Don’t ignore Buffalo Bills RB James Cook in drafts

ECR stands for “Expert Consensus Ranking,” which means the average rankings of the fantasy football industry and is typically similar to ADP (which differs from site-to-site). This ongoing positional series will highlight some big differences between ECR and my own ranks.

Running Backs I like more than consensus

Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys (ECR = RB6 vs DDD = RB2)

Pollard averaged 19.3 PPR points when given 10 carries last season, which would have been good for fantasy’s RB3. He finished as the RB8 despite seeing fewer than 50% of the snaps in eight games and totaling a modest 232 touches; Dallas running backs combined for 524, and Ezekiel Elliott is gone.

Pollard won’t become a true workhorse who gets 325+ touches, but he’s averaged 102.3 yards from scrimmage and 0.91 touchdowns during games with a snap rate of more than 50% throughout his career; now, he’s clearly set up for by far his most opportunities ever.

Pollard is an absolute smash in Round Two.

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Breece Hall, New York Jets (ECR = RB14 vs DDD = RB8)

Hall is something of a risk and may require patience coming off ACL surgery, but he also possesses league-winning fantasy upside. He led all backs in explosive run rate, was second in yards per route run and quite simply stood out as a rookie last season. Hall had the most air yards among running backs despite running 250+ fewer routes than the next-most (Christian McCaffrey) while playing only 6.5 games (oh, and being a rookie).

He now goes from one of the league’s worst QB situations to a future Hall of Famer who likes targeting RBs.

Hall just turned 22 years old, is an exceptional athlete and could easily be the consensus No. 1 overall fantasy pick in 2024.

Jahmyr Gibbs, Detroit Lions (ECR = RB15 vs DDD = RB10)

Gibbs has major draft capital after being selected 12th overall. He’ll get to play for a surging Lions offense that helped D’Andre Swift be a top-20 fantasy back last season despite playing just 41% of the snaps. Gibbs is a legit prospect who commanded targets as an 18-year-old and now gets to play indoors on an offense that averaged an NFL-high 33+ points per game at home last season.

Yet, it’s an offense missing alternative weapons outside of Amon-Ra St. Brown.

While Gibbs may lose some goal-line touchdowns, Jamaal Williams is gone, and David Montgomery has been the least efficient back in the league over the last four years and may not be ideally suited for the role. Gibbs will see enough opportunities (including a ton of targets) in a Detroit offense that produced the most expected fantasy points from its backfield last season.

There’s a real chance Gibbs is a first-round fantasy pick next year.

James Cook, Buffalo Bills (ECR = RB30 vs DDD = RB22)

Cook quietly impressed as a rookie last season, leading all backs in explosive run percentage (15+ yards). He did so despite opposing defenses often knowing what was coming, something that figures to change in 2023 when Cook will be involved in all offensive packages.

Josh Allen, Damien Harris and/or Latavius Murray will steal some short touchdowns (although Buffalo has already stated its desire for Allen to run less), but Cook is looking at a far bigger workload in Year Two with Devin Singletary gone and Nyheim Hines out for the season.

[Where expert rankings go wrong: QB | RB | WR | TE]

Cook enters 2023 as the feature back on a Bills offense that ranked top-three in yards per play and points per game last season. His ECR/ADP is simply wrong.

J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens (ECR = RB20 vs DDD = RB14)

Dobbins’ knee injury still affected him last year, but he’s much healthier now. Assuming his contract issues get fixed, Dobbins should be Baltimore’s clear lead back this season. He won’t rack up catches — Lamar Jackson has the lowest target rate to running backs in the league — but Dobbins has averaged a whopping 5.9 YPC while playing hurt during his career. With a healthy Lamar Jackson, major upgrades at receiver and a new offensive coordinator, the Ravens should score a ton of points this season.

Dobbins is an RB to target in 2023.

Running Backs I like less than consensus

Miles Sanders, Carolina Panthers (ECR = RB18 vs DDD = RB25)

Sanders is coming off a career-best season and will be leaving a Philadelphia team that was fast-paced, had arguably the league’s best offensive line and gave him the fourth-most red-zone carries last year. While there’s hope he’s more active as a receiver now in Carolina, it should be noted Sanders ranks last in yards per target and catch rate among all qualified running backs since 2020. He also ranked dead last in PFF’s receiving grade last season among 60 RBs with 20+ targets. He hasn’t recorded a receiving touchdown since 2019.

Sanders is somehow getting drafted higher than ever despite suffering a huge downgrade in offensive environments.

Rachaad White, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (ECR = RB24 vs DDD = RB31)

White is seeing plenty of fantasy love as the Buccaneers’ likely new workhorse thanks to little RB competition in Tampa Bay. But expectations should be held in check (and fantasy picks around his 78.3 Yahoo ADP should be used elsewhere, like on our guy Rashaad Penny instead).

White is a late third-round pick who’s never reached 200 carries dating back to college and was one of the worst runners in the league as a rookie, finishing dead last in rush yards over expectations. He was also outplayed by dusty Leonard Fournette in the passing game and benefitted greatly from Tom Brady checkdowns.

The Buccaneers are going from providing the most catchable targets in the league last season to Baker Mayfield (or Kyle Trask). Mayfield also targets running backs, but his EPA/dropback (-0.12) and CPOE (-7%) were both worse than Zach Wilson last season; a downgrade doesn’t get any more dramatic than going from the GOAT to Mayfield. Tampa Bay scored the second-fewest points in the NFC last season and is expected to be one of the worst teams in the NFL in 2023.

White’s sell-high window in dynasty leagues is right now.

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