Mining the 2013 NFL Draft for the Not So Obvious Contributors
Part 1: Quarterbacks and Running Backs
It would be easy for me to come on here in May and tell you why you should take Montee Ball in round 2 or 3 citing my draft reaction on ball, multiple youtube mash-ups of his dominant performance, Doug Martin’s success in a major role last season, and many other factors. I watched this guy play many games when I was at Wisconsin and I knew he would be an NFL player after his first big game.Because it is so easy to persuade, many other people will be suggesting the same thing. As the buzz builds, suddenly Ball’s ADP exceeds his actual value. Now, you are no longer gaining any real value when you draft him.
Instead of addressing the obvious name rookies, in this article I will look to uncover some of this year’s rookie class that has not found the “buzz”. These players might have been downgraded in the pre-draft process, but their NFL outlooks have improved following the conclusion of April’s draft. Rookies can often make an impact in fantasy football, especially in deep-roster leagues.
Some of these players will be suggested mid-round targets while others are simply fliers for your last few rounds. Either way, just because they haven’t found that buzz yet doesn’t mean they can’t contribute for you in 2013 – just ask owners of Vick Ballard, T.Y. Hilton and of course Alfred Morris. None of those three were drafted anywhere but the final few rounds.
Let’s take a look at a few different rookies at the Quarterback and Running Back positions that you can target towards the back half of your drafts and when they might be able to make an impact for your 2013 fantasy squad.
Check back in the next few days to find out what rookie WR’s and TE’s can contribute in 2013 but may not be getting the credit they deserve.
This season, it is going to be tough to find value at QB in a redraft league. Believe it or not, two years ago many fantasy GMs picked off number 1 overall pick QB Cam Newton in the final few rounds of their draft. Limited tape and concerns about how his game would translate to the NFL caused the fall. Cam’s rookie season success coupled with the recent success of rookie QBs (Andrew Luck, RGIII, Russell Wilson) makes it more likely that a rookie QB or two will be drafted higher than they should be. Unfortunately, it is difficult to project even one QB at this time to snap off with one of your last 5 picks. The only two who you can project to be a starter right off the bat are Geno Smith and EJ Manuel, and neither is a guarantee. Manuel is certainly not ready to contribute in fantasy leagues.
Geno Smith, New York Jets
While I believe Geno Smith has the most upside of any QB, the Jets style of offense makes it unlikely that he will prove to be anything more than a mid-range QB2 even if he is guaranteed the starting gig right out of camp.
Besides all of the factors surrounding Geno that are working against him, with David Garrard’s recent retirement, Geno has a legitimate opportunity to start from game 1. The Jets are no strangers as a franchise for throwing their prospects into the fire often times without sufficient help. What can Geno do well? Well, he has a lot of zip on his short an intermediate throws. In particular, if you watched the West Virginia offense closely, you would notice a lot of screens and throws within 5-10 yards of the LOS. Geno excels at getting the ball out quick and with zip to these spots. This should work very well in in new OC Marty Mornhinweg’s offense. Keep in mind the Jets are not looking to win games 31-24 this year. Geno will have to become a factor in fantasy using his legs.
Overall, I think that as a flier Geno Smith is not a horrible last round pick. I normally do not suggest to carry two QBs on your roster if you have succeeded in selecting one of the top guys (and instead my suggestion is to just pick one up for his bye week). However, if you waited on QB it’s not the worst idea to gamble on Geno in the last round.
Based on the function of their team, role, and talent Montee Ball, Eddie Lacy, and Le’Veon Bell will all be drafted somewhere between the 2nd and 7th rounds. Those guys have received a ton of buzz already and that will exponentially increase as August gets closer. They aren’t the only rookie backs who have a chance to contribute however.
Giovanni Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals:
If your draft were today, the stage would be set perfectly for you to grab Bernard at an ultimate value. Early coach chatter is leading many to believe that Bernard will be no more than a change of pace back in his first year. Bernard himself even said, “I definitely had the chance to talk to him and he’s the leader of the pack, leader of the guys” when referring to BGE.
However, anyone who saw the AFC Wildcard round when the Bengals lost to the Texans understands that the Bengals lost that game because the Texans took away AJ Green and there was no other players left who could make a big play and gain chunk yardage. You have to believe that the Bengals had this exact hole on their mind going into the 2013 draft as they came out of it with two playmakers on the offensive side of the ball in Tyler Eifert and Bernard.
There are three major factors that lead me to believe that Bernard will step in and contribute in 2013:
1. BenJarvus Green-Ellis lacks big play running ability and overall consistency. You may have read that last part and thought, wait what? Isn’t BGE supposed to be the definition of consistency? It seems that sometimes people confuse consistency with average running ability.
Taking a look at some of PFF’s advanced statistics, you will see that BGE finished 99th in missed tackles per touch, 69th in carries/15+ yards, 83rd in points per snap and 98th in points per touch. Taking into account those stats you can see that he is not a chunk yardage runner and although he operated as the lone back in 2012 he score very little points on each attempt.
2. Bernard is a complete running back prospect. If you take a look at his highlights vs NC State, you will find a back that stays low and has great balance and vision. He sees the hole and has no hesitation to hit it while also understanding when the correct time to cut back is. He is very proficient at catching the ball out of the backfield and has the ability to pass protect and play all three downs. He reminds me a lot of Bernard Pierce in his build and how he runs the ball. He is a very fluid runner.
3. The Bengals have a much better run-blocking unit than meets the eye. Despite grading out as the 27th best unit after a late slide in their grade in the final few weeks, they are returning all five starters on the line. This includes the much-improved RT Andre Smith who had begun to clear out lanes on the right side. Also, RG Kevin Zeitler should improve in his sophomore campaign. Lastly, the Bengals are team that wants to control the clock and win games 17-14, so you can expect a commitment to the run game when you invest in their backs.
Overall, I think Bernard will be a fine value on draft day as most will few him a rookie back with upside but only a backup running back to the Law Firm. Those backs tend to fall far into the late flier range (but not as late as the last 3-4 rounds). Remember, a great general fantasy rule to follow is that talent wins out most of the time. Bernard is the much more talented back than BGE and I think he will become the lead runner by mid-season at the latest.
Mike Gillislee, Miami Dolphins
Anyone who watched the Gators in SEC play in 2012 on their way to a nearly unblemished winning record saw a similar product every Saturday—a ton of defensive stops and big plays and a ton of punting when the Gators were on offense. When they weren’t punting the Gators managed to pile up some first downs and a couple offensive touchdowns every game. When they did score or pick up first downs you would always see the back of the same player’s jersey. Gillislee carried the Gators in 2012 and what I found most interesting is that he performed so well in his first true experience in a featured back role.
Gilleslie may not be the biggest back but he is a tough runner and he is not just a gadget back best suited for the spread/shotgun offense. He will stick his head down and run between the tackles to pick up tough yardage. He’s not the biggest home run threat like his counterpart in Miami (Lamar Miller) but he did run a respectable 4.55 forty time.
The most important reason why he should be on your radar is because of his situation. Fantasy football is as much about the situation of the players you draft as the actual player and his talents. In Miami, the running back situation cannot be considered set in stone. While many have speculated that Lamar Miller is just set to take over the lead back role, this assumption is based mostly on a “putting two and two together” approach. So the Dolphins let lead back Reggie Bush go and Lamar Miller did well in spot duty so he is automatically the feature back right? Wrong. Digging a bit deeper, the Dolphins on numerous occasions held off from giving Miller a large workload last year for the same reason every time—he couldn’t pick up the blitz. While he was amazing on a per-carry basis, an NFL running back first and foremost needs to be able to protect his franchise’s biggest investment.
Behind Miller is only disappointing second rounder Daniel Thomas. You have to think that Gillislee has a real shot to beat him out right off the bat. Assuming he can take the second back role early, there is no reason to believe that Gillislee won’t steal third down work early. Eventually, when drafting him you are hoping that the Dolphins decide on a more even workload with Gillislee getting the edge on snaps when hurry up offense and third down work is taken into account.
Overall, there is a reall opportunity for Gillislee to seize a sizable role in the Dolphins 2013 offense. He will definitely be one of my targets in the final two or three rounds of my fantasy drafts.
Stepfan Taylor, Arizona Cardinals
I may be digging real deep here with this one but in my pre-draft work and personal experience watching the man run, I thought going into the draft that Taylor was one of the most underrated prospects available. Maybe it was the slow forty time that had him fall, but I think the Cardinals got a really great prospect at an incredible value.
While forty yard dash times certainly do stand for something, Taylor’s skill set does not offer that 80 yard touchdown on one play and it doesn’t need to. As Stanford’s all-time leading rusher with 4,300 yards, Taylor is a great in between the tackles back. He picks up more yards on every play because of his size and willingness to fight for every inch. He has great vision and a great feel for the game. Also, he has a better burst to the edge than given credit for. Most importantly of all he has the size and attitude needed to be a complete back at the next level and one who can pass protect very well.
Quite frankly, Taylor reminds me a lot of Vick Ballard. Is it a coincidence that new Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians got a chance to coach Ballard last season and anointed him feature back before midseason (a role he would not relinquish to Donald Brown or anyone else)?
Taylor’s main competition right now is Rashard Mendenhall who hasn’t put together an impressive season in over two years. Mendenhall never displayed game-changing talent in my eyes and was a major product of playing with a great QB in Big Ben. Now, one more year removed from his torn ACL, Mendenhall may regain some burst but I don’t think it will be enough to be a plus back. Taylor however also has to compete with Clemson back (and fellow rookie) Andre Ellington as well as Ryan Williams who is recovering from his own injury.
Overall, Taylor should be drafted no higher than the last or second to last round. However, you may end up with the steal of your draft (your Vick Ballard) if you select him. When Arians finds his running back, he tends to stick with him. He is one of the few coaches left who believes in a true one-back approach.
If you liked what you read, be sure to check back within the next few days as I mine the draft for receivers and tight ends.