Dynasty: the Year Of The Forgotten Running Back

What is more valuable than a running back in dynasty?

By: Jesse Moeller

I cannot believe we are already closer to the NFL scouting combine than we are to week 1. It shows you how fast time flies, and in a dynasty, time is money. I wanted to look back at how numerous big-name running backs see if they were worth the investment. Did my views on running back values in dynasty change, and how do I expect the market to adjust moving forward. Boiled down to the nuts and bolts, was it the proper process and bad luck or a flawed process that led to subpar results.

For this article, I will use 1QB dynasty ADP and values presented by DLF. We will go back in August. When player and pick values begin to switch in dynasty teams’ minds. The worry about roster construction can be eye-opening when the preseason hits, you see players live, and each team focuses on starting lineups. If you are looking for a fantastic representation of that, look no further than the dynasty value chart created by @ekballer. he does a remarkable job of highlighting the change in dynasty managers’ minds throughout the year.

Running Back Values

So let us dive into the first two rounds of 1QB startup picks, review the running backs selected, and compare the current dynasty values for each player. I chose the first two rounds because this gave us the top 12 running backs or the RB1’s of the position. The top 12 is the bread and butter, where difference-making fantasy production occurs. If your team does not have one, you are likely frantically scrambling to find one. (Shoutout to the Zero-RB teams that are slaying leagues right now.)

Round 1

1.01 – Christian McCaffery RB1 —> 1.08 RB5

1.02 – Jonathon Taylor RB2 —> 1.02 RB1

1.03 – Dalvin Cook RB3 —> 1.07 RB4

1.05 – Saquon Barkley RB4 —> 2.01 RB13

1.06 – Alvin Kamara RB5 —> 2.02 RB14

1.10 – Najee Harris RB6 —> 1.04 RB2

1.11 – Derrick Henry RB7 —> 3.07 RB15

Round 2

2.01 – Nick Chubb RB8 —> 2.08 RB10

2.03 – Antonio Gibson RB9 —> 3.02 RB13

2.05 – Ezekiel Elliot RB10 —> 2.09 RB11

2.07 – D’Andre Swift RB11 —> 1.05 RB3

2.09 – Clyde Edwards-Helaire RB12 -> 4.04 RB17

2.10 – Aaron Jones RB12 —> 2.07 RB9

Only a quarter of the running backs in the first two rounds have held or gained value this season. Many factors go into a player’s worth, but two noticeable trends are happening with running back values. First, the youth movement is upon us. The “old” guard of Christian McCaffery, Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara, and Saquon Barkley have yielded the top spots in dynasty to the next generation of running backs in Jonathon Taylor, Najee Harris, and D’Andre Swift. We also have Antonio Gibson, Javonte Williams, J.K. Dobbins, and Cam Akers kicking down the door to join the top 12 dynasty running backs. Second, are the number of injuries to the position. This season has hit running backs especially hard.

McCaffery, Cook, Henry, Barkley, Gibson, Elliot, Edwards-Helaire, have all missed significant time or been limited by notable injuries. We all know the position takes a beating, as running backs take blows on every play, and if you are a lead back, the pounding throughout a game and season adds up. It should come as no surprise to see that a running back’s career is shorter than other offensive skill positions. We have had numerous players left for dead in dynasty circles only to come back and play a vital role this season. James Conner, Leonard Fournette, Cordarrelle Patterson, and DeVonta Freeman are integral parts of dynasty teams pushing for a championship this season. The fascinating aspect will be to see the values of each player fall off of a cliff once the season ends. If you have these players on non-contending teams, I have to ask you one question, why? What value do they give you, as the clock is ticking on their dynasty value. Once the season ends, the dynasty value becomes a falling knife that you do not want to be the one to catch it.

Production vs. Value

Each year always presents a challenging decision with dynasty values going into a season. No position is more fragile than post-apex running backs, particularly the vaunted 2017 running back class. I wanted to focus on this group of (McCaffery, Cook, Kamara, Jones, Ekeler, Mixon, Carson, Hunt, and Fournette) in particular. Since entering the league, this group has produced 39% (19 of 48) of the RB1 seasons. A genuinely legendary running back class, but father time always wins out. You should ask yourself what the right move is? Do you prefer to move off the group a year early and get that expected value bump or ride out the production and take the hit to the players’ value? There was no correct answer, but the longer you hold these aging players, the harder it will be to move off of them for what teams deem fair value, which is why they are considered a falling knife in the dynasty circles. Try and trade McCaffery for the equivalent of a top-five running back, and you will find yourself striking out more often than not. Meanwhile, Javonte Williams, a player who has averaged 12 points per game his rookie year, is currently being valued as a top-five running back in dynasty.

So, what do you do with the group now? It is very team dependant given that we are entering the playoffs, and these veterans are the players you need to win a championship. If you missed out on the playoffs, I would send one of these players to a contender ASAP. The pressure of winning a championship will propel these teams to pay more than they will this coming offseason. Depending on the player’s value, they are regimented into tiers. I will go over the current value of each player in the ranks. Remember, we are using 1QB values, and these values and suggestions give you a foundation to start your trade negotiations. If you find players you prefer, absolutely go with what you view as your team’s best decision.

The King

Christian McCaffery #9: While Taylor has usurped Mccaffery as thee RB1, he still has incredible dynasty value. Currently, on DLF, CMC is the 7th highest-ranked player, and there are only the big three players above him in a separate tier that consists of Jonathon Taylor, Ja’Marr Chase, and Justin Jefferson. Everyone else should be on the table, as you can go, elite veteran or young prodigy. McCaffery’s name has serious cache attached to it, as he is one of the authentic difference-making fantasy assets. Leave no stone unturned, and look for the best offer. You will likely find a manager who still values McCaffery as the end-all-be-all fantasy player.

The Prince

Dalvin Cook #16: Cook checks in at the top of this tier. If you watched the Thursday Night performance, you could see why fantasy managers hold him to such high standards. Only a handful of running backs can compete with Cook when he is on his game. Unfortunately, the value has taken a hit this year due to a drop in production and the nagging injury concerns. Add in revelations of a domestic dispute, and it only further clouds Cook’s dynasty outlook. Cook is one player I am looking to move ASAP to a contender and would even take a value hit to do it. It will likely be easier to pivot to a WR like Kupp, Deebo, or Godwin. If you prefer RB, check-in on Joe Mixon, Javonte Williams, or Antonio Gibson.

Alvin Kamara #17:  Kamara seems to have fallen out of favor, even though he has done what he always does, producing high-end fantasy results. Heading into week 14, Kamara was 4th in PPG with 19.8. Unfortunately, Kamara has suffered a lower-body injury that has kept him out since week 9. When older players have an extended absence, it cuts dramatically into their dynasty value. With Kamara healthy in time for the playoffs, it should help alleviate some of dynasty managers’ concern for him. Kamara is a tricky one for me because of the Saints situation. The offense has relied heavily on Kamara due to the lack of surrounding talent. Moving away from Kamara, I will need someone closer to his dynasty value. I would pull the trigger if I can pivot to Kyle Pitts, AJ Brown, or DK Metcalf. Otherwise, I would look for an early first plus Cam Akers type deal. If not, I am happy to wait and hold Kamara through the offseason.

Austin Ekeler #19: Back in August, Ekeler was going in the third round of dynasty startups, and all he has done since is carry teams to the playoffs. If you got Ekeler at his discounted price this offseason, you have to be thrilled with the results. While I love his role and the fact he is attached to Herbert, I am good getting out a year early with Ekeler because he has sustained multiple lower-body injuries the last few seasons. With the season Ekeler is having, you will be able to “sell high” as his performance will be front of mind for players acquiring him. There are multiple deals of Ekeler straight up for CMC in the DLF trade finder. There is also one of AJ Brown and a 1st round pick for Ekeler. The Ekeler market is on fire, so find the type of trade that improves your overall team. Now that Swift is expected to go on season-ending IR, you may be able to send Ekeler for Swift to a contending team.

The Duke

Joe Mixon #25: I do not think I could have been more wrong about a player going into a year than I was Mixon. Mixon was a complete fade for me this offseason, and I am eating all of the crow on that call. The difference for Mixon has been his nose for the goal line. He is seeing a lower share of the overall work but exceeding his efficiency from the previous seasons. Remember the talk of how the Bengals screwed up drafting Chase over Sewell? That talk is nonexistent, as Chase has balled out, and the line has improved, making Mixon’s job easier. My recommendation is to trade Mixon high, as there are numerous trades of Mixon straight up for CMC or Diggs. Those injury concerns are still there with Mixon. He has had numerous foot and ankle injuries during his career. Mixon’s success allows you to pivot in a direction to improve your team for the short and long term. 

Aaron Jones #31: Aaron Jones is a fascinating player to gauge in dynasty. Jones inked a deal this offseason to keep him in Green Bay through the next four years. The way the contract is structured, it would seem that 2023 would be the earliest Jones and Green Bay part ways. However, Jones has been a frustrating player for managers this year, as his work is at his lowest rate since his rookie season. Due in part to the presence of the behemoth A.J. Dillon this season. It is understandable, as Dillon is an explosive 250-pound battering ram who is the closest comp to Derrick Henry in the NFL. As a team, you want Dillon on the field as often as possible. Unfortunately, Dillon’s success has dropped Jones from a locked-in RB1 to an RB2 with potential RB1 upside. Add in Jones has just turned 27, and there are obvious red flags with his cost of a top 31 dynasty player. Jones trades are currently all over the map, as managers are trying to figure out the value of an aging running back. Higgins is the perfect asset to pivot to, in my opinion, as his dynasty worth is on much safer footing.

The Marquess

Kareem Hunt #61: We have plunged a few tiers, as Hunt is in that group of running backs where there is a surplus of uncertainty. Hunt is a player where the production outweighs the value. Hunt is under contract for one more season in Cleveland. The critical part of the contract is there is zero money in the dead cap next season, so Hunt will likely restructure his contract or be on a new team in 2022. When trying to move off of Hunt, you should target depreciated or youthful assets (Ridley, Dobbins, Akers, Elijah Moore, and Bateman come to mind.) You could always use Hunt as part of a package to move up tiers for a player with more worth.

Leonard Fournette #93: Lombardi Lenny hasn’t stopped the party, as he is winning leagues this season. Fournette currently has put in another RB1 performance. His 3rd and best RB1 season of his career. Fournette made the best decision of his career by joining forces with Tom Brady. It took Fournette a while to recover from the high ankle sprain he suffered last season, but once he did, Uncle Lenny showed the NFL he was a perfect fit with the Bucs. It must feel like holding a hot potato if you are holding him on a rebuilding squad. I would look to a player who will improve his value based on the situation. Think Jerry Jeudy, Darnell Mooney, Michael Gallup, Josh Jacobs, Travis Etienne type player. This group will all see the dynasty values rise this offseason. 

Chris Carson #113:

Our last player listed, and one who has seen his value almost entirely evaporate due to a neck injury Carson suffered this season. It is a shame because Carson was the engine that drove the Seahawks rushing attack the last five seasons. In doing so, Carson gave teams low-end RB1/high-end RB2 production the previous three seasons. If you can find someone willing to roster Carson, see what you can get for him as his best days in the NFL are behind him. Carson underwent neck surgery around Thanksgiving, hoping to return in 2022. I would target a young promising tight end (No, not Kyle Pitts) and hope that player takes steps forward to gain dynasty value. Someone such as Dalton Schultz or Dawson Knox are the tight ends that fit that mold. As for pick values, I would happily take a second-round pick for Carson at the moment, though a third-round pick seems more likely.

In conclusion, the 2017 running back class is one for the record books. Even with all the injuries to the running back position this season, we are still getting elite production from Ekeler, Mixon, Kamara, and Fournette. In addition, Cook, Jones, and Hunt are valuable pieces for contenders making a push for a championship. While all that is great, when we zoom out and look at the big picture, now is the perfect time to move off these assets in dynasty, as the production and value slowly wean away. You will be happy you decided to trade away these players when you look back a year from now.

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