Because being a "good" or "bad" player in the mind of the public can be awfully fickle, with Todd Gurley being the poster boy of said fickleness.
I mean what really happened there? Was Gurley really that terrible in 2016? Statistically, sure. But in terms of actual performance, a case could have been made that the issue was more his offensive line than it was Gurley.
With the power of Next Gen Stats we can quantify how much a running back is actually generating on his own versus how much his success is being helped or hindered by his offensive line. This isn't someone's subjective grades, these are cold, hard numbers; real yards that are being tracked via microchips.
Going back to the Gurley example, the Rams had one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL in terms of generating yards at the line of scrimmage. They were consistently getting knocked back and defenders were regularly piercing into the backfield. And despite the criticisms, Gurley was largely the same player last year as he is this year in terms of yards generated on his own.
In this one particular instance, you can isolate the offensive line as being the problem. Gurley was fine, his line was a hot mess. Despite that, Gurley was routinely getting dragged online. Y'all Rodney Dangerfield'd this man!
Well how about in 2017? Which running backs are playing well individually but being hampered by subpar offensive line play and being unfairly miscast as "bad" players?
Here are your five most underrated running backs that need more respect!
NOTE: Yards gained after a defender closes in, YGAC for short, is defined by Next Gen Stats as those yards that a ball carrier generates after a defender is within one yard. It is a great metric to see how elusive a running back is in terms of getting away from potential tacklers. For the purposes of this article, only running backs with a minimum of 50 carries were considered.
Orleans Darkwa, New York Giants
Disrespect Level: Birdman (the rapper, not the movie)
I'm not going to lie, I have been guilty as all hell of disrespecting Orleans. His name sounds like it could legit be a character in an upcoming "Star Wars" movie. He plays for one of the worst offenses in the NFL (16.1 points per game, tied for fourth fewest). Plus the part-time practice squad back was a total unknown coming out of Tulane.
It was easy to make fun. We were wrong.
This dude has been doing heavy lifting behind a horrible offensive line. Darkwa leads the league in yards gained after close, averaging a whopping 5.09 yards per carry after a defender gets within one yard.
Fantasy spin: Darkwa is a low-key, sneaky trade for candidate because you have to give up practically nothing to get him. His next four games are versus San Francisco, Kansas City, Washington and Oakland. Two good matchups and two matchups that aren't bad at all. Don't go crazy trying to trade for him but see what low-ball offer will get it done.
Marshawn Lynch, Oakland Raiders
Disrespect Level: In-N-Out slander
Maybe you're from Texas, maybe you're from New York. Whatever the reason, you incorrectly believe Whataburger or Five Guys is for some reason the superior burger to In-N-Out.
I don't blame you for having this extremely fallacious take. You grew up a certain way, in a certain area and were brought up to believe factually inaccurate burger thoughts.
And I've heard it before, you don't dislike In-N-Out, you just think it's "overrated" and whoo-whoo whatever burger joint you were indoctrinated into believing was better.
Much in the same way, people are incorrectly slandering the great Marshawn.
"Hey, I actually like Marshawn ... but I mean, he's washed."
"Marshawn is great in real life ... but you can drop him in fantasy."
Stop with the backhanded "compliments." Beast Mode is heating up and you best get on board.
Currently sporting a 4.01 YGAC per carry average (meaning he gains four yards per carry after a defender closes in), Lynch is one of the 15 best running backs in generating yards for himself; better than Leonard Fournette (3.84 YGAC), Jordan Howard (3.84 YGAC) and Le'Veon Bell (3.741 YGAC). He's slipping more tackles than you think and has improved his YGAC number every week since Week 4.
Remember, Lynch missed all of last year so it's entirely possible he's getting his sea legs back.
Plus Lynch is still punishing defenders as well, averaging 2.64 yards after contact per carry, the fourth average best among backs with at least 50 carries.
Surprisingly the Oakland line, once considered one of the two best in the league, has struggled with run blocking this year. They are one of the five worst in the NFL in terms of generating yards up front as the Silver and Black ball carriers are losing 0.25 yards per carry before a defender closes in. That number is in line with what the Panthers, Jets and Bengals are doing, three teams that have been skewered for their run blocking this year.
Fantasy spin: Make like 'N Sync and BUY, BUY, BUY all day. I think it's fair to believe the Raiders still have talent up front and a running renaissance is beyond feasible especially given Oakland's schedule after their Week 10 bye (bye, bye). Games versus the Patriots, Broncos, Giants and Chiefs lie ahead. Three of those teams are in the bottom 10 in terms of rushing defense and the Broncos are currently imploding making them vulnerable as well. As always, don't go crazy, remember overall sentiment in the fantasy streets is that these guys aren't terribly valuable. If you have Marshawn, ghost ride the whip and see where it takes you.
LeGarrette Blount, Philadelphia Eagles
Disrespect Level: The "Da Ali G Show" rankings
When we start talking comedy show pantheon you always hear people caping up for "Seinfeld," "South Park," "The Office," etc. But no one ever seems to remember "Da Ali G Show" for whatever reason. I loved that show. Loved it. Sure it was British and hard as hell to find, but it was there and it was breaking boundaries we never even knew existed. It was genius and even to this day, I cry-laugh watching those Sacha Baron Cohen interviews.
Similarly what does Legarrette Blount have to do earn your respect??? Score 18 touchdowns??? Literally carry the Eagles rushing attack???
People keep trying to write off Blount but he keeps producing. First it was rumors that he was a potential cut candidate in the preseason. Then it was Wendell Smallwood was a better system fit, then it was this guy and that guy, it was seemingly everyone except Blount. Why? Because he can't catch passes? Here's the thing; he doesn't need to in order to be an incredibly effective running back in both real life and fantasy.
Carson Wentz is getting all the accolades and deservedly so but Blount is making his life a helluva lot easier by churning out positive yards on his runs and he's doing a lot of it on his own. The Eagles' offensive line has been pristine in pass blocking but when it comes to generating yards for their backs, it's just not there.
Despite running behind a line that is generating -0.17 yards before defenders close (one of the 10 worst teams in this run-blocking stat), Blount is still miraculously pounding out 5.05 yards after a defender closes in per carry. He's the second-best in the YGAC stat in the league and his 4.62 yards per carry is better than Leonard Fournette, Devonta Freeman and Mark Ingram.
To contextualize his production even more, keep in mind more than half his yards per carry are coming after contact. His 2.61 yards per carry after contact is the sixth best in the league. He's been terrific even in poor running conditions.
Fantasy spin: Keep rolling him out there as a RB2 or flex and enjoy those dividends. Like any back he'll see his ebbs and flows but the nice thing is that he's seeing an incredibly consistent workload. Blount has had between 12 and 16 carries in every game he's played except most recently in Week 9 where the Eagles absolutely destroyed the Broncos and Blount toted the rock nine times. If you're inclined to move him for positional flexibility, I'm good with that too but be sure to get good value from a RB-thirsty team.
Also of note
Alex Collins, Baltimore Ravens: It's a chore to watch Baltimore's offense overall, but Collins has been good posting 4.44 YGAC per carry (tied for 10th best in the league) and averaging 5.60 yards per carry overall. He had a meh game Week 9 but I expect good things moving forward.
Dion Lewis, New England Patriots: Beli-Tricks and all that, yeah, yeah I get it. But out of this backfield, if there was a back I would hitch my wagon to for the back stretch of games it would be Lewis. His 4.44 YGAC is impressive and is probably the most well-rounded running back in that Patriots crowded backfield. I'll be interested to see how Rex Burkhead is integrated out of the bye but for now I am all about Lewis.