Alfred Morris: Running Uphill

Pat Thorman takes a look at the potential decline in Alfred Morris' fantasy value under Washington's new regime.

| 3 years ago
Alfred Morris

Alfred Morris: Running Uphill


AlfredMorris400x300Much has already been made of how Washington’s new head man Jay Gruden will influence Alfred Morris’ productivity, and for good reason. The distribution of backfield touches will be altered. The offensive line will transition away from their zone blocking ways and incorporate a power based scheme. This has already shown up in personnel decisions and figures to continue during the draft in May.

Morris has ample talent to overcome those changes, and Gruden’s work with BenJarvus Green-Ellis is evidence of an ability to squeeze lemonade from a ball carrying lemon. While Morris was exploding onto the fantasy scene with a fifth place finish (seventh in PPR leagues) during the 2012 season, Green-Ellis plodded into RB2 territory by ranking 19th (22nd in PPR) in 2013.

Of course, the 5’9” Giovani Bernard was still big man on campus at the University of North Carolina when Green-Ellis garnered 65 percent of the Bengals’ carries in 2012. Once Gruden had Bernard at his disposal, he gave the rookie 35 percent of the backfield handoffs and the veteran’s share fell to 46 percent.

Not surprisingly, the volume-dependent Green-Ellis’ fantasy ranking plummeted to 31st at his position (40th in PPR), and that was mainly thanks to his flopping for seven touchdowns that started an average of 2.6 yards away from the goal line. It should also be noted that on plays that started at the opposition’s 5-yard line or closer, Gruden elected to give Bernard 36 percent of the Bengals’ running back carries (8 of 22). If that does not give you awful flashbacks of Roy Helu vulturing three Week 7 red zone scores from Morris last season, you obviously didn’t own Morris in fantasy.

While Helu does not have the upside or draft pedigree of Bernard, he does share similar attributes of which Gruden will make. Therein lies a problem for Morris, who has seen 65 and 61 percent of Washington’s handoffs the last two seasons. However, seeing fewer touches because they are being siphoned to Helu is not the most imposing threat to Morris’ fantasy value. Seeing fewer touches because his teammates stink is.

During Morris’ breakout rookie season in 2012, Washington held a lead for 377 snaps, or 37.9 percent of the time, not counting special teams plays. Last season that number was down to just 115 plays, or 10.4 percent of offensive snaps. Washington was trailing on the scoreboard 71.4 percent of the time in 2013, compared to 42.8 percent the year before. They were losing by more than one touchdown for 394 snaps last season, or 35.6 percent of the time, compared to 157 snaps (15.8%) when Morris was a rookie.

Year

Snaps   Winning

%

Snaps   Losing

%

Snaps   Losing by 8+ pts

%

2013

115

10.4%

790

71.4%

394

35.6%

2012

377

37.9%

425

42.8%

157

15.9%

 

You don’t have to be Vince Lombardi to know that losing does not bode well for a running back’s workload, especially someone who fits Morris’ profile and does not excel on passing downs. Washington only ran the ball 40.9 percent of the time in 2013, which was a significant drop from the year before (52.2%). Some of that was due to Robert Griffin III not regaining his previous form due to a knee injury. However, Griffin’s 34 fewer rushing attempts only account for roughly half of Washington’s deficit of 66 from the prior season.

In 2013, Washington handed off while losing on 35.9 percent of snaps. That percentage fell to 28.7 percent when they were down by more than a touchdown. On all other plays, they ran it 47.7 percent of the time. While Washington was ahead on the scoreboard for those 115 glorious snaps, they kept the ball on the ground 53.9 percent of the time.

For the sake of comparison, the Bengals handed off while losing on 32.6 percent of snaps under Gruden’s direction in 2013. That percentage fell to 28.9 percent when they were down by more than a touchdown. On all other plays, they ran it 46.4 percent of the time. While Cincinnati was ahead on the scoreboard for 434 snaps, they kept the ball on the ground 55.8 percent of the time.

The only real difference there is Cincinnati was winning for nearly four times as many snaps as Washington. Gruden called runs at roughly the same or a slightly lesser rate with the Bengals than his new team did while losing in each circumstance. It is safe to say that those percentages will be the same when Gruden is calling the shots in Washington next season.

The toll taken on Morris’ value by this volume decrease, compounded by a lack of meaningful work in the passing game, was significant. It is not news that Morris is a poor value in full PPR leagues. He has caught 20 passes combined in his two seasons, and has only seen 26 targets. Gruden just openly admitted he does not see Morris as having “natural hands” and essentially capped his receptions projection in the low 20s. If we did not before, we now have full certainty that Morris will not appreciably augment his production by catching the ball in 2014.

Given a projected ADP of low-end RB1 or high-end RB2, at least at this point, his ability to return value on this price is in serious doubt. Consider his weekly rankings during his two seasons (below), based on a 12-team league with standard scoring, for which he is best suited.

Morris

Wks   as RB1

Avg   Rank

Wks   as RB2

Avg   Rank

Other   Wks

Avg   Rank

2012

10

RB 6.9

3

RB 19.3

3

RB 27

2013

3

RB 9.7

8

RB 16.6

5

RB 30

 

In 2013, he barely snuck into RB1 territory over a three-game midseason stretch, finishing as RB7, RB11, and RB11, starting in Week 8. That was it. With nearly 80 fewer looks (75 rushing attempts and 4 targets), his weekly viability was severely compromised and he stood no chance of sniffing the 10 occasions on which he landed in RB1 territory the year before.

A great deal has changed in a short time from Washington’s 2013 season until this point. Yet when it comes to items that materially affect the volume-dependent Morris’ usage, even factors that have been altered will have the same effect.

Of course we should and will read every tea leaf that blows out of our nation’s capital from now until Week 1. However, the reality is that if Washington does not adequately address their many holes on both sides of the ball, the question will not be if Alfred Morris can again reach the heights of his meteoric rookie season, but if he will even get a fair shake at matching his second.

 

In addition to Pro Football Focus data, statistics for this article came courtesy of Pro Football Reference and its invaluable Game Play Finder.

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Pat Thorman is a Lead Writer for PFF Fantasy and was named 2013 Newcomer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. You can follow him on Twitter at @Pat_Thorman

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Pat Thorman is a lead writer for PFF Fantasy and a Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner.

  • Max ‘Otis’ Mulitz

    I don’t really know that Gruden got anything out of Green-Ellis. I mean he had fantasy value on volume but I don’t think he was an asset for the Bengals or a particularly effective runner.

  • sampson

    Regardless of what Gruden said, I thought Morris actually caught the ball fairly well at the Pro Bowl (which had a much better feel to it than years past). That said how do you think he will do now with the addition of Desean Jackson? It may not play out this way but I think with Garcon, Jackson, Roberts, and Reed there isn’t much need for Morris to catch the ball very often and he is capable of doing what they will need from him. Your thoughts?