Fantasy football drafts are filled with tough decisions, especially in the early rounds. Trying to decide which players to select that are being drafted with a similar average draft position (ADP) can be one of the most intriguing and frustrating parts of any draft. Therefore, in this series, our analysts here at PFN will look at players that are carrying similar ADPs and make a case for which player you should consider taking.
We kick off this series in the second round, where there are several intriguing debates surrounding the running back position. In that range, there is a mix of options, all with seemingly different roles within their offense for the 2022 season. One such decision is between Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ RB Leonard Fournette and the Denver Broncos’ second-year back Javonte Williams.
Current Sleeper ADP has Fournette and Williams being selected back to back in PPR formats. As the RB13, Williams’ ADP is currently 24th overall, while Fournette is being selected 25th overall as the RB14. Williams’ ADP has dropped slightly since the Broncos back Melvin Gordon. However, it appears to have settled around the backend of the second or early third-round range.
PFN’s Director of Fantasy Football Ben Rolfe will make the case for Fournette, while Senior Fantasy Analyst Tommy Garrett will make the case for Williams.
Fournette’s career has been somewhat strange when you look at it. After being selected fourth overall in the 2017 NFL Draft, he burst onto the scene as a rookie with 1,040 rushing yards and 10 total touchdowns. He then had a down second year, playing just eight games through injury. Fournette bounced back in Year 3 with 1,674 total yards, but he only found the end zone three times.
Discipline issues and a perceived failure at his high draft price led the Jaguars to move on from Fournette in 2020. The talented back then joined Tom Brady as a new addition for the Buccaneers.
Fournette had a strange year with Tampa in 2020. He was inconsistent in racking up 367 rushing yards and 233 receiving yards on 36 receptions. But then he became the main back for TB in the playoffs that season.
That carried over into 2021, where he had 180 rushing attempts and 84 targets through 14 games. Fournette finished the regular season injured but returned in the playoffs with 22 touches as the Buccaneers were eliminated in the Divisional Round.
The 2022 offseason has seen Tampa Bay seemingly invest in Fournette. They re-signed him to a three-year deal worth $21 million, with $9 million guaranteed. Additionally, the Bucs allowed Ronald Jones to leave and replaced him with third-round selection Rachaad White.
That investment in Fournette this offseason is why he presents a value at his current ADP compared to those around him. Fournette is a dual-threat, three-down back with little in the way of established competition. We know Brady values trust in the players around him, and Fournette is the only back on this roster to have currently earned it.
Injuries and offensive line concerns
It would be wrong to completely overlook Fournette’s injury history. He’s never played a full NFL season and, since his college days, has alternated heavy- and light-usage seasons. Even last year, Fournette missed four of the Buccaneers’ 19 games through injury.
However, injuries are simply a part of the RB landscape. No RB is risk-free when it comes to injuries. What is key is the usage that the player will see when he’s on the field.
Last year, Fournette averaged 12.86 rushing attempts and six targets per game. In total, he averaged a touch under 19 opportunities and 18 touches per game. Only 11 backs had more touches per game, and only five of them played more games than Fournette. He saw fewer than 10 touches in just one game and was targeted 5+ times in all but three games. With the trust of Brady, Fournette was and remains a crucial part of this offense.
Arguably, the bigger issue is the downgrade along the offensive line. Both of the Buccaneers’ starting guards have left, and center Ryan Jensen was injured in the first week of training camp. That line was extremely valuable in 2021, and it’s certainly a concern that the entire interior of the group might be different.
The mitigating factor is that Fournette’s role in the passing game somewhat protects him. A worse offensive line can often even increase the work a back sees in the passing game. Thus, it may help Fournette in terms of his target numbers.
He’s by no means a lock to succeed, but Fournette’s current ADP has him being selected among backs that could be in a committee situation every week. As it stands, Fournette appears to be the bell-cow back for the Buccaneers. Injuries may curtail the season, but you should ride Fournette while he’s on the field.
It’s challenging to find a running back that has generated more buzz around the fantasy community than the Broncos’ Javonte Williams. When you dive into the stats, you can see Williams has barely scratched the surface of his potential.
You could not have had a more even backfield split last year, with Williams and Gordon rushing 203 times each last season. Wiliams turned his touches into 903 rushing yards — just 18 yards behind his teammate — with four rushing touchdowns. Where he had the edge was in the receiving game, catching 43 of 53 targets for 316 yards and three more scores.
At first glance, the 50/50 split could make managers believe Williams cannot keep up in volume with those being drafted around him. However, keep in mind that Williams finished 13th in touches last season with 246 (or 14.6 per game), showing the volume stacked up with the rest.
Now under head coach Nathaniel Hackett, Williams is the favorite to take another step forward in the passing game after finishing as one of two rookie RBs inside the top 15 in route participation in 2021, with Najee Harris (first) and Williams (13th). It just so happens that RBs in Hackett’s system have seen 20.5% of the targets over the last two years, giving Williams a window to 60 targets.
The key to Williams’ fantasy ceiling is his efficiency. Despite being 15th in carries, Williams maximized every single touch, finishing fifth in forced missed tackles and seventh in both 10+ yard rushes and yards after contact. Averaging 20.4 PPR points in Weeks 12-14, fantasy managers got a glimpse of what Williams could do in 2022 as the lead back.
The Denver Broncos offense will be far more explosive in 2022
Not only does Williams head into camp a veteran of the game now, but his environment is even better. Gone is Teddy Bridgewater and the passing offense, which ranked 19th in the league in passing yards and averaged 7.1 yards per attempt. In steps Russell Wilson, who’s not only an MVP-caliber QB but who also led the NFL in average intended air yards (AIYA) at 9.9. This added verticality not only maximizes the upside of Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, and Tim Patrick, but it does for Williams as well.
With Sutton still recovering from his 2020 ACL injury, Jeudy battling an ankle injury, and Bridgewater’s inefficiencies, teams were not forced to play as much deep coverage against Denver last season. They knew the run was coming and could play against it, forcing Bridgewater to try and beat them. Gordon and Williams faced stacked boxes (8+ men) on nearly 26% of their rushes. That can’t happen this year.
Due to the new-look explosive offense of the Broncos, dime packages may be the defensive schemes they frequently see. Outside of the red zone or goal-to-go opportunities, Williams and/or Gordon will be facing 6-7 man boxes with the corners and safeties playing deeper to prevent getting burnt, giving Williams plenty of room.
In what should be — at minimum — a 60/40 split in Williams’ favor, the second-year RB from UNC has the floor of RB12 but the ceiling of a top-five running back. Although I love the value of Gordon in drafts, few can touch the league-winning ceiling of Williams in 2022.