Late Bloomers: Running Backs
The Fantasy Football playoffs are often the period where decent players become viewed as ‘High-Tier’ in the following offseason. These late bloomers can be fake, or the last few weeks can be a true reflection of time to come. This short series of articles is going to dive into these players and provide some insight into their future as a fantasy player. Today, we’re talking about the Running Backs who saw the largest difference in average PPR points from weeks 1-12 to weeks 13-16.
David Montgomery (13.6 PPG to 25.2 PPG)
Gregory Shamus - Getty Images
Well, look who it is. David Montgomery. From weeks 1 to 12, David Montgomery was a solid RB2 for your fantasy team. He wasn’t lighting up the world, but with Cohen injured Montgomery stacked up as the RB15 in that span. In the last 4 games of the season, Montgomery took advantage of a great schedule and was the RB2 during the tail end of the season. If you made it to the playoffs, Montgomery likely won you your Fantasy Championship.
Going into 2021, Montgomery is being pushed down draft boards once again. According to FantasyData.com, Montgomery is being drafted as the 19th RB off the board in redraft, still behind Josh Jacobs, and Miles Sanders. Nobody is expecting top 5 production from Montgomery, but why can’t he repeat as a top 15 RB like we saw the first half of the season? I have 2 big concerns. First, the return of Tarik Cohen. From 2019 to 2020, Montgomery saw 29 greater receptions and 253 greater receiving yards. While I expect Monty to be more involved in the passing game than he was in 2019, Cohen is not going to cede all the work to Montgomery. The second concern is Justin Fields. In reality, this could be beneficial or detrimental to Montgomery. If Fields succeeds, Chicago will likely score more often as a team. At the same time, Fields could take some rushing TD’s from Montgomery as he establishes himself.
Montgomery is far closer to what we saw the first 12 weeks of the season than the last 4. He’s not a world beater, and the role we saw him fill in 2020 was driven by necessity. Don’t expect a great season for Monty, but at RB19 in ADP he could still be a value.
Jonathan Taylor (12.3 PPG to 23 PPG)
Like Montgomery’s, Jonathan Taylor’s end of the season was filled with advantageous matchups. As you would hope, Taylor capitalized on these matchups and put up some massive weeks. Taylor was the RB3 over the last 4 weeks of the season, carrying teams to fantasy championships.
While Montgomery’s offseason narrative is centered around reasons why he’s won’t repeat this performance, Taylor’s is all about how he’ll do it again. FantasyData.com has Taylor at RB6 in ADP, being drafted in the first half of the first round in single QB redraft leagues. The talent of Jonathan Taylor is undeniable, and the opportunity for Taylor to execute on the ground will be there. The difference-maker for Taylor will be his involvement in the passing game. With Hines still around, some hesitation might be warranted to make the leap on Taylor as an elite RB for fantasy purposes.
From where I stand, Taylor’s ADP is just right. His floor is high, and his ceiling is the RB1 in 2021. I don’t see him finishing outside the top 10, and when you’re using a first-round pick you want both security and upside. It’s not often you can find that, but he’s a guy I value ahead of Nick Chubb because of his upside, and ahead of Zeke because of his safety. He should be a smash weekly RB1 in 2021.
J.D. McKissic (9.7 PPG to 19.3 PPG)
Randy Litzinger - Getty Images
What? J.D. McKissic did something good at the end of the year? To be honest, I don’t really care. McKissic racked up nearly 30 receptions in this 4-game span. During this stretch, Gibson only played 25 snaps due to a lingering foot injury he’s still battling. Rather than talking about McKissic, let’s talk about the role McKissic filled for the Washington Football Team.
The end of the season was filled with Quarterback confusion. McKissic saw targets from Alex Smith, Dwayne Haskins, and Taylor Heinicke in these four games. Here’s where things get interesting. In these games, McKissic’s Average Depth of Target (ADoT) was 3.4 yards downfield. That would have been THIRD among all RBs in 2020. This is IMPORTANT. I can’t emphasize this enough! McKissic was being used in a way that is considered downfield for Running Backs.
Applying this to 2021 doesn’t include McKissic at all. Take this information and apply it to Antonio Gibson. Gibson’s 2020 ADoT was behind the line of scrimmage. It would be a fool’s errand to assume Gibson’s 2021 ADoT would be greater than 3, but this does give us grounds to think that it could be greater than 1. If Gibson is utilized in the same fashion we saw McKissic used in 2021, he has top 5 upside due to chunk plays and long breakaway receptions he didn’t see in 2020. Gibson is currently being drafted in the middle of the second round as the RB12. With some news of his foot injury lingering, I expect his ADP to drop, and I’m going to be buying the dip everywhere I can.