Handcuffed: Is Ben Tate’s ADP straitjacketing Arian Foster owners?

It is getting to be the time of year when I am not only building my general draft strategy, but I am also starting to break down what I plan to do into specifics. I have my studs, sleepers, targets, and values highlighted. I have my duds and overvalues blacklisted. But most notably, and perhaps obviously, my analysis of these specifics starts with a single question:

“If I have the #1 pick in fantasy football this season, what am I going to do with it?”

Here’s the easy answer: I’m going to draft Arian Foster. I will take Foster and his 23.3 FPG in a PPR (1st among RBs), plus his 1841 yards from scrimmage and 12 TDs in 13 games. I will beam when he sucks up touch after touch down the stretch of a close game when both the Texans and my fantasy team need those yards and points.

But is the answer really that simple? Unfortunately, it’s not. It’s a discussion I started on my Twitter account (@FG_Dolan) about a week ago, and my interest in the topic was rekindled on our subscriber message boards this morning.

To put it frankly, it’s wise to be a little bit concerned about Foster’s injury history. Injuries are why he went undrafted in 2009, and injuries cost him two full games and parts of a third over the first three weeks of the 2011 season. And those injuries are why second-year back Ben Tate emerged as the most valuable handcuff in fantasy football last season. On the season, Tate ranked 35th in FPG, but he was 15th through Week Three, a stretch during which he had 66 carries with Foster’s hamstring bugging him. He had only 109 rushes in his other 12 games, an average of 9 per game. After Week Three, he ranked 39th in FPG. And he was even worse in a PPR, as he totaled only 13 catches on the season, with 11 of them coming spread over three separate games, so he was unproductive and inconsistent as a receiver. Tate posted exactly zero catches in 10 separate games. But because he was coming off a serious injury of his own, Tate went undrafted in many leagues, and he was as pleasant a fantasy surprise as there was in the league last year. In fact, I even used both Foster and Tate to great success on one occasion (sorry Matt Camp).

Caring about your fantasy team: is drafting Tate as a handcuff worth it?

But typically it was only when Foster was out that Tate was viable. But on those occasions, boy, was he valuable. And that’s the issue. It appears to me that Foster owners feel somewhat obligated to handcuff themselves with Tate, and it’s understandable. Tate is a perfect fit for the Texans’ downhill zone running scheme, and when their superstar isn’t available, he’s going to get the football. But it’s resulted in Tate’s perceived value totally blowing up.

According to our latest average draft position (ADP) data on FantasyGuru.com, Tate is going with the 86th pick in drafts, placing him comfortably into the early 8th round in a 12-team league.

From our most recent data, Tate’s ADP is 86.0. Here are players within eight picks of that, either way: Denarius Moore, Mark Ingram, Willis McGahee, Fred Davis, Pierre Garcon, Reggie Wayne, Michael Bush, Robert Meachem, Peyton Hillis. If you include QBs, throw Robert Griffin III and Ben Roethlisberger into that mix. Yup, according to ADP, Tate is being drafted ahead of Willis McGahee (87.5), Michael Bush (92.5), and Peyton Hillis (94.3), all of whom are projected to start or have a significant rotational role on their clubs. Now obviously, those numbers are skewed a little bit because Foster owners feel they have to reach to draft him to protect their investment. But is it worth it to draft Tate and pass on players who might legitimately contribute on a weekly basis? I wouldn’t be shocked if you told me any of the players I just listed were viable flex options in a 12-team league.

In fact, of the 11 players I just listed, five are broken down specifically as good values and players to target in John Hansen’s annual treatise, published just this week (every subscriber should read it). It’s entirely possible that Foster stays healthy for most of the season, which obviously is what you hope for. But then, your relatively early pick of Tate goes to waste, and you’re left a little thin at another position as a result.

It’s led a lot of fantasy players to ask whether drafting Ray Rice or LeSean McCoy #1 overall becomes the safer play. According to ADP data, Rice’s handcuff (ostensibly Bernard Pierce) isn’t even being drafted, and it’s too early to even tell who will be McCoy’s primary backup – Dion Lewis was unimpressive last year and just got arrested, but the only other backs the Eagles are two rookies in Bryce Brown and Chris Polk. With either of these selections, it’s feasible you could land a viable handcuff with your last pick, or even off the Waiver Wire, while loading up on mid-round values. If you don’t feel good about either, Aaron Rodgers is becoming a chic pick at #1 overall (I’ve even see Calvin Johnson go there in one draft, although I don’t endorse him quite that early).

So, ultimately, the dilemma boils down to a few questions.

  1. If you’re totally convinced Foster is the best option at RB (and I think I still am), is it more beneficial to just bite the bullet and let someone else grab Tate so you’re not burning a valuable pick?
  2. Is the difference between Foster or Rice/McCoy small enough that not having to reach for Tate is a good enough reason to pass on Foster at #1?
  3. Is the value of having one of these stud tailbacks so great that it’s worth passing on a guaranteed stud in Aaron Rodgers?

Right now, I’m leaning to answering #1 with a “yes,” and I’m still a little bit leery of a QB #1 overall in a 4-point passing TD league, although I’m warming up to it. I still want that stud RB.

In short, if I’m picking first overall, especially in a PPR, Foster is still my guy, Tate or no Tate. Although still ridiculously productive, Rice was actually a little sluggish at times last year and has his contract situation still looming, and there’s no way McCoy is scoring 20 TDs again. Foster is the perfect combination of TD scoring, receiving, and big plays. He’s a true fantasy monster.

But I refuse to reach for Tate, in any event. If Tate were to fall to the 10th round or so, when more “uncertain” options like Ronnie Hillman, LeGarrette Blount, and Stevan Ridley are coming off the board, I’m more willing to protect my investment. But the current ADP data suggests I’ll have to pick him as many as three rounds earlier than that, which I’m just not willing to do. In an auction, I’ll be a little more flexible, allotting a few extra dollars to Tate, but if someone wants to overspend on a true backup RB without owning Foster, be my friggin’ guest.

As an aside, I think there can be a small compromise here: Tate only caught 13 passes last year, and if Foster does go down, I would expect to see Justin Forsett get some third-down work, and he’ll come a hell of a lot cheaper than Tate.

Overall, the purpose of this quick post was to facilitate some discussion. Is the cost of handcuffing Foster too high to draft him at #1 overall?

Category: Joe Dolan

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4 Responses

  1. Stretch says:

    My Guy Big Game Joe Dolan!!!

    Here is my take on cuffing RBs. For an example.

    1. A.Peterson & J.Charles returning from ACL injuries.
    2. MJD, R.Rice, & M.Forte having contract issues.
    3. S.Jackson basically being worn down due to massive workload.

    I find its paramount to cuff RBs especially this year. The RB position is extremely thin. Plus, the other positions(QB,TE,WR) have way than enough talent to go around.

    So cuffing RBs in my opinion is really not wasting a pick. Even if you have to reach a little for that security. Because you can make up that pick in the later rounds(10-14).

    Just my 2¢.

  2. ian g says:

    Love the breakdown Joey D.
    Foster is my #1 RB and I am likely to snag Tate a lil early if and only if I have filled our my roster with plenty of consistent weekly performers. I think I can produce I pretty sound lineup in my first 7 rds, so if Tate is there I’m all over him. I’ve decided this is not the year to take a TE early. I’m not drafting graham or gronk and paying top value for them expecting them to come close to their career years. I’m waiting for 9/10th round for Celek, Gresham, Tony G if I can..

    Every draft is different, but if I take foster, I feel pretty good bout taking Tate in the 7/8th as well.

    Keep up the great work.

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