Vision is an excellent tool to have success in fantasy sports. By correctly reading injury news, a drafter can avoid a possible pitfall that many other opponents don't see. Additionally, understanding each player's role, opportunity, and direction will help build a rising team rather than one built on last year's stats.
In 2021, Leonard Fournette and James Conner had questionable roles in the Buccaneers' and Cardinals' offense while looking like coin-flip options with Ronald Jones and Chase Edmonds. The cloudiness of the potential chances led to a favorable price point in drafts (9th to 11th rounds). This year, both players look to have RB1 opportunities in high-scoring offenses with a top-tier quarterback. As a result, they rank 13th and 16th by ADP (Fournette – 22 and Conner – 36) in the National Fantasy Football Championship. They finished as the RB6 and RB5 in fantasy scoring last year (Fournette – 255.60 and Conner – 257.70) in PPR formats. The previous year, they ranked 28th (Conner – 164.80 fantasy points) and 35th (Fournette – 132.00) while missing a combined six games.
The growth of Fournette last year came from Tampa Bay leading the league in passing attempts (731), completions (492), receiver yards (5,383), and passing touchdowns (43). The only other team in NFL history to pass the ball more was the Detroit Lions in 2012 (740 pass attempts). Fournette missed three games last year (18 in his five-year career), but his ability to help protect Tom Brady kept him on the field for many passing plays (69/454/2). Despite his success, he continues to be a grinder as a pass catcher (6.7 yards per catch over the past three seasons – 181/1,209/2).
Tampa Bay added a talented pass-catching back (43/456/1 – 10.6 yards per catch) in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft in Rachaad White. He also shined at Arizona State over his limited chances in the run game (182/1,006/15). At the very least, White will be an upgrade at RB2 for the Bucs compared to the disappointing season by Jones (101/428/4 with 10 catches for 64 yards).
As for Conner, his difference-maker stat came from his 18 touchdowns (15 in the run game). He intrigued the fantasy world in 2018 with the Steelers when he gained 1,470 combined yards with 13 touchdowns and 55 catches on 270 touches over 13 contests. Unfortunately, Conner missed nine games over the next two seasons, leading to much weaker results in fantasy points (146.50 and 164.80).
For some reason (probably an underlying injury), Kyler Murray regressed as a runner (88/423/5 – 133/819/11 in 2020), creating a higher window for Conner at the goal line. Conner made scoring look easy in close while also being more dynamic in the passing game (37/375/3 – 10.1 yards per catch). He passed the eye test in 2021, and Arizona doesn't have an elite option at running back pressing him for playing time in 2022.
Here's a look at the top 12 running backs in 2020 and their finish in 2021 in PPR scoring:
Last year only one running back (Jonathan Taylor) progressed to elite status. Ezekiel Elliott, Nick Chubb, and Josh Jacobs improved slightly, while Aaron Jones fell short of expectations by 28.90 fantasy points. Most failures were due to injuries. The running back position has the highest rate of missing games.
Here are the top 12 players from last season and where they came from in 2020:
The outlier in the top 12 from last year was Cordarrelle Patterson. He was a waiver wire pick-up in most leagues while having wide receiver eligibility in 2020.
The bottom line from this exercise is that players rarely repeat their previous success at running back. Injuries happen and offenses move in different directions. I never want to invest in a player after a career season, except for an elite three-down back with pedigree and no injury history. The window for a running back tends to be short and knowing when to get off the bus is an integral part of avoiding traps.
In the end, I have Fournette and Conner on my fade list. Conner is reasonably priced of the two, but I expect regression in his scoring. His history of injuries is a strike for me. As for Fournette, I expect him to underperform expectations based on where he gets drafted. He runs hard with a power game, but repeatability is my primary concern.