by Ray Kuhn
Running backs for the New England Patriots get a bad name, at least from a fantasy perspective, but despite the roller coaster ride Dion Lewis was actually a pretty steady performer in 2017. We kept on waiting for Bill Belichick to phase him out and leave fantasy owners hanging, but instead Lewis gained 124 yards on the ground and had his best game of the season in Week 16.
This year he takes his talents to Tennessee where he replaces DeMarco Murray at least on the depth chart though not exactly when it comes to role. For the few fleeting days between Murray’s release and Lewis’ signing it appeared that Derrick Henry’s (pictured) value was going to go through the roof. Instead, while the incumbent should be at his most valuable in his third NFL season, Lewis, to me at least, is the back to own in the Titans’ backfield for 2018.
Despite the fact that Lewis is 27-years old, he is relatively young as far as running backs and workloads go. Last season was the first time in his career that he appeared in all 16 games, and he certainly earned the playing time. Lewis carried the ball 180 times, his previous career high was 64, while gaining 896 yards and scoring 6 TD. There were two 100-plus yard games as he showed that he can be more than just a third-down, passing game, running back.
That is still where Lewis’ true value lies as he caught 32 passes for 214 yards while scoring 3 TD. It is clear that the passing game work will go to Lewis, as Henry has 24 receptions in two seasons, but he will also get some of the early down work as well. Lewis is versatile and showed he can be used in all situations, even when it comes to moving the chains and rushing between the tackles.
After carrying the ball 110 times in his rookie season, averaging 4.5 yards per carry, Henry’s workload increased to 176 carries, but his yards per carry dipped to 4.2. The problem is that Henry is one of those running backs who does better the more he touches the ball (and that was inconsistent last season).
The good news is that with Murray gone, Henry’s carries should become more consistent. However, with five rushing touchdowns in each of his first two seasons he is a boom or bust option depending on whether or not he reaches the end zone.
With Lewis’ work in the passing game, his value, especially in PPR leagues, will be more consistent. Both running backs should be more valuable than they were last season, but Tennessee’s new addition is the back to own for me.
Early ADP on Fantrax has Henry coming off the board with an ADP of 49 while Lewis’ ADP is 65. At those prices I’ll take Lewis; especially since I think he will finish the season with more fantasy points. That was the case last season, and it was even more magnified in PPR leagues.