Wednesday, December 7, 2022

2022 Fantasy Football Draft Prep: Don’t let the hype drive you to over pay for Dameon Pierce

There was a time when Dameon Pierce was one of the better late-round targets in Fantasy Football drafts. At the start of training camp, you could grab him around 100th overall and, hey, maybe he’d be a viable bench RB for you to fill in on bye weeks and when injuries struck. 

As recently as a week ago, he went 81st overall in a PPR mock draft we did, a price where you could be pretty excited if he ended up a fringe RB2, and that’s exactly what Thomas Schafer drafted him as. With Elijah Mitchell as his next pick, Thomas could feel pretty good that one of those two would be worth using most weeks alongside first-rounder Najee Harris.

But the days of Pierce having significant room to outperform his price are probably over. He looked good again in the Texans’ third and final preseason game Thursday, rushing six times for 37 yards, and he started the game and played every first and second down on the Texans first drive, capping it off with a touchdown.

And now, his price is gonna skyrocket. It’s hard to know exactly where it’s going to land, but I’d be a little surprised if he didn’t start to get pushed into the top 60, and in PPR drafts, I’m out at that price. Because I’m just not sure how much upside there is with a player like Pierce.

He might just be a legitimate difference maker, though his college usage and draft stock would seem to make it pretty unlikely – the next time he gets 15 carries in a game will be the second time it’s happened since high school. 

Of course, you could’ve said something similar about Alvin Kamara coming out of college. Maybe Pierce was just held back by bad coaching in college, though it’s also worth noting that Kamara was taken 40 spots ahead of where Pierce went in the NFL draft

But, even if we assume Pierce is better than his draft stock indicates and capable of holding up to a significant role at the NFL level, I’m just not sure he’s someone I have too much interest in if he costs me, say, a Round 5 pick. Rex Burkhead has still been used in passing situations alongside Pierce in the preseason, so there may not be an immediate passing role available for Pierce, which limits his path to upside. 

And this is, of course, still the Texans, and likely to be one of the worst offenses in football. Even if you were to assume something like 250 carries and league-average efficiency – running backs who had 100-plus carries averaged 4.3 yards per carry a year ago, so let’s give him 1,075 rushing yards – and a decent passing game role – say, 35 catches for 275 yards – you’d still need a decent amount of touchdowns to be much more than a low-end RB2. 

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With those numbers, eight touchdowns would give him 12.8 PPR points per game, good for RB23 last season; 10 touchdowns would put him at RB22. For context, all of the Texans running backs combined for seven touchdowns last season. 

Which is all to say, we probably want to keep expectations in check for Pierce. I tend to think the fact that he fell to the fourth round likely means he’s a pretty run-of-the-mill talent, but even if you think he’s a pretty good one, you have to project a pretty big passing game role or a much better Texans offense around him to see him having much upside. 

And hey, not every pick needs to be a league-winner. But, if Pierce is going to be pushed into the fifth- or sixth-round range, you’re talking about passing on wide receivers like Darnell Mooney, Chris Godwin, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Elijah Moore, Michael Thomas, and others – guys with real upside. Upside that Pierce probably just doesn’t have.

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And that’s to say nothing of running backs like Damien Harris/Rhamondre Stevenson, Rashaad Penny/Kenneth Walker, or even someone like Melvin Gordon. All of those players may have somewhat murkier paths to immediate production (though not all of them, as I’d argue Penny is arguably in a better spot to open the season, given the upside he showed late last season), but I’d argue each of their best-case scenarios is better than Pierce’s. Gordon is a Javonte Williams injury away from being a potential top-12 RB, and I just can’t see a path to that kind of production from Pierce. 

Not unless Lovie Smith decides to just use him as an every-down back, which I should note is possible, as the likes of Matt Forte, Thomas Jones, and Doug Martin all routinely had 300-plus touches in Smith’s offenses. Though, I’ll also note that each of those guys had proven capable of handling a similar workload at least in college, if not already in the pros by the time Smith got to them. But maybe Pierce was just overlooked in college and as a prospect. Maybe he’s the next James Robinson, another outlier who turned into an unlikely every-down back and RB1 for Fantasy. It’s possible.

But it’s unlikely. If you already drafted Pierce, my advice would be to try to sell right now. If you’ve still got  your draft coming up, I still wouldn’t look his way until the 80-plus range, at least.

Which, of course, means I’m not drafting Pierce. I can live with that. 

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