All the arguments for delaying your fantasy football draft were solidified Friday night when Arizona Cardinals rookie running back and sleeper candidate Ryan Williams suffered a season-ending injury. Imagine your frustration if you spent an early pick hoping to latch on to a key cog of your fantasy team. That’s just a brief commentary on the value of waiting to hold your draft. For the rest of us, we are left with the task of deciding the implications of the injury and how changed roles will affect our projections.
Many owners will simply elevate Chris ‘Beanie’ Wells on their draft boards. While Wells’ value certainly gets a tick, I would warn against blindly penciling him in as your RB2. There will always be value for the primary running back on a team in fantasy football, but the real challenge is to properly evaluate and gauge that value. Let’s take a look at what we can reasonably expect from Wells in his, possibly, expanded role.
Wells is coming off a forgettable sophomore season where he saw his rushing yards dip below 400 yards and the injury bug paid him visits throughout the year. Wells has a history of battling lingering injuries dating back to his college days at Ohio State. His rookie campaign, where he logged 16 games was encouraging, but likely an anomaly. In 13 games last year, Wells saw his yards per carry drop over a yard to a paltry 3.4 and he only found the endzone twice.
If you play in a points per reception league, Wells will be a drag on your team in the receiving game as well. In his brief 29-game career Wells has only hauled in 17 passes. Even if he claims the starting job outright, Wells is not a three-down back. Wells’ regression, injuries and limited skill set are the exact reasons the Cardinals elected to spend an early draft pick on Williams in the first place.
The biggest factor being missed in this situation is that the Cardinals will likely look to bolster their backfield by adding another back either via trade or by signing a free agent. It is highly unlikely that Wells is the workhorse the entire year. Guys like Clinton Portis or Laurence Maroney could be on their radar or they may target younger guys via trade like the Carolina Panthers’ Mike Goodson or the New England Patriots’ BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Goodson has shown promise in limited action and is the odd man out in a talented and crowded backfield in Carolina. Green-Ellis may be expendable for a Patriots team who drafted two running backs in the last draft. While a back like Goodson or Green-Ellis would be best for us fantasy owners, the Cardinals are more likely to pursue a veteran at this point in the preseason. If they are convinced that Williams is the back of the future it only stands to cause problems in subsequent years if Arizona trades for another young back to join him and Wells.
I expect the Cardinals to pursue a vet and employ a running back by committee or look to play the hot hand as the game plays out with LaRod Stephens-Howling getting an expanded role. If you are looking for Wells to suddenly carry your fantasy team to the promised land you will likely be disappointed. Move him up your cheatsheets a little but I still wouldn’t target him as anything other than an RB3 or flex option. If you are smart you still have some time for this situation to get worked out before you have to draft your team and work through these decisions. Good luck!