If you’ve been listening to me ramble about NFL Best Ball for the last couple months, first of all I appreciate that you’re a sicko like me. But also you know that I absolutely lean much more heavily on strategic edges and roster construction edges in these ball tournaments than I do on individual players. A huge percentage of the player pool probably serves a purpose in at least some sort of team you might draft, so I find the “What’s your favorite 7th round pick?” discussions typically rather unhelpful. However…
We do also have to ultimately pick players for our best ball teams, and you’ll usually find that even when you are naturally diverse through your draft strategy and team structure you are still probably going to develop a core of a few guys at each position that become “Your Guys”.
I’m almost halfway into my Underdog Best Ball Mania portfolio, so I thought it was a fitting time to start discussing “My Guys” at each position. I wrote last week about the stand I’m making at the WR position. Today I’m diving into the RB position, and I think these players should give you a viewpoint into the archetype of RB I think we should be most heavily invested in.
Last year, Dalvin Cook was being drafted as a 2nd round pick in Best Ball drafts. He produced one of the most ungodly win rates I’ve ever seen… 52% (per Hayden Winks from Underdog Fantasy). We often think drafts are won by these totally lottery ticket types at the end of the drafts, but it’s actually more often an early round player, like Dalvin, that jumps from a 2nd round pick to basically the most valuable player in all of fantasy football.
Those situations are, of course, very difficult to predict, but we can still try to target the archetype of player that could jump from a 2nd/3rd round pick to the top of the 1st round just like Dalvin did in 2020. For me, the answer to that question this season is very clearly Antonio Gibson.
Excluding players who played less than 10 games, Gibson was the RB11 in Underdog scoring last season, and the RB13 in total points. He did this despite ceding an insane amount of work to J.D. McKissic in passing situations. With scrubs like Dwayne Haskins and Alex Smith at QB, McKissic caught 80 balls on 110 targets (!!!). That’s even more important when we consider the type of player Gibson is. He was a college wide receiver that played very little running back, and the one thing we felt very confident about him coming into the NFL was his pass catching ability. He then proceeded to post borderline top 10 fantasy RB numbers while ceding almost all of the receiving work in his own backfield to his teammate.
He proved very clearly he can do the one thing that we had questions about coming into the NFL… play the early down RB role well. Meanwhile, he didn’t get the opportunity to do the one thing that we know he’s best at… catch the ball. On top of that, he gets a massive QB upgrade to Ryan Fitzpatrick, and the addition of Curtis Samuel should greatly improve the offensive scoring upside. Combine that with what should be a truly elite Washington Football team defense, and the stars are aligned for Gibson to absolutely smash in 2021.
I can’t think of a better situation to bet on than a player who has proved he can do the thing we were worried about coming into the NFL, and simply needs to do the thing we know he’s amazing at (catch some passes!) to hit his ceiling. And he’s got the opportunity to do so in a massively upgraded offense with a defense that should give him as many positive game scripts as we can ask for. Wheels up.
I really don’t understand why the market hates Latavius so much every year, but I’m just going to keep reaping the rewards and not ask questions. The Saints have proven they are not interested in giving Alvin Kamara anything close to a workhorse role. Last season, Kamara topped 70% of snaps just 5 times, with 2 games where it was essentially a 50/50 split with Lat. Despite Kamara staying healthy, Latavius put up a respectable final stat line – 146 carries for 656 yards and 4 TDs with 23 catches for 176 yards and another TD.
On top of that, Kamara really takes on his biggest role in the pass game. In the run game, he only out-carried Lat 187 to 146 last season. So at pick 131 overall on Underdog, you have a RB that has both standalone floor value in a good offense, but also some spike week upside when the game script allows him to split those touches down the middle with Kamara. Just that has a lot of value in the middle rounds at the RB position.
But he also presents some of the highest upside of any player in that range of the draft if Kamara were ever to miss time. We know this because we saw it in 2019. In a good offense behind an elite offensive line, Latavius would take on a workhorse type role that we crave from our RBs if Kamara were to go down, as evidenced by weeks 7 and 8 in 2019. In those weeks, Latavius scored an insane 61.7 half PPR points on this stat line – 48 carries for 222 yards and 3 TDS with 14 catches (on 18!!! targets) for 86 yards and another TD.
Those numbers are the elite of the elite in terms of RB usage and production. We pay a price at the top of the draft to get that level of usage, and we have an 11th/12th round pick with paths to that. And not only does he have paths to that ceiling, but he will maintain a usable role with spike week upside even when Kamara is healthy. You can’t ask for much more, and yet he goes after many other part-time RBs and even handcuffs like Tony Pollard. I expect Latavius to be my highest owned RB across all my best ball drafts yet again this year.
When we get to the last couple rounds of the draft, the pickings are obviously quite slim. With the way I’m building my teams, I am typically looking for straight upside at the RB position, and I believe Darrynton Evans provides the most upside of any of the players in this range, with the possibility of a sliver of standalone value as well.
Derrick Henry is not human, and his mutant like body can probably handle more touches than we’ve ever seen from a RB, but we are certainly starting to approach an at least somewhat concerning level of volume for the Big Dog the last few years. I don’t think it’s wise to ever predict injuries, but we can situate ourselves as best as possible to capitalize on these types of situations where historical data tells us there might be a slightly heightened probability of player break down.
The Titans offense has been one of the most advantageous to be attached to the last couple years, and I don’t expect that to change with the addition of Julio Jones. So, if something were to happen to Derrick Henry, whoever is manning the backfield would be an incredibly valuable fantasy asset in a high powered and efficient offense. That back likely wouldn’t receive the rushing volume of Henry, but they’d also likely be more pass heavy, which could lead to increased passing game usage.
Evans, in my opinion, is the very clear frontrunner to be next in line behind Henry despite some competition. There have already been multiple reports that we should expect to see more of the former 3rd round pick this year, with coach Vrabel even calling him out as a player they’re excited about. He started the year as the direct backup and change of pace back until he went down with an injury from week 6 to week 14. However, when he came back in week 15, he instantly reclaimed the backup job, with no other RB (besides Henry of course) touching the field on offense.
We also know that Derrick Henry simply isn’t going to play every snap, and he’s not going to play much on passing downs. If Evans can take on that work, that gives him at least a small amount of standalone value, and probably more upside than we might think if the game script gets away from them and they’re forced to play catch up. When you combine that standalone value with the potential to catapult his way into the top 10-15 RBs in all of fantasy is something were to happen to Henry, Evans seems to pretty clearly be the standout late round RB pick in best ball drafts. If Latavius isn’t my highest owned RB, it will only be because Darrynton Evans is.