This article is part of our Best Ball Journal series.
The 2019 best ball season is winding down as the NFL regular season approaches its Sept. 5 kickoff, so time is short for some last remaining observations. With the crunch time here, I'll try to identify some late ADP shifts and discern some meaning and perhaps opportunity that might come with them.
The past ADP cited is from August 1-August 22 on DRAFT, while the new ADP is from August 23 onward.
Leonard Fournette, RB, JAC (30.9 → 25.3)
Fournette's rise is only a slight one, but the fact that his latest pick in the most recent sample is 39 compared to 50 in the earlier one is a better illustration of his stock than his ADP number. The reason for his rise isn't obviously clear, but it can't hurt that he earned strong reviews for his training camp work, including praise specifically for his pass catching. Beyond that, his market might have gone upward a bit with those of Kerryon Johnson and Nick Chubb when Detroit released Theo Riddick and Cleveland traded Duke Johnson, respectively. Chris Carson's price jumping from the fourth to the third round might play a part in the pinch, too. There aren't any obvious run-pass workhorses after the second round, and more drafters might be keeping that thought in mind as the market tightens with even former backup plans like Matt Breida, Darwin Thompson, and Tony Pollard charging into the single-digit rounds.
As far as Fournette goes, his injury history is of course a reasonable concern. What's less reasonable is the idea that he lacks talent. It's not often you can find a 230-pound runner who runs in the 4.4s after posting 3,830 yards (6.2 YPC) and 40 touchdowns in 42 career games, and it's even more unusual to find one who poses the pass-catching threat Fournette does. He might break again, but if he doesn't he'll probably go off.
Dede Westbrook, WR, JAC (93.8 → 79.7)
Westbrook's ADP has jumped into the seventh round following a busy preseason and a training camp with an abundance of praise, including offensive coordinator John DeFilippo declaring him the best route runner he's ever coached (according to ESPN's Field Yates).
After catching 66 passes last year in the Blake Bortles-Cody Kessler offense, Westbrook should aim for 80 or more catches with Nick Foles around. The best chances for similar reception production after Westbrook in the ADP might be Geronimo Allison, Corey Davis, and Jamison Crowder, but Allison is far below Westbrook as a prospect, Davis might have to deal with the league's worst passing offense, and Crowder has two straight years of injury troubles to worry about.
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Justice Hill, RB, BAL (143.9 → 124.2)
Hill's ADP is on the verge of crashing the 10th round, his ascent driven by a busy preseason and praise from offensive coordinator Greg Roman. Hill's overall preseason production doesn't look great – 27 carries for 90 yards (3.3 YPC) and a touchdown with four catches for 24 yards – but preseason stats don't matter, and his tape has understandably generated excitement with his obvious quickness and explosiveness, which stands in clear contrast with Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards despite whatever else those two have going for them. However, I would caution against boosting Hill's projection just because he looked fast in a game. We already knew he's very athletic because he ran a 4.40-second 40-yard dash, 40-inch vertical, and 130-inch broad jump at the combine, so giving him credit on that front only strikes me as reasonable if you failed to count it the first time.
His new price in any case strikes me as a high one for a runner who might finish the year as the team's fourth-leading rusher behind Ingram, Edwards, and Lamar Jackson. The upside for more is undeniable as well, so it's hard to argue against someone buying him for upside he absolutely does have. It's especially hard to argue against it because the running back market in general is tightening a great deal in recent days, and other than Ronald Jones (135.7) there aren't obvious upside alternatives after Hill in the ADP. Still, lower ceiling or not, I'd rather have Edwards in the 18th round than Hill in the 10th or 11th, and I might even otherwise prefer Ito Smith (160.0) or Nyheim Hines (162.7), even though I'm generally low on both. And while there might not be desirable running backs after Hill in the order, his selection at current price generally will cost the opportunity of drafting potentially standout wide receivers like John Brown (128.8) and Jamison Crowder (133.1).
Rashaad Penny, RB, SEA (79.2 → 89.6)
Penny is one of two runners of interest to me whose stock as fallen even as hyperinflation hit other parts of the running back market. Just as in the case of the second player, Jordan Howard, I find Penny's slide to be a buying opportunity. He's now going roughly 20 picks away from the previously mentioned Hill, whose floor resides in the range of something like 400 yards from scrimmage this year. That strikes me as an overreaction on at least one of the two shifts in their prices.
Penny appears to be falling for a few reasons, none of which make much sense to me. One is the narrative that Penny is 'falling' on the depth chart because he's 'falling' relative to Carson. For the sake of argument, let's just say Penny has lost ground to Carson. Carson clearly ran with the first-team offense throughout the preseason, because he's clearly the first-team back. The premise for Penny's theoretical value always rested on Seattle's unusual run volume and Carson's uncommon fragility, not the idea that Penny might start. The idea that Penny's stock should fall because he's not the starter is ridiculous – it was already baked into his price, because if people thought Penny was the starter he'd have gone in the fourth round instead of the seventh all this time. This is pretty obviously an instance of counting a premise twice, in my opinion.
Because everyone cares so much about preseason these days, Penny's preseason numbers might have hurt him further. He has just 35 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, and sometimes people like to panic about things like that. Preseason production doesn't matter, but a quick glance at the tape shows Penny getting repeatedly rocked in the backfield because of his offensive line imploding, so the numbers would be inconclusive even if the case were otherwise.
Penny's fall otherwise might be fueled by Carson's ADP ascent, which is driven by the chatter that Carson would get more pass-catching work in 2019. This is a reason to boost Carson, not one to penalize Penny. If Carson is catching more passes it's more to do with Mike Davis' departure, not because it would occur at Penny's expense.
Jordan Howard, RB, PHI (99.0 → 113.2)
Like Penny, Howard is in the midst of a descent even as other remarkably flimsy running back assets surge up the draft board. I'll be buying in response. I would often buy Howard in the ninth round anyway in best ball drafts, so I'll try to get some more at this lowered price. Howard is now going more than four rounds later than Miles Sanders (59.2), whose ascent is based entirely on conjecture.
That conjecture comes in the form of Philadelphia media guessing that Sanders looks the best of the Eagles backfield candidates in practice, and to the public this has for some reason overruled details like Doug Pederson's overwhelming history of rotating his running backs, or running backs coach Duce Staley stating that specific approach would remain in place in 2019, or Sanders himself stating that approach would remain in place in 2019. None of that even takes Howard into account, even though Howard has 3,370 yards (4.3 YPC) and 24 touchdowns in his three NFL seasons as a runner.
Sanders is an interesting prospect. He's certainly the most athletic of the Philadelphia runners. But he's far from an elite athlete – he's not even a truly uncommon one. His 4.49-second 40-yard dash (70th percentile) is only slightly above average when adjusting for size (211 pounds, 40th percentile), and he possesses no elite traits. Sanders' pass-catching production at Penn State was anemic (64 percent catch rate, 3.86 YPT), so he's unlikely to match Corey Clement or Darren Sproles in that capacity, leaving him a thin margin for error with which to battle Howard for the remaining rushing functions.
I've seen more than a few people who hype Sanders under the premise that his status as a second-round pick grants him a similar NFL projection to someone like Nick Chubb. They are not just one, but several tiers apart as far as prospect grades go. If people can't distinguish those two and then drive up Sanders' ADP as a result, then there's noise in Sanders' current valuation in my opinion. He basically needs Howard to get hurt, I think, to come anywhere near justifying his current price. And even in that scenario, I'd still bet on some insignificant replacement like Josh Adams jamming Sanders' razor-thin margin of error anyway.