Decisions, Decisions: No Country for Old Running Backs
“What’s the most you ever lost on a coin toss?”
One of the most intense coin flips you could ever watch is in the 2007 Coen Brothers film, “No Country for Old Men.” The main antagonist (Anton Chigurh) sets his villainous sights on the life of a local gas station owner and leaves the decision up to chance. A coin flip to be precise. A decision between two equally likely outcomes. In Chigurh’s twisted mind it will parallel the fate he will grant this man. The gas station owner is forced to “call it.” Fantasy football is much more complicated than this action which is replicated in every football game (albeit with less sinister implications) … is it not?
We have countless stat-lovers, film watchers, value calculators and Average Draft Position (ADP) setters. On any given day there are thousands of Tweets, TikToks, podcasts and articles shared with the masses. Yet, with all this data that one must process to make a decision in this game that is loved by many, numerous decisions are binary at their root. Accept/send the trade or pass on the opportunity. Draft the player now or wait. Spend the Free Agent Acquisition Budget (FAAB) or hold it. The simplest form of any of our decisions is akin to heads or tails.
The first installment of “Decisions, Decisions” was a look at the ramifications 50/50 game we play repeatedly each season. This was followed by three keys in that column for helping you avoid a showdown with hindsight bias. They are constructive dissent, consult yourself and seek the truth. Since we cannot all see the future for sure, these are the techniques you have to work with as you head into the season. But you need to know what you stand to win by doing this, right?
Chigurh would tell you: “You stand to win everything.”
The title of the film refers to the character of the Sherrif. He finds himself contemplating what life will be like once he retires from his post as he reflects on previous old-timers in his position. In the spirit of this reflection, let’s look at both sides of some of the aging running backs and “call it” for dynasty fantasy football leagues.
Raheem Mostert (RB, San Francisco 49ers): A Must Start?
Let’s start with a little constructive dissent. Upon looking at Raheem Mostert’s situation you see a running back that popped on the scene in 2019 with 952 all-purpose yards, 10 touchdowns and a 5.6 Yards Per Carry (YPC) average in his 16 starts. Then, he fell off last year due to injury. He achieved 677 yards, three touchdowns and a 5.0 YPC average in eight games. Seems like he would be on pace to repeat – if not better – his point performance last year. He had almost as many receptions and receiving yards in eight games (19 and 156) as his 16-game 2019 season (22 and 180). Sounds pretty solid.
The issue for the 29-year-old veteran, Mostert, is that Jeff Wilson picked up the slack while he was out last year and the 49ers added rookie Trey Sermon to the mix. It’s hard to imagine that San Francisco plans on doing anything other than mixing up the backfield as much as the Ravens did last year. If Trey Lance gets the helm at some point this year as well, the rushing workload would be split even further.
Consulting myself, I find that as much as Mostert was a good get for production last year, his new situation in 2021 is less than optimum. It’s hard to ignore all the issues in the previous paragraph. I feel the truth of Mostert’s situation is it is dependent on injuries to other players. I don’t like to bet on that – especially when hedging a bet toward a 29-year-old player in a high-contact position. If you have him, I’d sell him for whatever second or third-round rookie pick you can get for him in the first week or two of the season.
David Johnson (RB, Houston Texans) & the Haggard Texans RB Corps(e)
The trade that rocked the internet last offseason proved to be as ill-fated as people feared. Or did it? Alright, alright, so there is no way David Johnson is gonna impact an NFL team like DeAndre Hopkins can. Depending on how you project for the time David Johnson was injured, you’d be surprised how close they were from a fantasy perspective. Duke Johnson barely affected David Johnson’s production. In David Johnson’s 12 starts, he racked up 1,005 yards, six touchdowns and a career-high 4.7 YPC.
Enter Mark Ingram. And I guess Phillip Lindsay. Oh yeah, and “Sexy Rexy,” Rex Burkhead. Similar to the 49ers, the Houston backfield is a crowded nightmare. Unlike the 49ers, Houston decided to absorb two over 30-year-old backs and the 27-year-old Lindsey. This backfield takes an even bigger hit with Deshaun Watson being all but out of the organization, leaving Tyrod Taylor at the helm and defenses ready to stack the box.
I can’t help but think this is a backfield to avoid at all costs. Even if you are rocking a variation of the Zero RB strategy, you will have better luck elsewhere. Third or later-round rookie picks are all David Johnson will be worth if you are trading … and good luck trading him away.
Melvin Gordon (RB, Denver Broncos): Your Lucky Quarter
Another aging running back with a stud rookie in the mix is Melvin Gordon. At 28, Gordon finds himself coming off of a high RB2 season. Gordon threw down 1,144 all-purpose yards, 10 touchdowns and 4.6 YPC. The impressive part is that he did that with putrid quarterback play. He is now at the back end of his two-year deal with the Broncos.
Javonte Williams looks like the truth, but why put him on the field at full-steam now? With Gordon on the end of his deal and the quarterback situation still being what it is, I suspect that the Broncos will run Gordon early and often. Gordon will be looking to prove his awesomeness and will play like there is no tomorrow to secure a deal. This is the perfect storm.
With all this in mind, you can flip the coin. Heads: Hold Gordon/trade for him for this season if you are a contender looking for a player who won’t set you back much but will get those points. Tails: If you are rebuilding, trade Gordon away after he puts up mad points in Weeks 1 (Giants), 2 (Jaguars) or 6 (Raiders) for a solid pick or injured young player with promise.
Whatever you do … Don’t put him on your bench. He’s your lucky running back. Put him anywhere other than your bench. He will get mixed in with the others and become just a running back … which he is.
Make today a great day! And don’t forget to be awesome (DFTBA)!