2020 RSO Contracts: RBs

Updated: August 30th 2020

My annual look at RSO auction values moves to running backs.  The series was designed to give the reader help in planning for upcoming auctions by looking at actual RSO auctions already finished this year.  The data comes from a variety of different types of leagues with varying scoring rules and starting requirements which can drastically alter player values so be cautious in expecting values to match your particular league.  The information does provide a useful starting point for examining how RSO owners value players at a certain position relative to one another and the length of contract they are willing to invest.  Provided fantasy stats and rankings utilize PPR scoring.

Average RSO Running Back Contracts

Top Five

Barkley, McCaffrey, Elliott and Kamara are high-end talents with extreme workloads in the rushing and/or receiving game without many significant questions.  No need to discuss them in much detail here.  One interesting player in this group is Joe Mixon who joins the top running backs at RB5 in RSO startup auctions just below Kamara.  The argument for the Cincinnati RB1 is not hard to make.  He has one of the best all around skill-sets of any back in the league including being a fantastic receiving prospect out of Oklahoma.  Mixon accumulated 1,400+ scrimmage yards over the last two seasons despite playing behind one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL.   The Bengals upgraded at QB, in many people’s views, with the selection of number one overall pick Joe Burrow.  There are a number of concerns, both long and short-term.  The offensive line should be better and healthier but most would still consider it a bottom-level group.  Cincinnati has limited Mixon’s receiving work, mixing in Gio Bernard.  Mixon is also in the final year of his rookie deal and the running back market could be saturated with free agents and incoming rookies to take jobs.  In the end, Mixon provides the ultimate bet on talent versus situation.

Second Tier

Cook looks like one of the best running back when on the field and broke out with a RB2 per game finish in 2019.  He also missed a lot of games in the NFL due to injury with a lengthy history of shoulder problems dating back to college which may indicate structural issues.  Like Mixon, Cook is in the final year of his rookie deal with no long-term contract done.  Henry, Chubb and Jacobs obtained PFF’s #6, 1, and 2 rushing grades among running backs, respectively.  Each was also among the bottom of PFF’s receiving grades for RBs.  Henry is a known zero as a route runner and Kareem Hunt likely limits the volume Chubb receives in the passing game. Jacobs presents the most hope for increased receiving production among this group given his collegiate record and the fact he was playing with a broken shoulder for much of his rookie season, but having mainly receiving specialists as his potential backups gives pause.  Sanders accumulated over 1,300 yards as a rookie and finished strong in the fantasy world after an injury knocked out Jordan Howard.  His real life play did not match his statistics as he ranked as only PFF’s RB50 and was losing work to Howard while being outplayed before Howard’s injury.  CEH is set up perfectly for a huge rookie season with Kansas City in the NFL’s best offense after presumptive starter Damien Williams opted out this year.  We don’t know what his role necessarily will be and perhaps KC limits his work as a rookie.

Third Tier

We are already at the point with running backs where significant questions exist with regards to roles.  Jones broke out as the RB2 in 2019 thanks, in part, to 19 total touchdowns and has been an efficient producer throughout his career.  The Packers have always limited his touches and added massive 2nd round thumper A.J. Dillon to the running back mix which likely caps Jones’ touches.  Jones is another quality back in the last year of his rookie contract.   Ekeler racked up 92 receptions and just under 1,000 receiving yards last year.  The Chargers consistently used a committee approach with departed Melvin Gordon and moving from Philip Rivers to Tyrod Taylor and/or a rookie at quarterback is likely a huge loss to the receiving work of Los Angeles running backs.  Taylor, like formerly mentioned Edwards-Helaire, is set up for a big rookie season, with a tremendous offensive line and many projected run-heavy game scripts.  The Colts talked up a three-heady committee all offseason which could limit Taylor’s usage, particularly early in the season.  Drake flashed big-time rushing ability throughout his career and finished with a huge 2019 after the trade to Arizona.  He is a thin running back who struggled with injuries going back to college and most of his work last year occurred with the corpse of David Johnson and Chase Edmunds (who also flashed) injured.

Former Stars and Rookies with Potential Workhorse Roles and Questions

Gurley lands in a high-output offense with no real competition for touches.  His weekly status due to knees remains unknown.  Fournette should maintain a workhorse role with Jacksonville.  The Jaguars offensive line and overall team could be among the worst in the league leading to touch and production issues.  What role does Gordon have in Denver with Lindsay still available?  He also has extensive knee issues.  Bell’s 2019 is a perfect example of running back situation dependency after moving to the Jets bad offensive line and finishing with an awful 3.2 yards per carry. David Johnson lands in a spot with tons of vacated touches at running back.  The Texans’ inside-heavy, early down thumper role does not really fit his skills and he’s probably not the best DJ in Houston at this stage.  Baltimore, Detroit, and LA spent high draft capital on Dobbins, Swift, and Akers respectively so expect a big role eventually, though when that happens is somewhat in question.

Committee Backs

Mostert exploded down the stretch last season for the run-heavy 49ers but is a career special teamer who will have limited passing game chances.  Does Hunt maintain the passing down role for Cleveland with a new coaching staff in town?  He is an interesting long-term investment with demonstrated three-down ability.  How long do Ingram, Mack, and Johnson keep fantasy relevancy with the afore-mentioned rookies ready to step in?


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.

More Analysis by Bernard Faller

Running’s Back – Here’s Who Is Good At It

Updated: March 24th 2020

Some of the best business advice I ever received came from my Uncle one day upon discussing the stock market.  He said, “Grant, there are 3 keys to making it in this arena.  You have to be aggressive, you have to be lucky, and you have to be disciplined.”  Now I think most would agree that the first two are a given, but just how does one practice discipline on Wall Street?  After all, isn’t it basically Roulette on your laptop?  The answer is both big and simple.  I’m not kidding…that’s literally the answer.  Big data becomes a simple model/message.  You do the work combing through the annals of history, whether that be the last 3-12 months of the Oil and Gas sector, or say the 2019 NFL Season, and then you convert it into some concise, actionable strategy that gives you an edge over the rest of the field.  Straying from your edge reverts you back to just another gambler.  Staying discipline by ALWAYS implementing your model gets you in the green, or for our purposes, in the dance for your fantasy playoffs.  Let me show you what I mean.

Here are the NFL’s 2019 Top 25 Runners based on a composition of 1st Down Efficiency and Yards Per Carry Metrics.  I emphasize Runners because this list does not factor in the receiving aspects of the Running Back position.  Our focus is on measuring true efficiency & effectiveness; receptions are often a product of game script.  Therefore, players like James White and Austin Ekeler have been left off the list.  Same goes for Christian McCaffrey.  He’s the best in the bizz and we don’t need to poke holes in his game.  There are 13 metrics and they each feature Yards Per Carry and 1st Down %:

Attempts 1-10, Attempts 11-20

1st Half Attempts, 2nd Half Attempts

1st Quarter Attempts, 2nd Quarter Attempts, 3rd Quarter Attempts, 4th Quarter Attempts

Score Margin:  Attempts when the margin is within 0-7, Attempts when the margin is within 8-14, and Attempts when the margin is 15+

Attempts when Ahead, Attempts when Behind

If we aren’t going to log in the countless hours breaking down individual game film to spot specific reads, schemes and personnel, I believe this offers the next best way to get a well-rounded evaluation on how these RBs perform in various situations.  Our benchmarks are 4.5 Yards Per Carry and 21.54% 1st Down Rate (the average conversion rate for these 25 RBs).  We are fading anything sub 3.9 YPC or 18.54% 1st Down Rate.  The numbers in each category are Rankings.  Here are the results…

Overall Name 1st Down YPC
1 Derrick Henry 7 3
2 Chris Carson 2 10
3 Ezekiel Elliott 4 8
4 Mark Ingram 3 6
5 Nick Chubb 14 1
6 Devin Singletary 5 4
7 Dalvin Cook 8 16
8 Marlon Mack 1 16
8 Aaron Jones 9 7
10 Josh Jacobs 13 5
11 Carlos Hyde 11 12
12 Leonard Fournette 15 8
13 Todd Gurley 10 22
14 Melvin Gordon 6 20
15 Saquon Barkley 16 10
16 Ronald Jones 19 18
17 Miles Sanders 24 2
18 Alvin Kamara 21 12
19 Adrian Peterson 20 14
20 Joe Mixon 18 19
21 Sony Michel 12 23
22 Phillip Lindsay 22 15
23 David Montgomery 17 21
24 Devonta Freeman 23 24
25 Le’Veon Bell 25 24

 

Takeaways:

Although the usual suspects round out the Top 5, it doesn’t take us very long to see how applying these metrics can shake up the natural order of things.  Yes that is Devin Singletary chillin’ in the #6 spot.  He missed 4 games and was sharing reps with the Little Fundamental – Frank Gore.  As a result, many of us overlooked a stellar rookie campaign.  Devin was pegged as Maurice Jones Drew 2.0 in some circles, and he backed up those comparisons with a top 5 finish in 1st Downs Conversion Rate.

Nick Chubb is hands down the best runner of the football.  However, due to his team’s poor play-calling, his perceived limitations as a 3rd Down Back, and the Browns embarrassment of riches at the WR position, Chubb only finished 14th in 1st Down Conversion Rate.  Meanwhile, guys like Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon put up pedestrian YPCs, but were leaned on heavily to extend drives.  The correlation between 1st down conversions and touchdowns is very strong.  Gordon has 18 rushing TDs in his last 23 games started, while Gurley has 29 of his last 29.  Nick Chubb….16 rushing TDs in 32 games thus far.

I’ve highlighted Carlos Hyde (245 carries for 1070 yards 6 TDs) and Josh Jacobs (242 carries for 1150 yards 7 TDs) because they essentially had the same production, and I’m not sure many owners are privy to that comparison.  Of course, there is no way of knowing where Hyde will be in 2020 or how he will be used, but the perception that he is a one-trick pony plodder,  while Jacobs is a 1st rounder, All-Purpose Back is CURRENTLY incorrect.  Jalen Richard ate just as much into Jacobs (20 catches) receiving opportunities as Duke Johnson did to Hyde (10 catches).

On the other end of the spectrum, Miles Sanders (179 carries for 818 yards, 509 receiving) and Alvin Kamara (171 carries for 797 yards, 533 receiving) are on the field for 3rd Downs, but usually do so in the role of receiver due to their steady QB play.  Sanders touchdown upside may always be limited.  After Kamara’s descent from 14 to 5 TDs this season, I’m not sure the same can’t be said for him.  All I know is TODAY, Miles Sanders should absolutely be viewed in the same light as Alvin Kamara.  They are the same player to me.

I know I said we wouldn’t let receptions interfere with our metrics, but I just want to clarify something.  Marlon Mack and Dalvin Cook are counterparts using this scale.  Very similar rushing production.  However, Cook caught 40 more passes than Mack.  As long as that trend continues, Cook “should” outpace Mack in fantasy production.  I emphasize should because most folks do not realize Marlon Mack led the league in 1st Down Efficiency.  That’s a stat that correlates extremely well with projected redzone and goal-line attempts.  With Philip Rivers now at the helm, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see Mack lead the league in touchdowns this year.

So I gave you all a tiny taste of the data and some important takeaways, but what’s this mysterious model I teased earlier?  Value is the name of the game, same as it’s always been.  You will be hard-pressed to find a 2020 redraft league in which you could acquire Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara, Josh Jacobs and Mark Ingram, but I am here to tell you it is possible.  You simply have to target smaller names that play just as big.  Substitute Marlon Mack, Miles Sanders, Carlos Hyde (hypothetical in which he has a similar workload with his new team) and Devin Singletary, and you have got a stable just as good, yet far more realistic.  This is a battle tested fantasy model that I strongly encourage everyone to consider, especially after the Saquon Barkley, Leveon Bell, James Connor, Devonta Freeman and David Johnson debacle we witnessed last year.

More Analysis by Grant Viviano

Early 2019 RSO Contracts: RBs

Updated: July 31st 2019

My annual look at early RSO auction values moves to running backs.  The series was designed to give the reader help in planning for upcoming auctions by looking at actual RSO auctions already finished.  The data comes from a variety of different types of leagues with varying scoring rules and starting requirements which can drastically alter player values so be cautious in expecting values to match your particular league.  The number of auctions for any particular player may also be limited this early in the RSO season.  The information does provide a useful starting point for examining how RSO owners value players at a certain position relative to one another and the length of contract they are willing to invest.

Average RSO Running Back Contracts

The Next Four

Elliot, Barkley, McCaffrey, and Kamara form the top tier of virtually every ranking for running backs in 2019.  Elliott is always a danger for off the field incidents and Kamara has longer term question marks once (if?) Brees retires but the group poses no significant short-term question marks.  The question marks come quickly after.  The next four rushers present three-down backs with unknowns.  Bell took a sabbatical last season from the NFL forfeiting about $14.5 million in the process.  He goes from one of the most prolific offenses and top offensive lines in Pittsburg to a New York team with a second year quarterback, one of the worst offensive lines in the game, and Adam Gase as the head coach.  The all-around talent for Mixon and surrounding skill players is not the issue in Cincinnati.  His dreadful offensive line from last season is after already losing its top-two projected starters this season.  Gordon’s knee injury history is similar to Todd Gurley’s and he is threatening a holdout after not securing a long-term contract so far.  Expect Gordon’s RSO contracts to start sinking quickly.  Johnson only registered as PFF’s 51st running back in 2018 thanks, in part, to dismal surrounding talent and a new coaching staff not up for the challenge.  His usage and effectiveness are among the highest variance for running backs due to what is, in effect, an experimental college offense transitioning to the NFL.

Injury Concerns Result in Bargain Prices (Sometimes)

Fantasy gamers discussed Todd Gurley’s knee issues ad nauseam this offseason.  RSO GMs listened.  The RB1 in points per game each of the last two seasons is going off the board as the 13th highest paid running back.  Nagging lower-body injuries combined with an awful situation in Jacksonville also lowered the price of Leonard Fournette considerably from last year.   A substantial upgrade at quarterback, much healthier offensive line, and new offensive coordinator give Fournette significant upside at his cost with 300-plus touch upside.   Many considered Guice a borderline RB1 going into last season before tearing his ACL.  A lot has changed in a year.  Future hall of famer Adrian Peterson came back from the dead for an impressive late career campaign and signed an extension.  Washington also drafted former Heisman runner-up Bryce Love, falling to the fourth round after an injury filled 2018 and eventual tearing his ACL late in the year.

Surprisingly, the injury issues associated with Cook and Johnson apparently are not affecting their costs as both hit the boards as top-10 running backs so far in RSO leagues.  Both have massive injury histories including, most notably, multiple shoulder surgeries plus knee, ankle, and hamstring injuries.  Expect Johnson’s price climbing to even higher levels with news of pass-catching specialist Theo Riddick’s release from Detroit.

Young Featured Backs

Chubb, Jones, Mack, and Michel present cases with many of the same strengths and limitations.  All young backs play on projected upper level offenses with quality quarterbacks.  Their respective teams utilized each as primary running down backs with limited passing game usage.  Jones offers a bit more upside in this group because Green Bay does not possess a true receiving down back, albeit under Aaron Rodgers at quarterback who has never utilized running backs extensively in the passing game.  Duke Johnson (Cleveland), Nyheim Hines (Indianapolis), and James White (New England) give each team a strong, complementary passing down option.  Michel’s knee issues and New England drafting 3rd round running back Damien Harris depressed his price somewhat.

The Battle for Touches

While we have a good feel for the depth chart of most teams, not all backfields share as clear of picture.  The explosive and undrafted Phillip Lindsay dominated touches last year for Denver but faded to end the year failing to hit 50 rushing yards over the last three games.  Look for Royce Freeman gaining more looks to keep Lindsay fresh in 2019.  Barber won the starting spot battle in Tampa Bay last year but may have lost the war after displaying backup level skills.  It might be the last chance for Ronald Jones after an ugly rookie season in which the 20 year old was not prepared for the NFL and struggled with hamstring injuries for much of the year.  Philadelphia remains an enticing but disappointing fantasy situation for running backs as committees have dominated recently.  Will Miles Sanders, Jordan Howard, or any of the other backs receive enough work to break the mold?  San Francisco possesses three talented backs in Coleman, McKinnon, and Breida on what should be a good offense.  We do not know if any of them receives enough consistent work to hold strong fantasy value.  The Bills running back room is a mess you may feel free to avoid on a team not likely to be among the higher scorers in the NFL.

Outside the Top-50

The afore-mentioned Hines racked up 63 receptions and is the receiving downs back for an Andrew Luck-led offense.    Kalen Ballage is a size-speed specimen with impressive receiving ability who will form a committee with Drake in Miami.  C.J. Anderson should carve out a significant role in Detroit where former New England coach Matt Patricia wants to run the ball as much as possible.  Jalen Richard ranked 7th in receptions among running backs in 2018 and is extremely cheap after Oakland spent a 1st round pick on Josh Jacobs.


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.

 

More Analysis by Bernard Faller

Early 2019 Free Agency Look: RBs

Updated: February 10th 2019

The running back position is fairly deep in this free agent class.  The group offers a diverse skill-set with three-down players among the best at the position and a deep group of backs with a history of solid rushing production.  Most of the proven players available are in the older age range for running backs and many of the younger ones have significant question marks.   Overall, though, this is a good group for teams not wanting to use draft picks on running backs.  The following list does not cover every free agent running back.  It does give the reader a brief overview of most free agent running backs with a chance to have significant roles with teams.

Tier 1 – Every-down Backs

Le’Veon Bell

Bell fits the mold of an every-down back in today’s NFL as well as anyone with prototypical size and incredible receiving ability.  Many would consider him one of the better slot receivers in the game.  He accumulated at least 75 receptions in different three years.  Still, a running back with three 1,800 scrimmage yard seasons should not have this many questions going into free agency.  Bell has significant past injury issues, a suspension, and over 1,500 touches already in his career.  Another issue is that every running back replacing Bell in recent memory, from DeAngelo Williams to James Conner and Jaylen Samuels, sustained success in the Pittsburgh backfield.  Teams will wonder how much of his production was due to the surrounding talent and scheme.  Part of Bell’s allure is the ability to continuously stay on the field during a game but one of his main complaints in Pittsburgh was the extensive usage.  He just sat out an entire year, refusing to play for $14.5 million after turning down a big contract extension offer from the Steelers.  Clearly Bell is looking for a huge payday.  What happens if the market does not develop as he is hoping for?  Ultimately, I do not think any of the questions will matter.  There are teams with loads of cap space for 2019 including the Colts, Jets, and Bills with the most cap room.  Someone will likely pay big money for the top back available.

Kareem Hunt

This one comes with a big asterisk.  Hunt was placed on the commissioner’s exempt list after a video surfaced showing an ugly incident at a hotel and released by Kansas City.  The league is investigating this episode and other instances of alleged violent off the field behavior.  He will be suspended at some point, reportedly before free agency begins.  The early reports indicate Hunt playing in 2019 with multiple teams reportedly already showing interest in signing him.  There is a lot to like about the former Chief on the field.  Hunt won the rushing title in 2017 as a rookie and averaged over 100 scrimmage yards per game in his career.  He displays some of the best ability to take hits and stay on his feet in the NFL leading to a lot of missed tackles.  Hunt also turned himself a good receiver and pass blocker making him a good all-around back.  His contract situation will be interesting to follow.  Hunt has only two accrued years meaning any team signing him to a 1-year deal would have rights to Hunt in 2020 as a restricted free agent or as an exclusive rights free agent if Hunt’s upcoming suspension prevents him from earning an accrued season in 2019.  This makes for a potentially cost-friendly contract for a team willing to sign Hunt.

Tier 2 – Combo Back

Tevin Coleman

The thing a player wants in free agency is a skill-set that separates him from the pack.  Coleman is the only high-profile running back this year with true “home run” speed, the type of player who can take it the distance from any point on the field.  He also distances himself from most other backs as a plus route runner out of the backfield or lined up wide as a receiver.  These talents helped Coleman average an incredible eleven yards per reception over his career and at least four yards per carry in every season.  With the emphasis on the passing game for today’s NFL, his receiving ability combined with game-breaking jets probably get Coleman paid more than many predict.  He does not fit every running scheme.  He does not excel as an inside-heavy rusher as he does not possess the size to consistently push piles and brake tackles.  Coleman will not get 350 touches in a season.  Part of his draw on the free agent market will be that he touched the ball only a little over 600 times in his NFL career.  A team which exploits his outside running capability and heavily utilizes his receiving skills obtains a dynamic playmaker however who can lead a running back group.  He will be the target of many teams not wanting to pay Bell’s asking price.

Tier 3 – Rushing Down Backs

Mark Ingram

Good all-around rusher who developed quality hands for screen plays and quarterback check downs with the Saints.  Long history of solid production.  His best option is staying in New Orleans but could lead a committee elsewhere.  29 years old with only about the same number of touches in his career as Bell.

Jay Ajayi

One of the better tackle breakers in the game when healthy with nice combination of power and decent long-speed.  Career filled with knee concerns and that was before he tore his ACL.  Will the market develop for someone not fully healthy by the time free agency arrives?

C.J. Anderson

Big bodied back who showed spurts of really strong play with Denver and produced a huge end of year for the Rams after being cut by Panthers and Raiders.  Will it be enough to lead to a committee next season?

Latavius Murray

Large between the tackles runner with good breakaway speed once he hits his stride.  It makes a lot of sense for Minnesota to re-sign Murray given Dalvin Cook’s extensive injury history.

Adrian Peterson

The future hall of famer put up a bounce back campaign in 2018 showing off a little of the speed and power showcased throughout his early career.  He offers practically nothing as a receiver.  How much interest will develop for a one-dimensional 34 year old running back?

Frank Gore

The ageless wonder played very well in 2018.  He would like to stay in Miami.  The Dolphins have two young running backs on cheap rookie contracts for a rebuilding team where the need for an older veteran may be minimal.

The Raiders Backs

Marshawn Lynch, Doug Martin (UFAs), and Jalen Richard (RFA) are all free agents.  Richard was excellent as a receiving specialist.  My first instinct is that Oakland signs Richard to a long-term deal and brings back one of Lynch or Martin depending on if Lynch retires.  Martin was serviceable replacing Lynch but graded out worse than the older back.

Tier 4 – Potential backups and role players to keep track of

T.J. Yeldon

Three down NFL size back with very good hands but average, at best, everywhere else.  Plays with the power of someone 20 lbs lighter and not much wiggle or speed with the ball.  Yeldon was one of PFF’s lowest graded qualified backs in 2018.  Reports of bad influence in locker room.  Solid do-it-all backup for teams which relies primarily on one back.

Jeremy Hill

Hill looked very good this preseason earning the big back role for New England before tearing his ACL in his first game with the Patriots.  Unlikely a team prioritizes running back recovering from knee surgery.

Bilal Powell

Underrated runner and receiver capable of receiving back or committee role.  Undersized and unknown recovery time from neck injury for player with long injury history.

Darren Sproles

The smaller dynamo says he might be back for another year.  He will be on the PPR radar if he plays depending on who the Eagles bring in at running back.

Ameer Abdullah

Smaller athletic back with 2nd round draft pedigree who never worked out with Detroit.  Will a new team be able to find a role?

Spencer Ware

Big, thick rusher who performed well throughout his time with Kansas City including a very good 2016.  Possible product of system as almost every rusher, given the chance, performs well in Kansas City.

Ty Montgomery

There are always potential spots on teams for former college wide receivers with running back size.  May always be a jack-of-all-trades player with no defined role or consistent usage.  Struggled with injuries throughout his time with Green Bay.


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.

More Analysis by Bernard Faller

Early 2018 RSO Contracts: RBs

Updated: July 21st 2018

Our early RSO auction value examination moves to the running back group.  No other position offers the immense value upside possible with running backs or the basement-level downside associated with uncertainty in many backfields.  The investments an RSO owner makes at the position will go a long way in determining the success of their team.  The reader may find links to previous articles in the series below in preparation for upcoming auctions.

Early 2018 RSO Contracts: QBs

Average RSO Running Back Contracts

Potential Workhorses (RB1-10)

The expectations for Barkley are unbelievably high (probably too high) and it is shown in his contracts.  We must keep in mind the very small sample of rookies in RSO auctions, and one auction really distorted his price upward but even without that auction, Barkley still ranks as one of the highest paid players in RSO auctions.  Gurley, Bell, Johnson, and Elliott all bestow 2,000+ yard and 350+ touch upside for lucky owners.  Gurley likely sees some regression after one of the biggest fantasy seasons in recent memory.  Bell might start slow if he shows up late again due to his ongoing contract negotiation with Pittsburgh and has longer term question marks after this season.  Johnson carries increased downside with a bad offensive line and new quarterback at the helm in Arizona.  Elliott does not have the same type of upside as the other three in this group for PPR leagues.

Second year players fill six of the next seven highest contracts.  Kamara does not fit cleanly in this group of players but should see a slight increase in workload following Mark Ingram’s suspension.  His volume ceiling remains closer to 250 compared to the 350+ the top backs absorb which, combined with likely touchdown and efficiency regression in 2018, keeps him out of the top tier backs.  Hunt led the league in rushing last year, the second year in a row a rookie (Elliott in 2016) has pulled off the feat.  He remains a key piece for the Chiefs but the offense is riskier with second year Patrick Mahomes taking over at quarterback for the first season as NFL starter.  Cook returns from an ACL-tear after playing only four games last year.  Jerick McKinnon moving to San Francisco vacates a big chunk of receiving work in the backfield which is good news for Cook when he is healthy.  Fournette is the focus of the Jacksonville offense and the Jaguars added top free agent lineman Andrew Norwell to the mix this offseason.  He struggled with lower body injuries the last two seasons.  Gordon‘s 16-game average over the last two seasons is 297 carries, 1,650 total yards, 54 receptions, and 13 touchdowns.  His offensive line run blocking is near the bottom but could improve with some positive injury luck though the perpetually unlucky Chargers have already lost Hunter Henry for the year.

Committees, Rookies, and Bad Situations (RB11-26)

McCaffrey’s workload was very similar to Kamara’s last year and was near the top of backs with a 70% snap rate.  He gets a big PPR boost.  Mixon possesses one of the best all-around skill-sets of any young back.  The offensive line is a mess despite key offseason additions and underrated Gio Bernard will take significant work, particularly in the receiving game.  Freeman ranked no lower than 14th in PPR PPG the last three years though dropping significantly each year.  Fellow back Tevin Coleman’s significant presence limits Freeman’s touches.  No legitimate early down competition exists for Howard in Chicago.  New head coach Matt Nagy will employ a more pass-heavy scheme which favors fellow back Tarik Cohen as Howard is one of the worst pass catching backs in the league.  McCoy should rank as one of the top volume backs in 2018 with significant receiving work.  The Bills offensive situation is among the worst in the league after losing three quality offensive linemen, a complete unknown at QB, and limited receiving weapons.  The current allegations against McCoy make him a massive risk.  McKinnon lands in a great scheme which fits his skill-set superbly.  He may not receive the huge volume in San Francisco of other running back touch leaders.

This is the point where RSO owners start paying for the non-Barkley rookies.  Guice, Penny, Chubb, Jones, and Michel find themselves among the next nine highest contracts.  Guice should dominate rushing down work behind a good offensive in what should be a balanced offense for Washington.  Receiving specialist Chris Thompson limits his receiving game work.  Seattle head coach Pete Carroll said the team envisions Penny, a great size/speed specimen, as a “three-down back” after taking him in the first round of the NFL draft.  Penny was horrific as a pass protector in college and plays behind a very questionably Seahawk offensive line.  Chubb, a strong stout north south runner, will battle Carlos Hyde for work in Cleveland.  Like Guice, Chubb’s role will be limited with pass-catching specialist Duke Johnson on hand if he takes the early down spot.  The explosive Jones benefits from very limited competition in the Tampa Bay backfield.  His relatively slight stature may result in limited touches on a weekly basis.  Michel has a great all around skill-set for a great New England offense.  His role is uncertain in a deep, diverse running back group and he must clean up his fumbling issues from college.

The Titans’ new staff handpicked Dion Lewis who probably fits the new offense better than Henry.  Henry will have a significant role but is more game script dependent than Lewis.  Ingram’s upside is RB1 production once back from suspension.  The downside is a trip to Sean Payton’s doghouse and complete fantasy irrelevancy (See Willie Snead last year) with his suspension replacements showing well.  He is a risky buy.  Not a lot of talent exists behind Ajayi in Philadelphia with Corey Clement and a 35 year old Darren Sproles returning from an ACL tear as the top competition for touches, plus averaged 5.8 YPC behind a great OL there.  The Eagles have shown a penchant for using deep committees under head coach Doug Pederson no matter the personnel.  Opportunity exists for Drake who displayed true excellence following Jay Ajayi’s trade and heads a depth chart with only 35 year old Frank Gore and 4th round rookie Kalen Ballage.  Drake is a very lean back with extensive injury history and only held consistent fantasy relevance after Ajayi moved and fellow back Damien Williams was injured.  Miller logged one of the highest snap percentages in the league (69%) among running backs in 2017 and should see increased touchdown opportunities with better QB play.  Houston’s awful running scheme and league-worst offensive line, which did not add significant pieces in the offseason, caps efficiency and yardage total.

Question Marks (RB27+)

Collins came out of nowhere becoming one of the better rushers last year for Baltimore. Overall usage may be limited by more complete backs on roster, Allen and Dixon.  Freeman should dominate touches in Denver with a solid all-around skill-set.  The Broncos have a strange fascination with Devontae Booker in a questionable offense with new quarterback.  Johnson’s role in Detroit’s committee ranks among the most difficult to forecast.   Riddick projects as the better pass-catcher with Blount taking a lot of short yardage work.  The Indianapolis backfield’s fantasy value largely depends on the health of Andrew Luck.  New head coach Frank Reich likely uses a committee approach consisting of rookies Hynes and Wilkins with second year pro Mack.   No Green Bay running back ranks higher than 37th in average salary for a high scoring Rodgers-led attack.  That situation will change with word of Jones’ suspension as Williams will look to cement his place at the top of the depth chart.  Crowell walks in with the upper-hand for a low-upside early down job on a poor New York team with bad offensive line.  All kinds of questions exist for the new Jon Gruden Raiders.  That uncertainty extends to the Oakland ground game where RSO owners are not buying into any of the current backs.  32 year old Lynch leads a group which added Doug Martin to the mix this offseason.


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.

 

More Analysis by Bernard Faller

RSO Rookie Rundown: 2018 RBs

Updated: March 30th 2018

Welcome to the RSO Rookie Rundown, a resource to help RSO owners prepare for their upcoming rookie drafts. For more college football and NFL Draft coverage, follow me on Twitter at @robertfcowper. Throughout the offseason, the RSO Rookie Rundown will delve into dozens of future rookies for your consideration. Each prospect will be evaluated on a number of criteria including size, production, performance, character and durability. This is an inexact science but the goal is to gain a better perspective of each player through research. Each player will be given a draft round grade as well as a recent NFL player comparison. For draft round grades, it’s important to remember that some positions are valued more highly than others in the NFL. For player comparisons, it’s important to remember that it is a rough heuristic for illustrative purposes and is based on a physical and statistical basis rather than a prediction of a similar NFL career.

Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State

Rashaad Penny put up incredible production in 2017, largely against inferior opposition though.  He’s a fantastic kick returner which will help insulate his value and ensure he earns a role out of training camp.  I also believe he’s an underrated pass catcher because he proved to be a factor in the passing game when his team needed it against the biggest opponents (see the Stats & Accolades section for details on this point).  Penny does not have any injury concerns to report, nor any character concerns.  Penny decided to stay in school for his senior year despite a 1,000+ yard 2016 season when he was the second fiddle to FBS leading rusher Donnel Pumphrey.  Coming back to school ended up being a great decision for Penny.  At the Senior Bowl, Penny actually measured taller and heavier than I expected which is a good thing.  He is officially being listed at 5’11” and 224lbs on the Senior Bowl roster (some sites estimated 5’10” and 220lbs”).  We don’t have a 40 yard dash time for Penny yet but NFLDraftScout.com estimates he’ll run in the 4.52 range – good but not great.

Stats & Accolades:  I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know when I tell you that Penny was a standout this season: his 2,248 rushing yards led the FBS.  He started with a limited role as a sophomore in 2015 but still managed 5 TDs from scrimmage and added three more as a returner.  In 2016 he took on a bigger role and ended with 1,242 yards from scrimmage and 14 TDs; he also returned a pair of kickoffs for scores too.  In 2017, he exploded.  Despite being the bellcow on his way to that FBS leading rushing total, Penny still managed to add 2 receiving TDs, and 3 return TDs.  All told, he has 52 career TDs.  What may be even more impressive is that Penny has a 7.5 yards per carry average for his career.  Penny’s game logs don’t disappoint either.  He has 15 career games with over 100 rushing yards.  He’s gone over 200 yards in seven games, including a streak of five straight to end 2017.  One knock on Penny is his competition playing in the Mountain West.  To get a feel for his production against Power 5 teams I delved deeper into his 2015, 2016 and 2017 game logs.  He played five games in those three years against Power 5 opponents (Arizona State, Stanford, Cal twice, Penn State).  In those games, Penny rushed 64 times for 508 yards (an average of 7.9 yards per carry) and 2 TDs.  He added 11 receptions, 97 yards and 2 receiving TDs.  But wait there’s more… he also totaled 3 kickoff return TDs.  Interestingly, 26% of his career receptions came against Power 5 opponents which made up just 12% of his games from 2015-2017.  That’s a good sign in my opinion as it shows he can be a receiver when needed.  Let’s recap, in five games against Power 5 teams, Penny averaged over 8 yards per touch, not counting the kick return yards, and scored seven touchdowns.  Sign me up.  Not only is Penny clutch against better teams, he’s also clutch when his team is behind the sticks.  On 3rd downs, Penny’s yards per carry average jumped to 11.79 in 2017; on 39 such carries, he converted 20 of them for a first.  I checked Pro Football Focus’ Signature Stat Guide to see if their stats backed up the traditional stats that show below and discussed above.  Unsurprisingly, they do.  PFF ranked Penny as the 3rd highest in their Elusive Rating stat.  Elusive Rating takes broken tackles and yards after contact into account to help control for uneven offensive line play.  The two backs ranked higher than Penny, Damien Harris and Bryce Love, both decided to return to school for their senior seasons so Penny reigns supreme as the most elusive back in the draft.  Over his career, Penny fumbled the ball seven times, losing five.  In 2017, Penny had an incredible number of long runs.  He had 58 over 10 yards and 29 over 20 yards.  For comparison, the other two backs in this profile were well behind: Michel had 33/11 while Jones had 41/16.

Rushing & Receiving Table
Rushing Receiving Scrimmage
Year School Conf Class Pos G Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD Plays Yds Avg TD
*2014 San Diego State MWC FR RB 10 2 22 11.0 0 0 0 0 2 22 11.0 0
*2015 San Diego State MWC SO RB 14 61 368 6.0 4 8 120 15.0 1 69 488 7.1 5
*2016 San Diego State MWC JR RB 14 136 1018 7.5 11 15 224 14.9 3 151 1242 8.2 14
2017 San Diego State MWC SR RB 13 289 2248 7.8 23 19 135 7.1 2 308 2383 7.7 25
Career San Diego State 488 3656 7.5 38 42 479 11.4 6 530 4135 7.8 44
Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 1/22/2018.
Kick & Punt Returns Table
Kick Ret Punt Ret
Year School Conf Class Pos G Ret Yds Avg TD Ret Yds Avg TD
*2014 San Diego State MWC FR RB 10 20 500 25.0 0 0 0 0
*2015 San Diego State MWC SO RB 14 24 804 33.5 3 0 0 0
*2016 San Diego State MWC JR RB 14 20 624 31.2 2 0 0 0
2017 San Diego State MWC SR RB 13 17 521 30.6 2 2 70 35.0 1
Career San Diego State 81 2449 30.2 7 2 70 35.0 1
Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 1/22/2018.

Film Study: Boise State (2017), Stanford (2017)

I remember watching the San Diego State vs Stanford game earlier in the season so that was my first choice.  I wanted to revisit that game and see if, with the benefit of hindsight, I was still impressed with Penny now as I was then.  The answer is yes.  That doesn’t mean I didn’t see some negatives though.  Against Boise State, a film I picked because of the Broncos’ above average defense, Penny mostly struggled but there was one highlight play I’ll touch on (including one awful play in pass protection that luckily didn’t end worse for his quarterback).

My overall impressions were that Penny is quicker than he is fast, cuts well, has excellent vision and is a versatile player who can be utilized in numerous ways.  I would say he is an average pass blocker.  I counted ten pass protection situations in the two games where I felt I could either grade Penny as a plus or a minus to the play’s protection; of those ten, I counted three negative plays.  Something that I had read about Penny and was interested to see on film is his tackle breaking ability.  He breaks some tackles (I counted twelve in the two games) but much of his yardage comes when he makes tacklers miss rather than breaking their tackle.  When reviewing PFF’s Elusive Rating stat, I have previously thought to myself, “why do they list it as ‘missed tackles’ rather than ‘broken tackles’?”  Now I realize why.  When Penny has the lane and the open space to make defenders miss, he does.  When he runs into contact at, or near, the line of scrimmage he is often bottled up for little gain.  He’s not the type of back that you can run into the defensive line on three successive plays and expect to move the chains before fourth down.  Penny is much more adept at pressing the line of scrimmage and waiting for his cut-back hole to open up.  He’s also good at bouncing the play outside but since he lacks elite speed he’s better off cutting it inside.  He’s not very good at lowering his head and ramming the ball downhill.  He does not keep his feet well and is often susceptible to low tackles that other stronger backs may shrug off.  Penny was heavily involved in the passing game against Stanford (5 passes) but not at all against Boise when he struggled.  He is utilized all over the field through different positions and motions.

There were a few good examples I found of Penny’s running style that I’ll describe here.  I would highly recommend checking out the links to these plays so you can see them in action.  I have linked them to the corresponding Youtube video right to the specific play.  The first prototypical example I’ll show comes early in the second half on first down.  Penny angles to the right, running right up the back of his guard.  The line gets such good push that he actually ends up cutting into the other A gap between the LG and C as they finish their blocks.  It’s an effortless run for 15 yards.  Later in the third, Penny shows an even better example of his vision.  Penny starts left as the RG and RT combo block the end before the guard moves to the LB on the second level.  The TE helps seal the hole and Penny cuts twice, first to the right and then back to the left through the hole.   The next play shows how Penny can adapt and use his elusiveness as a play breaks down.  He takes the pitch eight yards deep, sheds the first defender.  Just past the line another defender squares up to take Penny down.  As he runs towards the sidelines, with his shoulders parallel to the sideline, he cuts back towards the line of scrimmage and away from the defender.  It buys him just enough space to beat the tackler.  He then turns on his speed and makes it to the first down before two pursuing defenders.  It was a key play that came late in the upset over #19 Stanford.  Against Boise, Penny again shows his ability to get the edge, this time after his intended cut back lanes are clogged.  He bounces it outside and the defense, which was stacking the box all game, doesn’t have anybody with an angle to get Penny in time.

The last play I’ll discuss is the bad pass protection play against Boise.  Ultimately the play didn’t matter as it came in a big loss and the fumble that was caused was overturned but it’s still instructional.  Penny finds himself momentarily staring down two pass rushers.  He’s probably unsure about who he should block and hesitates.  The tackle ends up taking the inside rusher but by then it’s too late for Penny to get to the outside rusher.  The defender gets to the quarterback just as he is throwing the ball.  If he got there a split-second sooner, as the rusher probably would in the pros, it would have been a big hit right to the chops of the unprepared quarterback.

SWOT Analysis: (SWOT analysis is a way to study the internal and external factors that may help or hinder your ability to achieve an objective.  The objective here: getting drafted.)

Strengths: Durability, lack of an injury history, versatility as a kick returner, elusiveness, production vs Power 5 teams.

Weaknesses: Lacks elite speed, played lesser competition in the Mountain West, not very active in the passing game.

Opportunities: Can earn an instant roster spot in training camp as a kick returner.  Would be a great partner to an established veteran, a la Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara in New Orleans.

Threats: The lack of success by former teammate Donnel Pumphrey as a rookie may sour some on his potential (i.e. the “system” tag some QBs get).  Some teams may see him more of a kick returner than a feature back in the NFL and may not be willing to spend a high enough draft pick on him.

Draft Round Grade:  Mid to Late 3rd Round

I’d love to put Penny higher because he’s a favorite of mine but I don’t think NFL teams will bite.  Penny isn’t elite so he won’t see the 1st round and there are so few 2nd round running backs in recent history (just five in the last three drafts) that I think it’s inevitable he falls to the 3rd.  If Penny falls out of the 3rd round, he’ll be a prime trade up candidate to start Day 3.

Recent NFL Comparison: CJ Prosise

I struggled to find a comparison for Penny that ticked all of the boxes I usually seek.  I feel most comfortable with a comparison when they 1) have similar size and speed, 2) have a similar playing style, 3) produced similarly in college and 4) had a similar draft grade.  I was first leaning towards Boston College’s Andre Williams as his production somewhat mirrored that of Penny, especially in their senior seasons (down to receiving Heisman votes), but when you watch the two play they are of a totally different style.  Of all the other possibilities I considered, I thought Prosise was the best fit for playing style even if their production was not comparable.  Like Prosise, Penny gains most of his yards because of his vision, change of direction and elusiveness rather than by sheer strength and tackle breaking ability.  Prosise was a more accomplished receiver at Notre Dame but as I’ve outlined, I have faith in Penny’s receiving ability.  Prosise is conspicuously missing any kick or punt return experience so Penny has a huge advantage there.

 

Sony Michel, RB, Georgia

Sony Michel has been rocketing up fantasy rookie draft boards lately after his success against Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff semi-finals.  With good reason too: Michel totaled 202 yards from scrimmage and 4 TDs in that game.  It was the best of his career and it was extremely well timed.  Like many of the young men we’ll meet this draft season, Michel has an interesting story.  He’s the son of Haitian immigrantsHis parents and sister ended up getting jobs at his high school to help improve their meager means, an opportunity most certainly offered due to his standing and on-field success at the school.  As positive as my character notes are about Michel, my injury notes are quite negative.  In my opinion, there’s enough here to dent Michel’s draft stock.  In 2014 he broke his collarbone which forced him to miss multiple games.  In 2016 he broke his arm in what could have been a much more serious ATV accident; the injury occurred in the Summer and Michel ended up missing the season opener.  In 2017 Michel suffered two injuries: 1) a minor ankle injury against Notre Dame that led the coaches to hold him out against Samford and 2) a knee injury that forced him to leave the SEC Championship game early.  These injuries aren’t debilitating or impossible to come back from, obviously, but I fear it may signal missed time in the pros.  Michel has decent size for the position (5’11”, 215lbs) and has about 4.50 speed.  As a senior, Michel is a bit older than many prospects.  DLF lists him as 22.9 years old which is almost a full year older than Rashaad Penny and nearly 2.5 years older than Ronald Jones.  There’s a lot to like about Michel but armchair draftniks have to be careful that they avoid the recency bias and look at Michel’s full profile rather than his most recent stats.

Stats & Accolades: By now we all know the underlying story of Michel’s production.  For most of his time in Athens, he was the second option behind Nick Chubb (side note: I loved reading that Michel and Chubb are best friends, that’s awesome).  The only time that Michel got to shine as the lead back was in 2015 after Chubb had gone down with a serious knee injury.  In that season Michel had seven double digit carry games while he had just one combined the last two years.  You’ll notice that his per carry averages are lowest in that season (5.2) than the other seasons when he had the benefit of sharing the load (6.4, 5.5, 7.9).  I don’t necessarily think that Michel cannot handle a starter’s load but I am merely pointing out that he typically has not and when he has, his performance per carry has declined.  As I mentioned above, Michel had the best game of his career this postseason against Oklahoma (11 carries, 181 yards, 3 rushing TDs; 4 receptions, 41 yards, 1 receiving TD).  He has four other 150+ rush yard games in his career so he does have the ability to go-off.  Michel found lots of success running the ball this season on a championship quality team.  He hit career bests in rushing yards, rushing TDs and yards per carry.  He led the SEC in yards per carry and ranked fifth in the FBS overall.  Pro Football Focus ranked him as the 7th back in their Elusive Rating category (interestingly, one spot behind Chubb).  Michel was most effective as a receiver as a sophomore and junior and then showed that ability again against Oklahoma this season.  In those two seasons, Chubb combined for a solid 29 receptions, 419 yards and 4 receiving TDs.  He’s far from the best pass catching back in this class but it does add to his value.  Michel has issues with ball security.  He has 12 career fumbles, five of which were lost to the defense.

Rushing & Receiving Table
Rushing Receiving Scrimmage
Year School Conf Class Pos G Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD Plays Yds Avg TD
*2014 Georgia SEC FR RB 8 64 410 6.4 5 7 106 15.1 1 71 516 7.3 6
*2015 Georgia SEC SO RB 13 218 1136 5.2 8 26 270 10.4 3 244 1406 5.8 11
*2016 Georgia SEC JR RB 12 152 840 5.5 4 22 149 6.8 1 174 989 5.7 5
2017 Georgia SEC SR RB 14 156 1227 7.9 16 9 96 10.7 1 165 1323 8.0 17
Career Georgia 590 3613 6.1 33 64 621 9.7 6 654 4234 6.5 39
Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 1/22/2018.

 

Film Study: Auburn (2015), Notre Dame (2017), Alabama (2017)

I started with a film from 2015 so I could see Michel when he was the lead back with Chubb out.  The game that was available was against Auburn.  I was not impressed with Michel’s running in this one for the most part.  Most carries have him running right up the gut for little to no gain.  The first outside run I noted was a sweep in the middle of the third that gained 9 yards.  His best run came late in the third.  He takes a pitch right up the middle, uses his blockers well, breaks two tackles and collides with the defensive back.  He churns his feet and tries to push the defender forward.  He ultimately fails and is short of the first but it was still a good effort.  Michel had two attempts inside the five yard line in the game and failed on both.  One of those attempts was actually a fumble where he missed the pitch; it could have been equally the quarterback’s fault but ultimately it was charged to him (Georgia recovered it which led to his second failed attempt).  I counted five broken tackles, two of which came on that one play highlighted above, and that might have been generous.  Most times when Michel is contacted near the line of scrimmage the play ended shortly after.

I was encouraged by the progress that I saw in Michel in the 2017 film against Notre Dame.  His third run of the game was reminiscent of the run in the Auburn game where he failed to push the defender back.  This time, he nails the safety with a lowered shoulder and falls forward for the first.  In this game he looked much more explosive and patient than he did as a sophomore.  His best successes came when running inside of LT Isaiah Wynn (an NFL prospect himself).  The explosiveness and patience was evident in this late fourth quarter run.  It’s a 3rd and 1 when Georgia was down 19-17.  Michel takes the pitch left, the end is unblocked and it’s up to Michel to make him miss.  He does just that after a hard plant with his left foot and an explosive cut to the right.  He easily brushes past the arm tackle.  This happened in the backfield though so Michel still has yards to gain to get the first.  He sees WR Javon Wims blocking a corner and heads towards him rather than cutting upfield where he wouldn’t stand a chance.  He runs right at Wims which makes the defender decide if he wants to try and beat the block to the inside or the outside.  Michel calculates he won’t be able to make it around the outside so he waits for Wims to angle his block as the defender leans outside.  By that point Michel easily gained the first.  It was a great play that illustrated a number of traits that Michel improved between his sophomore and senior seasons.

Like you, I watched the Georgia vs Alabama game a few weeks ago but I wanted to watch the film once more.  I ended up not taking a single note about any of Michel’s runs because I was so impressed with his pass protection.  There were a number of plays where he excelled but there are two I’ll highlight, both blocking potential first round NFL talent.  I’ll show the later one first.  On this play, Michel is responsible for the blitzing safety, Ronnie Harrison.  Michel patiently waits for Harrison to hit the line and picks up the blitz to give QB Jake Fromm enough time to deliver a deep pass which ended up going for a score.  Michel does not show the best blocking mechanics on the play, it looks like he sets his base too soon and may get beat inside if the play extended but it was enough to let Fromm get the ball out.  An even better pass protection play came earlier when Michel stood up 308lb DT Da’Ron Payne.  The DTs run an inside stunt and Payne ends up with what would be a free rush at the QB if Michel did not stay home on the play.  Wynn, the LT, pushed his rusher inside but before he can come back outside for Payne, he falls.  Michel was in good position and actually initiates contact with Payne driving a shoulder right under his chin, which momentarily pushed Payne back.  Michel keeps Payne in front of him with good hand placement.  Of all the good runs I saw Michel make while watching these three games, this was the single most impressive play I saw.

SWOT Analysis: (SWOT analysis is a way to study the internal and external factors that may help or hinder your ability to achieve an objective.  The objective here: getting drafted.)

Strengths: Personality, pass catching ability, pass protection, flashed in biggest games of his career this postseason, is a good teammate as evidenced by his friendship with starter Nick Chubb.

Weaknesses: Injury history, ball security, was rarely used as the RB1 except for in 2015 after Chubb’s injury, age.

Opportunities: Teams will view Michel as a solid third down back because of his pass catching and pass blocking abilities.  He’ll be a good locker room guy as coaches will not have to worry about him complaining about playing time.

Threats: Teams may hesitate to draft Michel as their lead back which could hurt his draft stock – it’s hard to draft a situational player in the second round.  The combination of his injuries, age and usage in college could be just enough to scare off teams.

Draft Round Grade:  Mid to Late 3rd Round

Since he played behind Nick Chubb for most of his career, there’s a chance we haven’t seen Michel’s full potential.  Unfortunately, he does have numerous injuries in his history.  When I started this profile, I was anywhere between early 3rd and 5th round.  After studying his stats and history, I was leaning towards the 4th round.  However, after seeing how adept at pass protection Michel was against Alabama, I’m willing to bump him into the middle of the 3rd round.

Recent NFL Comparison: Marlon Mack

Mack and Michel are nearly identical prospects when you consider their size, speed and production.  Mack measured at 5’11” and 213 whereas Michel is estimated at 5’11” and 215lbs.  Mack ran a 4.50 whereas NFLDraftScout.com estimates Michel will run a 4.52.  Mack rushed for 3,609 yards, a 6.2 yards per carry average, 32 rushing TDs and added 65 receptions; Michel’s line is 3,613 yards, a 6.1 average, 33 rushing TDs and 64 receptions.  Mack was drafted in the 4th round so the draft grade is reasonably close too.  When I watch highlights of Mack, he looks to run with a more upright style but there’s enough similarity there for me to make the comparison, especially compared to Michel’s Notre Dame tape.

 

Ronald Jones, RB, USC

I was low on Ronald “RoJo” Jones to start the 2017 season but I have come around in a big way.  My biggest concern about Jones was his weight.  At approximately 6’0″ he needs to weigh in at at least 200lbs.  Looking back at NFL Combine measurements since 2010, you’ll notice a bad trend for somebody Jones’ size: only three backs have measured 5’11” or taller and less than 200lbs.  Unfortunately, those players don’t exactly inspire confidence as they are Taiwan Jones, CJ Spiller and Joe McKnight.  Luckily, Jones has increased his weight year-over-year and I expect him to get near 210lbs when he officially weighs in.  I checked USC media guides for the last three years and his weight progression was 185-195-200; an LA Times article from July said that Jones was already up to 205lbs at that point.  If Jones weighs in at less than 200lbs, I plan on dropping him down my board.  A benefit of not carrying too much bulk is that Jones is lightning quick.  NFLDraftScout.com estimates he’ll run a 4.39.  Jones has a few minor injury nicks on his resume.  The first being a 2016 rib injury that he played through but limited his touches (just 36 carries in the first five games).  The second being a 2017 injury that kept him out of the game against Cal; the injury was reported as both an ankle and a thigh injury so I’m not sure which it truly was but I expect the ankle.  Thankfully that injury did not linger as he gained 128 yards the next week against Washington State.  Even though he was a three year starter, Jones is exceedingly young.  Per DLF, Jones is the youngest prospect in the class at 20.5 years old.  When I was researching Jones’ personality and character I did not find much of note.  I found an interview prior to the Cotton Bowl where he said “I like to play silently” which ultimately explained the dearth of articles out there.  There were two funny things I came across in my character research… 1) teammate Stephen Carr said that Jones has “horse legs” which made me actually laugh out loud and 2) “Ronald Jones” was apparently a character in both The Hunt for Red October and Halloween: H2O.  If the NFL doesn’t work out for Jones, maybe he has a future as a vanilla background character in Hollywood!

Stats & Accolades:  In addition to showing a good progression with his weight, Jones has a good progression with his base stats.  His carries, yards and touchdowns have all increased year-over-year, as have his receptions and receiving yards.  Jones is not a big pass catching threat with just 32 career receptions but his huge 13.4 average per catch this season is encouraging.  Jones’ yards per carry average has decreased each season, however it was still a strong 5.9 at it’s lowest so I’m not that concerned.  Jones had two huge games in 2017 with 216 rushing yards and 2 TDs against Arizona State and then following it up with a 3 TD and 233 scrimmage yard outing against Arizona.  Jones’ biggest game of 2015 came against Arizona too (177 yards) so maybe he just has a personal vendetta against the state?  I like that the Trojans gave Jones 261 carries this year (14th most in the FBS) which shows me they were less concerned about his durability this season than in the past, likely a factor of him bulking up.  In the aforementioned PFF Elusive Rating statistic, Jones ranked 15th.  He also shows up in their Pass Blocking Efficiency table with a 94.2% efficiency.  Per their stat tracking, Jones had 67 snaps in pass protection and allowed just five hurries and no sacks.  Jones has the best ball security by far of this trio of running backs.  He has just two career fumbles and lost just one.  He was perfect in 2017 without a single fumble.

Rushing & Receiving Table
Rushing Receiving Scrimmage
Year School Conf Class Pos G Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD Plays Yds Avg TD
*2015 USC Pac-12 FR RB 14 153 987 6.5 8 7 39 5.6 1 160 1026 6.4 9
*2016 USC Pac-12 SO RB 13 177 1082 6.1 12 11 76 6.9 1 188 1158 6.2 13
2017 USC Pac-12 JR RB 13 261 1550 5.9 19 14 187 13.4 1 275 1737 6.3 20
Career USC 591 3619 6.1 39 32 302 9.4 3 623 3921 6.3 42
Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 1/27/2018.

Film Study: Texas (2017), Colorado (2017)

Jones was mostly held in check against Texas as a rusher (just 47 yards on 18 carries) but he still made a huge impression.  Two of the first three plays of the game for USC featured Jones split out blocking on wide receiver screens.  That tactic continued throughout the game when Jones was often utilized as a blocker in the open field.  This play is a good example of Jones blocking downfield.  He starts in the backfield but motions out to the right, to the wide side of the field.  He runs up field with a tight end to form a perfect lane for WR Steven Mitchell to run through after he catches the screen.  Due to the strength of the Longhorn defense, Jones was often called on to help in pass protection too.  I counted nine positive pass pro plays and no negative plays; he’ll need more size, experience and improved technique to stand up to NFL defenders but it’s a good start.  Jones only had one reception in the game but he made it count.  It was late in the second quarter with just 0:05 left with the score tied 7-7.  Jones stays in to protect at first but then leaks out as a safety valve for QB Sam Darnold.  Darnold is forced to scramble and finds Jones who had stopped his route in the open field to make an easy target for Darnold.  Jones turns up field, jukes the first defender, and then uses his speed (and a great block from Mitchell) to beat the defenders to the pylon.  At one point there are eight pursuing defenders in the frame and none of them can get an angle on Jones.  Without the momentum, and the points, that that play provided USC likely would have been upset by Texas.  Jones had two goal line carries and was stopped just short on both; the second came on 4th down so it was also a costly turnover.

Against Colorado’s softer defense, Jones was able to show me more as a runner.  Right from the start, his vision was apparent as he made three straight runs that impressed me (and the commentators too, who must have been the Colorado home game crew).  Jones is not a big broken tackle runner, similar to Penny he makes his yards by eluding defenders rather than overpowering them.  There were a few plays though that I noted key broken tackles by Jones, especially this 4th and Inches in the second quarter.  The linebacker has a free shot at Jones behind the line but he breaks the tackle and gets the first.  Two traits that Jones showed in the second half of the Colorado game were his jump cut and his patience.  This replay angle shows just how much ground his jump cut can cover which is almost unfair.  He later showed his patience on two plays as the Trojans were trying to run out the clock.  On the first, he slowly considers three separate potential holes before finally bouncing it to the sideline and nearly getting the first down.  It’s like watching him play real-life Frogger, making it up the field and toward the sideline a little at a time.  Shortly after that run, he takes a stretch handoff to the right, hesitates behind his blockers and then cuts it all the way back across the field for a score.  During my research, I came across many analysts who doubt Jones’ patience but I’m not nearly as concerned after watching those two plays.  Again, it’s not the main part of his game but Jones showed good play strength on this off tackle run in the third quarter.  A defender ends up on his back, which he shrugs off, and then he fights through a leg tackle to fall forward for a few extra yards.

SWOT Analysis: (SWOT analysis is a way to study the internal and external factors that may help or hinder your ability to achieve an objective.  The objective here: getting drafted.)

Strengths: Ball security, pass protection, speed, jump cut, age.

Weaknesses: Weight, lack of passing game activity, age.

Opportunities: Because of Jones’ ball security and pass protection, teams will trust him to be their back in all situations.  Teams can spin age either way, in this case they may feel that since he’s so young he hasn’t hit his full potential yet.

Threats: Due to the lack of receiving game work, teams may feel that Jones is not a great fit on third down or in the two minute drill even though he’s a good blocker.  Teams can spin age either way, in this case they may feel that since he’s so young he will be immature.

Draft Round Grade:  Late 2nd Round

I think that Jones is the perfect mix of known and unknown which will entice NFL scouts.  He has enough on tape to warrant being a Top 60 pick and the fact that he is so young will surely make a team want to take a chance on him becoming even better.  As I mentioned in the Opportunities section above, teams will feel that they can trust Jones.

Recent NFL Comparison:  Jamaal Charles

I vacillated between Lamar Miller and CJ Spiller for Jones’ comparison at first but then extended my search of combine measureables back further and found an even better comp in Charles.  Charles averaged 6.2 yards per carry at Texas to Jones’s 6.1 average.  Charles was a little more active as a pass catcher but not by much.  Both had two sub-200 carry seasons to start their career and then ended with 250+ in their junior season before coming out early.  Assuming Jones comes in at about 200lb they should match up near identically when it comes to measureables plus they run with a similar elusive, cutting style.  Charles was picked in the early 3rd round which is probably the worst case scenario for Jones.

 


Note: When watching film for a player in the offseason, I typically pick two games at random to watch.  If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had all season so they really need to jump off the screen.  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, herosports.com, fcs.football, foxsports.com
  • Film: 2018 NFL Draft Database by @CalhounLambeau, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, ndtscouting.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, Strong as Steele with Phil Steele, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty, Draft Dudes

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.

More Analysis by Bob Cowper