Sunday, August 16, 2015

Fantasy Football 2015: Rookie Running Back Case Studies

In fantasy sports, the best indication of future success is past performance. The top guys drafted in fantasy football this season will be the guys that were the highest scorers last year. The superstars of fantasy are guys that have produced consistently at a high level for several years.  

But how do we project the top rookies heading into the 2015 season? One guy may have more talent but the less talented player that is in a better situation often ends up producing better stats. 

For instance, lets take last years crop of very talented rookie wide receivers. Sammy Watkins was the most talented player of the group coming out of college. The Bills traded up to the #4 pick to take Watkins. Four other wide receivers were drafted in the 1st round (Mike Evans #7, Odell Beckham #12, Brandin Cooks #20 and Kevin Benjamin #28). Seven others were drafted in the 2nd round. 

Watkins ended up with a solid season and posted a stat line 65 receptions, 982 yards and 6 touchdowns. That ranked him as the #27 WR in PPR and the #25 WR in standard scoring. This was good, but he was the #5 rookie WR, ranking behind 1st round picks (Beckham, Evans, Benjamin) and the #42 overall pick Jordan Matthews. If you prorate the stats of Cooks who missed six games due to injury, Watkins would rank as the #6 rookie WR and the worst of all the 1st round picks.  

Which begs the question why was the most talented college player the 6th most productive rookie WR? The answer is very simple. Watkins was the victim of poor QB play and an inconsistent low scoring offense. Watkins' Bills were 26th in total offense thanks to poor QB play by two below average signal callers in EJ Manual and Kyle Orton. Mike Evans was also the victim of poor QB play with Josh McCown and Mike Glennon and played in an offense that was 30th in total offense. Evans had only 3 more catches than Watkins and finished with only 69 more yards. But Evans was saved by the 12 TDs he scored last year. Evans stat line of 68/1051/12 game him 245.1 points in PPR scoring making him the #13 WR. 

Odell Beckam was an absolute monster at the end of the year and was the fantasy MVP in the fantasy post season. He helped many people win leagues. Beckham was also fortunate to play with a veteran Super Bowl winning QB in Eli Manning and played in the #10 offense in football. Brandin Cooks played on the #1 offense in football and also played with an elite QB in Drew Brees. Kelvin Benjamin played in a average offense but was helped by playing with a solid young QB in Cam Newton. Benjamin and Beckham also were helped by becoming the #1 WR options on their teams. Beckham used the Victor Cruz injury to get his opportunity while Benjamin stepped up for the departed Steve Smith Sr. 

The point is that different factors contribute to fantasy success of fantasy failure.  

For me the best way of determining rookie and unproven players expectations is through case studies. 

Here are several case studies and comparisons of this year's rookie Running Backs: 

#15 pick 
2014 College Stats:  
2587 rushing yards
32 total TD
153 receiving yards
19 receptions

Case Study #1: Jeremy Hill (2014 Cincinnati)
Stats are prorated to game where both Hill and Gio Bernard were healthy and played together: 

1280 rushing yards
10 TDs
168 rec yards
30 receptions
234.8 points in PRR scoring/204.8 standard scoring 

Like Hill last year, Gordon will be asked to be a two down back that will get a lot of carries but will be very limited in the passing game due to the presence of 3rd down back Danny Woodhead. Gordon isn't as big as Hill but is much quicker and has more big play ability. Hill finished with 222 rushing attempts and Gordon should see at least 208 (13 per game). He has a chance to replicate Hill's numbers from last year. 

Case Study #2 Ryan Mathews (2010 San Diego)
Prorated over a 16 game season (Mathews only played in 12 games) 

904 rushing yards
9 TDs 
191 rec yarss
28 receptions
192.7 points in PPR/164.7 standard 

At 6-0/218 Mathews has very similar size to Gordon. Both guys were drafted in the first round by the Chargers with similar expectations to become an elite running back. Unlike Mathews, Gordon didn't have durability concerns coming out of college. Mathews had a knee injury in college and has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career. 

Final Analysis:
The Chargers plan on running Gordon early and often. Hill's season last year appear to be his ceiling while Mathews numbers look like his floor. This puts him as a steady and relatively safe RB2.  

My Projection: 
1040 rushing yards (208 attempts at 5.0 per carry) 
9 TDs 
168 rec yards 
24 receptions

198.8 points in PPR/174.8 standard 

#36 pick 
2013 and 2014 College Stats average:  
1171 rushing yards
13.5 total TD
157 receiving yards
15.5 receptions

Case Study #1: Marshawn Lynch (2007 Buffalo)

1115 rushing yards (280 attempts at 4.0 per carry) 
7 TDs
194 rec yards
18 receptions
189.9 points in PPR/171.9 points in standard 

Yeldon and Lynch have very similar athleticism numbers coming out of college. Both ran a 4.52 forty, and were nearly identical in their vertical, 3 cone drill and bench press. Both are big, physical runners that had good college production. In college, both split time with other good running backs. Lynch split time with Justin Forsett while Yeldon split time with both Eddie Lacy and Derrick Henry. Like Lynch in 07, Yeldon's TD potential will be limited by a below average offense.  

Case Study #2: LeGarrette Blount (2010 Tampa Bay) 
prorated over a 16 game season (Mathews only played in 13 games)

1239 rushing yards 
7 TDs
17 rec yards
173.6 points in PPR/167.6 points in standard 

Current Jags Offensive Coordinator Greg Olsen was Tampa Bay's OC in 2010. Both teams had/have second year signal callers (Blake Bortles/Josh Freeman) and both had two big targets in the passing game (Tampa had TE Kellen Winslow and WR Mike Williams while Jacksonville has TE Julius Thomas and WR Allen Robinson). Blount was strictly a two down back as they brought in Cadillac Williams in on 3rd downs. Yeldon has a chance to have a bigger role in the passing game while getting 200+ rushing attempts.

Final Analysis:
Jacksonville needs Yeldon to become an every down back that can provide a consistent threat on the ground. This will take the pressure off of young QB Blake Bortles. Jacksonville signed Julius Thomas and has second year WR Allen Robinson to help Bortles as well. If Bortles provides growth as a passer, then teams won't be able to stack the box to stop Yeldon. He should get around 16 rushes per game and maybe one catch per game. Yeldon is a low end RB2 that would be best if paired with a safe RB1. 

My Projection: 
1110 rushing yards (256 attempts at 4.3 per carry) 
7 TDs 
180 rec yards 
18 receptions

189 points in PPR/171 points in standard 

#54 pick 
2014 College Stats:  
1611 rushing yards (264 attempts at 6.1 per carry) 
22 total TD
269 receiving yards
22 receptions

Case Study #1: LeSean McCoy (2009 Philadelphia) 

637 rushing yards (155 attempts at 4.1 per carry) 
4 TDs
308 rec yards
40 receptions
158.5 points in PRR /118.5 standard 

Shady and Ameer are nearly identical in size and athletic ability coming out of college. This year's Lions team is similar the the 09 Eagles. The Eagles were a high powered offense led by QB Donovan McNabb and coached by Andy Reid. They passed the ball nearly 60% of the time which is what the Lions expect to do this year. McCoy led the Eagles in rush
attempts because Brian Westbrook got hurt. If injury prone Joique Bell gets hurt expect Ameer to lead the Lions in rushing attempts. 

Case Study #2: Gio Bernard (2013 Cincinnati) 

695 rushing yards (170 attempts at 4.1 per carry)
8 TDs
514 rec yards
56 receptions
224.9 points in PRR scoring/168.9 standard scoring 

Like Gio, Ameer steps into a situation with an aging power back that has injury concerns. Gio split time with the BenJarvus Green-Ellis AKA the Law Firm. Ameer will split time with Joique Bell. Like the Law Firm, Bell may get more carries than Ameer but Ameer is the better option in fantasy. Gio ended up being the second leading pass catcher in the Bengals offense. That won't be the case in Detroit with Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate there. But the carries and scoring opportunities are very similar to Gio two years ago. 

Final Analysis:
The Lions have faith that Ameer can eventually turn into an every down back. He will split with Bell early on, but could end up having a lot of value as the season progresses. He should be able to put up similar rushing numbers to both Gio and Shady. He won't be able to replicate Gio's receiving numbers, but he's nearly a lock for 40 catches playing in the Lions offense. In a PPR he's a clear cut RB2, in standard he's a high upside RB3/flex. 

My Projection: 
704 rushing yards (160 attempts at 4.4 per carry) 
6 TDs 
416 rec yards 
42 receptions

190 points in PPR/148 standard 


#10 pick 
2014 College Stats: 
911 rushing yards
10 total TD
57 receiving yards
12 receptions
NOTE: only played in 6 games due to injury
also missed time in 2013
best year stat wise was 2012:
1385 rushing yards
17 total TD
117 receiving yards
16 receptions

Gurley is a dominating runner that has a chance to become a superstar. Gurley tore his ACL at the end of last season and may not be ready to start the 2015 season. Frank Gore and Willis McGahee overcame devastating college injuries and went on the have great careers. Gore was a backup as a rookie behind Kevan Barlow while McGahee sat out his entire rookie year. Both guys had MONSTER second years though. Gore rushed for nearly 1700 yards and had 9 TDs while McGahee rushed for over 1100 yards and had 13 TDs. Both will make good second year case studies.  

These are the best rookie case studies that fit Gurley:   

Case Study #1: Darrren McFadden (2008 Oakland)  Pessimistic case  

449 rushing yards (113 attempts at 4.4 per carry)
4 TDs
285 rec yards
29 receptions
131.4 points in PRR/102.4 standard 

McFadden has become a fantasy tease and an injury punch line since entering the league. People forget how dominant this guy was in college

If Gurley is unable to recover, he will likely be looking at a rookie season like McFadden. The 08 Raiders were an absolutely terrible offense led by JaMarcus Russell. They didn't have a WR with more than 30 catches that year. This year's Rams aren't that bad, but they aren't that much better either. Kenny Britt and Brian Quick are their best WRs. That says it all. At worse, Gurley will put up rookie numbers that McFadden did in 08. 

Case Study #2: Ronnie Brown (2005 Miami) Optimistic case

907 rushing yards (207 attempts at 4.4 per carry)
6 TDs
232 rec yards
32 receptions
181.9 points in PRR /159.9 standard 

Ronnie Brown was a beast in college as well. He was the #2 pick in the 2005 draft. Brown and Gurley have similar size, running style and ability to catch the ball for a bigger running back. Brown went to a Dolphins team that already had a good running back in Ricky Williams. The 05 Dolphins team had nearly a 50/50 split with Williams getting 14 carries per game and Brown getting 13.8. This year Gurley and second year back Tre Mason will have a nearly 50/50 split as the Rams ease Gurley into a feature back. 

Final Analysis:
The Rams shocked many people when they drafted Gurley at #10. However, they have been adamant that they will take him along slowly and give him a bigger work load as the season progresses. He has a lot more value in keeper leagues as he could end up being a stud in 2016. This season fantasy owners will need to lower their expectations.

He will likely miss the first 2-4 games. After that he will split carriers with Mason for a St. Louis team that has the second hardest fantasy schedule for running backs. Gurley should be drafted as a high upside RB3/flex. He certainly has the talent to exceed my projections but I just see too many red flags (injury, schedule and Rams offense) to consider him a fantasy starter as a rookie.  

My Projection: 
756 rushing yards (168 attempts at 4.5 per carry in 12 games) 
5 TDs 
264 rec yards 
30 receptions

162 points in PPR/132 standard 

#73 pick 
2014 College Stats:  
2036 rushing yards
15 total TD
141 receiving yards
25 receptions

Case Study #1: DeMarco Murray (2011 Dallas)
Played in 13 games 

897 rushing yards (164 attempts at 5.5 per carry) 
2 total TD
183 receiving yards
26 receptions
146 points in PPR/120 points in standard 

Coleman and Murray are both home run threats with 4.4 speed  Like Murray, Coleman is going to a pass first offense led by a top 10 QB. Murray was instantly the Cowboys most talented back yet had to give up playing time to Felix Jones. Coleman will have to do the same with Devonta Freeman. Coleman has injury concerns coming out of college similar to Murray. 

Case Study #2: Leon Washington (2006 New York Jets)

650 rushing yards (151 attempts at 4.3 per carry) 
4 total TD
270 receiving yards
25 receptions
141 points in PPR/116 points in standard 

It's hard to believe now, but the 06 Jets were a very good and efficient passing team led by QB Chad Pennington. Matt Ryan is better than Pennington and the Jets didn't have a Julio Jones to stretch the field. But I could easily see the Falcons using Coleman the way the Jets used Washington, especially in the passing game. 

Final Analysis:
Coleman has a chance to get a lot of playing time on a very good Falcons offense. He just needs to stay healthy and separate himself from Freeman. Unlike the four other rookie running backs, you won't need to spend a top 60 pick to get him. He looks to be a great draft and stash candidate. If he ends up being the #1 option in Atlanta he can reward fantasy owners with favorable schedule down the stretch. He also could be a good bye week fill-in in weeks 6-8. Draft Coleman as a RB3 in a 12 team league and a RB4 in a 10 team league, but be patient with him. He may struggle early on, but his upside is much higher than Joique Bell, Rashad Jennings and Chris Ivory. All of whom are being drafted ahead of Coleman.   

My Projection: 
770 rushing yards (154 attempts at 5.0 per carry in 14 games) 
4 TDs 
208 rec yards 
26 receptions

147.8 points in PPR/121.8 standard

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