Unless you’re new to fantasy or living under a rock, you’ve noticed a few changes around the NFL landscape. Two of the biggest that stand out to me are easily the signings of Jerick McKinnon and Dion Lewis; both signed four year deals and landed in new homes but that’s not where the similarities end. Since the moves were made official, the fantasy community has been going crazy with polls assessing new values and probing through expert analysis on whether to buy or sell. I‘m no expert but I plan on giving you some stats to help with acquiring both players this coming season.
I saw Derrick Henry as the lead dog in Tennessee so the Lewis signing was a surprise to me. Henry isn’t known to be a prolific pass catching back as evidence by his 11 receptions during his 2015 Heisman campaign or his 12 rec/yr during his early pro career. So to save on the legs of your emerging workhorse it only made sense in what has become a league of parity with more and more teams using a committee system. Looking at the stats you’d expect to see a third down PPR scoring machine and the lightning to said thunder, but that’s not quite the case.
Lewis led a 4 man rotation last year in New England in all three major rushing categories; attempts, yards and touchdowns while only 32 catches on 35 targets which was second among Patriot backs. With the hype around Henry and the departure of DeMarco Murray, I assumed the Titans found a pass catching running back to help a mobile Quarterback and still young and unproven receiving corps. As a fantasy GM, I sell on both backs in Tennessee for the time being. What I think is happening is the copy cat theory and hope that two fantasy backs in the top 10 to 15 like we saw in New Orleans. It could happen especially without a legitimate number one target outside of the tight end position. The Titans could be hoping for two backs with over 1,000 yards from scrimmage or Lewis is a trustworthy insurance policy.
The other signing of mention is the San Francisco 49ers bringing in one of my personal fantasy darlings, Jerick McKinnon. McKinnon filled in nicely on my roster and most rosters last year after Dalvin Cook went down with one of many ACL tears during the 2017 campaign for emerging NFL stars. Kyle Shanahan is known for his play calling in favor of and use of his committee of backs during his time with Atlanta so it’s no wonder he sought a pass catching, versatile back during the off-season. Atlanta didn’t have a bruiser type in Hot-lanta so it makes sense that the Carlos Hyde style of back didn’t work. Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman are similar backs in their own rights and worked perfectly in the Shanahan system. Running backs that can catch out of the backfield are so dangerous and other than the upgrade at quarterback in San Francisco last season, were a much needed addition this coming year. During the run that led to the second Super Bowl appearance in Falcons history, Atlanta backs combined for 85 catches on 105 targets against the combo of Hyde and Brieda’s 80 catches on 124 targets in 2017. Similar enough until you break down the yards per catch. Brieda and Freeman in comparison were identical at 8.6 yards while Coleman had an impressive 13.6 ypr where Hyde showed 5.9 ypr. Like Tennessee, I see the Niners utilizing both backs to their advantage with McKinnon garnering most of the touches while Lewis assumes the role of complimentary unless Henry falls during his debut season as feature. The offense under this 49ers regime needs two similar types and McKinnon although not the typical lead dog, will hold up in most PPR leagues….if the price is right.