This post comes from Justin Becker of FantasyFootballOverdose.com. You can follow him on Twitter @NFLRankings or the Fantasy Football Overdose Google+ Page, and for more Premiere Fantasy Football Projections and Rankings, visit Fantasy Football Overdose.
All the talk in Arizona Cardinals camps has been about new starting running back Andre Ellington. The second-year back had a gaudy 5.5 yards per carry average as a rookie last year and displayed the type of versatility and explosive athletic ability that star featured runners possess.
The only problem is he’s not a very big back and it remains questionable if he can withstand a beating of a true featured runner at the highest level. Arizona has suggested he could be in for a massive role which could require 25+ touches per game, but due to his small stature and inexperience, many don’t really buy into it.
Two things can be taken from that. For one, Ellington is an elite talent and has already proven he can ball at the NFL level. He’s going to be the starter and he’s going to be pretty darn good. Secondly, however, he is a small back and he can’t do it all on his own. He’s simply not going to stay healthy or effective if they pound him up the middle all day and come anywhere close to that insane 25+ touch per game projection.
Needless to say, it’s quite unlikely he ends up being the only running back in Arizona that is worth owning in fantasy football leagues.
A quick look at the talent behind Ellington shows there’s really only one guy that could be much of a threat, and that’s Jonathan Dwyer. The former Pittsburgh Steeler replaces the now retired Rashard Mendenhall as the bird’s main short yardage back, while he also should be in the lead for goal-line work, as well. Ellington could still factor into that role to a certain degree, but Dwyer is much bigger, stronger and experienced in that role. He’s the favorite to man all types of short yardage situations in 2014.
Even if plunging for one-yard touchdowns is his only role, that means Dwyer is going to hold some weekly fantasy value in 2014. The good news is that won’t be his only role, either, as again Ellington isn’t big enough to be thrown out there to the wolves as much as the Cardinals suggest he will.
If we’re being realistic and even slightly conservative, Dwyer is looking at probably 5-6 carries at a minimum per game as Ellington’s top backup. In games where the ground game is effective and Arizona is in the game or even winning, that number can easily balloon to 10+ per game.
This is somewhat encouraging, but we still have to realize Dwyer is only a moderate athlete with a low ceiling. With only so many total touches, he can only be used in good matchups in random weeks. This will make him barely worth rostering in standard leagues.
With that said, he’s going to be worth owning in deeper leagues and is a strong handcuff option. Thanks to his small size and inexperience, Ellington could be a strong candidate to get banged up and miss some games. He does play in the brutal NFC West, after all, so facing teams like the Seahawks and 49ers twice a year could take something out of him. Dwyer is the more physical back, too, so it’s possible he’s called on a bit more in those tougher divisional battles.
Dwyer is still young and has displayed solid ability when called upon for a bigger role. He knows the offense, too, as he’s worked with head coach Bruce Arians from their days with the Steelers.
The reunion doesn’t mean all that much, though, since Dwyer actually touched the ball just 26 total times while they worked together. However, he’s a slightly more explosive player than fellow backup Stepfan Taylor, so he should have a slight edge on taking on the short yardage and goal-line work.
If Dwyer locks that role down, he’ll have moderate Flex value with the right matchup. That’s his best case scenario at the start of 2014. Provided Ellington stays healthy and nothing really changes, what we see with him is pretty much what we get and his value is quite appropriate.
The undervaluing of Dwyer comes in the possibility of an Ellington injury, where Dwyer would be catapulted to the starting gig and could easily be looking at 15-20 touches per game. Dwyer isn’t a very agile or elusive runner, but he can move the pile and has better speed than advertised. He’s not insanely versatile, but he’s also gotten a bit lighter on his feet and has developed his receiving ability, as well.
If you bring him on as a random Flex play and look at him as a handcuff to Ellington (who you drafted much earlier), then he has some underrated value.
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