Lance Dunbar: The Next Under-the-Radar Scott Linehan Pass-Catching Running Back

Lance Dunbar caught his new OC's eye on tape. How will that translate to on-field performance?

When an offensive coordinator speaks in the preseason, you have to take it with a grain of salt. Quotes such as "we're going to run him until he throws up" or "he's our top breakout candidate" are commonplace, and tend to send fantasy football average draft positions in an upward whirlwind. Just like choosing where you get your news, check the source (the offensive coordinator) and see what his track record is before altering your strategy or determining someone is a breakthrough candidate.

There are some exceptions to this rule, however. And new Cowboys Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan is one of those exceptions.

In light of the fact that Linehan has been noted to be "creating stuff" for shifty running back Lance Dunbar, and given Linehan's track record at targeting his running backs frequently in the passing game, fantasy football owners should be taking Dunbar seriously in their upcoming drafts. Let's take a closer look at how Linehan's two-back system has frequently targeted running backs in the past. (And, if you're interested on how Linehan can help the offense as a whole, click here.)

TeamYearRunning BackTargetsRec. NEPPer TargetTarget NEP
Lions2013R. Bush8037.380.4715.49
Lions2013J. Bell6933.720.4921.24
Lions2012J. Bell6934.590.5021.30
Lions2012M. Leshoure488.600.18-0.46
Lions2012K. Smith165.900.370.81
Lions2011J. Best4015.840.407.17
Lions2011K. Smith2811.830.427.33
Lions2010J. Best8025.080.316.89
Lions2010K. Smith1611.930.757.97
Lions2010M. Morris318.830.28-0.25
Lions2010J Felton152.400.18-0.15
Lions2010A. Brown131.930.13-2.89
Lions2009K. Smith5625.240.458.59
Lions2009M. Morris3816.330.43-0.28
Lions2009J. Felton176.960.412.17
Lions2009A. Brown156.20.41-6.36
Rams2008S. Jackson6224.050.391.36
Rams2008K. Darby218.110.396.12
Rams2008A. Pittman275.800.21-1.15
Rams2007S. Jackson5213.400.261.63
Rams2007B. Leonard396.320.30-6.43
Rams2007T. Minor171.250.07-2.53
Rams2006S. Jackson11042.690.3918.54
Rams2006T. Fisher188.020.454.36
Rams2006S. Davis177.730.454.23
Dolphins2005R. Williams201.410.07-0.79
Dolphins2005S. Morris120.790.07-2.50
Vikings2004O. Smith4531.10.6919.07
Vikings2004M. Williams2721.010.7811.83
Vikings2004M. Bennett2312.470.5410.80
Vikings2004M. Moore329.330.297.90
Vikings2003M. Williams8550.730.637.15
Vikings2003M. Bennett1410.550.759.23
Vikings2003O. Smith207.050.353.20
Vikings2002M. Bennett4117.870.4415.91
Vikings2002M. Williams4115.770.384.28

Bolded Reception Net Expected Point (NEP) totals above represent top 10 Reception NEP seasons at running back

What you see in that monster table is that most Linehan backfields get targeted at least 100 times a season. You'll also notice that Linehan's offense frequently turns number two running backs (peripheral fantasy football options) into relevant pass-catchers in the backfield. Before seeing this table, you probably only remember Onterrio Smith as a former NFL player who got arrested trying to sneak a Whizzinator past airport security. But Linehan has turned running backs like Moe Williams, and more recently, Joique Bell, into household fantasy names.

Lance Dunbar's Career

When you look at what Dunbar has done in 21 career NFL games, you see 225 yards rushing, 13 receptions, 92 yards receiving with zero touchdowns. When you look deeper, you see that 82 of those rushing yards came in one game last Thanksgiving against Oakland before Dunbar went down with a season injury.

And then you ask yourself, "Why should I draft him?"

The reasons to draft Dunbar extend beyond his career stats. Linehan's history certainly helps make the case for Dunbar, but so does Dunbar's ability to line up as in the slot, at wide receiver and in two-back sets. Rotoworld highlighted the fact that Dunbar figures to get 6 to 9 touches per game, which could make him a fantasy flex play as what the team would consider a change-of-pace back.

However, what may have more potential importance is that, while Dunbar plays behind top 10 running back candidate DeMarco Murray, the Cowboys bell-cow does have a vast injury history. Murray has missed 11 games in three years, and, additionally, is a free agent at the end of the season. So the team will definitely try to find out what they have in Dunbar.

Dunbar's Average Draft Position and Projection

According to Fantasy Football Calculator, Dunbar isn't among the top 50 running backs drafted in 10-team standard leagues, and he has an ADP of RB50 in PPR leagues, which equates to him being drafted in the middle of the 12th round in fantasy drafts. His ADP is low enough to the point where he's a flier, and one who should still be able to produce weekly all while providing a handcuff to DeMarco Murray.

Our projections show Dunbar as the 72nd ranked running back with 46 carries for 236 yards, 22 receptions for 145 yards and one total touchdown. Most of the players with similar projections are older and in significant timeshares, and given the upside provided above, this could be considered a conservative look at his potential.

Nonetheless, our projections and Dunbar's current ADP highlight that he's virtually free, and what some people would consider arbitrage in their drafts. He's in a dynamic Scott Linehan offense which has turned players like Dunbar into useful fantasy options. With that in mind, I'd let Linehan's track record and his words be the signal that it's time to draft Dunbar in your leagues, as there is definite upside potential at a low entry price.