Two Priority Dynasty Running Back Sells
I recently discussed two great dynasty running back buys for contending teams to acquire at discounted rates. On the flip side, here are two running backs who are in danger of seeing a harsh decrease in workload and could also potentially be on different NFL teams by mid-season.
In both cases, their limited upside in 2020 paired with a multitude of concerns for both this season as well as long-term make them volatile dynasty assets. Whether rebuilding or contending, these two players should be priority sell candidates in dynasty trades.
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Priority Dynasty Running Back Sells
Fournette was the no. 6 fantasy running back in PPR formats last season, but there’s plenty of reason to expect a major decline in workload for him in 2020. For starters, Jacksonville is once again in a rebuild and has lost major pieces on their once-fearsome defense.
The Jaguars have traded away star cornerback Jalen Ramsey, another solid cornerback in A.J. Bouye, and top defensive end Calais Campbell. Linebacker Telvin Smith announced his retirement, they released defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, and despite being franchise tagged, rising star defensive end Yannick Ngakoue seems determined to force a trade rather than play for the Jacksonville organization any longer.
Though they mitigated these losses with a defense-focused rookie class, including spending both of their first-round picks on cornerback C.J. Henderson out of Florida and outside linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson out of LSU, it’s implausible for these rookies to make an immediate impact. Considering that the Jaguars already ranked fourth-worst in team defense and 22nd against the pass in 2019, this is a team that is likely to be playing from behind a lot this coming season.
At a glance, Jacksonville playing from behind in a pass-heavy game script could actually benefit Fournette, who recorded a career-high 76 receptions last season. In fact, 49 percent of Fournette’s fantasy production in 2019 came from his receiving production. However, such involvement in the passing game seems to be an outlier, with Fournette having never totaled more than 36 catches in a season prior to last year. Even in college, Fournette totaled 41 receptions combined in his three seasons at LSU.
The argument that Fournette proved himself a capable receiver last year is a stretch as well, as he recorded a -17.0 percent receiving DVOA, ranking 42nd among running backs. Moreover, new Jaguars offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has typically used a committee backfield, preferring to have a dedicated pass-catching back rather than using one workhorse. During his six sesaons as the head coach in Washington, Gruden rotated in Chris Thompson to supplant the lead back on passing downs, and he used Roy Helu Jr. in a similar fashion prior to that.
While Thompson’s ability to stay healthy is a question, his track record is not as bad as some might remember it to be. Thompson has suffered numerous injuries during his career, but he has played 66 out of a possible 80 games over the last five seasons. Gruden bringing Thompson with him to Jacksonville on a one-year deal bodes ill for Fournette’s receiving usage in 2020.
And though positive touchdown regression is to be expected for Fournette after scoring just three times on the ground despite logging 265 rushing attempts last season, it remains to be seen how many total rushing attempts will be available with the Jaguars projected to trail in most games. Even if Fournette did somehow command a large portion of both the rushing and receiving workload this season, his success could be a double-edged sword.
Jacksonville has been trying to trade Fournette for some time now as part of their rebuild process, as recently as during the NFL Draft in May. If Fournette does somehow start the year strong with the Colts, Titans, Dolphins, and Bengals up first, his performance could make him a more enticing trade piece. Attrition at the running back position is already common, and even more teams could lose starting backs this year due to COVID. It’s very possible that Fournette could be on a new team by mid-season.
Factoring in a projected decline in receiving production offset by positive touchdown regression, Fournette’s current dynasty value is somewhat palatable for contending teams. However, with the added risk of a mid-season trade and without knowing how efficient the Jaguars will be in scoring this season, Fournette’s value is still inflated enough to be a sell candidate in dynasty trades. Per the Twitter poll results below, the majority of respondents valued him around a late first-round rookie pick, which seems fair given his projected RB2 production and risk of being traded by Jacksonville.
What is Leonard Fournette's current value in #DynastyTrades? Assume a 1QB PPR format.
— 𝔽𝔽𝔸 🏈 𝐌𝐄𝐍𝐆 (@FFA_Meng) July 7, 2020
Unless a strong contender is all but certain their 2021 first-round pick will be late and is acquiring Fournette as added depth with already strong starters at running back, there is too much risk to invest in a two-down back reliant on touchdowns in 2020. Beyond this season, Fournette’s landing spot will determine his long-term dynasty value, but few teams employ true workhorse backs in this age, and those who do already have an elite talent with no room for Fournette.
Based on the current price, Fournette is a clear sell for those in a league where a team might be willing to pay a mid first-round rookie pick, as 24 percent of poll respondents seem to be willing to do so. However, Fournette is worth buying at the cost of the 2.01 or less for a contending team, as over 30 percent of poll respondents being completely out on him create a small buy opportunity for contenders willing to take a chance on him maintaining a large role in Jacksonville.
Like Fournette, Bell maintained admirable fantasy production in 2019 despite his team’s lackluster performance as a whole, finishing the year as the no. 15 fantasy running back in PPR formats. But also like Fournette, there’s much risk of less production for Bell in 2020 as well as the looming possibility of the Jets trading him away.
Even having logged a 77 percent snap share on offense in 2019, head coach Adam Gase did not design many plays to feature Bell or to help get him the ball in space. And despite recording the 11th most rushing attempts last season, Bell ranked 23rd among running backs in rushing yards and ran in just three touchdowns. While there’s an argument that his yardage could improve and a case for positive touchdown regression, here’s why both are problematic.
The Jets’ offensive line was the second-worst in run-blocking last season in terms of adjusted line yards. While they added center Connor McGovern in free agency and spent their first-round draft pick on left tackle Mekhi Becton, it’s yet to be seen how improved their line will be in 2020. Becton in particular could take longer to acclimate to the NFL given the implications of a shortened training camp due to COVID.
Moreover, New York’s overall offensive efficiency still leaves much to be desired. Since becoming a head coach in Miami in 2016, Gases’s offenses have ranked 17th, 28th, 26th, and 31st in offensive scoring, respectively. Though some analysts have predicted positive touchdown regression for Bell in 2020, the lack of total offensive touchdowns for the Jets may still limit his fantasy ceiling, and the tentative state of the offensive line leaves doubt as to how much better his yardage output will be, if at all.
There’s also concern that Bell’s workload could decline this coming year even if New York’s offense improves. The Jets signed free agent Frank Gore in May, and they proceeded to draft La’Mical Perine out of Florida in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft. While Gore is now 37 years old and Perine a late-round rookie selections, their additions could still detract from Bell’s production.
There have been reports that Gase never wanted to sign Bell in the first place last offseason. And while Bell remains on the roster due to the structure of his contract, Gase has repeatedly been cited as a proponent of using more of a committee approach in 2020:
I do think we have some guys that can help maybe lessen the load on [Bell] to where it’s not all on him. Hopefully, we can get some of the younger backs to where we can make a good one-two punch to where we can really excel instead of feeling like it’s just all on him all the time.
In addition to the ample concern that Bell’s workload could decline this coming season, there’s also the possibility that he’ll be traded to another team by mid-season. The Jets reportedly shopped Bell near the 2019 trade deadline, and they are likely to again this coming season. While Bell could potentially go to a team dedicated to using him in a workhorse role, the odds are low, as the more probable outcome would be a rebuilding team taking on his bloated salary in exchange for a draft pick upgrade.
Perhaps Bell and the Jets could both surprise this season, but that would be unexpected, especially with four divisional games against very good Bills and Patriots defenses. As of July, his dynasty value seems to be hovering around an early second-round rookie pick per the results of the below Twitter poll.
What is Le'Veon Bell's current value in #DynastyTrades? Assume a 1QB PPR format.
— 𝔽𝔽𝔸 🏈 𝐌𝐄𝐍𝐆 (@FFA_Meng) July 7, 2020
An early or mid second-round rookie pick might be worth paying for a contending dynasty roster in need of running back depth, but Bell is unlikely to return more than RB2 production in 2020, if that. For dynasty teams not ready to contend, it’s best to sell Bell for an early second-round pick. In some cases, he could even garner a future first-round rookie pick with 19 percent of poll respondents valuing him as such.
Even for contenders, it may be worth selling Bell and using the rookie draft pick to acquire a more productive running back in the short term, like Melvin Gordon, Chris Carson, or David Johnson, all of whom share similar ADPs to that of Bell. Don’t be lulled into dreams of Bell returning to his former elite fantasy production. The risks of him seeing a reduced workload and potentially being traded far outweigh the slim chance of him producing fantasy RB1 numbers.
Which dynasty running back are you ready to kick to the curb? Let us know in the comments below.
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