This week’s ADP Duel breaks down two running backs brimming with potential. Over the last few seasons, the perception in drafts is that you should go after receivers early and often before focusing on the running backs (Zero-RB Theory). But, with the diminishing number of bell cow running backs in the league, nothing could be further from the truth. No matter what format your league uses, it is more than beneficial to attack the running back position in the early rounds because of the lack of depth at the position. Most drafts for the 2017 season will see an increase in running backs selected in the earlier rounds. You could zig when everyone else is zagging, but without that true RB1 on your roster you will be behind the eight ball in weekly matchups.
Once you get into the mid-twenties at the position, the RB depth starts to become a wasteland of players whose production will be no better than a coin flip in most weeks. That inconsistency alone is what will drive the need for a bell cow even higher in price. If you’re counting on players like Ameer Abdullah or Robert Kelley in your weekly lineups, then you have failed at the draft. More important is the decision you make on your RB1. If you are faced with a decision in Round 2 between Jay Ajayi or Todd Gurley, which player you should go after?
Jay Ajayi- ADP 20
After being put on the bench following the signing of Arian Foster, Ajayi was on the outs with the coaching staff to begin 2016. But once the experiment with the oft-injured Foster failed, he was given the chance to prove his worth. That is exactly what he did, finishing with 1,272 yards, eight TDs and a spot within the RB1 tier in Fantasy. But, even with the nice year-end numbers, one could argue that Ajayi’s production was very boom or bust.
Ajayi gained half of his rushing yardage via three different 200-yard games. Aside from those games, Ajayi could only muster one contest in which he went over the century mark. He failed to reach 20 Fantasy points in 12 of his 15 starts and was largely invisible in the passing game. So, to say consistency was an issue with Ajayi in 2016 is quite the understatement.
As the Dolphins enter their second season under the tutelage of head coach Adam Gase, much is to be expected of Ajayi in this offense. The coaching staff has even gone as far as to say that they will be giving him the ball even more in 2017. As one of the league leaders in yards after contact, Ajayi could very well benefit from an increase in touches per game. Combine additional touches with the continued improvement of a young offensive line and you have the recipe for what could be a great season for Ajayi.
Ryan Tannehill and the passing attack will do enough to keep defenses honest, which will open holes for Ajayi to run through. The only drawback to his game is that you should not expect him to improve much on the 27 catches he made in 2016, as Kenyan Drake will hold down the passing game role. But with an increase in touches and a more balanced offense, a season with 1,275 yards and 10 TDs is not out of the realm of possibility for Ajayi in 2017.
Todd Gurley- ADP 21
If you were like me and drafted Todd Gurley in 2016, you probably have a sour taste in your mouth. As a player that many drafted in the middle of the first round, Gurley was one of the biggest Fantasy busts in recent memory. Gurley ended up on the bench for many Fantasy owners by mid-season, and he finished with a mere 885-yards and six TDs.
You can place a lot of the blame on the pitiful nature of the Rams’ offense, but Gurley was not himself either. He looked very hesitant once given a handoff, leading to countless negative runs. He finally began to play better down the stretch, but by that time is was too little too late. The only bright spot for Gurley last season was his increased production in the passing game with 43 receptions. This alone drove his value back into the RB2 tier, but he could just as easily have finished as an RB3.
Gurley has all the talent in the world, and he should be able to rebound and regain his rookie season form. However, he is bound to the awful nature of the supporting cast around him. Jared Goff still has a lot to learn as an NFL QB, and the weapons on the outside leave a lot to be desired. Granted, the front office attempted to bolster this offensive line during the offseason, but that will not save Gurley from facing consistently stacked boxes by opposing defenses.
Teams know that this offense will be going through him, making it extremely hard to find open space to run through and potentially negating big gainers in the running attack. These issues will continue to create a problem for Gurley, but the slight improvements will give him just enough to better his 2016 output. I’m expecting Todd Gurley to again get over the 1,000-yard mark, and increase his TDs up to a total of eight. He should be very present in the passing game, increasing his value in PPR formats, which in total should make Gurley a fringe RB1 in drafts.
The decision between these two players comes down to the simple fact that Ajayi benefits more from the Miami offensive system than Gurley will from the Rams’ offense. Ajayi will indeed have the advantage in points per opportunity, an area that Gurley will undoubtedly struggle in. Ajayi will outrush Gurley and out-produce him in touchdowns, making the decision very simple. If you are faced with these two players at your spot in the second round, nab Jay Ajayi and feel confident that you got the better player for your 2017 team.