and 3.0 targets over the final six games.

Don’t hesitate drafting Damien Harris over Hunt, and if you’re looking for a backup with upside, grab AJ Dillon.

Javonte Williams, Denver Broncos (ECR = RB27 vs. DDD = RB33)

This may be ironic considering I rank Najee Harris, Travis Etienne, Kyle Pitts, Trey Lance, and other rookies obscenely high, but I’m down on Williams compared to his ADP. Williams put up big tackle-breaking numbers in college but played in the right conference to do so and enters the league with underwhelming workout metrics. While Denver has an elite defense and intriguing receivers, neither Aaron Rodgers nor Deshaun Watson arrived via trade, leaving a big question at quarterback still. And maybe most concerning of all is Melvin Gordon, who’s been the team’s “CLEAR RB1” throughout camp. Williams should have a nice future in the league, but he’s being drafted too high given his current situation. I’d grab Ronald Jones instead.

Follow Dalton Del Don on Twitter