Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte, Giovani Bernard and the Lebron James Theory

Jamaal Charles

Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte, and Giovani Bernard. Three running backs who have been consistent fantasy producers over the courses of their careers but are being forgotten this year like they’re your distant relative’s name at a wedding.

Their average draft positions are RB8, RB13, and RB22, respectively, courtesy the RotoViz Best-Ball App.

But why is this? My guess is it has to do with what I’ve decided to call “The LeBron James Theory”. The LeBron Theory is that when a player is so consistently great, people eventually get bored and want to heap praise onto someone else. This was the case when Derrick Rose interrupted James’ run of MVPs, and maybe it’s why people are sleeping on Charles, Forte, and Bernard.

People are bored with picking players that are so consistent. Here’s why they shouldn’t be.

Jamaal Charles (ADP: 20, RB8):

“The Prophet” as he’s been dubbed by RotoViz’s @14TeamMocker is one of the most electric running backs in NFL history. Of players with at least 750 career carries, Charles has the fourth-highest yards per carry of all time. The first and second are quarterbacks.

But nobody is objecting to his skills, the concern is that Charles is a 29-year-old coming off an ACL tear; however, this is not new territory for him. Charles tore his ACL back in 2011, and in 2012 had a career-high in rushing yards en route to a top 10 finish in points-per-game for running backs.

In fact, excluding 2011 and his rookie year, Charles has only been outside the top-10 in PPR points-per-game once. His finishes starting with last year were 2nd, 7th, 1st, 9th, 4th, and 15th.

He was 2nd in points-per-game last season despite getting more than 14 carries in only two of his five games. But after his injury, the Chiefs actually went on a 10-game winning streak to sneak into the playoffs. What coincided with that run? A re-commitment to the running game, with a running back having at least 14 carries in seven of the last ten weeks.

What has Charles done in his career when getting at least 15 carries?

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He’s an absolute monster when the Chiefs decide to truly feature him in their offense. Oh and when he gets less than 14 carries per game? Still averages 14.6 points per game, which would’ve been good for third best among running backs last season. Get on board, because The Prophet will carry you to the promised land.

Matt  Forte

Grant Halverson – Getty Images

Matt Forte (ADP: 38, RB13):

This is the one I really, truly don’t understand. Forte’s career finishes in PPR scoring for running backs:

2015: 7th

2014: 3rd

2013: 2nd

2012: 11th

2011: 12th

2010: 9th

2009: 12th

2008: 2nd

You’re reading that correctly. In his eight years in the NFL, Matt Forte has never been outside the top-12 for PPR running backs. But he’s being drafted as the 13th this year?

Last season, Chris Ivory was the PPR RB12 with 247 carries and 37 targets. Matt Forte has never had less than 70 targets in a season he played all 16 games.

If you gave Forte a relatively conservative projection of 230 carries (his lowest for a 16-game season is 237), and 65 targets (his lowest for a 16-game season is 70), and used his career yards per carry, catch rate, yards per reception, and touchdown rates, his season would be:

230 carries/966 yards/6 rushing touchdowns and 50 receptions/425 yards/2.5 touchdowns

In PPR scoring that’s 240 points, which would’ve been the fourth most among running backs last season.

While there is a chance that Bilal Powell maintains dominance over the receiving work out of the backfield, Forte has been a specialist in that area his entire career and I expect Gailey to use him in that fashion.

General objections to Forte being a fantasy RB1 this year are age and the possibility of Ryan Fitzpatrick not playing this year. While concerns about age are fair, his efficiency stats are right around his career numbers.

The Fitzpatrick objection is odd to me. There are two camps to be in: either you believe, like I do, that Fitzpatrick and the Jets will come to a deal before the season starts because it’s mutually beneficial for both of them to do so, or you think Geno Smith will be the starter. If you think Smith will be the starter, wouldn’t you expect Chan Gailey to decide the Jets need to run the ball more to take pressure away from Smith?

Forte is currently being taken in the early fourth round of drafts. Tell me why that makes sense.

Giovani  Bernard

Aaron Doster – USA TODAY Sports

Giovani Bernard (ADP: 58, RB22):

Bernard is the perfect player to target if you’re employing the ever-popular “Zero RB” strategy. He’s also the perfect RB2 to target if you want to win fantasy football games with any strategy. The reasoning is twofold: he’s incredibly safe and has high upside.

In his three years in the NFL, Bernard has never finished worse than PPR RB18, meaning his floor is as high as anyone being drafted at a similar ADP. He’s a virtual lock for 150 carries and 45+ receptions. While former offensive coordinator Hue Jackson left for Cleveland, new OC Ken Zampese has been part of Marvin Lewis‘ staff since 2003. Expecting a dramatic change in philosophy doesn’t make much sense.

This past season, he was the RB16 while having only two total touchdowns. Some would look at that and be scared away by his lack of touchdowns — I’m doing the opposite. Touchdowns have proven to be fluky for skill players, so I’ll gravitate towards the guy who doesn’t need them to thrive.

What makes me even less concerned about his low touchdown total last season was how much more efficient of a player Bernard was last season. He had a career-high in yards per carry and yards per reception by large amounts, while his volume stayed at the same level. Now all he needs is increased volume and his stats should skyrocket.

But if his role has remained relatively static over three years, why could it increase in year four?

Because the Bengals made him a priority.

This off-season, the Bengals decided to not bring back Marvin Jones or Mohamed Sanu, while simultaneously giving Bernard a three-year contract extension. As Jones and Sanu exit, so do their 152 combined targets. Some of these will go to newcomer Brandon LaFell and rookie Tyler Boyd, but the Bengals made it clear with the contract extension that they are committing to Bernard, so I would expect him to see some of those targets as well.

Plus, Jeremy Hill‘s poor play last season was well-documented. Not only was he an inefficient runner and a poor receiver, but his fumble problems persisted. Over the past two seasons, Hill is tied for the fifth most fumbles among running backs, while Bernard only has one in that time period.

If Hill’s butterfingers and flat-out poor play continue, it would not be a surprise at all to see Bernard’s carries go up as well. And it barely even needs to be said, but if Hill got hurt next year, I believe Bernard would instantly jump into top-10 running back contention.

If Hill returns to form and Bernard’s targets stay static, history has shown he will still be a solid RB2.

Bernard is currently being drafted below his floor and is one of the safest RB2s possible, with one of the better situations and upsides in 2016.

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