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Sophomore Slumps: Should You Buy Low On Dalvin Cook and Leonard Fournette?

Please oh please can someone go revive Dalvin Cook and Leonard Fournette? Fortunately it appears as if the former will be available as early as this Sunday, but we are running out of time before these guys have sufficiently ruined fantasy teams.

These two sophomore running backs were drafted as early as the back end of the first round in 12-team leagues, and are bordering on fantasy bust territory. Injuries are the worst for both real life and fantasy, but can you actually use this to your advantage? Is now the time to buy low?

Before I answer that question, I want to address the term "bust" real quick. I have a hard time labeling injured or suspended players "busts." Those things aren't performance based. Can't underperform if you're not on the field. There was some Twitter chatter yesterday about how Le'Veon Bell is the biggest bust in fantasy this year. You knew he was holding out! This was always a possibility, you knew what you were getting into. If he comes back and plays terribly, then we can talk. I bring this up now because we're about to discuss two backs who have plenty of time to turn their season around. We'll be circling back to this idea in a bit. Bit of a tease, if you will.

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Dalvin Cook

In the case of Dalvin Cook, here's a guy (as Cris Collinsworth would say) coming off of an ACL tear whom we knew may not be his rookie self immediately. Cook racked up 444 total yards and two touchdowns through four games in 2017. Expand that over the course of a full season and you're looking at 1,776 yards and eight scores. For context, Kareem Hunt had 1,782 total yards and 11 touchdowns through a full 16 game slate. So in theory you'd be looking at top-five numbers at the position. The problem here is just that, this is theoretical. A player maintaining their projected pace is far from a given. Throw in the ACL tear and Cook's outlook was always shaky.

Am I saying this is a "you knew what you were getting into" situation? My answer to that is...sorta. There was always a chance Cook's four game burst was fake news. There was also a chance his recovery from knee surgery lingered. The real issue, however, is that his 2018 woes seem to be unrelated. He's been dealing with a hamstring injury, an ailment in which he's had more than one setback. You could argue he's already injury prone, you could argue he's unlucky, or, as the title of this article proposes, you could buy low. Sadly, I think I should advise against that.

Don't get me wrong, I like Cook's talent as a player. It's clear he has what it takes to be an every down back, a rarity in today's NFL. But being great at football and being great at fantasy don't always go hand in hand. You can be one without being the other. Just ask Blake Bortles. Cook does have the potential for both, but this is a situation where we need to see him string together a long stretch of healthy outings before we can declare him a fantasy superstar. I have a hard time believing we're going to see that this year. Even if he does indeed return this week, the Vikings may wisely limit his workload for a week or two. Not only is their superstar rusher banged up, but they have a hell of a passing game to lean on. Cook may end up the third, fourth option within that offense.

Obviously if the Cook owner in your league is willing to give him away for pennies on the dollar, go for it. Just don't make a trade for the sake of buying low on someone with potential. I would max the deal out at like Julian Edelman, Jimmy Graham, or Kirk Cousins. Someone solid yet oddly replaceable under the right roster construction. Wouldn't go higher than that. I would not be willing to give up one of my own running backs in a package deal because you may need to replace the guy you are trading for as early as Week 7. It's just too risky.


Leonard Fournette

I am way more optimistic about Leonard Fournette. Although it appears that Fournette's hamstring injury is more significant than Cook's, we actually know what we would be getting with a healthy Fournette. Playing in just 13 games last season, Fournette finished 2017 with 1,040 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. Add in an extra 302 and a score through the air and you're looking at the ninth best running back in PPR, eighth in standard.

That dude is a straight up stud. He does not need a full 16 games to be an RB1. We've seen him do it already. Sadly, with this injury being as bad as it is, there's a decent chance Fournette sits through the team's bye in Week 9. You are then looking at a Week 10 return. Here are Jacksonville's opponents from then on: Colts, Steelers, Bills, Colts, Titans, Redskins, Dolphins. None of those matchups scare you for fantasy purposes, half of which (Colts twice, Steelers, Bills) are cake. Only bad matchup would be if your league happens to run to Week 17 where you'd face a strong Texans run defense.

I would absolutely buy low on Leonard Fournette, assuming I could afford it of course. You'd have to be willing to plan for an extended absence so you still need depth. The Fournette owner in your league needs immediate help so you would have to part with a back of your own. If Adrian Peterson clears his shoulder injury, I'd offer a straight swap, see if the owner bites. Or I'd be willing to do a package deal involving someone the likes of Golden Tate or Will Fuller. While we're in the business of throwing out names, I'd also toy around with the idea of packaging players like Tevin Coleman, Philip Lindsay, Kyle Rudolph, Eric Ebron, or Matt Ryan. Straight swaps for injured players are always difficult so you may need to work some magic in a package, but you can absolutely entice the Fournette owner with the right pieces.

Before we conclude, let's backtrack to that idea of a bust. In the event either player returns and plays, say, 12 healthy games this year underperforming along the way, that my friends, is a bust. That is enough of a workload to contribute strong fantasy numbers, especially if you're a late first/early second round pick. But if the guy is literally not on the field, c'mon, give 'em a break. And while we're in the business of addressing fantasy terms, the emphasis on a "buy low" is on the low portion of the phrase, not the buy part. Don't trade just to trade! Don't go into a Fournette deal thinking "he's Leonard Fournette, I need a running back, I'll offer Julio Jones." It's Week 6, redraft value is now moot. Negotiate accordingly.

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