Ranking The Rookie RB Situations For Redraft: Tier 3
In the first part of the series, Dan Schneier looks at his third tier of rookie running back rankings based on the situations around them heading into 2015.
Ranking The Rookie RB Situations For Redraft: Tier 3
Success on the fantasy football gridiron often comes down to the players and coaches that surround the player you draft. Even if you watched every single snap Todd Gurley played in college, and you’re certain he is a once in a lifetime talent, that doesn’t mean you should necessarily draft him. There are several other factors in play that shape a running back’s success during his rookie season.
In this piece, we will take a look at these key factors and rank the rookie backs by their situations alone. I will take a look at the ten best situations heading into 2015, and rank them accordingly. I used the 10 rookie backs I deemed with the best opportunity to make an impact in redraft leagues, and I broke them down into three tiers. In this piece, we will look at the third tier, and in the coming days, we will take a look at the top two tiers.
This is one piece of the puzzle, and your takeaway of each rookie’s talent also plays a key role in your overall evaluation. If you find me on Twitter, I can provide you my evaluation on each player’s talent level. Or you can do what I did, and you can head over to draftbreakdown.com to watch some of their game tape.
For an overall scope of how we like the rookies in dynasty and keeper formats, Jeff Ratcliffe has you covered here. If you want to hear a little bit more about individual rookies from the PFF Fantasy guys, the PFF Fantasy Slant has got you covered. Jeff and Mike have gone in-depth to discuss some of the rookies backs already, and there are some especially great nuggets to take in on Tevin Coleman, T.J. Yeldon and Matt Jones.
8. David Johnson
The Cardinals finished with the 29th-best run blocking offensive line in 2014. They will be replacing three linemen this year, and only left tackle Jared Veldheer (+16.5) and right tackle Bobby Massie (-4.0) will return at the positions they played in 2014. They will replace disappointing left guard Ted Larsen (-17.2) with free agent acquisition Mike Iupati.
Adding Iupati is quite the upgrade—he finished with the second-best (+18.0) run blocking grade among guards in 2014. Larsen will move to center where the Cardinals feel he is a much better fit. Former early first-rounder Jonathan Cooper is finally fully healthy, and he has drawn praise from HC Bruce Arian this offseason.
He is expected to win the starting right guard spot. The Cardinals also added first-round tackle D.J. Humphries, but he is expected to serve as a swing tackle in 2015. This line should take a major step forward.
Path to playing time
Johnson wins as a receiver in the passing game. At Northern Iowa, Johnson racked up 1,734 receiving yards and 14 receiving touchdowns on 141 career receptions. Unfortunately for him, the Cardinals already have a running back who wins in this area in Andre Ellington.
Johnson has been practicing with the third and sometimes fourth team offense during OTA and mini-camp practices. Although he has stood out as a natural receiver, it might take some creative scheming to get him on the field, and he is unlikely to see more than a handful per game in 2015.
The Cardinals run a predominantly power-blocking scheme under Arians. This scheme is not a great fit for Johnson. The Cardinals targeted their running backs 106 times in 2014.
The Cardinals finished as the 24th-highest scoring offense in 2014. In 2015, they should take a huge jump forward if Carson Palmer stays healthy. With improved play from the offensive line, they should finish around the middle of the pack in scoring.
Johnson has is a unique player who thrives in space and is a natural receiver, unfortunately he is behind on the depth chart to a player with a similar skill set who can also make things happen between the tackles.
9. David Cobb
The Titans finished with the 14th-best run blocking unit in 2014, and that was with Michael Oher (-20.2) seeing 668 snaps. The Titans will likely be returning four starters on the line, and they are hoping rookie third-rounder Jeremiah Poutasi can take over at right tackle.
Left guard Andy Levitre (-5.8) is coming off a down season, and there is talk that his spot in the starting lineup is not safe. He has practiced at center during OTAs and minicamps, due to the Titans’ injuries and lack of depth at the position.
The team expects projected starting center Brian Schwenke (-13.2) back for training camp. Schwenke wasn’t as bad as a run blocker (-1.3) in 2014. Continuity can certainly help an offensive line, and I do expect Taylor Lewan to take another step forward, but there are question marks at three spots on the line outside of Lewan and Chance Warmack. The Titans could finish in the bottom third of the run-blocking ranks in 2015.
Path to playing time
After a disappointing rookie season, second year back Bishop Sankey has taken the bulk of first team reps throughout OTA and mini-camp practices. Sankey entered the league with key athletic metrics and college production that profiled much alike Le’Veon Bell, as Shawn Siegele broke down here.
If it clicks for Sankey in year two, Cobb’s best bet could be taking over Shonn Greene’s 2014 role. Greene, of course, was released last week. If coach Ken Whisenhunt operates his offense like he did in 2014, this will be a backfield to avoid altogether. No running back saw more than 361 snaps, and five different backs saw over 100 snaps.
His strategy to mix-and-match based on down and distance can prevent a running back from getting into a rhythm, and it can also prevent any back from emerging as a legitimate fantasy option. I don’t buy the buzz that he could lead the team in carries.
Whisenhunt plans to incorporate some of the spread concepts that rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota is comfortable with. In Arizona and San Diego, Whisenhunt’s offenses thrived when they were operating with a quick rhythm, but he wasn’t able to accomplish that in his first year with the Titans. Ideally Whisenhunt’s offense would feature a running back in the passing game—like he did in San Diego with Danny Woodhead.
The Titans finished as the 30th-highest scoring offense in 2014. While the introduction of Mariota could bolster their offense, there is also a strong chance the rookie goes through his bumps and bruises. I wouldn’t expect the offense to take a major step forward in 2015.
Cobb runs behind a mediocre offensive line, in a scheme that doesn’t best fit his skill set, on an offense that doesn’t score a lot, behind a better talent in Sankey. I wouldn’t expect much redraft value barring an injury to Sankey.
10. Matt Jones
The Redskins finished with the 24th-best run blocking unit in 2014. This offseason, they decided to scrap many of Mike Shanahan’s zone-blocking concepts and bring in power-blocking offensive line guru Bill Callahan. They replaced right guard Chris Chester with 2014 third-rounder Spencer Long—Callahan is excited about what he has seen from Long so far.
They also added No.5 overall pick Brandon Scherff, and he is expected to compete for the starting right tackle spot. With plus linemen Trent Williams (+10.5) and Kory Lichtensteiger (+7.1) returning, the Redskins’ offense should finish closer to the league average in run blocking.
Path To Playing Time
Jones has generated a lot of buzz during spring practices, but none of that really matters. GM Scot McCloughan compared him to Marshawn Lynch, but what first year GM wouldn’t exaggerate when making a comparison for one of his draft picks? Jones is not short on confidence—he told reporters he will “put some pressure on Alfred” and that he’s grinding to be the starter.
In reality, Jones will compete for the passing down role left vacant by Roy Helu’s departure, but he will have to prove much better at the pro level. PFF’s Sam Monson named Jones the fourth-biggest draft reach. Jones is very unlikely to give Morris any kind of run for the lead back role.
At 6-foot-2 and 231 pounds, Jones seems like a nice fit for Callahan’s power-blocking scheme. The Redskins targeted running backs on 99 pass attempts in 2014, and 44 of those went to Helu. If Jones can win the passing down job, he will have a role on offense.
The Redskins finished as the 24th-highest scoring offense in 2014. Improvements along the offensive line will help, but this offense will struggle again if Robert Griffin III doesn’t take a major leap forward.
Jones could carve out a role as a passing down back, but the Redskins are unlikely to put him in scoring position very often. I would pass on the hype and avoid Jones in all redraft leagues.
Dan Schneier is a staff writer at PFF Fantasy and he also covers the NFC East for FOX Sports. You can find him on Twitter @DanSchneierNFL. You can also add him to your network on Google+ to find all of his past material.