Monday, August 5, 2013

The 2013 Running Backs: For The Fantasy Football Dorks

For some reason I've never been able to get into fantasy football.  Betting on the short term results for a player just isn't my thing.  When I have played fantasy football, I tend to get too wrapped up in following the young prospects where I say "I swear this guy is going to be good one day", which isn't a great overall plan.  Somehow they don't award points for being right 'eventually'.  My tendency to get overly excited about mid-to-late round prospects, who I sometimes think are better than players taken in the 1st or 2nd round picks, is an equally suspect strategy.   The truth is that, for the most part, higher draft picks will be given the starting jobs, until they undeniably prove that they suck, and then the team will begrudgingly give the other guy a shot.

I also tend to be a bit apathetic about running backs.  It's not that I don't believe that some players are special.  I do.  I just don't particularly care if they are special, at least if it involves a high draft pick.  Building a solid offensive line, and handing the ball to the best mid-round sack of meat you can find is what I'm all about.  Teams actually seem to be coming around to this idea.  Umm, except for that Trent Richardson pick last year.  That was pretty stupid.  3rd overall pick?  Not a brilliant move for the Factory of Sadness.  Still, he'll probably turn out to be serviceable.

Despite all of this negativity, one of my friends is in a dynasty fantasy football league, so every year I go over the rookie numbers with him, and I figured I would put them up here as well.  Listed below is every running back taken in the 2013 draft, in the order they were selected.  It also shows their 40 time, 2nd Gear Score, Speed Score (speed relative to mass), Kangaroo Score (a measure of power), and Agility Score.  The Kangaroo Score and Agility Score are shown as the number of standard deviations that a player is above, or below, the average results for someone in their position group.  If you go to this post, you can compare these results to some of the more noteworthy players that are currently in the league.  It also gives a basic idea of what I think the scores translate to as far as predicting what the style of running back they are likely to become.  You generally can't expect a player to score well in all of these categories, but a good running back will probably do well in at least one or two areas.

Player                                Pick#       40-yd    2nd Gear      Spd. Score     Kangaroo    Agility
Giovani Bernard 37 4.50 0.06 98.5 -0.619 0.794
Le'Veon Bell 48 4.56 -0.04 106.3 0.324 0.770
Montee Ball 58 4.59 0.02 96.4 -0.412 -0.081
Eddie Lacy 61 4.64 0.01 99.6 0.323 -1.475
Christine Michael 62 4.43 0.06 114.2 1.839 1.657
Knile Davis 96 4.35 0.14 126.7 0.639 -0.205
Johnathan Franklin 125 4.46 0.08 103.6 -1.091 0.198
Marcus Lattimore 131          N/A          N/A               N/A               N/A               N/A
Denard Robinson 135 4.34 0.21 112.1 -0.342 0.025
Stepfan Taylor 140 4.70 -0.06 87.7 -0.986 -1.017
Joseph Randle 151 4.59 0.01 91.9 -0.265 0.183
Christopher Thompson 154          N/A          N/A               N/A               N/A               N/A
Zac Stacy 160 4.53 0.03 102.5 0.269 1.126
Mike Gillislee 164 4.48 0.09 103.2 -0.863 -0.654
Latavius Murray 181 4.38 0.10 121.1 0.958 0.220
Kenjon Barner 182 4.39 0.19 105.5 -0.683 0.618
Andre Ellington 187          N/A          N/A               N/A -0.713               N/A
Mike James 189 4.50 0.07 108.7 0.303 0.001
Rex Burkhead 190 4.65 -0.08 91.5 0.932 1.038
Spencer Ware 194 4.62          N/A 100.0 0.868 -0.597
Theo Riddick 199 4.66 -0.05 85.2 -1.070 -0.073
Jawan Jamison 228 4.62 0.01 89.1 -1.775 -2.235
Kerwynn Williams 230 4.44 0.13 100.3 -0.999 0.119
Michael Cox 253 4.58 -0.07 100.9 2.013 1.024

For the most part, I didn't think they 2013 class of running backs was very good.  Hell, the entire draft class, regardless of position, wasn't very good.  Still, there are a handful of players that might be interesting to people.  Since the highly drafted prospects have the advantage, I will mainly focus on them.  Being good, in this case, probably doesn't matter as much as being given an opportunity.

First of all, the computer's favorite prospect was probably Christine Michael.  His college stats weren't exceptional, since he didn't start that many games.  Mostly this was due to injury (torn ACL, broken leg), as well as some squabbling with his head coach as a senior.  Still, he is probably the most physically perfect running back in the class, and a highly entertaining player to watch.  Unfortunately, landing in Seattle, where he will be stuck behind Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin, isn't going to help his value.  In time, I think things could turn out well for him.  For now, Seattle has some amazing running back depth.  At the very least, he should be fun to watch in the preseason.

The computer doesn't have high hopes for Giovani Bernard.  The numbers only suggest some moderate potential as a receiving option.  Still, he could turn out to be like LeSean McCoy, who he is very similar to athletically.  His Kangaroo Score suggests he'll probably get killed if he tries running between the tackles.  I'm just not seeing anything terribly special or unique here.  I think the 'law firm' will keep his job for one more year.

Le'Veon Bell had the best set of scores among the top picks, and seems fairly balanced athletically. Still, he didn't really excel in any area, except for being surprisingly nimble for a big guy.  His respectable Agility Score somewhat confirm his decent potential as a receiving option.  There is also the little issue of the Steelers' O-line being garbage.  He'll get carries, since he has no real competition, and accumulate stats, but I see only limited star potential.  Still, for fantasy purposes, he's probably worth paying attention to/picking up.  Probably the safest rookie RB to take.

Monte Ball is overrated, and fails in every athletic category.  Don't expect much from him.  Yes, his stats in college were gaudy, but the same could be said of every running back who comes out of Wisconsin.  The only thing in his favor is his draft position, and the Broncos' lack of RB talent.  Granted, those aren't insignificant factors.  He'll probably get the starting job, put up Mark Ingram type numbers, then they'll switch back to the mediocre Knowshon Moreno.

Eddie Lacy is a poor man's Shonn Greene.  Or maybe he is just Shonn Greene, which would be bad enough.  At best I would expect him to become a mediocre goal line/3rd down back.  Like Mark Ingram who went before him, I expect fans to be disappointed.  I should mention that Lacy's Kangaroo Score and Agility Score, are based on incomplete data.  I had his vertical jump, but not his broad jump, and I had his 3-cone time, but not his short shuttle time.  Honestly, this shouldn't matter too much though.

Knile Davis throws me for a loop.  The numbers suggest he could be quite excellent, though his constant fumbling appears to be an issue.  He had one highly productive college year, back in 2010, before injuring his knee, and hasn't been the same since then.  I probably wouldn't bet on him at this point, though he could get goal line carries.  Jamaal Charles is also a bit of an obstacle.

Johnathan Franklin measures up as a guy who could be a mediocre outside the tackle runner, who might also catch the ball.  His Kangaroo Score also suggests that he will crumple like a wet paper towel when he is tackled.  Behind a weak Packers' o-line, I wouldn't expect much of a small, fairly average RB, with no power.

I'll skip over Marcus Lattimore, since there isn't enough data.

As much as I would like to laugh at the prospect of Denard Robinson doing well, the numbers suggests it isn't completely ridiculous.  Still, he would only be an outside the tackles runner, and displays less agility than you would hope for a player of this type.  Considering MJD's presence, I wouldn't expect much here.

Zac Stacy is probably one of my favorite 2013 prospects, at least from a value perspective.  Athletically he is built to do it all, though his speed is only okay, as well as his between the tackles running power.  Still, he is athletically very versatile, sort of a poor man's Ray Rice.  He was also extremely productive in college, on a fairly bad Vanderbilt team (as if there were another type of Vanderbilt team).  Winding up with the Rams isn't that bad for him, since it gives him a real shot to emerge.  It seems like it will come down to either Stacy or Daryl Richardson, and I would lean towards Stacy winning the job.

Latavius Murray is a player where I have to disagree with the computer.  According to the numbers, he should be excellent.  He should be a good power running back with breakaway speed, according to the numbers, and that is basically what he was in college.  When I watch him play, he just seems stiff and runs too upright.  Still, as a late round guy to keep an eye on, he could be intriguing, depending on how he looks in the preseason.  Darren McFadden's presence limits his value, but if he gets hurt (as McFadden always does), Murray will become a hot commodity.

Rex Burkhead is very interesting, though he does suffer from an unfortunate birth defect that has hindered the careers of several other running backs.  The numbers say he is a true power back, which he is, but he also has some surprising agility.  He runs a bit upright sometimes, and doesn't have real breakaway speed, but can pound the ball quite effectively.  I doubt he'll get much of a chance, but he is someone to keep an eye on.  I like him more than Giovani Bernard, if that means anything, but Marvin Lewis isn't taking my calls.

I know I'm skipping over some guys here (bozos who will amount to nothing), but I have to say something about Michael Cox, before anyone freaks out.  Yes, according to the numbers he looks amazing.  Then you look up his college production and see that he only rushed for 807 yards, with a 3.6 avg as a senior (at UMass), with no previous stats at all.  It seems unlikely that he would amount to much, with that sort of history.

So, that is that.  I see a couple fairly mediocre prospects, and one or two talented guys who have the odds stacked against them due to their draft position, or their team's depth chart.  Still, there are some guys from the 2012 draft who haven't quite exploded onto the fantasy football scene.  While people are ready to scoop up Doug Martin, Trent Richardson, and Alfred Morris (still a bit surprised by this one), here are the results for the other guys who might still be surprises to some degree.

Player                               Pick#         40-yd     2nd Gear    Spd. Score   Kangaroo      Agility
David Wilson 32 4.38 0.15 111.9 1.176 0.364
Bernard Pierce 84 4.45 0.13 111.1 0.699 -0.129
Lamar Miller 97 4.34 0.19 119.5 0.071 0.857
Robert Turbin 106 4.42 0.15 116.3 0.790 -0.445
Terrance Ganaway 202 4.61 0.01 105.8 1.760 -0.218
Bryce Brown 229 4.48 0.08 110.7 0.273 0.212

No, these aren't shockingly obscure names, but they can still probably provide some value in fantasy football.  Overall, I think the 2012 class was much better when it came to running backs, but only time will tell.

David Wilson, while a bit of a straight line runner for my tastes, he has excellent overall athletic ability, and proven college production at a decent college program (Virginia Tech).  I would expect at least reasonable results from him.  Plus, he now has little in the way of competition, since Ahmad Bradshaw is gone.

Bernard Pierce is still probably just a handcuff to Ray Rice at this point, but a very physically gifted one. Might end up stealing goal line carries, since he is more suited to this size-wise than Rice is.

Lamar Miller was one of my favorite running backs from the 2012 draft.  Beyond just his productivity at Miami, he was the type of runner that was fun to watch.  I also think he has better receiving skills than people realize.  In his limited opportunities last year, he failed to disappoint, averaging 4.9 yards per carry, on 51 attempts.  He's starting to get some hype, but I think he could surpass every RB taken in the first 3 rounds in 2013 (except maybe Christine Michael).  Those might be lofty goals for a 4th round pick, but I think the sky is the limit for him.  He's a very talented and versatile guy.

Robert Turbin, like Christine Michael, is stuck in a very talented running back depth chart.  This is very frustrating for me.  Still, I figure he'll get a shot one day.  For a big guy, he's also a remarkably smooth receiver, though the numbers fail to suggest this ability. I anxiously await Marshawn Lynch tearing an ACL, so I can watch Turbin and Christine Michael pummel the NFC West.  Maybe that is a bit harsh...

Please don't laugh at my inclusion of Terrance Ganaway on this list.  I just see him as a useful power back, who in the right situation could be a goal line weapon.  As a goal-line counterpart to Zac Stacy, I wouldn't be surprised if he did fairly well.

As for Bryce Brown, well, he's fairly solid across the board, though none of the numbers really scream at you.  Honestly, I am just waiting for him to do something which will announce to the world that he is insane, which I think is a strong possibility.  His behavior in college suggests a rather monstrous ego.  I would expect Chip Kelly to run the ball quite a bit more than Andy Reid did, and Brown is built to take a beating, at least more so than McCoy.

Like I said, fantasy football isn't something I get into, but maybe some of this would be interesting to people who do follow it.  Trusting my judgment will probably just lead to having a team full of oddballs who might not pan out for a few years, so use your best judgment.  While you dorks are playing Dungeons & Dragons football, I'll be busy playing with spreadsheets like the cool kids do.  Chicks dig spreadsheets, right?

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