By: Jason Nygren (Twitter: @Jason_Nygren)
Back in 2015, one of the hottest running backs in fantasy football was Dion Lewis. The fantasy community finally thought they had found a reliable running back in a Bill Belichick/Tom Brady offense. I saw dozens of trades across twitter and in leagues I’m in. Dion Lewis was going for future firsts, guys like Brandon Marshall, Demaryius Thomas. I even saw Dion Lewis for David Johnson (That trade doesn’t age well). It seemed like he was on the verge of being matchup proof, able to run the ball effectively, and catch passes out of the backfield, becoming everything a New England running back needed to be successful.
And then the ACL tear happened. But it wasn’t an immediate drop in value. Most people thought, myself included, that Lewis would get healthy and come in 2016 ready to continue in the role he had carved out for himself the year prior. Fast forward to April of 2017, and his value has nearly tanked through the floor. His ADP has dropped over 100 spots in Dynasty leagues (He is currently going in the 13th round in 10 team leagues, 12th round in 12 team leagues). Owners are panicking, selling him for anything they can. I’ve seen owners selling for players like Bilal Powell, Duke Johnson, or Coby Fleener. So what is Dion Lewis worth?
First lets look at his production. In 2015, his breakout year, he played 7 games before tearing his ACL and ending his season. Until that point, he had 234 yards, averaging 4.78 YPC along with 388 yards on 36 catches. If we take those numbers across an entire season, we get something in the realm of 530 yards rushing, 875 yards receiving, 75 catches, and 8 TDs. Those numbers would have put him in the top 5 of RBs in 2015. Not only do his numbers look good, but he also looks great on film. When you look back at 2015 game highlights, Lewis is a back who can do everything. He runs well between the tackles, he can run to the outside, he runs the slant, the wheel route, and the swing pass. What was most impressive was how he moved in open space. He was able to make guys miss on every level of the field. I really don’t see any concerns over his skill set and talent.
The real issue with Lewis is two things: Health and Opportunity.
In 2016, we saw him return in Week 10, and his stat line is almost the opposite of what was expected. He had progressively less work in the passing game, ending with 1 and 2 targets in weeks 16 and 17, respectively. On the other hand, he got more work running the ball, getting double digit touches the last three weeks (worth noting, they went down, with 18, 16, and 11 rushes to end the year). Many have questioned if Lewis was at full strength when he came back, and while I don’t believe that he would have come back before he was fully healthy, I do believe that the rust never fully came off. That, in combination with how well Blount and White were playing, there wasn’t any need to give him too much work. We saw glimpses of Lewis’ exceptional mobility and agility in 2016 so I do believe he still has that potential to get back to where he was in 2015.
So now the question of opportunity. New England has gone out and shown that at the very least, they want to limit the touches of every RB on their roster, and at worse are on the verge of cutting Dion Lewis. First they sign Rex Burkhead, who has been long thought of as an underrated RB during his time with the Bengals. They then went and made an offer on Mike Gillislee who filled in admirably for McCoy in Buffalo this past year, with excellent efficiency with his touches. The Patriots then rewarded James White with a contract extension. Lewis, on the other hand, is in the last year of his contract and can be cut with only 200k of dead cap if he is released. All of this points to the Patriots being a potential fantasy wasteland, with all 4 guys rotting away. Now, if Lewis were to get released or traded, I can see a huge jump in value. He could end up in a place like Green Bay, New Orleans, or New York just to name a few.
So what do you do about Lewis?
If you own him:
I think Lewis is a hold. You are selling low if you move him now as he has such limited value in NE at the moment. Unless you get blown away by an offer (think Devante Parker, anything about 1.09 in 2017) I’d stay up.
If you are looking to buy him:
If you are sold on Lewis and his talent AND you think he will be out of New England, he is worth a buy. But I wouldn’t move heaven and earth to get him. If you can get Lewis for an early 2017 2nd, or 2 mid/late 2nds, or if you can get him for a combination of lower tier prospects, (Funchess, Carroo, Smallwood, Duke Johnson, etc), go for it.
We need to be realistic, he no longer has the value he had in 2015. But he does have top 20 potential in a place other than New England. Try and dangle a mid-round rookie pick and a young guy with potential and see how close you get. In Start-up drafts, f you can get Lewis in round 11 or later, you are getting good value. The further time goes on with him still a in NE, the more he could fall, so feel good about picking him up in rounds 10-13.