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2013 Fantasy Football: Evaluating NFL Rookie Running Backs (Part 2)

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In Part 1, we discussed the dynamics of NFL rookie running backs, namely that they are unknown, and can thus provide significant fantasy football draft day value relative to ADP-- if, that is, you choose wisely.  We then demonstrated the pitfalls and rewards of selecting NFL rookie running backs, using Doug Martin and Mark Ingram as instructive examples-- both were drafted (each in his rookie year, for fantasy football purposes) in the third or fourth round, but one helped fantasy owners and the other torpedoed fantasy owners. Part 1 demonstrated that physical measurables are an essential part of evaluating rookie running back potential, and emphasized that speed and agility are absolute prerequisites to NFL success.

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Jamaal CharlesFirst and foremost, as the incomparable Frank DuPont has oft stated,  it is important to emphasize that, as much as physical measurements are a prerequisite to NFL success for running backs, opportunity is also essential. Jamaal Charles is a superstar, but we forget that for a while, he had to compete for touches with a decaying Thomas Jones.

Accordingly, although the metrics discussed in Part 1 (spoiler alert!) don't particularly like Montee Ball, if he receives a certain amount of touches, he will put up fantasy points. Thus, even if the metrics didn't like Le'Veon Bell (spoiler alert: they're pretty decent), the fact that he has no competition for the starting job means that he will likely put up points.

With that in mind, lets discuss some of the rookie RBs. First, here are the measurables (I've also included some current NFL running backs for comparison):

2013 Fantasy Football - NFL Rookie Running Backs











Note that N/A signifies that the player did not participate in the relevant drill(s) at the NFL combine.

So what does this all mean? Well, for starters, let's establish some baselines: a speed score of 100 is average for a starting NFL running back, whereas an agility score under 11.1 is very strong, while anything over 11.5 is cause for concern. Of course, some NFL RBs are faster, and some are slower; these numbers merely provide an index for the sake of comparison. As Shawn Siegele has noted, "Having a poor [athletic] profile doesn’t mean you can’t be a serviceable or even elite NFL player. It just means the deck is stacked against you."

Without further ado, here are my thoughts about the 2013 rookie RBs. The RBs are ranked in my order of preference for redraft leagues (though I will make some notes for dynasty) and will have a Buy (target) / Hold (grab around or cheaper than ADP) / Sell (avoid) ranking based on each ADP as of today, August 14, 2013:

  1. Le'Veon Bell - Mr. Bell is by far and away the #1 rookie pick. From an agility perspective, Bell compares very favorably to Doug Martin, among others. Meanwhile, it is getting increasingly clear, as Davis Mattek has noted, that Bell has the clearest path to NFL touches, a prerequisite for success, in the same way as Doug Martin and Arian Foster before him. Verdict: Buy.

    Update:  Bell unfortunately came down with a  right foot injury, and is expected to miss up to six weeks with a small ligament tear.  He should be downgraded in fantasy football drafts to a mid-to-late round pick, but still has the upside to contribute when healthy this year.

  2. Giovani Bernard - Bernard also has a relatively clear path to touches, as he is currently expected to split opportunities with BenJarvus Green-Ellis (who, mind you, professional fantasy football players seem to like). However, at only 200 pounds, Giovani should be much faster, though his agility is comparable to Kendall Hunter and Kerwyn Williams, who is a potential arbitrage opportunity. Verdict: Buy/Hold.
  3. Eddie Lacy - Although Lacy has an impressive speed score, and phenomenal pedigree, there are a number of red flags fantasy drafters should be aware of. Lacy's comparables aren't particularly impressiveEddie Lacy may be this year's Mark Ingram. He's playing in a crowded and undefined backfield with Johnathan Franklin, DeJuan Harris, Alex Green and James Stark. Although reports from training camp have been positive, buyer beware at his current ADP. Verdict: Hold/Sell.
  4. Montee Ball - Ball has had an up-and-down training camp, and isn't clearly going to be the starter. Ball's comps aren't very encouraging, and neither is his college production translated to the NFL. Unless it becomes clear that Ball will be the starter, stay away at Ball's fourth-round ADP. Verdict: Sell.
  5. Zac Stacy - Stacy flies under the radar, but his elite agility score compares very well to a certain Mr. Ray Rice. Heard of him? Stacy romped through the SEC, as Jon Moore has demonstrated, and compares very favorably to other well-regarded SEC backs. Unfortunately, the excellent Matthew Freedman conducted a definitive six (!!!) part study on Jeff Fisher's usage of running backs and the available backs on the Rams and concluded that Daryl Richardson is most likely to be the back to own for 2013, while Stacy will get his turn in 2014. Verdict: Buy/Hold.
  6. Christine Michael - Michael is a beast, and by far the most athletically gifted running back of this draft class. With Marshawn Lynch not long for Seattle, Michael is a priority handcuff/dynasty play, though he is unlikely to see major playing time barring injury. However, the upside is there for someone you can get in the final rounds of your draft or off the waiver wire. Verdict: Buy/Hold.
  7. Knile Davis - Davis's speed score is simply incredible and on pure physical measurements, he may be the #2 RB in the 2013 class.  In the light of Jamaal Charles's recent knee scare, Davis is another priority handcuff/dynasty play.  Verdict: Buy/Hold.
  8. Latavius Murray - See Kniles Davis. Murray is a physical specimen, weighing 223 pounds and running a 4.38 40.  At Murray's ADP, he is a can't-go-wrong running back prospect who compares favorably to that other often injured Raider's running back. Verdict: Buy/Hold.
  9. Johnathan Franklin - See Eddie Lacy. Franklin profiles similarly to Shane Vereen, this year's preseason hype star. Ok, so what has Vereen done in his NFL career? Nothing yet? Oh ok. Add in the uncertainty regarding the Green Bay backfield and his elevated ADP, mix and receive the Verdict: Hold/Sell.
  10. Marcus Lattimore - See those N/A's? Lattimore didn't participate in Combine because of his second devastatingly brutal injury. Jon Moore has a theory on Marcus Lattimore's rookie season. Coleman Kelly explores the myth of Marcus Lattimore. I say, if you can get him cheaply in dynasty go for it. If not.... Verdict: Sell.
  11. Mark Gillislee - Gillislee is the poster child for scouting error. His speed and agility scores are below average and he's unlikely to beat out the mediocre Daniel Thomas for the backup duties. Verdict: Sell.
  12. Joseph Randle - Randle should not have been drafted. His athletic profile is actually worse than Gillislee's. He's not even worthy of a handcuff to the oft-injured Demarco Murray. He's not even worthy of a link. Verdict: Sell.

Do you agree? Disagree? Find this useful? Hit me up in the comments or on Twitter if you like this type of content or if you have requests.



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