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Putting the #TwoToThreeYearWindow into action

Window Opening – Buy Now!

Royce Freeman, Denver Broncos

What is the formula for fantasy success? Talent + opportunity. 

What does Royce Freeman have? Plenty of talent. The only question as to whether he can break out and become a must-own fantasy running back is opportunity. 

If you ask me, the window of opportunity has begun to swing wide open. 

What is Royce Freeman’s number one stumbling block to obtaining NFL-starter opportunity? The current Denver “starting” running back: Phillip Lindsey

Pop quiz: how many running backs have ever entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent and had 3+ years of RB1 production? 

Answer: One, Arian Foster. 

In fact, Arian Foster is the only running back to produce those elite numbers after being drafted anywhere later than the third round of the NFL draft. 

As a reminder, Royce Freeman was drafted at the start of the 3rd round in 2018. Phillip Lindsey went undrafted. 

Second quiz: how many running backs have been able to sustain 3+ years of RB1 production while weighing in under 208lbs? 

Answer: Two, Chris Johnson and Jamaal Charles. Both of which ran sub 4.4 times in their 40-yard dash. 

Phillip Lindsey: 184 lbs, 4.44 second 40-yard-dash

Royce Freeman: 229 lbs, 4.54 second 40-yard-dash

photo milehighsports.com

Now, this is not an attack article on Phillip Lindsey. He was one of my favorite players last year. I was lucky enough to see him coming and grab him week 1 of my waiver wire in my home dynasty and it paid dividends. 

All I’m saying is that the numbers don’t suggest that Lindsey will have a sustainable career as an NFL starter. 

Where is Lindsey now? Still nursing a wrist injury that happened last season. 

But, just because Royce has the chance to grab the starting role doesn’t mean that he’s “buy now” material per se, so let’s look at some of Freeman’s numbers. One of the best ways to tell if someone is “buy” material is to look at players that are being priced about the same and compare their potential values. 

Right now, per DynsastyNerds Dynasty RB rankings (which can be accessed by all NerdHerd members), Royce Freeman is ranked at RB-34. So, it’s reasonable to say you could buy Freeman for mid RB3 pricing. 

How many other running backs in this range have a real chance at being the starter on their team?

RB-31: Jerrick McKinnon; don’t even get me started on the probability of him running away with the starting role, and he’s a constant injury threat.

RB-32: Damien Williams; there’s been plenty of evidence to show that Williams’ ability to lead the show in KC is at best questionable, another player already dealing with injury questions this year.

RB-33: James White; definitely a fantasy asset, but lead NFL running back? I don’t think anyone is trying to make that argument.

RB-35: Tevin Coleman; same backfield as our friend Jerrick McKinnon. He’s my personal favorite to take the job, but even I’m not willing to make an argument that the job will be a dominant one. 

RB-36: Lamar Miller; perpetually mediocre, definitely a value this year but a very common target for 2020 running back replacement conspiracies.

So, you’re paying the same price as you would for a lot of players that I think will stand a lesser chance of securing a dominant starting role for at least this year and next year.

Let’s not forget, Freeman was a major candidate for having a breakout rookie year in 2018 before Phillip Lindsey stole our hearts and the Denver backfield. Freeman was being drafted as an RB2 and being talked about for rookie of the year potential. Comps even as gaudy as Leonard Fournette was being used to describe his incredible combination of size and speed. I have included a couple of sources at the end of this article if anyone cares to reminisce about the hope America once had for the Oregon standout.

My argument for Royce Freeman is a simple one. He has the physical potential that can be seen in almost every evaluation and scouting profile from 2018. He has a clear path to starting with a running back in front of him that statistically just doesn’t check many boxes for starting career longevity. To top it off, you can acquire Royce Freeman for the same price as a lot of other running backs that quite frankly don’t have as clear of a path to a starting job. 

Is Theo Riddick going to steal some passing game snaps away? Of course. But, let’s not forget how excited we all were for Kerryon Johnson’s 2019 season even when we thought Riddick was still going to be hanging around the Motor City.

Looking for a running back with a lot of potential? Searching for a window that is steadily creeping open?

The choice is Royce.

Window Open – Win That Championship!

Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts

One phenomenon that I’ve witnessed this offseason is the lack of respect Marlon Mack has gotten for his 2018 season. I’ve heard it all, the injury concerns, the lack of passing usage, his “replaceability” with the upcoming 2020 class. So, why on Earth am I going to try to convince you that Marlon Mack is the guy to lead your team to a championship? Because he’s the elite running option that’s been hiding under our noses the entire time and it turns out a lot of those concerns don’t hold up when we compare Mack to many of the other “up-and-coming” backs of 2019. 

photo https://s.yimg.com

Problem one: injuries. Everyone is worried that Marlon Mack just “can’t stay on the field”. Marlon Mack has missed a total of 6 games so far in his two-season career. For comparison, here’s a handful of the running backs currently ranked above Mack in FantasyPro’s 2019 Dynasty RB Rankings and how many games they missed during the initial 2-3 year window of their career (whether they are currently still in that window or have passed it).

  • RB 8 – David Johson – 15 games missed (and two years past the 2-3 year window)
  • RB 10 – Dalvin Cook – 17 games missed (in year 3 of his 2-3 year window)
  • RB 11 – Le’Veon Bell – 13 games missed (and four years past the 2-3 year window)
  • RB 13 – Kerryon Johnson – 6 games missed (in year 2 of his 2-3 year window)
  • RB 14 – Leonard Fournette – 11 games missed (in year 3 of his 2-3 year window)
  • RB 15 – Aaron Jones – 8 games missed (in year 3 of his 2-3 year window)

Where is Marlon Mack?

  • Rb 17 – Marlon Mack – 6 games missed (in year 3 of his 2-3 year window)

I don’t know what you see, but I see a whole lot of running backs that are either right in the middle of their window alongside Marlon Mack, or far past it, and every single one missed more games than Mack (outside of Kerryon Johnson, who has already matched Mack’s total in only Johnson’s rookie season). 

Well, maybe these other backs were just far more efficient last year than Mack was in the games they did play. Let’s check it out. 

  • David Johnson – 15.4 PPG
  • Leonard Fournette – 15.1 PPG
  • Marlon Mack – 14.8 PPG
  • Aaron Jones – 14.3 PPG
  • Kerryon Johnson – 13.9 PPG
  • Dalvin Cook – 13.8 PPG

It looks like Marlon Mack was right in the middle of the pack for PPG, and around an entire point above both Kerryon Johnson and Dalvin Cook.

He’s injured less, and scores more points when he’s in, so what am I missing? Is Neyhiem Hines going to take MORE passing opportunities away from Mack? Unlikely. All offseason indications seem to say that this year will be more of the same as far as the balance of passing usage between the two backs and Hines already commanded a majority of the work last season and we saw how Mack was able to still produce fantasy points. Is Indianapolis going to be unable to score? Doubtful. The Colts ended the year rocking and rolling with Andrew Luck back to his elite self and a young o-line that will only improve after already being ranked the 4th best offensive line by Football Outsiders with multiple rookie starters. 

I’m not trying to sell Marlon Mack as a guaranteed top-5 RB in 2019, but I will say this: he has a better track record and much better opportunity (we didn’t even get into the current states of the offenses of other 2019 hopefuls like Dalvin Cook and Leonard Fournette) than a lot of the other running backs being ranked ahead of him. He could easily be the running back you buy at low-end RB2 value that ends up posting a top-10 season for you. THOSE are league-winning results every dynasty owner dreams of.

Window Closing – Sell While You Can!

Ezekiel Elliot, Dallas Cowboys

Fun fact: I was already on the sell-now train for Ezekiel Elliot long before his extended visit to Cabo began. And no, I’m not just trying to be a hipster and “get there first”. Here is the hard truth guys: Ezekiel Elliot’s 2-3 year window has shut. 

That’s the whole point of this article series, to show just how real the 2-3 year window is. 

Here’s a list of the 15 running backs (other than Zeke) that have had 3+ top-12 seasons in their fantasy careers according to Pro-Football-Reference:

  • Adrian Peterson
  • Marshawn Lynch
  • Arian Foster
  • Todd Gurley
  • LeVeon Bell
  • LeSean McCoy
  • Maurice Jones-Drew
  • Frank Gore
  • DeMarco Murray
  • Jamaal Charles
  • Chris Johnson
  • Steven Jackson
  • David Johnson
  • Melvin Gordon

That is very impressive company to keep. But, so far, Ezekiel Elliot has ranked within the top 5 twice already. So, what is the list of those players above that have had more than three top 5 finishes (basically, what are Zeke’s chances of having more than one year left of that top tier production)? 

  • Adrian Peterson
  • Marshawn Lynch
  • Arian Foster

That crowd dispersed very quickly. 

It turns out that, even when looking at the best of the best, 3 years of top tier production are pretty much the best you can hope for. I say top-tier because right now Ezekiel Elliot is being valued as a top-5 dynasty asset pretty much across the board. 

Even within this top-notch crowd, only 10 of the above running backs even repeated top-12 numbers more than 3 times. 

As a reminder, Ezekiel Elliot has had two top-5 finishes, and all three of his years he has finished within the top-12. 

Could Ezekiel Elliot be one of the all-time greats like AP or Beast Mode and shatter the 2-3 year stigma? It is possible. But, NFL running back is a very dangerous and unpredictable occupation. Injuries, suspensions, team changes, and many other factors make it nearly impossible for even the best running backs to produce consistent results. Our three outliers in the list all took 8 years or more to accomplish this feat. This means, even if Zeke is going to stack another top-5 season in there it is very possible that it will not be this year or even next year. With the ever-growing threat that Ezekiel Elliot will be missing for at least part of this NFL season, I would be willing to say that 2019 is sizing up as a good candidate for Zeke to land outside of his usual RB1 status. 

So, why hold onto Ezekiel Elliot, waiting for what will probably be more than a year or two for him to return to top-tier production? I’m all about preparing for the future, but at some point, you have to find yourself acquiring pieces that can win you a championship if not this year then next year. 

This suggestion comes with a warning label: the current holdout threat has taken a hit to Zeke’s fantasy value. But, if you’re lucky enough to have someone in your league still willing to pay a top-tier price to acquire him? The time is now my friends. There are plenty of dynasty players seeing the hold-out as an opportunity to acquire a player that was practically un-tradable not long ago. 

I would even be willing to take low-end RB1 value for Zeke at this point. Again, the numbers are not in his favor to even return to top-12 form too many more times. Don’t underestimate how rare it is to even make that list of 15 in the first place. 

But, also don’t sell him for just anything. Sell-now does not mean sell-at-all-cost. If the market just isn’t there it might be time to buckle up and enjoy the Feed-Me express wherever it may take you.

The 2-3 year window is an unfortunate (almost) absolute truth of fantasy football for running backs. It is just too easy for an injury, suspension, or who knows what else to derail any running back’s chances of achieving RB1 numbers at any given moment.

Loved it, hated it, any dramatic combination of the two? You can find me, Nathan Bourque, on twitter @dynstydadstache and I’d love to hear from anyone kind enough to give this a read.

References:

some information is used from the “Bulletproof” series by @DFBeanCounter

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