Updated fantasy running back values: The Leonard Fournette Problem

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Another injury-riddled year for <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/players/30117/" data-ylk="slk:Leonard Fournette">Leonard Fournette</a> has fantasy players frustrated. (AP/Mark Zaleski)
Another injury-riddled year for Leonard Fournette has fantasy players frustrated. (AP/Mark Zaleski)

Shuffle Up: The Leonard Fournette Problem

Ah, running backs. The trickiest position. The most important position, too. It’s a messy season in the backfield, like it usually is. Even some of my strongest teams are starting RB2s that are hard to take seriously.

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The idea behind the Shuffle Up series is to show where clusters of value lie. I like a number attached. That said, the dollar value is simply used as a comparison tool, and it’s more gut-feel than anything else — I am not a formula guy.

We all care about numbers in this game, obviously, but I always want to merge that with scouting observations, tea-leaf reading, market analysis and the like (and heck, fantasy sports is leveraging a market as much as anything. Whatever scouting and information edge the best players had 20 and even 10 years ago is largely gone now. Too much is readily and freely available, even to the weakest players in your league).

Players at the same cost, below, are considered even (and a one- or-two-buck difference might not mean that much, either). Assume a generic scoring system, with a half-point-per-reception, one point for every 10 yards rushing or receiving, and six-point touchdowns.

Disagreements? That’s why we play! Bring your best arguments to me on Twitter. All other outrage belongs in the comments below.

Normally I tuck the injured guys at the bottom and I don’t care to debate them. Everyone has their own level of injury optimism, and I find mine is almost always the lowest around, but I wanted to make a point about Leonard Fournette. So, we’ll start with the injured guys and then circle back to the healthy ones.

Backs in Limbo – Provisional Prices

$23* LeVeon Bell
$15* Dalvin Cook
$10* Leonard Fournette
$10* Matt Breida
$4* Giovani Bernard

There’s so much bad blood between Bell and the Steelers, I think it’s reasonable he could rejoin the team and not get the heavy workload he usually receives. At least trading a running back in-season is a possibility; it’s often a disaster when NFL clubs try to acquire a new wideout in the middle of a season.

Fournette has become one of the most frustrating of fantasy commodities: too hurt to play, too good to cut, a player who clogs up bench space and gets in your way. And while no one sees T.J. Yeldon as a special back, the Jacksonville offense has been just fine with him lugging the mail. I don’t have a problem selling low on Fournette with the idea that most fantasy teams can’t treat the first 8-10 weeks like an exhibition schedule. Maybe you have a team that sees the playoffs as a yearly fait accompli; perhaps you can play the long game with Fournette. Most of us need to battle, scrape, and claw for every little edge we can. Long-term injury returnees aren’t my jam.

Cook had a major injury last year, he’s been hurt this year, and the Vikings can’t run block at all. Other than that, everything’s fine. At least Latavius Murray has done very little in the games Cook has missed.

We’ll go quick-hitter style on the rest of the position. If you tapped me on the shoulder and just had a moment, this is what I’d probably say.

The elite running backs

$56 Todd Gurley: Checks every box: speed, power, plus-offense, genius designer.
$51 Ezekiel Elliott: Not ideal surroundings, but in prime of career and extremely high-volume floor.
$50 Melvin Gordon: The YPC truthers are dying on that hill; Gordon getting his weekly.
$49 Saquon Barkley: Has some of the best no-gain runs you’ll ever see, but can still star in bad setup.
$48 Alvin Kamara: Week 5 was a flukish setup; no knock at this price, he’s still Top 5. In idiot leagues, buy. Even in non-idiot leagues, a good idea.

Second-year backs standing out

$43 Kareem Hunt: Andy Reid finally has the offense he wants; Hunt has to share, but there’s plenty for him.
$41 Christian McCaffrey: Panthers haven’t completely given in to promises, but the workload is heavy.
$38 David Johnson: Team has no clue how to best use Johnson.
$33 Joe Mixon: Looks like a legitimate difference-maker; just a matter of staying healthy.

Patriots make presence felt

$25 Devonta Freeman: Probably won’t be 100 percent all year and there’s loads of options in Atlanta.
$24 James White: A classic Circle of Trust guy.
$22 Mark Ingram: Has a defined role, but if and when Saints are chasing the game, that’s Kamara Time.
$20 Sony Michel: Not getting much passing work, but this backfield tidied up nicely.

RB2s and flex options

$17 Chris Thompson: Terrific when he plays, but durability is never his check mark.
$16 Jordan Howard: Week 4 usage a stone fluke, good time to inquire on a deal.

Jordan Howard could be someone worth buying after five weeks of the season. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
Jordan Howard could be someone worth buying after five weeks of the season. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

$16 Marshawn Lynch: Still gets the most out of every carry, and Oakland looked solid before Week 5 crash.
$16 LeSean McCoy: Tank doesn’t look empty and there’s at least a chance he’ll go somewhere else.
$16 Carlos Hyde: Leads AFC in carries; goal-line role safe.
$14 Chris Carson: Seattle’s tripped us up a few times, but Carson flashes when he plays.
$14 Dion Lewis: Titans not showing a consistent identity, but Lewis probably their best back.
$14 Kerryon Johnson: Efficiency screaming for a role increase; showed three-down potential at Auburn.
$13 James Conner: I don’t think he pumpkins even if Bell returns, but obviously a difficult variable call.
$13 Adrian Peterson: By default, they need him.
$12 Tarik Cohen: Was he finally unlocked in Week 4? Has skill set that’s perfect match for 2018.
$12 Austin Ekeler: Never a major threat to Gordon, but a perfect compliment. There’s a little Sproles in him.
$12 Kenyan Drake: It’s so hard to trust the Dolphins; on 12-15 touches, Drake could do so much.
$11 Isaiah Crowell: Has to share with Powell, but at least there’s no third back for now.
$11 T.J. Yeldon: An easy starter for all the weeks Fournette can’t play; Charles doesn’t concern me.

Guys sharing the load in RBBCs

$10 Phillip Lindsay: Splash play waiting to happen, though Freeman can play too.
$10 Nyheim Hines: Colts can’t run it, so Hines can get there on receiving volume.
$10 Javorius Allen: Ravens overrating and overusing him, but at this point we have to project off that.
$10 Wendell Smallwood: Nifty YPC without a bunch of breakaway runs; success rate is good indicator.
$9 Aaron Jones: Mike McCarthy does not want you to be happy.
$9 Tevin Coleman: Underwhelmed when Freeman was out.
$9 Alex Collins: Not helping himself with ongoing fumble issues.
$9 Royce Freeman: No major difference between him and Lindsay, but team isn’t forcing a bell cow.
$9 Bilal Powell: Feels like his career is just starting, but he turns 30 this month.
$9 Corey Clement: Has more of a featured-back body than Smallwood, but Eagles like to spread it around.
$9 Derrick Henry: One of the potholes of the year.
$8 Lamar Miller: Good luck behind that offensive line.
$8 Alfred Morris: Needed for a chunky role with Breida hurt.
$7 Ronald Jones: At some point they need to throw him in the pool and see if he can swim; Barber has done nothing.

Running down the rest

$5 Chris Ivory: A spec play if McCoy gets moved or hurt.
$5 Duke Johnson: Worthless with Taylor, but he’s only mildly spiked with Mayfield.
$5 Nick Chubb: Would probably need a Hyde injury, and he’s not a pass-catcher.
$5 Jalen Richard
$5 Mike Davis
$5 Peyton Barber
$4 Theo Riddick
$4 Jamaal Williams: Carrying you in pass-blocking leagues.
$4 Frank Gore: Tank isn’t completely empty, but it’s silly Drake isn’t playing more.
$3 Ty Montgomery
$3 Marlon Mack
$3 Latavius Murray: Vikings seem close to junking the running game entirely.
$2 Ito Smith: Smith and Ryan have four of Atlanta’s five rushing touchdowns.
$2 Mark Walton
$2 Alfred Blue: Tangled up in Blue.
$2 Jordan Wilkins
$2 Wayne Gallman: Has some ability, but strictly a Barkley hedge/handcuff.
$2 Kyle Juszczyk: Mostly a traditional fullback, but they like to throw to him, too.
$2 Samaje Perine
$1 Chase Edmonds
$1 C.J. Anderson
$1 Rod Smith
$1 Devontae Booker
$1 LeGarrette Blount: Touchdown-or-bust guy, but it worked in Week 5, so he’ll keep getting the chances.
$1 Spencer Ware
$1 Doug Martin
$1 Darren Sproles
$1 Rashaad Penny
$1 Jacquizz Rodgers

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