Upside Hunting: RB Draft Day Bargains

By Alex McCarthy
Alex McCarthy

ADP= Average Draft Position
ECR= Expert Consensus Rank
MBO= My Biased Opinion

Jordan Howard


Why He’s Being Doubted:

    1. His athletic measurables are unspectacular and he doesn’t have breakaway speed.
    2. He will likely be facing stacked boxes due to a lack of receiving threats in Chicago.
    3. He fits into the “sophomore RB bust” narrative that solidified with Gurley last year.

Why You Should Take Him Anyway:

    1. While there are some similarities between Howard and Gurley going into last season, the differences are more important. Gurley spent his sophomore year behind a subpar offensive line and in a scheme that didn’t favor his natural abilities as a runner, while Howard will be running behind one of the best interior lines in football and in a scheme built to complement his vision and running style.
    2. A lack of receiving threats may allow defenders to key more on the run game, but it also means that there will be targets for Howard in the passing game. He had eye surgery in the offseason and reports from camp indicate that his catching ability has improved tremendously, meaning he will likely see more of a receiving role this season. Volume= opportunity= points.
    3. Elite athleticism is nice, but not required to play the RB position at a high level. Players like Arian Foster, Frank Gore, and DeVonta Freeman have been proving this for years.
    4. Howard finished as the overall WR10 last year despite starting only thirteen games AND only scoring six touchdowns. This is a relatively small number for a feature back and is due for some positive regression, and also means that a weak Chicago offense is baked into considerations of Howard’s value already.
    5. His mark of 5.2 YPC is one of the most impressive by any rookie in history. Even more impressively, he did it not on a star-studded Cowboys roster but on a dysfunctional offense that can only improve moving forward.

From the moment Howard was given the opportunity he was a true RB1 on the field and in fantasy, and the departure of Alshon Jeffery is not enough reason to believe he will suddenly cease to dominate. The interior line that led the way for him last year returns and will hopefully be healthier, and if his role in the passing game increases as predicted he could see as many touches as any back outside of DJ and LeVeon. He’ll cost you a second round pick, but as far as I’m concerned he’s easily worth a first.

Jay Ajayi


Why He’s Being Doubted:

    1. He has a history of injuries, most worryingly a “bone-on-bone” knee issue that could potentially force him to retire in 2-3 years.
    2. He scored 57% of his fantasy points in four games last year, causing him to be slapped with the “boom/bust”/”inconsistent” label.

    Why You Should Take Him Anyway:

      1. The knee worries are overblown. He’ll have knee issues later in life to be sure, but you take RBs in dynasty with the understanding that you’ll get two or three years out of them and anything beyond that is a bonus. I’m not fading a talent like Ajayi because of what may or may not happen in the 2020 season.
      2. The inconsistency Ajayi displayed last year was the result of a combination of factors that combined to present an unrealistic picture of his ability. First of all, he did not become the starter until week five, meaning the statistics from his first four games are irrelevant when considering this season. His 15.3 PPG through the remaining twelve would have made him RB8 over the course of a full season, and he starts to look significantly less inconsistent with three sub-10 point performances instead of seven.
      3. Word out of camp is that Ajayi is going to see increased usage in the passing game this year as well as the gameplan overall, with Adam “Coach Speak” Gase calling for a tantalizing 350 carries. While this may be a bit much to hope for, anything even around that number would create a comfortable floor for Ajayi by default and all but eliminate inconsistency. Volume= opportunity= points.
      4. The rise and fall in Ajayi’s performance correlates extremely strongly with the availability of Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey- Ajayi averaged 20.7 PPR points last season with him starting and only 11.4 without. Pouncey is healthy entering this season and should clear a big path for Ajayi up the middle as long as he stays that way.
      5. During the twelve weeks where Ajayi was the starter he played against seven top-10 rushing defenses (five of them without the help of Pouncey). While there are a handful of backs who might have been able to produce in that scenario (against five top-ten defenses in spite of a 30th-ranked injury-ridden offensive line), the fact that Ajayi struggled is to be expected and not overly concerning.
      6. Jay Ajayi is a pure runner. He led the league in broken tackles and YPC against stacked boxes (6.36), was second in the league in yards after contact (despite only playing twelve games), and had the fifth-highest elusiveness rating in the league among running backs (second-highest of any starter). He reminds many of a young Marshawn Lynch, and while optimistic I don’t find the comparison surprising.

    Ajayi clearly has the talent, but a whole lot of things came into play last year to obscure his value nicely for those of us who believe. He has the upside to be a league-winner if the Dolphins can utilize him effectively, so buy now.

    Lamar Miller

    ADP: RB15
    ECR: RB13
    MBO: RB11

    Why He’s Being Doubted:

      1. After averaging 4.8 YPC his last two years in Miami and entering last season as one of the most hyped players in fantasy, Miller came crashing to Earth and barely managed a 4.0 YPC for the Texans. He finished as the overall RB19 and was a source of great anguish for many burned owners, myself included.
      2. Rookie RB D’Onta Foreman has looked impressive in the preseason and sparked talk (among fans) that he could take Miller’s job at some point during the season.

    Why You Should Take Him Anyway:

      1. Miller has been demonized for his play last season, but he was a victim as well. Along with DeAndre Hopkins and the rest of the Texans offense, Miller suffered through the historic shitstorm that was Brock Osweiler. Osweiler’s complete and utter inability to make defenses respect the pass made Miller’s job nearly impossible, and while Watson and Savage may not be Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, there’s no way they can be worse than Brock. The Texans offense will improve, and Miller will benefit accordingly.
      2. Despite a few highlight-reel preseason runs from Foreman, Texans coach Bill O’Brien has made it abundantly clear that Miller is still the lead back. He has said that D’Onta has “a long way to go” in terms of development and familiarity with the offense, and he has been fourth on the depth chart behind Tyler Ervin and Alfred Blue all preseason.
      3. The presence of Foreman as a change-of-pace back actually stands to help Miller more than hurt him. Lamar had his best years in Miami when he received relatively fewer carries and was able to stay rested and dynamic. Rotating in Foreman will allow Miller to get a breather and regain some of his lost efficiency.
      4. If Foreman DOES impress and lock up the starting job next season, Miller could hit the free agent market at a time when some solid offenses could be looking for RB help (read: Oakland). Finishing his contract with the Texans would be good, but becoming a Raider would be even better.

    Miller’s performance last year was an anomaly and represents his absolute floor, but he is being drafted as if it is the new established norm. With a mid-RB2 floor and low-RB1 upside, he is an excellent bargain at RB15. Like many of my favorite undervalued players, he is not a sexy pick but can provide high-quality RB2 play for cheap (and good luck finding that many other places).

    Ty Montgomery

    ADP: RB19
    ECR: RB22
    MBO: RB17

    Why He’s Being Doubted:

      1. He converted from wide receiver to running back in the middle of last season, making him a bit of an unknown.
      2. He only had one game with over ten carries last season.
      3. The Packers drafted three rookie running backs, sparking talk (among fans) that one of them would take Montgomery’s job this upcoming season.

    Why You Should Take Him Anyway:

      1. Head coach Mike McCarthy referred to him as “absolutely the starting running back” in Green Bay, and the Packers showed further confidence in him by waiting until the fourth round to draft a running back.
      2. The three rookie RBs the Packers selected in the draft have struggled mightily in the preseason, all but guaranteeing that Montgomery will remain the starter. It is also worth noting that while Montgomery is a converted receiver, he has the size and build to withstand the punishment of a feature RB.
      3. He had the highest elusive rating in the league among RBs last season, led the league in average yards-after-contact, was second in the league in broken tackle rate among RBs, and had the third-highest juke rate among RBs. When he has the ball in his hands, he makes things happen.
      4. As the starting running back in an Aaron Rodgers-led offense, Montgomery will be able to use his elusiveness to take advantage of defenses that are too spread out or get nervous and overcommit to the pass.
      5. His relative lack of carries last year was likely due to the fact that he was so new to the position, a theory supported by the fact that he saw at least thirteen touches in all of Green Bay’s last four games. His lack of carries is also rendered less important by how heavily he is utilized in the passing game.
      6. He has had time in the offseason to grow more comfortable as an RB within the offense, which should lead to the Packers featuring him more heavily in the game plan next year. Volume= opportunity= points.

    Montgomery has an elite all-around skillset that has the potential to be absolutely deadly in the hands of Aaron Rodgers. Opportunity is king, and the opportunity afforded the Packers starting RB is worth much more than what TyMont will currently cost you.

    Bilal Powell

    ADP: RB34
    ECR: RB39
    MBO: RB25

    Why He’s Being Doubted:

      1. He plays for the Jets. Enough said.
      2. He is in a backfield committee with the aging but still talented Matt Forte.

    Why You Should Take Him Anyway:

      1. Matt Forte is thirty-two years old and has been struggling with hamstring injuries all offseason. As his body breaks down he will see fewer and fewer touches, leaving more for Powell.
      2. Powell has already shown the ability to produce even in this offense. Over the last four games of last season (during which Forte was either limited due to injury or out on injured reserve), Powell averaged over 20 PPG in PPR formats (second behind only LeVeon Bell).
      3. The Jets offense is certain to be historically bad, but there is a silver lining- with Enunwa hurt and Forte looking that way, Powell might the only guy the Jets have worth giving the ball. Volume is king, and the Jets will probably be forced to feed Powell a lot.
      4. With the Jets quarterbacks likely to spend much of the season in panic mode, his abilities as a pass-catcher and dump-off option make him even more appealing (especially in PPR formats). This versatility could allow the Jets to run their offense (if you can call it that) almost entirely through him, and they very well may do so.

    A few weeks into the season (once the first major injuries have happened) people will remember how hard it is to find a startable RB, let alone one that is the focal point of their offense. Bilal Powell represents the best RB value on the market right now, particularly for contending teams who are one running back away from a title run.

    Each of these players represents a fantastic draft day bargain at their current price, and seeing through the doubts surrounding each of them allows you to pounce on the deal and profit in the future. Do it now and thank me later by checking out my weekly “Hot Takes Cantina” column once the season starts (found here at, as well as the FantasyMetrics Football podcast that I co-host (available free on iTunes and Stitcher).

    Click here to read about wide receiver draft day bargains.
    Click here to read about quarterback and tight end draft day bargains.