Fantasy football running back analysis often revolves around three core physical traits: size, speed, and receiving skills. For this reason, PlayerProfiler.com writers like to focus on topics such as Charles Sims‘ similarity to Demarco Murray, and RotoUnderworld podcasts frequently tout size-speed specimens with great hands such as Karlos Williams.
In search of undervalued running backs for Rotoviz.com, Shawn Siegele found that receptions aren’t just everything, they are the only thing. Siegele contends running back receiving skills are generally under-appreciated across fantasy football formats. While Charles Sims and Karlos Williams are undervalued, Javorius Allen best-exemplifies the unheralded bell cow back bolstered by great passing game efficiency. Based on his rookie season production, Allen is the Marc Trestman target hog that we were all promised last year (sorry Justin Forsett). Allen fits the profile of the ideal, all-purpose fantasy running back and holds the “most undervalued fantasy running back” title.
The Real Trestman Target Hog
Fantasy football enthusiasts resoundingly celebrated the return of Marc Trestman, the father of Derek Loville’s 87-reception season. Fantasy gamers around the world genuflect every Sunday at the Alter of Trestman awaiting fantasy football’s next PPR messiah. Remember when Matt Forte finished as a top-5 fantasy running back in both of Trestman’s seasons as Chicago’s head coach, recording career highs in targets (95) and receptions (74) in 2013 before surpassing both marks in 2014 (130 targets, 102 receptions)? Matt Forte’s 2013-2014 production was truly a religious experience.
With Marc Trestman coming to Baltimore to coordinate the offense in 2015, fantasy footballer naturally expected miracles. How could journeyman scat back Justin Forsett not emerge as a target hog and build on his Top-10 fantasy finish the year prior? Fantasy owners happily spent second round draft capital on a small, slow back chasing an impossible PPR dream. Forsett finished 2015 13-receptions shy of his 44-reception career-high at the time of his gruesome forearm fracture in Week 11 last season. Not exactly a target hog.
Though the Ravens liked him enough to select him in the fourth round of the 2015 NFL Draft, Javorius Allen wasn’t expected to have the kind of impact that he had in his rookie season. Despite being one the NFL’s oldest rookie players and possessing a prospect profile devoid of red flags, Allen started the year behind both Justin Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro on Baltimore’s depth chart.
Even after Taliaferro suffered a season-ending foot injury in Week 4, Allen didn’t log a meaningful number of touches in a game until Week 11 when Forsett went down. Logging only six games with a meaningful Opportunity Share from Week 11 onwards as Baltimore’s primary ball carrier, the following accomplishments highlighted Javorius Allen’s 2015 season:
1. A 35-point fantasy day against the Dolphins in a Week 13 game where he recorded 12 catches on 13 targets. To put that into perspective also jamming in an obligatory Jeff Janis reference, that’s more fantasy points than Janis’ seven-catch, 145-yard, two touchdown game against Arizona in the 2015 playoffs. Only Danny Woodhead, with 36 points, had a better fantasy performance against Miami’s defense in 2015.
2. Three games with nine or more targets (Justin Forsett did not reach targets at any point in 2015).
3. More targets than any running back in the NFL from Week 11 to Week 17.
Javorius Allen is Undervalued
Though Javorius Allen was the most heavily-targeted starting NFL back in 2015, his early MyFantasyLeague redraft ADP places him outside the top-80 picks. Hardcore fantasy gamers are selecting Allen after 2015 dud Jay Ajayi and two wide receivers with underwhelming college production who have yet to play an NFL snap.
While fantasy footballers have enthusiastically moved on from Andre Ellington (17.02 ADP) to David Johnson (1.08 ADP), they still cling to the hope that overmatched scat back Justin Forsett (9.02 ADP) will rise to claim his rightful Trestman target hog throne. Though Forsett is not considered a cap cut candidate per head coach Jim Harbaugh, it should trouble his supporters and dynasty owners that Allen was both the more productive and the more efficient player in 2015.
Javorius Allen outproduced Justin Forsett in every efficiency metric in 2015 with the exception of Yards Per Carry and Catch Rate. Allen bested Forsett in yards per touch. Despite trailing him in rush yards per game by nearly 30 yards, Buck made up for it by recording nearly seven more receiving yards per game. Allen accumulated more red zone carries and targets and scored more touchdowns than Forsett despite receiving significant touches in only six games.
Looking ahead to the 2016 season, it would appear that the Ravens have found their workhorse at the running back position in Javorius Allen. And while he hasn’t officially been named the starter, it stands to reason that the job is now his to lose after the Ravens confidently deployed Allen in all phases of the offense (running inside and outside the tackles and targeting him heavily in the passing game) once he ascended to the starting running back role in the second half of 2015. Allen was an inefficient runner evidenced by his -10.2 Production Premium and 3.7 yard per carry last season. However, he was also running behind PlayerProfiler’s 26th ranked offensive line.
Some the NFL’s slickest pass catchers were inefficient runners their rookie seasons. Le’Veon Bell wheezed out a 3.5 yards per carry during his rookie campaign. Devonta Freeman managed a meager 3.8 yards per carry. Charles Sims stumbled to 2.8 yards per carry as a rookie. Javorius Allen‘s 138 rookie year carries was not a large enough sample size from which to draw strong conclusions about Allen’s on-field ability. Allen’s quick ascendance to NFL target hog status was more significant.
Justin Forsett finished his 2015 season with an Opportunity Share of 58.4-percent (22nd in the league), a number that was brought down by only playing six snaps in Week 11 before suffering his season-ending injury. If Javorius Allen can see a seasonal Opportunity Share around the 60-percent range or higher, he can be a huge steal at where he’s currently being valued in drafts. Whatever efficiency he would lose in the run game with an increased workload, he would be likely to offset with his work in the passing game.
The Other Guys
While nobody should be expecting recently signed Trent Richardson to make any sort of fantasy or reality impact after being out of football in 2015, Lorenzo Taliaferro is a player worth mentioning. A fourth round pick of the Ravens in 2014, Taliaferro’s prospect profile closely matches that of Javorius Allen. But even though Taliaferro has a better Agility Score, he’s never seen more than three targets in a game to this point in his NFL career.
In comparing profiles, the one glaring advantage that Lorenzo Taliaferro has over Javorius Allen is strength. Though Taliaferro’s 18 bench press reps at the 2014 NFL Combine represents a 30th-percentile score, Allen’s 11 bench press reps falls into the 0th percentile. All five of Taliaferro’s career scores are rushing touchdowns that came from within the 10-yard line. While two of Allen’s three career scores have come on receptions, one from 13 yards out and one from 41, with the other being a three-yard rush. All of this suggests that Taliaferro would make a better goal line back for the Ravens than Allen. And while Justin Forsett’s 26-bench reps was the best of the bunch, it was Taliaferro who was relied on as the goal line back in a 2014 season that saw Forsett play all 16 games.
Lorenzo Taliaferro’s one glaring red flag going forward is the fact that he’s now suffered season-ending foot injuries in two consecutive years. It doesn’t help his cause that both injuries were to the same foot. And unless Trent Richardson makes the roster, it’s enough to suggest that Taliaferro will open the 2016 season as the low man on the proverbial running back totem pole in Baltimore. That’s not to say he wouldn’t make a great handcuff or waiver pickup if he were to be thrust into a starting role, but he shouldn’t be expected to enter the season as the starting running back for the Ravens.
Javorius Allen is a big, fast running back who’s slick in the passing game — NFL bell cow material. Allen is the favorite to become Baltimore’s primary ball carrier in 2016 and no one cares. The Ravens suffered through their least efficient season since 2007, which somewhat offsets Allen’s inefficient rookie season. With an improved offensive line, a healthy Joe Flacco and bell cow Buck Allen in the backfield, the Ravens are primed for an offensive efficiency renaissance. Allen is now the most undervalued running back in across fantasy football formats. Get some.