ESPN’s fantasy bloger, Eric Karabell, released an article yesterday titled “Benson could be a fantasy bargain“. Karabell hit the nail on the head with this one. Benson is sliding in many fantasy drafts. He had been about the 50-60th pick before the news of his jail sentence broke. Now he’s sliding to the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and further. No one likes him. Which is why you can get him on your team for a very good value. I’ll let Karabell present his point first.
Karabell begins his argument with this:
"I’m here to play devil’s advocate and remind people that while Mr. Benson is not practicing with his Bengals teammates, and his availability for Week 1 against the Cleveland Browns remains somewhat problematic, he was a top-20 fantasy running back (16th actually) a season ago. He was also fifth in the league in rushing attempts. He’s not a star, but he’s not as bad as you think. I mean, on the field."
After, telling people that he’s not crazy, he gets in to the meat of his argument:
"I think most fantasy owners are wise enough to see this situation for what it is, but then again, some clearly aren’t. If people looked past the jail hiccup and the fact that the Bengals are likely to be awful this season, then Benson wouldn’t be the No. 27 running back selected on average in ESPN live drafts. Benson remains the team’s starting running back. The team wasn’t good last season, either. The fantasy season lasts longer than September, so even if he misses a week or so — and I don’t think he will — there’s nice value here."
Karabell continues with an anecdote about how he acquired Benson in the 9th round of a recent draft. He notes that he is surprised how he got a starting runningback so late in the draft, especially one that gets as many touches as Benson.
"When I chose Benson recently after seeing his name out there in Rounds 6-8, and he still fell to the ninth round, there was the requisite snickering and joking on the message board, but it was also a sign that the situation is probably being misjudged. Hey, I like that. This is not a sexy pick by any means. Benson isn’t a joy to watch. While he rushed for better than 100 yards only three times all of last season and actually topped 60 yards only seven times — less than half the season — ultimately the production was there."
I agree wholeheartedly. Here’s my argument.
Personally, I’ll be taking Benson as my third/fourth RB in a lot of leagues this year. He’s sliding that far. In my own research, he averages as the 63rd pick in most drafts, while the experts have him ranked as the 58th pick (that’s usually around the 25th to the 30th RB taken). And these rankings don’t even reflect the news of Benson’s 20 days in jail. In recent drafts, most fantasy owners see that “20 days in jail” headline and stay far away.
I believe Benson will be a top-20 runningback this year. Easily.
1) last year’s inconsistent Offensive Line will be better this year. The primary culprits of last years O-line problems, Nate Livings and Dennis Roland, appear to no longer be problems. So far in the preseason, Nate Livings (very surprisingly) has looked far better than he did last year. Gruden uses him a lot to pull over to the right side, which he is suited well for. Andre Smith has finally showed up to camp in shape, and he will be starting at right tackle instead of Roland. He still has a lot to prove, but his run blocking has been very good in the preseason.
2) the team will carry a fullback this year. Chris Pressley is expected to make the team as the starting fullback. The team ran well with him in the lineup at the end of 2010. Pressley had also blocked very well in the preseason.
3) Bob Bratkowski is gone. Jay Gruden is the new offensive coordinator. Which means a little more creativity and a little less predictability in the playcalling.
4) The offensive identity is changing back to the power-run game of 2009. Fullback Chris Pressley did a nice job of explaining the new philosophy in this article. Last year the team threw the ball on 660 snaps and ran in on 411 snaps last year. That ratio will change greatly this year.
5) The 20-day jail sentence will not force Benson to miss a regular season game: Benson is in jail as you are reading this. He will miss the the Colts game (which he was going to miss anyway because he didn’t practice all week). The sentence should have little-to-zero impact on his fantasy value. He will be back and ready for the season opener on September 11 against Cleveland if he is released early for good behavior (obviously, he will be on his absolute best behavior). He may miss one or two practices but that’s it. Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer does a good job of explaining the full situation in this article.
6) Bernard Scott is not a threat to Benson. The Bengals front office has durability questions with Scott, who was injured quickly after his first actual start in 2009, and he also missed most of the preseason with a sore hamstring. The front office views Scott as a change of pace back. Which is exactly how he was used in the first half of last week’s preseason game against the Panthers (Benson had 19 rushes, Scott had 6). Additionally, Benson is the type of player who wants to put the team on his back. That’s why he re-signed with the team a month ago, and that’s how the team plans to use him.
7) Benson has not lost any explosiveness and is still extremely durable. If you’ve been watching any of the preseason games this year, he’s looking even more explosive than ever and is running very, very hard. Benson doesn’t get injured easily, which is one of his best traits. It’s also one of the primary reasons that the Bengals re-sign him.
8 ) Benson will get 300 carries this year, minimum. Only 8 runningbacks last year had more than 300 touches. Benson ranked 5th at 322. Benson had 16 carries in the first half of the 3rd preseason game (regarded as the dress-rehearsal-esque preseason game). Even with Scott in the picture, he will get the ball 30 times a game a few times this year. He’ll be getting so many touches that his miserable 3.5 yards per carry from last year won’t even matter.
9) He’s going to get pass receptions too. Marvin Lewis noted that Benson needs to improve his pass-catching for the new west coast offense. He wont be catching the ball as much as Ray Rice or LeSean McCoy, but it will still be a nice bonus for his weekly points.
10) He’s the team’s most-trusted goal-line option. Andy Dalton, promising as he is, is still a rookie. I don’t think Gruden trusts Dalton to air it out within the twenties just yet. Gresham and Green are nice red-zone targets, but they have Dalton throwing to him.
The point is, Benson should be drafted above guys like Reggie Bush, Marshawn Lynch, Mike Tolbert, Joseph Addai, Mark Ingram, and James Starks. That’s how far he’s falling. Those guys may not even break 200 carries this year. Barring injury and/or a very unlikely supension from the Commish, Benson will very easily outperform where he is being drafted.