Friday - Feb 15, 2019

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The Fire Sale: RB Studs, Sleepers and Busts

It feels so good to see football back on TV again, doesn’t it? Now I don’t have to pretend shows like Ray Donovan are interesting. Instead, I can just DVR every preseason game and watch them. How can anyone hate America?

In the second installment of my Studs/Sleepers/Busts series, I look at the running back position. Last week I covered quarterbacks in case you missed it.

Last year two of my deep running backs to keep an eye on were Jonas Gray and Alfred Blue, so make sure you remember these players throughout the season. Or not. I’m wrong a lot too.

Here’s a brief clarification of each section in case you don’t know what a stud is:

Studs – Some of my top picks at each position. I won’t include the most obvious players like Aaron Rodgers and Adrian Peterson. Talking about them is a waste of time. My studs will usually be a tier or two below those elite players unless there’s someone I really want to discuss.

Sleepers – If you follow The Fire Sale over the years you know I have strict rules on what players qualify as “sleepers.” Travis Kelce isn’t a sleeper. He’s a stud. Kelce is being drafted in Round 5 and coming off a year where he caught 67 passes for 862 yards and 5 touchdowns. Jordan Matthews isn’t a sleeper. He’s a stud. If someone wants to give those guys out as sleepers, they’re a year too late.

Busts – Busts are players I think will disappoint or won’t live up to their draft position. Remember though, bust doesn’t mean I think the player is bad. Sometimes it may but it usually means I think the player won’t live up to where he’s being drafted.

Many of you have asked me about rankings on social media. I now have my preseason rankings up.

I’ll also be doing weekly rankings for Fantasy Sharks during the season.

You can follow me on Twitter @ThePigskinGuy. I reply to all inquiries and answer all questions about your fantasy team. I only have one rule: When asking me a roster question I need to know your team first. I can’t give you proper trade or start/sit advice without knowing your roster.

You can ask me a fantasy question any time but I want to let everyone know that on Sundays during the season I’ll be available starting at 10:00 am ET to answer questions. Feel free to ask me lineup or DFS questions. I’m doing work for DraftKings this season as well.

Next week, I’ll have a major announcement about my Twitter followers. Let’s just say it could pay for one of you to be a loyal follower at the end of the season. I’m not talking about pizza either. I believe in rewarding loyalty. Here’s your chance to cash in on my stupidity. All you have to do is follow and be active. Stay tuned.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Can’t get enough Thomas Casale? I know I can’t. Click here to get your VIP Membership today and see what Thomas has to say in ‘The Fantasy Stock Exchange’ only in the Fantasy Sharks VIP Pre-Season Report.

Now on with The Fire Sale

Running Back Studs

C.J. Anderson, Denver – If you follow The Fire Sale you know I invented both Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball. That’s not an exaggeration.

I staked my future on Hillman coming out of school and I was tweeting about Ball when he was a freshman at Wisconsin. I love those guys, so when I say Anderson is the clear-cut back in Denver; I’m as objective a fantasy analyst as you’ll find.

Hillman is a fine NFL running back. I would be perfectly happy with him. When Hillman took over for an injured Ball in Week 5, he put up 491 yards from scrimmage and scored four touchdowns over the next five games, making Hillman the fifth best fantasy running back over that stretch. I like him to be the No. 2 back in Denver.

Ball has been a miserable failure. I’ve never been so sure about a player in 30 years and been so wrong. Ball trips over grass. The guy has the worst balance I’ve ever seen.

Anderson is simply a better player than both Hillman and Ball. They aren’t a threat to Anderson as long as he’s healthy and playing well.

I think some people will be stunned by Anderson’s weekly workload. I may be wrong but I expect to see the offense now going through Anderson. It makes Peyton Manning and the passing game even more dangerous and tougher to defend.

I have no doubts about Anderson this season. Then again, there’s always the possibility that I’m just wrong when it comes to Denver running backs. If Anderson screws me this year, I’m done with the Broncos’ backfield forever.

Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati – I just wrote about Hill two columns ago. I’ll add a little more but here’s some of what I already said in case you missed it:

I don’t say things like “He’s the next Adrian Peterson” because it’s ridiculous but Hill is going to be the next great NFL runner. If you’re reluctant to draft Hill high because of Gio Bernard, don’t be. Bernard will catch some passes and give Hill a breather but it won’t impact his fantasy value. Hill is the real deal.

Over his last seven games in 2014, Hill topped 100 yards rushing four times and scored four touchdowns. He went over 145 yards three times. He received 20+ carries four times during that span.

Listen, I know he doesn’t catch a lot of passes and that bothers some people but this kid is an absolute monster. Besides, how many passes does Peterson catch? Is Eddie Lacy hauling in 60 balls a year? Hill caught 27 passes last season. He’s going to be on the field even more in 2015, so 30+ receptions are likely.

I mean Lacy is only averaging 38 receptions over his first two NFL seasons and he’s a projected Top 5 fantasy pick. I know he plays with Aaron Rodgers but Hill is going 16 picks later on average. That’s some value with Hill.

Everyone has their strengths as an analyst. I follow guys on Twitter and they do stuff I couldn’t do if I live to be 100. My strengths are studying the college game and studying coaching patterns.

Established coaches rarely change the way they do things. Hue Jackson likes to ride his horse. Bernard will be a part of the Bengals offense but make no mistake about it, Hill is the lead dog. Hill is getting 300 carries this season if he stays healthy. Take it to the bank.

A couple of people on Twitter expressed concern that the Bengals are facing the toughest schedule this year. Let me correct that: The Bengals are facing 2014’s toughest schedule. We don’t know how good teams will be this season.

That stuff doesn’t scare me because in my rankings the Bengals have a top-5 offensive line and Hill is a stud. They’ll be able to run the football on virtually any defense.

Hill is a steal at his current late-second round ADP. He has a legitimate chance to lead the NFL in rushing. Toss is double-digit touchdowns and that’s a guy I want on my fantasy team.

Latavius Murray, Oakland – I consider myself an open-minded person. You might not believe this but one of my best qualities is my ability to listen to others. That’s why I’m changing my opinion on Murray.

I’ve never doubted Murray’s talent. However, in my “Don’t Believe the Hype” column last month, I cautioned against Murray because of his limited sample size and more importantly because I don’t trust new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.

I won’t pull punches, I don’t care for Musgrave. I don’t like the way he handles an offense and restricts his quarterbacks. Then a person I follow on Twitter posted something that made me think. He said he was watching the Raiders’ first preseason game and they were throwing all short passes. That’s when the light bulb went off.

I was punishing Murray for having Musgrave as an offensive coordinator when I should have been rewarding him. Musgrave is so conservative and unimaginative that he’s just going to throw 5-yard passes and run Murray into the ground. I was wrong. I originally misjudged the situation.

Murray has a unique skill set. He’s 230 pounds and one of the few backs in the NFL that can go 90 yards any time he touches the ball. After looking into it further, the Raiders are going to ride Murray all year and other than Roy Helu, they have absolutely no depth at running back. Helu will see some touches too but the Raiders literally have only two NFL running backs and maybe Michael Dyer on the practice squad.

If I can trust Musgrave to do one thing it’s be conservative, so I’m going to change my tune on Murray. Assuming this coaching staff has more brains than Tony Sparano (who doesn’t?) and keeps Murray on the field, he’ll have a big year.

I currently have Murray as a top-12 fantasy running back in my rankings. It’s okay to buy the hype now because I’m hyping him. What a hypocrite.

Ameer Abdullah, Detroit Lions – I’ve been pumping up Abdullah since before the draft. I would tell you to go read my columns but Fantasy Sharks switched servers and I’m pretty sure some of them no longer exist, so there’s a chance I’m making this all up.

If you want to know my thoughts on Abdullah dating back to April, click here.

About Thomas Casale

Thomas began playing fantasy football back when owners had to mail in their starting lineups and work out trades over the phone. He started writing The Fire Sale in 1998. Since then his articles have appeared on numerous web sites sites including Fantasy Sharks, USA Today and SI.com.