Adam recently covered the players who’ve already lost value in Free Agency, including RBs Phillip Lindsay and Austin Ekeler. But there remain several other RBs that look unlikely to survive the off-season with their current fantasy values intact. Best Ball and Dynasty owners expose themselves to significant downside by ignoring the circumstances around these backs:


1. Ronald Jones, RB, TB

Looking purely at Ronald Jones’ play making ability in 2019 will have have you wondering if he’s an emerging star. For starters, Ron broke 28 tackles on 203 touches in 2019. That’s a broken tackle rate that ranked 4th in the NFL among RBs with 100+ touches. Only Alvin Kamara, Aaron Jones and Damien Williams broke tackles at a higher rate. Joe Mixon — a RB universally regarded as more talented than Jones — required 110 more touches to break the same number of tackles. Jones was also 15th in yards after contact per rushing attempt, besting fellow tackle breaking specialists Kamara and Aaron Jones in the metric.

But he can’t be used in the passing game right? Actually, no. As a receiver, Jones was RB7 in Yards per Route run, besting Christian McCaffrey, Kamara and Aaron Jones among many others.

But there is a problem: Jones can’t pass block. Ron ranked 66 out of 75 qualifying RBs in pass blocking efficiency, allowing a sack, two hits and five hurries in 49 pass blocking snaps. For the record, Dare Ogunbowale and Peyton Barber were almost as bad, and offer far less as receivers. But the Buccaneers clearly don’t trust Jones on passing downs: he saw just 33% of the passing snaps in 2019.

Maddeningly, poor pass blocking wasn’t a limiting factor for some of 2019’s most prolific receiving RBs. Melvin Gordon, Dalvin Cook, Phillip Lindsay, and Leonard Fournette all managed well above Jones’ 40 targets while also being poor pass blockers. They just weren’t asked to do what they weren’t good at — pass blocking on between 6-14% of their pass snaps. Jones however, was asked to protect 22% of the time, making him the RB14 in pass blocking percentage. Let me emphasize that: Even though he was effective as a receiver, but ineffective as a pass blocker, Jones was asked to pass block as much as 3.5x more than other RBs with his passing down skill set.

In fact, all three of Tampa Bay’s RBs ranked top-14 in pass blocking percentage. This was very likely a function of Tampa Bay’s poor offensive line play, and not a feature of the Bruce Arians offense, as Arians hasn’t had multiple RBs blocking on over 20% of their pass snaps since 2012. But the Buccaneers O-Line isn’t expected to be significantly better in 2020, so their RBs may be blocking just as much as ever.

More to the point, it’s unclear how much Jones will be on the field in 2020 at all. Because Jones will have more than just Barber (now in Washington) and Ogunbowale (no guaranteed money) to deal with in 2020. Tom Brady‘s addition to the team has brought with it rumors of veteran signings. And even before signing Brady, it was pretty clear that new RBs would be joining the team. The Buccaneers have met with 11 rookie RBs this off-season, behind only Atlanta in telegraphing their interest in upgrading the position. Additionally, Bruce Arians recently commented on Tampa Bay’s need for a pass catching RB.

  • Riskier format: Best Ball
    • Jones’ ADP has ticked up slightly in the last week or so and he’s now consistently going in the top 100 of FFPC best ball drafts. But the Buccaneers will add RB help this off-season, the only questions are who, when, and how much. Moreover, that RB help is likely to be of the pass catching variety, which means that unless Jones has a lock on goal line duties (which he did not in 2019), he’ll likely be a part of 2020’s all TRAP team.
      • In Dynasty, Jones could provide big trade value profits if Tampa Bay somehow fails to add significant RB competition. And even if not, as a player entering his age 23 season he could theoretically pay off as a hold if he beats out his RB competition and creates more opportunity for himself in 2021. (Although this is a very risky bet).
    • In best ball though, the situation is more clear cut. I recommend going light on Jones until after the NFL draft when his ADP is likely to fall.

 

 

2. Devin Singletary, RB, BUF
There’s been steady buzz around the Bills adding a RB this off-season, and the Stefon Diggs trade increased the odds of that coming to fruition.

Diggs and John Brown now form a top 10 WR duo for 2020. And Cole Beasley is a decent third option. However, because Brown and Beasley are both 30 years old, I think we can expect the Bills to target a WR or two in the NFL draft. But that position isn’t nearly the priority that it would have been prior to the Diggs trade. Moreover, the Bills have an extra 5th-rounder and two extra 6ths, so they may opt for a shotgun approach in an exceptionally deep WR class. This approach would more easily allow the Bills to use one of their premium picks on D’Andre Swift, Cam Akers, or Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

Sure, you say. But couldn’t you make this argument about any team with a couple extra late round picks?

Yes. But not every team met with Swift, Akers and Edwards-Helaire at the Combine… the Bills did. And if the Bills follow through on that interest, Singletary’s outlook will take a big hit. In fact, in my view, Singletary’s outlook will take a big hit even if the Bills draft post-combine faller Zack Moss — the fourth RB the Bills met with at the combine.

I’m not saying that because I think Singletary is untalented. Singletary can play. He proved that down the stretch last season, growing increasingly involved in the passing game and finishing the season as RB5 in broken tackles per touch. But you know who he was right behind? Ronald Jones and Duke Johnson. It takes more than talent to be a good fantasy RB. Your team needs to be willing to commit to you. And remember, Singletary didn’t fully dispatch Frank Gore as the Bills starter until Week 11. The Bills were slow to commit to him in 2019. And he’s being substantially over-drafted if the Bills remain reluctant to commit to him as their clear cut lead back in 2020.

  • Riskier format: Dynasty
    • Singletary is a typically a 4th round pick in both dynasty and best ball. But in best ball, Singletary’s pass catching role may provide some spike weeks even if the Bills draft a RB early.
    • In dynasty however, a premium rookie RB addition would be much more costly. Singletary’s trade value would tank, requiring him to successfully defend his starting job before having a trade market again.
    • And even if the Bills don’t add any real competition, I don’t expect Singletary’s price to rise dramatically. He’s currently Evan Silva’s RB24 for 2020, yet being drafted as RB17 in dynasty startups.
      • In other words, the upside of Singletary as a clear cut starter is already priced into his dynasty ADP.

 

 

3. Tevin Coleman, RB, SF
Tevin Coleman bested the following RBs in broken tackles per touch in 2019 (min. 50 touches): Mark Walton, Darrel Williams, Jalen Richard, Kalen Ballage. That’s it. And If we increase the threshold to 100 touches, Coleman was dead last among the 51 qualifying RBs.

If we look at yards after contact per attempt instead, he passes only Tarik Cohen to move up to RB50. Did Coleman make up for this lack of dynamic ball carrying by contributing in the receiving game? No he did not. Coleman ranked 44th of 57 qualifying RBs in YPRR. And in the 49ers backfield, Coleman ranked 4th behind Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert and Kyle Juszczyk. (This isn’t totally fair since he only had five targets, but Jeff WIlson was better than him too).

This type of multi-phase inefficiency does not tend to endear RBs to their franchises. Phillip Lindsay, another poor performer (RB38 in YAC/Att.) was just replaced as his team’s starter. And RB37 DeAndre Washington, RB44 Todd Gurley, RB45 Peyton Barber, and RB48 Devonta Freeman are all either on, or looking for new teams. I expect this to be the case for RB50 Tevin Coleman before the start of the season.

Here’s what San Francisco has done at RB since 2019 ended:

  • Jerrick McKinnon, who would have saved the team $4.5 MM as a cut, was instead brought back on a restructured deal. In order to avoid being cut, McKinnon had to give up virtually all of his non-guaranteed money, and agree to be paid out over two years (even though he’s now on a 1-year deal). But he does seem to have avoided the axe.
    • Unless the preseason reveals a major loss of explosiveness following his ACL recovery, McKinnon is now likely to make the final roster.
  • At the same time, the 49ers decided to place a second-round tender on Breida, a Restricted Free Agent. This means (assuming no team pays a 2nd round pick for the right to pay him more) that Breida is now on a 1-year $3.3 MM, non-guaranteed contract. So Breida could still be cut. However, this would be counter-intuitive because San Francisco had another option.
    • Because Breida was an UDFA, the team could not use an original-round tender on him (which pays less). But the 49ers could have instead used a right-of-first-refusal tender. This would have allowed the them to match any other team’s offer sheet, but would not have provided draft pick compensation if Breida ultimately left. This option only cost $2.1 MM.
      • If your eyes glazed over during during the contract details, it boils down to this:
        • The 49ers increased Breida’s salary by $1.2 MM in 2020 so they could deter other teams from attempting to sign him.
  • Wilson was also resigned to an extremely cheap $0.75 MM 1-year deal.
  • Mostert’s contract was left untouched because he is an absolute steal at a total of just $6.7 MM over the next two seasons.
  • So that just leaves Coleman, who is is set to earn $4.9 MM in 2020 and whose release costs the 49ers zero dollars.

Coleman’s off-season has essentially consisted of him quietly moving down the 49ers RB priority list, to where he now sits, at the bottom. He likely remains on the roster only as an injury contingency.

  • Riskier format: Best Ball
    • Coleman will be 27 for the 2020 season, so it’s not impossible for him to re-emerge down the line in dynasty. That said, he’s a heavy fade at his dynasty ADP of ~150.
    • However, Coleman is an even heavier fade at his best ball ADP of ~130.
      • The chances of him emerging as a fantasy difference maker in 2020 are exceedingly low. Even if he does make the 49ers, he’ll be competing with Mostert and one of Breida or McKinnon, (and potentially both) for playing time. And with no bonuses due in his contract before the season starts, the 49ers have no incentive to cut him early enough for him to easily land on his feet with another team.