Every season there are players who are ranked highly in the preseason, drafted early and start slow out of the gate. These are players that become prime “buy low” candidates for the active fantasy owner. In a lot of cases, owners of these players get happy feet in the pocket and want to move the under producers even if they only get 50 cents on the dollar or whatever they can get just to get some production. In many cases, the “buy low” can be a great score but sometimes, the buy low should actually be a “buy not at all”, this is especially true for running backs.
There are no steadfast rules that will help you discern which is a great buy low bargain and which is a dud in waiting. But as we know history often repeats itself, so here are a few cautionary tales that might help you look for signs.
Jamal Lewis: in 2003 Lewis carried the ball 387 times for 2066 yards and 14 touchdowns making him a hall of fame fantasy stud. The problem is he never got close to that again. He averaged about 900 yards and about 5 touchdowns per season for the rest of his career. He was a prime buy low after weeks 3 in the 2 years immediately following his big season but the price tag on him even when he was not producing was so high that you would have had to trade way too much to get him.
Ladanian Tomlinson: In 2006 Tomlinson went for 1815 yards and 28 touchdowns! And he has declined steadily every season since. Even going into the 4th week of last season, the residual value of Tomlinson was high enough that owners still wanted a ransom for him even though he was getting out-produced by almost everyone you would have had to trade to get him.
Larry Johnson: Johnson totaled more than 750 carries between 2005 and 2006 and part of that he was a back up. He put up over 1700 yards both seasons and was one of the fantasy elites. In 2007 he was a top 5 fantasy pick and over the first part of the season, a prime buy low candidate, but his 15 minutes was up. Johnson has never topped 900 yards since and topped 600 only once.
Shaun Alexander: Shaun’s production improved steadily from 2001 through 2005 in which he went off amassing 1880 and 27 touchdowns. Alexander didn’t sniff 800 yards again and never topped 7 touchdowns and was out of football in short order.
The lesson here is that sometimes when a player’s production drops off it is not a temporary dip, it could mean they are finished and no one told them, or you. All of the players listed above were all world and then very quickly…nothing. However, in all of the cases above, in order to trade for these players, even in the years they were in decline, their reputation alone, held their value so high that you would have had to mortgage your team to get them and in every instance, it would have been a mistake.
This season there are several running backs who appear to be spectacular buy candidates but the question is, are they buy low, or buy no??
Michael Turner, Alanta Falcons: Turner whole fantasy career has been built on a couple of very good relief innings for Ladanian Tomlinson and a 2008 season in which he put up over 1800 yards on 375 carries. Turner could be had at a little less than draft value right now, but he is still riding that 2008 rep so he would be expensive and I have not found a single instance where a running back who came back after a decline which followed a season with more than 375 carries. Also, Mike is already nursing a groin pull, the type of injury that can linger for a long time. Turner could be the exception to the 375 carry rule, but I would not wager my whole team on that.
Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars: MJD has started off slowly in great part because he plays for a team that is going through an identity crisis right now. The Jags seemed to forget that their best chance to win is by getting the ball in MJD’s hands as often as possible in any way possible. This should work itself out. Maurice is, young, strong, driven and not an injury risk. If you can get him for anything less that his draft value, he is most likely worth it.
DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers: Williams is a young strong runner but he does not control his own destiny right now. Carolina has a terrible offense, they have chaos at quarterback and just like last year, DeAngelo will be trading snaps with Jonathan Stewart. Three strikes is too many for me to take a big chance on.
Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens: Ray Rice was a guy who became a star last season based on huge total yardage and a lot of that came through the air. This season, the Ravens are having a tough time moving the ball and they have also added Anquan Boldin and TJ Houshmandzadeh. Both of these new weapons want the ball and are not afraid to run short routes across the middle which means many of those short dumps to Ray Rice from last year are not going to Ray Rice this year. Rice is a fine running back who has youth and strength on his side, but he was probably over valued and is probably not worth what owners are going to want for him in a trade.