Alfred Morris looks to reclaim fantasy value in Dallas
The Dallas Cowboys turned some heads on Tuesday when they signed former Washington Redskins running back Alfred Morris to a two-year deal worth up to $5.5 million, with $2 million guaranteed.
As division rivals to the Redskins, the Cowboys were plenty familiar with Morris, having borne witness to his declining rushing numbers over each of his first four pro seasons. A sixth-round draft pick out of Florida Atlantic under the Mike Shanahan regime, Morris burst onto the scene with 1,613 yards (4.8 YPC) and 13 touchdowns on 335 carries. In fact, his PFF rushing grade trailed only Adrian Peterson among 59 qualifiers that year.
Of course, all of those rookie-year numbers also serve as career-highs to this point for the now 27-year-old Morris, who never quite found his comfort zone under Shanahan’s replacement, Jay Gruden. As Morris’ numbers declined, so, too, did his opportunities as he failed to hold off unimpressive rookie Matt Jones. By our metrics, there were 39 more productive overall running backs in 2015, and Morris’ 87 fantasy points (standard) tied for 44th at the position along with the likes of Antonio Andrews, Bilal Powell and even Le’Veon Bell, who played just six games.
Was the change in scheme to blame? Usage? Or, should the Cowboys be concerned that Morris is just another flash-in-the-pan rusher who was never highly coveted for a reason?
In Dallas, he’ll team up with Darren McFadden, who is coming off his first 1,000-yard season since 2010. While Jerry Jones did say that Morris will have a “substantive” role, the owner reiterated that McFadden is the team’s starter (perhaps one of these days he’ll let head coach Jason Garrett make those decisions). Still, it is an interesting landing spot for a prototypical one-cut runner like Morris.
In each of the last two seasons, Dallas was easily our top-ranked offensive line while Morris was fighting for daylight behind Washington’s middling unit. When you combine a top-shelf line with a guy who has averaged 2.6 yards after contact per attempt for his career (including a respectable 2.3 Yco/Att in last year’s down season), it is certainly worth a look. Oh yeah, and some guy named Tony Romo is back to restore the offensive balance that Dallas sorely missed last season.
BOTTOM LINE: Those who wind up drafting Morris in fantasy will be doing so not with the expectation that he’ll be a weekly option, but that he’ll be a potentially valuable insurance policy behind the injury-prone McFadden. Morris may never win the job or earn enough carries week to week, but if McFadden is ever sidelined, there is sudden RB1 potential there behind the Cowboys’ vaunted O-line.
A quick cautionary note in terms of longevity if you are considering reaching for Morris as anything more than an upside handcuff out of the gate: His 1,078 carries through four pro seasons are the most in the NFL in that span. In other words, he’s already hit the average shelf life of a pro running back.