Monday, April 18, 2016

More Thoughts On The 2016 Running Backs

Sometimes I worry about the possibility that Reilly and I might be assholes.  It's a thought that crosses our mind, from time to time, as it probably should with most people.  After all, the people who don't give this thought some consideration, probably really are assholes.

After our recent post on the 2016 running back prospects, we were feeling particularly guilty about our feelings that many of this year's players were probably mediocrities.  This is actually a feeling we have had about several of the different position groups for this year, and expressing our constant pessimism rarely seems to bother us.  Still, at some point, even jerks such as ourselves start to feel a bit bad for betting against the future success of a bunch of young kids whom we have never met.

Unfortunately, we just can't see a clear path to a more humane and sensitive perspective.  Beyond the obvious and frequently discussed question of the positional value of running backs, Reilly and I tend to grade these players on a bit of a curve, depending on how highly they are projected to be selected.  If a player is expected to be taken in the 1st round, we think they should have some clear signs of superiority.  You don't want to see any reason to doubt their ability to succeed.  On the other hand, if a player is expected to be a 5th round pick, we're more willing to accept it if the player possesses some peculiar quirks.

So, while we don't like to be put in the position of betting against any of these kids, this year's crop of running backs presented us with a couple of troubling question.  If Ezekiel Elliott and Derrick Henry are this year's supposed top prospects, exactly how dominant do they need to be in order for them to be worth their purchase price?  Even if we had perfect 20/20 hindsight, how many of the league's current top tier running backs would you be willing to go back and plunk down a 1st round pick to acquire?  Probably not very many, I suspect, and the likelihood that either of this year's top running backs will enter that upper tier is hardly a sure thing.  The likelihood that both will succeed is even less likely.  While these two running backs may, or may not, be the top players at their position, it's also quite possible that their long term value to a team will be less than that of the 4th or 5th rated player, at a more valuable position.

While Howie Roseman still seems to stubbornly cling to the idea that the top performing running backs were also high draft picks, this overlooks the huge advantage that top picks have when it comes to receiving an opportunity to play.  We could just as easily say that highly drafted quarterbacks throw for more passing yards than their 6th round counterparts, though we know this is primarily because teams generally refuse to bench their top draft picks, unless their incompetence reaches a truly epic level.  Regardless of our doubts about Elliott and Henry, or our concerns over the value of the running back position, there is no denying that they both have a strong chance of becoming productive players, simply because they will be relatively high selections.

Reilly and I also dislike finding ourselves in the awkward position of appearing to support odd prospects, merely for the sake of being different.  Still, the computer did think there were some interesting reasons to be drawn towards the peculiar physical potential of Daniel Lasco and Darius Jackson.  Neither of these running backs is expected to be selected before the 4th round, and though we would never suggest that either of them are certain to succeed, the cost of their failure is relatively insignificant.  We just view them as interesting oddballs, and the sort of high-upside-low-risk players that we enjoy squandering late rounds picks to acquire.

Again, we wind up having to ask some peculiar questions here.  If given the same sort of opportunity to play, that Elliott and Henry will probably receive, what do you think the chances are that Lasco and Jackson could prove to be 90% as effective?  Would you say that there is a slight possibility that they might even outperform their more highly drafted peers?  Or, what if you selected both Lasco and Jackson, in the later rounds, would their combined odds of success as a pair be as great as the ones you might have for just one of either Elliott and Henry?  The actual combined cost of selecting Lasco and Jackson, is still probably going to be significantly less than the likely cost of just a single 1st or 2nd round running back.  These are the value related concerns that make Reilly and I trample on a lot of the higher rated prospects, even if we have no desire to be so harshly critical of a bunch of kids.

While there is a reasonable chance that neither Lasco or Jackson will succeed, the question is whether that would really matter.  The risks are minimal with both of them.  On the other hand, if a team is anything less than ecstatic with what they get from Elliott and Henry, then a team might have a real problem.  Elliott and Henry are going to need to dominate, in order to justify their selections, while Lasco and Jackson can be merely average, and still end up presenting a very respectable value.

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