Welcome to the Stock Watch. While the picture above might make you worried you’ve stumbled into a financial advice column, have no fear, this is about our fantasy football stock. Each year in dynasty leagues we look forward to rookie drafts, snatching up all the prospects we know will lead to glory. But it doesn’t always happen right away. Over the next few pieces, as this off-season draws to a close, I’ll be taking stock of prospects at quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end for the 2018, 2019 and 2020 draft class. This isn’t about the stars that we already know are great, it’s about the players taken in the first three rounds that haven’t hit yet—and might never hit.
Welcome back to the Stock Watch. In our first installment, I looked at some QBs from the Class of 2018. Now it’s time for running backs, and I’ve got a quartet that hasn’t exactly delivered the return on investment most had hoped. This year produced an interesting crop of RBs taken in the top three rounds. Nick Chubb has been a star, Ronald Jones has had his moments, and Derrius Guice flamed out. But there are four others worth considering as part of this exercise.
Drafted: No. 27 overall by the Seattle Seahawks
Situation: Penny was a darling for many, the highest running back taken in the 2018 NFL Draft. He went to the Seahawks where he hasn’t really made a huge contribution in his first three seasons. He’s rushed for just 823 yards and five touchdowns, catching 17 passes for 158 yards and a touchdown in that time. That’s hardly what fantasy players or the Seahawks hoped when he was drafted.
Penny also hasn’t been durable. He played only 14 games as a rookie and 10 games in year two before injuring his knee. Last year, he only made it back for three games and limited duty at the end of the season. In 2021, he should be healthy and is expected to team with Chris Carson in the backfield. He’s likely not the top rushing option on the team, and it’s hard to tell if he’ll even have a role that meets or exceeds what he did in 2019, which was tracking as his best season. It’s also likely he won’t be back with the Seahawks in 2022 unless he explodes this season.
Stock Value: Hold. Look, you’d be forgiven if you wanted to cut bait and move on, but I’m holding right now. I’m hoping Penny has a game or two where he shines early in 2021 then I’m moving Penny. His value right now seems to be at its lowest point so I’m hoping to get a slight jump in value before I move him.
Drafted: No. 31 overall by the New England Patriots
Situation: The second running back taken in the draft, Michel has been a Pro Bowler in comparison to Penny. He’s rushed for 2,292 yards and 14 TDs in his three seasons, including back-to-back 900-plus yard campaigns to begin his career. He’s not a prolific receiver, catching only 26 passes in those seasons and there are some long-term questions about his knee, but he’s at least returned some value. He saw 200-plus carries in his first two seasons, finishing as RB35 in 2018 and RB31 in 2019.
In 2020, injuries limited Michel to just nine games and the lowest output of his career, rushing for 449 yards and a touchdown on 79 carries. In his stead, the Patriots saw several other productive backs. James White continued his passing game work, while Damien Harris, a 2019 draft pick, led the team with 623 yards rushing and quarterback Cam Newton had nearly 600 yards rushing. In 2021, it will again be a numbers game for the Patriots. Harris is there, potentially poised to lead the backfield, Newton is in the mix to start at quarterback, White figures to dominate the passing game work and rookie Rhamondre Stevenson could be a goal-line back. So, that leaves Michel in a committee at best, hardly what those who drafted him early were hoping to see.
Stock Value: Sinking. I like Harris to be the main rusher for the Patriots, who will likely keep Michel for depth in 2021 and let him walk. He could end up in a better position down the line, but his value isn’t great. If you can find a true believer who thinks he leads the backfield again, sell for what you can.
Drafted: No. 43 overall by the Detroit Lions
Situation: Johnson was a decently high pick three years ago that had the potential to find a lead role in Detroit. It never materialized. Johnson rushed for 641 yards and three TDs in his rookie season and hasn’t matched that output combined in his last two seasons. Same with receptions, where he caught 32 as a rookie and has caught 29 total in two years since. For his career, Johnson has 1,225 yards and eight TDs, catching 61 passes for 527 yards and three TDs. But if he makes it as a running back, it won’t be in Detroit.
Johnson’s stock was sinking heading into 2020 after the team drafted D’Andre Swift out of Georgia. Then the Lions signed Adrian Peterson in the pre-season, and Johnson quickly became the odd man out. He rushed for just 181 yards and two TDs on 52 carries, a distant third. With Swift back and the signing of Jamaal Williams, there was no room for Johnson to carve out a bigger role. He was released by the Lions this off-season and scooped up by another team with a crowded backfield in the Philadelphia Eagles.
Stock Value: Null. Could Johnson revive his career? It’s possible. But the Eagles have Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, rookie Kenneth Gainwell and veteran Jordan Howard on the roster, in addition to Johnson. I’d say he’s a long shot to make the final roster, and even if he does, who knows what kind of role he will have. At best, Johnson is a deep stash, which is a long way from where he was drafted in 2018.
Drafted: No. 71 overall by the Denver Broncos
Situation: Freeman, a third-round selection, figured to be the savior for the Broncos’ running game. It never happened. While he slipped past veteran Devontae Booker, he couldn’t get past undrafted rookie Phillip Lindsay. While Lindsay was rushing for 1,000 yards and making the Pro Bowl as a rookie, Freeman appeared in just 14 games, rushing for 521 yards and five touchdowns. To this point, those numbers are his career-high.
After splitting the backfield work with Lindsay again in 2019, the Broncos added veteran Melvin Gordon in 2020. Gordon and Lindsay served as the primary backs, while Freeman tallied just 170 yards on 35 carries, a career-low. Lindsay is gone, but with the Broncos signing Mike Boone this off-season and drafting North Carolina product Javonte Williams in addition to returning Gordon, Freeman is squarely on the roster bubble heading into Training Camp.
Stock Value: Incomplete. If Freeman makes the Broncos’ roster, he’s unlikely to do much more than what we saw in 2020. In fact, it’s possible he has less of a role. But there have been persistent rumors of him being traded. While that might not happen, I could see him being released pre-season and latching on somewhere else. I don’t think he’s as good as the hype when he was drafted, but I think Freeman could be a decent contributor in the right situation, possibly returning RB3 value.
Matthew Fox is a die-hard NFL fan and Broncos’ homer. He’s a member of the FSWA. You can find more from him on Twitter @knighthawk7734 or as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast, a part of the Campus2Canton network.