Early RSO Contracts: RBs

Updated: August 6th 2017

Knowing the types of contracts given out by other fantasy teams can give the alert reader a big advantage when your own RSO free agency auction arrives.  Your league settings and available players will have a big impact on the size of contracts given out at various positions, but looking at the relative contracts within position groups provides some useful information. This week I move to one of the most volatile positions in fantasy football, running back, where increased injury rate and player turnover make long-term decisions extremely difficult.

Top of the Market

No shock here.  Ezekiel Elliott, David Johnson, and Le’Veon Bell are the three highest paid running backs in RSO leagues and also atop the overall player salaries.  There is not much of an argument to be made about why they do not belong here.  Each is a proven game changer at the position and potential league winner capable of putting up 2,000 total yards with extraordinary potential touch volume.

The only issue which concerns me is the lengths of contracts where each is averaging nearly four years.  I do not have much of an issue with Zeke given the dominant offensive line mostly locked up with long term deals and a quarterback who was excellent as a rookie, but questions linger about his off-the-field behavior.  I am a little more skeptical of Bell and Johnson though with situations more in flux and extensive workloads which increase injury risk.  Carson Palmer and Ben Roethlisberger could retire any year moving forward with no real alternatives on the rosters leaving a possibly dicey quarterback situation for each.  Bell also has multiple suspensions, major injury issues, and is not signed to a long-term contract with Pittsburg (and will not be until after the season, if at all).

The Rookies

The rookies listed in the table all came from one auction as most rookies will go in rookie drafts instead of auction, so do not put too much stock into the results.  I believe it is a useful reminder, however, of inflated rookie prices which can occur in startup auctions.  Leonard Fournette, Joe Mixon, Christian McCaffrey, and Dalvin Cook all landed maximum term contracts in the auction with average salaries that would place each in the top-14 among running backs without playing a down in the NFL.  This is just a reminder not to go overboard with rookies in your auction.

An Important Tier Break

For those owners who like to invest in two heavy volume running backs for your starters, remember the name Lamar Miller.  He is the last player on the list before a major tier drop, coming off the board as the RB15 in average salary.  The main reason for this big tier break is certainty of volume.  Forgetting the rookies, I have every back priced above Isaiah Crowell projected for 270+ touches over the course of a full season.  I do not have any other back projected for over 250 touches.  The primary problem for these other backs centers around 1) uncertainty of role (example: Spencer Ware) or 2) playing on projected bad teams limiting workload (example: Carlos Hyde).

Top Buys

C.J. Anderson heads my list of top running back buys this season.   The Denver back is virtually assured the the lion’s share of carries with last year’s bust Devontae Booker (already injured), late rounder De’Angelo Henderson, and former superstar Jamaal Charles (still returning from injury and on the roster bubble) as the only competition.  Anderson averaged 18 touches per contest through 7 games last season before injury ended his year and was the RB12 during that time.  The Broncos improved their offensive line in the offseason and will want to rely heavily on the run game no matter who ends up starting at quarterback.  Anderson is a steal as the RB26.

Bilal Powell (RB35), Danny Woodhead (RB37), and Theo Riddick (RB42) provide cheap useful starters, particularly in PPR leagues, for those teams taking a wide receiver-heavy approach.  Each has standalone value and a lot of upside should the other committee back on their respective team go down with injury.

Top Avoids

The narrative surrounding Ty Montgomery (RB22) has amused me to no end this offseason.   Montgomery started 12 games, including three in the playoffs, once bruiser Eddie Lacy went down with injury.  The converted wide receiver rushed for more than 11 times once and accumulated more than 60 rushing yards once in his 12 starts.  Those games were with James Starks (likely done in the league) and Christine Michael (who has been cut more times than we can count) as the only real competition for touches.  Green Bay was even giving Aaron Ripkowski touches.  Now the story is that Montgomery will take over a far bigger role after the Packers drafted multiple running backs with far more talent than last year’s backs? Montgomery is the classic perceived “great situation” case boosted by small sample efficiency stats which were propped up on two games against a Chicago defense decimated by injuries.

I am a big fan of C.J. Prosise and the multi-dimensional skill-set he brings.  I am not paying starter money on a short-term contract for a player likely needing multiple items going his way to take over the primary back role.  Grab Prosise on a cheaper longer-term contract if possible in your league as a nice lottery ticket.

 

Average RSO Running Back Contracts


Bio:  Bernard Faller has degrees in engineering and economics.  He currently lives in Las Vegas and enjoys athletics, poker, and fantasy football in his free time.  Send your questions and comments (both good and bad) on Twitter @BernardFaller1.

Slicing ’17 Rookie Class into 12 Tiers

Updated: July 23rd 2017

According to a recent poll on our RSO Twitter feed, about 50% of RSO leagues have not yet conducted their rookie drafts.  As you’re continuing your preparation, I’m here to provide my tiered rankings of the top 50 rookies.  Navigating three to four rounds of a rookie draft isn’t easy.  My tiers are designed to help you know when to buy or sell so you can accumulate the best possible rookie class, at great value!

So let’s begin…

Tier 1

1. Corey Davis WR TEN

While Corey Davis may not be quite the same level of prospect as recent 1.01/1.02 picks Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, and Todd Gurley, he’s undoubtedly the best prospect in this class and the only receiver I’m willing to bet will be a true NFL #1.  Putting my money where my mouth is, I already have 3 shares and am aiming for more.

Tier 2

2. Joe Mixon RB CIN
3. Christian McCaffrey RB CAR
4. Leonard Fournette RB JAX

To say you can’t go wrong with picks 2, 3, and 4 would be inaccurate. In a few years, all three will have differing values. But at this point, the margins between each are razor-thin.

Consistent with my general strategy, I’m going to often choose the most talented player regardless of their potential non-talent-related downfalls such as injury history, off-the-field issues, etc. I’ll take Joe Mixon at 2.  He’s the only RB in this class that I believe truly has an elite RB1 ceiling. My rankings 3rd and 4th ranked players differ depending on your scoring system. PPR -> Christian McCaffrey. Standard -> Leonard Fournette.

Tier 3

5. Dalvin Cook RB MIN

While a sub-10th percentile SPARQ score terrifies me, Dalvin Cook‘s college tape tells a different story. I firmly believe that he’s the most talented back on the Minnesota Vikings and it isn’t remotely close. How soon he will earn playing time may be another story. He will need to improve drastically in pass-protection and ball security to earn playing time.

After the 1.05 pick, this draft class falls off a cliff. If you’re slated to pick 6th or later in the first round of a rookie draft this year, I’d advise shopping that pick for help now or 2018/2019 picks.

Tier 4

6. Mike Williams WR LAC

Back injuries are scary. Back injuries are especially scary when learning a NFL playbook for this first time, getting acclimated to a NFL playbook, and completing for playing time among a crowded group of talented receivers. Even if he fully recovers from this injury in time for the season, he’s unlikely to contribute in a meaningful way this season. Still my 1.06, I’d only make that pick if I’ve exhausted every trade possible without coming to an agreement. If Mike Williams struggles for playing time, but appears healthy when on the field, he might be a buy-low target at the trade deadline or during the 2018 off-season

For more info on his injury and the potential need for surgery if the non-surgical route doesn’t work, I’d recommend listening to the AUDIBLE LIVE! Podcast from June 8th as Jene Bramel (@JeneBramel on Twitter) provides great insight.

Tier 5

7. Alvin Kamara RB NO
8. John Ross WR CIN
9. David Njoku TE CLE
10. Evan Engram TE NYG
11. Samaje Perine RB WAS
12. O.J. Howard TE TB
13. Kareem Hunt RB KC

Even if he doesn’t develop as an inside runner, Alvin Kamara will still be a very productive pass-catching back in the NFL. The Saints offense is very RB friendly and neither Adrian Peterson or Mark Ingram are locks for the Saints’ 2018 roster.

Love John Ross‘ talent, but hate the landing spot. Andy Dalton isn’t the ideal QB for him, especially behind a poor offensive line that may force them to focus on getting the ball out of his hands quickly.

My tight end rankings are based on my belief in their long-term upside. Love David Njoku‘s talent and his situation isn’t as bad as many believe, especially with the release of Gary Barnidge. Evan Engram should settle in as a big slot receiver, though classified as a TE, for the Giants once they release he can’t handle the typical blocking duties of an in-line TE.

O.J. Howard likely will end up as the best NFL TE, but I’m worried that his talent as a blocker may limit his fantasy potential.

Samaje Perine doesn’t feel like a 1st rounder to me.  I would do everything possible to trade the 1.11 pick for a random 2018 1st. He was graded by many as a late 2nd or early 3rd round pick dynasty rookie pick, but has catapulted into the 1st round due to his promising landing spot in Washington. Betting on him to the next Jordan Howard is dangerous. Barring that type of breakout, I expect Washington to be in play for signing a free agent or drafting a top RB prospect in 2018.

Rounding out this tier is Kareem Hunt – a running back who dazzled on tape, but disappointed at the NFL combine. Joining a Spencer Ware in the Kansas City backfield, many believe Hunt will overtake Ware for the majority of carries by mid-season. I believe this is far from a lock and would expect Ware to lead KC in carries this year, by a 2:1 ratio.

Tier 6

14. JuJu Smith-Schuster WR PIT
15. Chris Godwin WR TB
16. Carlos Henderson WR DEN
17. James Conner RB PIT
18. Zay Jones WR BUF
19. Curtis Samuel WR CAR

Higher on Carlos Henderson than most, I love his ability after the catch. It’s also worth mentioning that aging receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders aren’t long-term barriers to playing time in Denver.

Tier 7

20. Taywan Taylor WR TEN
21. D’Onte Foreman RB HOU
22. Jeremy McNichols RB TB

Loved Taywan Taylor pre-draft and couldn’t have hoped for a much better landing spot.  Great target in the late 2nd or early 3rd round of your draft.

Tier 8

23. Melvin Mack RB IND
24. Kenny Galladay WR DET
25. ArDarius Stewart WR NYJ
26. Gerald Everett TE LAR
27. Joe Williams RB SF
28. Josh Reynolds WR LAR
29. Chad Williams WR ARI

This group includes several recent ADP risers: Kenny Galladay, ArDarius Stewart, Joe Williams, and Chad Williams. In each of my drafts, I want to land several players from this tier.

Tier 10

30. Jamaal Williams RB GB
31. Aaron Jones RB GB
32. Patrick Mahomes QB KC

In both redraft and dynasty, Ty Montgomery is the back I want in Green Bay though it’s hard to ignore the fact that the Packers drafted 3 running backs. If everything breaks right for either rookie back, Williams and Jones could be featured in one of the NFL’s best offenses. That alone makes them solid values in the 3rd round.

If early rookie drafts are any indication, I’m going to be heavily invested in Patrick Mahomes. While he’ll need to be more consistent to succeed at the next level, I can’t help but drool at his raw ability. His landing spot, under Andy Reid’s tutelage, could not be better. Let’s not forget that Andy Reid used to be criticized during his Eagles days for passing too much.  Mahomes will be put into position to not only succeed, but also develop into a QB1 in fantasy.

Tier 11

33. Cooper Kupp WR LAR
34. Wayne Gallman RB NYG
35. Amara Dorboh WR SEA
36. Deshaun Watson QB HOU
37. Adam Shaheen TE CHI
38. DeShone Kizer QB CLE
39. Mitchell Trubisky QB CHI

Tier 12

40. Ishmael Zamora WR OAK
41. Jonnu Smith TE TEN
42. Josh Malone WR CIN
43. Jehu Chessen WR KC
44. Chad Kelly QB DEN
45. Dede Westbrook WR JAX

Tier 13

46. Shelton Gibson WR PHI
47. Jake Butt TE DEN

48. Elijah McGuire RB NYJ
49. Brian Hill RB ATL
50. Donnel Pumphrey RB PHI


Bio: An avid fan of all things NFL, Dave has been playing fantasy football since 1999.  Though Dave participates in all types of fantasy football including redraft and daily, he prefers dynasty and keeper leagues as talent evaluation and scouting are integral components of each.  Follow him on Twitter @DaveSanders_RSO

RSO Writers’ League Rookie Draft

Updated: July 16th 2017

For our RSO readers, we wanted to give an open look into our Writer’s League Rookie Draft. Since we did our draft through an email chain we started by declaring our franchised players for the upcoming season. A list of who was tagged and for how much is listed below followed by the pick-by-pick selections and comments from each owner.

Stephen Wendell – Jimmy Graham ($10,331,667)

I tagged Jimmy Graham because I am obviously so confident in the draft pick I just made (Engram)

Luke Patrick – Travis Kelce ($10,331,667)

I tagged Travis Kelce because I assume any guy with a reality show is a good investment for football purposes.

Matt Goodwin – Melvin Gordon ($20,323,333)

I tagged Melvin Gordon because, well he dominated last year and has less competition this year. The $20.3m price tag seemed about right compared to what I thought he’d get on the open market.

Kyle English – Matt Ryan ($19,242,667)

I tagged Matt Ryan because he has Julio and should come out and torch everyone after last year’s super bowl embarrassment.

Nick Andrews – Drew Brees ($24,311,719)

I tagged Drew Brees for several reasons:

  1. a) Many of the other QBs were being tagged leaving Brees to be the target of the auction if I let him go
  2. b) Being in a win now mode allowed me to justify overpaying from the usually conservative salaries I give QBs and;
  3. c) There was enough interest in Brees through trade talks that if I am unsuccessful in my quest for a repeat championship he should bring back a couple of decent assets during this season.

Matt Papson – Eli Manning ($19,242,667)

I decided to tag Eli for $19.2MM despite the hefty price tag and my significant dollar commitments to other quarterbacks for a couple of reasons. One, it’s a superflex league where quarterbacks are the highest scoring position and where I feel the ownership (in general) is severely undervaluing quarterbacks. Two, I believe Eli is poised to have perhaps the finest statistical year of his career, but I’m not confident about his long-term prospects. Finally, even though I’ve got a bunch of money tied up in Andrew Luck & Carson Palmer, I’m not 100% confident Palmer will return to form, even though I still feel good about the odds.

Jaron Foster – Jameis Winston ($19,242,667)

Given the superflex format and lack of quality quarterbacks that will be available in the auction, the franchise tag price seemed reasonable to keep a young QB who is ready to take the next step with some new toys to play with.

Bob Cowper – None

I tagged nobody because, well, my team just wasn’t very good.

Dave Sanders – None

Bernard Faller – None

2017 RSO Writer’s League Draft Results

Below is a transcription of each pick and comments that the owner made during their selection. Included also are the trades that occurred during the draft.

Corey Davis

1.01 – Corey Davis

Luke Patrick: I opted for Corey Davis, but it was a hard call for me with Fournette and McCaffrey beckoning at a position of need.   With a bloated A-Rob (Allen Robinson) contract and an invaluable 4-year control on a potential stud WR proved too much for me to resist, I opted for the potential HR.

1.02 – Leonard Fournette

Bob Cowper: Even though Jacksonville isn’t great, I think he will be dominant enough to be a valuable fantasy player from the start (albeit less so than Zeke).  I think Fournette’s pass catching ability is underrated so as long as he can be an average pass blocker he has a shot at staying on the field for 3 downs.

1.03 – Christian McCaffrey

Jaron Foster: Between draft stock and lack of competition, this is a fairly easy choice for me. He should have a high PPR floor even if he doesn’t turn into a 3-down back and a high ceiling if he does.

1.04 – Joe Mixon

Matt Papson: I entered the Rookie draft with selections 4 and 6. My plan, which was feasible until a few weeks before the draft, was to land two of the four elite running backs — Fournette, McCaffrey, Mixon, and Cook. When the draft fell Davis, Fournette, McCaffrey, I was faced with a difficult decision. I preferred Mixon to Cook, though not by much, and I thought there was a chance if I took Cook, perhaps Mixon would still be around at 6. I was not confident the opposite would be true.

1.05 – Dalvin Cook

Nick Andrews: I traded up before the draft started sending the 1.10 and a 2018 1st knowing that I wanted to get one of the top 5 rookies. Once all the other players were selected through the first four this was an easy choice to make. Cook was considered the 1.01 up until the combine and depending on your expectations from Latavius Murray this could be his backfield from week 1. He has the skills to be a 3-down back and should help to take some pressure off of Sam Bradford.

1.06 – Mike Williams

Papson: As it turned out it didn’t matter. I took Mixon, Cook went 5th, and I was essentially forced to take Mike Williams by default. Williams is the #1 WR on my board but was not planning to take unless I had to because of existing depth at the position. Best available reigns supreme.

1.07 – O.J. Howard

Bob: Struggled with this one a bit.  I haven’t been shy about my Howard concerns – he’s obviously an athletic freak but he was so underutilized at Alabama and so much of his production came in two games against Clemson.  To those who argue that the Alabama offense just doesn’t use the TE, I would counter by saying that it hasn’t relied on a run-first QB like Jalen Hurts either but Saban found a freak athlete he just had to work into the game plan.  Why not with Howard?  He might have the lowest floor of some of the others in contention at 1.07 but it’s hard to say no to somebody of his size and speed.  Having Antonio Brown and Jordy Nelson under contract also factored in, figured I should fill the TE spot rather than taking John Ross or reaching for one of the second-tier RBs.

1.08 – Kareem Hunt

Matt Goodwin: As someone who owned Spencer Ware last season in this league, I’m picking Kareem Hunt because I think he’s very talented and in a situation where he can win the Chiefs starting running back job this season and if he does, that’s fantasy gold. I’m intrigued by the fact that Pro Football Focus ranked him third in its elusiveness rating. Also, the Chiefs traded up to get him, which speaks volumes about what they think of him. Hunt caught six balls in multiple games this season and has a nose for the end zone and big plays. I’m happy to pick what some are calling the “steal of the NFL draft” and who Louis Riddick had effusive praise for, comparing him to Emmitt Smith. As someone who graduated from Miami University, I’d be remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity to pick a future star from the MAC.

1.09 – Alvin Kamara

Jaron: I took Kamara to back up the newly acquired Mark Ingram. It would have been difficult to choose between Hunt and Kamara, given Hunt’s ideal landing spot, so I’m glad the decision was made for me. I expect Kamara will sit behind Ingram and AP for a year, and then will take over when one or both leave the bayou.

1.10 – John Ross

Kyle English: Don’t really need a WR, but that’s far and away where the best value is at this point.  Still struggled quite a bit with this one, but ultimately decided on Ross.  Quite worried about competition for targets there in Cincy and his injury history, but at the 1.10 I can’t let him fall any further.

*TRADE ALERT*

Bob Trades: Jordy Nelson

Luke Trades: 2.08, 2.06, Giovanni Bernard, Tyler Lockett

*TRADE ALERT*

Papson Trades: 1.06 (Mike Williams)

Luke Trades: 2.01, 2.09, 2018 2nd, Jerrick McKinnon

 

2.01 – Juju Smith-Schuster

Papson: Flush with 3 2018 1st round picks, and with 7, 8, and 9 (Howard, Hunt, Kamara) falling fairly favorably, I briefly negotiated for the 1.10 before making a deal for 2.01 and 2.09 in exchange for Mike Williams. My intention here was to end up with two of the following three: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Patrick Mahomes, and DeShaun Watson. I took Juju at 2.01, though I pondered both Mahomes and Watson in that slot. Depending on who you ask, JuJu could be ranked as high as 7th and low as 27th, but I wasn’t willing to wait any longer.

2.02 – Chris Godwin

Bob: He was my best player available (#8 on my board) and even though I already took Howard (and have Martin) I’m going for it.  As a Michigan and Rutgers fan, it kills me but I loved watching him play this year. Godwin makes spectacular high point catches and should see lesser coverage with all the other weapons. I really wanted Davis at 1.02 but figured Godwin would be my backup at 2.02.

2.03 – Evan Engram

Bernard Faller: My top fantasy TE in the class but is really just a pass catcher.  Unlike most TEs, his maturity as a receiver makes him ready to play from day one.  The ridiculous combination of size, speed, and athleticism is virtually unmatched by any receiver in this class.

2.04 – David Njoku

Stephen Wendell: Miami must not have had a lot of favorable lines this year because I spent no time watching any Miami football, but I tend to only watch college football where I have some action, but that tends to be most games, so I am not sure how I missed him. That said, even if I had watched him, my opinion of rookies means nothing and Bob Cowper’s means everything to me… the guy is an animal, a Matt Waldman in the making. And he has Njoku ranked 12…his BPA is Zay Jones who I like as well, but not a perfect situation for him in Buffalo and he kind of feels like a guy that may be pretty great (if he becomes great) at the end of his rookie deal when he is likely a FA already in our league. Additionally, someone has to catch some passes for the Browns this year, whether it is Osweiler or Kizer (or Jimmy G??) throwing them, so why not a stud TE to grab a few and pick up a few red zone scores (he grabbed 8 last year). Lastly, a severe position of need for me, especially if Fleener does not play better in NO this season.

*TRADE ALERT*

Luke Trades: Josh Gordon, 2019 1st

Kyle Trades: Blake Bortles, Laquon Treadwell

*TRADE ALERT*

Papson Trades: 2018 1st

Kyle Trades: 2.05

2.05 – Patrick Mahomes

Papson: As the round progressed, I got a little anxious about the fact that Mahomes and Watson might both be gone by 2.09, and I then decided I wanted to find a way to get both. I tried desperately to acquire 2.06 and 2.08 from Rookie Draft aficionado Bob Cowper but quickly realized that would be futile. I instead moved up to 2.05, where I selected Mahomes because in Andy I trust.

2.06 – Mitchell Trubisky

Bob: I wanted Mahomes and should have pulled the trigger to move to 2.05.  Guess I did the reverse-Bears.  I think the QBs are being undervalued for our superflex league so I still wanted to go for one and took Trubisky.  I hope he doesn’t start in the NFL this season because he’s not ready (neither is Mahomes but I think his ceiling is higher). I went for a similar guy last year in Jared Goff and while that may not work out, hoarding young QBs on cheap contracts can only end up hitting sooner or later.

*TRADE ALERT*

Papson Trades: 2.09, Jerrick McKinnon

Goody Trades: 2.07, Sterling Shepard

2.07 – DeShaun Watson

Papson: I made some nifty moves to swap 2.09 & 2.07 so that I could also grab Watson and complete my triumvirate.

2.08 – Zay Jones

Bob: It wasn’t who I was targeting here since I figured he’d be gone. The Bills don’t trust Sammy Watkins so at worst he’s a year away from being the number one and in the meantime should have PPR value.

*TRADE ALERT*

Papson Trades: Kelvin Benjamin

Stephen Trades: 2018 2nd

*TRADE ALERT*

Goody Trades: Jerrick McKinnon

Kyle Trades: Josh Gordon

2.09 – DeShone Kizer

Goody: In short-SuperKizeme! For my squad heading into the rookie draft, my hope was to dump some salary and keep my picks intact as best as possible. After giving away Mark Ingram ($18m this year) before the draft, I thought that effort was done until Matt Papson offered to take one year of Sterling Shepard for $9.9m off my books to swap 2.07 for his 2.09, and I couldn’t pass up the chance to enter our auction with the most cap space in the league. I would have taken DeShaun Watson at 2.07, but am happy I get to take a super-cheap flyer on DeShone Kizer. As a Cleveland Browns fan, I liked the pick and think there is some time for Kizer to grow. The physical tools are there and in this superflex league if Kizer becomes a star that will be incredibly valuable to me. So in the end, guys like Samaje Perine and Cooper Kupp move to the background and Kizer has me dreaming of a QB from my youth with a similar sounding name-Kosar (as in Bernie). #Believeland

*TRADE ALERT*

Papson Trades: Sterling Shepard, Michael Floyd, 2018 1st

Bernard Trades: 2.10

2.10 – Curtis Samuel

Papson: I ditched some players’ salaries and a final 2018 1st to get to 2.10 to select Mr. Irrelevant, Curtis Samuel.

*TRADE ALERT*

Luke Trades: Mike Williams, 2018 1st

Bernard Trades: Tyrod Taylor, 2018 1st

2017 Writer’s League Rookie Draft Results

1.01 – Corey Davis – Luke 2.01 – Juju Smith-Schuster – Papson (thru Luke)
1.02 – Leonard Fournette – Bob 2.02 – Chris Godwin – Bob
1.03 – Christian McCaffrey – Jaron 2.03 – Evan Engram – Bernard
1.04 – Joe Mixon – Papson 2.04 – David Njoku – Stephen
1.05 – Dalvin Cook – Nick 2.05 – Patrick Mahomes – Papson (thru Kyle)
1.06 – Mike Williams – Bernard (thru Luke, thru Papson) 2.06 – Mitchell Trubisky – Bob (thru Luke)
1.07 – O.J. Howard – Bob 2.07 – DeShaun Watson – Papson (thru Goody)
1.08 – Kareem Hunt – Goody 2.08 – Zay Jones – Bob (thru Luke)
1.09 – Alvin Kamara – Jaron 2.09 – DeShone Kizer – Goody (thru Papson thru Luke)
1.10 – John Ross – Kyle 2.10 – Curtis Samuel – Papson (thru Bernard)

Rookie Film Study: RBs

Updated: July 23rd 2017

Last week in this space, I reviewed film on the top quarterback prospects of the 2017 class and shared my notes with you.  Today, we are going to look at the top three RBs – all of which are likely to be drafted in the 1st Round.  In my first batch of mock draft analysis, I supposed that we might even see a fourth RB taken in the 1st Round – Joe Mixon and Wayne Gallman will have to wait for their film review but keep them on the radar.

Leonard Fournette, LSU

Before the combine, I only came across one mock draft with Dalvin Cook placed above Fournette.  I’m not sure if that was a publicity stunt or a true belief at the time but it seems to be the vogue opinion now.  I’m not there yet, but it is getting very close the more tape I watch.  I decided to cherry pick the film I watched of Fournette because I wanted to see him against good competition.  I chose to watch him play against Wisconsin (#4 rushing defense in the nation) and against Ole Miss (#22 and one of only four teams to give up single digit rushing TDs, 3 of which came from Fournette himself).  In my opinion, Fournette reminds me of Adrian Peterson.  He is big but still possesses enough breakaway speed if he hits the hole and can rip off some huge runs.  On the downside though, he has a lot of carries for little to no gain that can keep the offense behind the chains.  I think he is an underrated receiver out of the backfield (as evidenced by a beautiful wheel route catch he made against Wisconsin).  He is also decent in pass protection which I was not expecting (in the two games he was actively engaged in pass protection 18 times by my count – he blew 4 of them that led to a sack/pressure/hurry).

Let’s look closer at his boom or bust potential.  In those two games I watched, Fournette had 38 carries.  On 16 of those 38 carries he earned 3 yards or less – that’s a whopping 42%.  You may be able to find similar stats for any running back but it’s a bit worrisome for somebody who is likely going to be drafted in the Top 5 of the NFL Draft.  At that rate, of 3 yards or less, he is putting his offense in 3rd and Medium or 3rd and Long situations too often.  Throughout the film I watched, I was struck by how infrequently Fournette actually breaks tackles.  On his three TD runs against Ole Miss he was essentially untouched for the combined 200+ yards of those plays.  If he hits the hole just right, he has a combination of vision and speed to kill the defense but he does not often gain extra yards by breaking tackles.  If I am going to harp on his bad runs, I do also need to give credit for his great runs.  In addition to all of those short runs he also had runs of 19, 24, 30, 59, 76 and 78.  Remember, that is just in two games against good defenses and ultimately that is why he will be the first RB drafted.

At the combine, Fournette weighed in as the heaviest RB at 240lb (the next heaviest was 233lb).  It should not be surprising then that his 40 yard dash time was far from elite (4.51 seconds, 20th out of 31) and his vertical jump was horrendous (dead last).  I hate to use the cliche, but he very well may be the guy who runs better in pads.  Honestly, I was disappointed by his two drills and I would have liked to see him complete the others to have more points of comparison.  I still have Fournette as RB1, but it is much closer than when I started my research two weeks ago.

Dalvin Cook, FSU

In my notes, I wrote that if Dalvin Cook showed up at the combine and weighed in at 215lb, he would automatically be my RB1 and overtake Leonard Fournette.  His game tape is that explosive.  He weighed in just short of my hope, at 210lb.  My biggest knock on Cook right now is the diminutive size.  In 2016, 29 RBs were measured at the combine and just 2 of them weighed in under 200lb.  I have seen him listed anywhere between 202-213lb; for comparison, ESPN lists him at 213, CBS has him at 206 and DraftBreakdown has him at 202.  I’m going to assume that he purposefully bulked up for the combine and I expect to see his playing weight fall closer to 202 than 213 come September.  There’s one other thing that concerns me about Cook: his pass protection.  In the two games I watched, he was in protection only a handful of times – most times he was out in the pattern.  I think he has the desire to block, he ended up being the de factor lead blocker on QB scrambles a few times, but he doesn’t have the size.

When watching Cook play, it is clear immediately how explosive he is, especially his cuts.  What is also evident is how patient he is, allowing his blocks to set up.  He rarely takes the hole running straight, but that explosiveness and patience combine for some great runs.  He dominated Florida in the first half but slowed in the second when they were trying to milk the clock.  Against Michigan’s dominant defense he played well too.  In my opinion, two plays against Michigan will best sum up Cook’s potential.  In the 1st Quarter, there was a play where he set out wide as a WR, ran a simple go route, beat the defender and caught the ball over his shoulder for a gain of 45 yards.  It was perfectly executed and could be the piece of tape that showcases his receiving skills to NFL scouts.  Later in that game, in the 4th Quarter, Cook took a 3rd & 22 counter handoff, that was meant to set up better punting field position, and scampered 71 yards after breaking two tackles and turning on his breakaway speed.  A last second push out of bounds was the only thing that kept him from the endzone.  That play showed his patience as his blocks set up and then he exploded up field.  Another positive that caught my eye was the varied sets that FSU’s offense ran.  In the two games I watched, they ran multiple plays out of shotgun, pistol, single back and I formation – that’s good for his transition to the NFL.

If you look at the results of Cook’s combine performance, it throws a bit of cold water on the film.  That’s why I still have him behind Fournette even though I was close to flip-flopping after watching the Michigan tape.  Cook was near the worst RBs in the 3 cone drill, the shuttle drill, the broad jump and the vertical jump.  His 40 yard dash time was good but not great: 4.49 which was tied for sixth fastest.  The only place he really surprised me was his 22 bench press reps which was tied for third most.

Christian McCaffrey, Stanford

Christian McCaffrey is a better football player than he is a running back.  That was the conclusion that I kept returning to while taking notes as I watched film and researched his game logs and career stats.  He will be drafted by a good team in the late 1st Round and will slot in immediately as a prototypical third down back.  He’s good at a lot of things, but not great at any.  Ultimately, I think that will limit his RSO upside in Year One but at least it will get him on the field right away.

I watched McCaffrey play against UCLA and Washington and in both games, I was impressed with his pass protection skills.  He routinely picked up the blitz and frequently chipped a rusher before going out for a pass.  He is a great safety valve for his quarterback and because of his blocking ability, he is a great threat to catch screen passes; he can feign blocking without the defense thinking “yeah right, he’s not blocking” and then sneak out of the backfield.  His middle name very well may be Versatile because in just two games, he took three snaps at WR and five at QB (in the Wildcat, no passes).  He will likely be the only player I profile this offseason that has passing, rushing, receiving and returning TDs in his career (2/21/10/2 for the record).

McCaffrey is a very patient runner at the line of scrimmage.  Honestly, he was too patient at times against Washington and I think it cost him additional yardage as he let plays develop too long against Washington’s strong defense.  He is rarely stopped for a loss of yardage.  In fact, I noted it midway through one of the games I watched and went back to review the play-by-play: in over 38 carries in those games he had just one negative yardage run.

McCaffrey, in my opinion, is quicker than he is fast.  That showed itself at the combine where he tied for the fifth fastest 40 yard dash (4.48) but did very well in the 3 cone drill (fastest) and shuttle drill (fourth fastest).  His jumping stats were also above average.  No surprise given his size, he was only able to do 10 bench press reps which was the second fewest.

 

Note: When watching film for a player, I typically pick two games at random to watch.  I do not necessarily want to watch games where they did very well or very poorly as that may not be a great illustration of their true ability.  If possible, when comparing players at the same position I also like to watch film against common opponents.  Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  When researching college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites…

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com
  • Film: draftbreakdown.com
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, ESPN’s First Draft podcast
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  Robert works as a recreation professional, specializing in youth sports, when he isn’t acting as commissioner for his many fantasy sports leagues.