On Tuesday's episode of Treatment, the Helpers discuss the incoming rookie running back class and which running back has the most immediate fantasy value based on their current situation with the teams that drafted them.
Today's podcast on running backs is a continuation of our Draft series pods. You can find Part I here. On part II, we discuss the top running backs in the 2015 NFL Draft class including Jay Ajayi, Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon. And that list was in no particular order.
Enough RB's come with enough, enough stylee. But when Ajayi busts a run we all know it's wicked and wiley. That's a lyric from the band sublime off 40 oz to freedom on a song called DJ's. Great song, and when I see Ajayi run he in fact does run wicked and wiley. He's my favorite running back in this draft Josh. You can check out an earlier article i wrote about Ajayi back in March here.
The one thing you immediately notice when you see Ajayi run is his sense of purpose. He runs with a supercharged burst of energy and he also catches the ball well out of the backfield. There have been ongoing concerns with a knee injury which has been discussed in greater detail on many other blogs. But let's just assume for a second that it's not a big deal which all reports are currently indicating it isn't.
Ajayi has incredible feet. He was a former soccer player and he loves to initiate contact. He might be the most aggressive runner in this draft. You'd be hard-pressed to find another runner with more heart than Ajayi. That being said, that same heart can also be a weakness. He sometimes stretches plays out for too long when he should just take a 3-yard gain. He's also had fumbling issues that will have to be taken care of if he expects to stay out of coaches' doghouses. But Ajayi has great size at 6'0 221lbs. He's your prototypical NFL running back. If the knee is not an issue, I really think he's a top 3 running back of this class and I would put him just behind Todd Gurley.
In a league where you constantly hear reports that running backs are no longer valued, in walks a potential Top 10 pick at the position. It goes to show you that the draft is never about position aside from kickers and punters, it's all about value at a certain position. Sure, a running back likely will never go No. 1 overall, but any RB going in the Top 10 really says something about the potential Gurley has.
Josh you've delved into Gurley a bit more than I have. I know you mentioned his off field issues with autographs but that can't possibly be a huge deal in the NFL can it? I mean, he's going to get showered with love for signing autographs and instead of shunned for it because of the out-of-touch NCAA rules.
Below you'll see a highlight tape of Gurley. The biggest thing I've noticed about Gurley is his deadly combination of elusiveness and explosiveness through contact. Unlike Ajayi, who twists and turns and runs a little bit out of control at times, Gurley doesn't waste any motion when he runs. He's a slippery as they come in terms of shedding tackles, and he does it without making it look like he just poured out half a glass of his energy. There's also a smoothness to the way he's able to simply change direction slightly when he reaches the second level and run past the safety en route to the end zone. People have been calling out for everybody to slow their roll when it comes to comparing Gurley to the potential great runners and while I see their point, because he's not quite as explosive as say an Adrian Peterson. But there are runs where he looks a lot like Peterson. Peterson who take a hit and keep his legs churning then two or three more guys would jump on him and he'd be able to still create forward motion despite all those guys trying to push him into the opposite direction. Gurley shows that at times. You have to get really excited at the prospect of having this guy on your team.
This year, like every other year, the NFL is about to receive an influx young, talented players that will have an immediate impact in the realm of fantasy football. However, if history has taught us anything it is that some of these rookies will shine (Odell Beckham Jr, Jeremy Hill, Mike Evans) and some of them will fade (Eric Ebron, Johnny Manziel, Bishop Sankey). The question is, which rookies are worth investing in, in 2015? One of these rookies worth investing in is the NCAA's leading rusher in 2014... Melvin Gordon. In his Junior season Gordon rushed 343 times for an incredible 2,587 yds and 29 TDs, leaving him with an amazing 7.5 YPC average. While of course these numbers will drop in the NFL, Gordon has proven that he has what it takes to compete at an elite level and will undoubtedly produce in the NFL, and more importantly, produce for your fantasy lineup. Talent aside, the most important factor in deciding when to draft the young RB (or any rookie) is what team he falls to. In this article we will examine not only Gordon's skill set, but also which teams he will see the most success with come 2015.
Gordon and the Boys
Entering the 2015 season, there are a handful of teams that are in need of a strong presence at the RB position, one of the most notable teams is none other than 'America's team,' the Dallas Cowboys. In 2014, the Cowboys offensive line asserted itself as one of (if not the most) dominant O-lines in the NFL. Behind that line, DeMarco Murray was able to rack up 1,845 yards and 13 TDs. Measuring in at 6'0" and 213 lbs at the NFL combine, Demarco Murray's measurables are eerily similar to Gordon's. Add that with a zone-blocking scheme that Gordon has become accustomed to during his time in Wisconsin, we could see an incredible rookie season for the former Badger. In Dallas, Gordon's major competition would be the recently signed Darren McFadden and the former 5th-round pick, Joseph Randle. However, given his injury history, it's hard to believe that the Boys would put all of their eggs in McFadden's basket. It's also hard to believe that Dallas would put their faith in Randle who has amassed only 105 carries in two seasons.
Lightning in a Bottle
Another team in need of a fresh start at running back is the San Diego Chargers. After parting ways with veteran RB Ryan Matthews, the Chargers are an enticing option for any potential running back. Although Branden Oliver showed glimpses of greatness in 2014, by the end of the season he averaged only 3.6 YPC. If Gordon were to fall to the Chargers he would be expected to immediately take the reins as the starting RB. Couple that with the 'change of pace' trait in Danny Woodhead and Gordon would be kept 'fresh' throughout the season and able to do what he does best... run the ball. Combine that with an improved offensive line (added Orlando Franklin, among others, in free agency) and Melvin Gordon could immediately become fantasy relevant in all formats.
Completing the Triple-Crown
A third team that could use a fresh RB is the Indianapolis Colts. Even with the recent acquisition of veteran RB Frank Gore, the Colts are in desperate need of a long term solution to their running back situation. After correcting their fatal mistake by dropping Trent Richardson this off season, the Colts signed the fading star of Gore to a 3-year $12 million contract. So if Gordon were to fall to the Colts come draft day, what can we expect from him next season? The answer is... not much. Like Fred Jackson, Gore just continues to be relevant in the fantasy world. If Gordon were to join the Colts, expect Gore to receive the bull's share of the carries until Gordon proves without a doubt that he is the better option. That being said, it's clear that adding Gordon would solidify their future as a dynasty offense with the three-headed monster of Luck-Hilton-Gordon.
Conclusion: Where to draft Gordon in 2015
Standing at 6'1" 215 lbs, Gordon resembles (and plays like) a bulkier Jamaal Charles. Now of course, nobody can say that Gordon is guaranteed to see the success that Charles has seen in the NFL, but looking at the numbers, it's not impossible. During the NFL combine, Charles ran a ridiculous 4.22 40-yard dash. Although Gordon could only post a 4.52 40-yard dash (still an incredibly fast time), don't think that he doesn't have the 'big play ability' that Jamaal Charles has. In the NFL, the one thing more important than being able to outrun a tackler, is being able to cut and create space between tacklers... a skill that Gordon possesses. In the underrated 20-yard shuttle drill, Gordon posted an incredible 4.07, showing off his prowess as a back capable of changing directions on a dime. Assuming Gordon goes to a team that truly needs a running back, we can expect fantasy results that could rival that of last year's leading rookie rusher, Jeremy Hill. Projected as a first round pick in the NFL draft, expect Gordon to live up to (or even exceed) the hype. Look to target Melvin Gordon in the mid rounds of the draft and expect strong RB2 numbers with possible RB1 potential.
You guys remember Ryan Mathews back in 2010? He was actually considered a Top 10 fantasy running back before he even saw a single snap in the NFL. Fresh out of Fresno State, Mathews (who was in his early 20s at the time) stepped into a situation where Hall of Fame running back Ladainian Tomlinson went ring chasing with the New York Jets. Fellow Chargers backup running back Darren Sproles remained with the team, but was still relegated to the role of receiving back and was never considered to be a real replacement for Mathews. So everything looked lined up for fantasy production right off the bat for the rookie.
Flashback to 2010
Due to his situation, Mathews had a rare opportunity to start off his NFL career as an RB1. It seems silly now considering Mathews was outrushed by the likes of Mike Tolbert during his rookie season. Tolbert finished 2010 with a team-high 735 yards and a team-high 11 touchdowns. Mathews was much less impressive but still managed to rush for seven touchdowns and 678 yards (4.3 yards per carry).
One of the reasons Mathews ended up being a bust in his rookie season was his light workload. Even though then coach Norv Turner indicated he planned to run Mathews 20-25 times per game, that proved to not be the case in the early stages of 2010. Turner once again fell in love with Philip Rivers and the vertical passing offense, as the Chargers ranked second in the league in passing yards. This style of offense curbed Mathews' upside. Though he did rush 20 times for 79 yards in his first career game, he didn't carry the ball more than 9 times in the next three games. The coaching staff never fully trusted him to carry the offense and it resulted in passive numbers on a week to week basis.
Mathews average draft position in fantasy leagues for his rookie season was 14th overall in 2010. He was drafted ahead of players like Peyton Manning, Jamaal Charles, Brandon Marshall, Larry Fitzgerald and Tom Brady. Sure, most of those players are quarterbacks and wide receivers and we all know running backs are the most valuable but Mathews was still highly regarded considering he never took a snap in the NFL before that season.
The situation in San Diego served as the main reason Mathews was drafted as high as he was. But ultimately, the Turner style of offense just didn't fit him.
What we have in 2015
With Mathews now departed for Philadelphia, the Chargers now have a backfield very similar to what they had when Tomlinson left in 2010. They have a scat back in Branden Oliver, who led the team in rushing yards with 562 but averaged a very benign 3.6 yards per carry and was largely shutdown by almost every good run defense down the stretch last year and was even held in check by below average defenses like Oakland and Jacksonville as well. I think it's fair to say it's unlikely Oliver morphs into a starting running back over the offseason and will likely remain a change of pace back going forward.
They also have Donald Brown, a running back who the Chargers insist will be back in 2015. Brown struggled mightily in 2014, rushing for just 223 yards on 85 carries (2.62 yards per carry) through 13 games. Brown's best season was in 2010 with the Colts when he rushed for 537 yards and six touchdowns. He hasn't had more than 134 carries in a single season and isn't likely to take over as the top back either.
The last guy San Diego has is Danny Woodhead, a back who suffered a nasty injury last season where he fractured his fibula and ankle early in 2014 but will likely return this season. Woodhead played in just three games and finished with just 38 yards rushing.
However, Woodhead probably has the most fantasy value due to his 2013 season. Woodhead compiled a very solid 76 catches on 86 targets for 605 yards and six touchdowns.
Offensive line improvements
The Chargers were one of the worst run offenses in the league last year, ranking among the bottom in teams according to Pro Football focus. They went out and tried to remedy this problem during free agency, signing Orlando Franklin for five years and $36.5 million with $20 million of that guaranteed. Franklin helped running backs like Knowshon Moreno, Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson compile very good fantasy numbers during his four-year stint with Denver.
In the upcoming draft, the Chargers are picking at No. 17 overall, a spot that would perfect to grab one of the top running backs in this draft. If they opt to go for a guy like Todd Gurley or Melvin Gordon, there's no way you can't immediately put them on the same level as Mathews was in 2010.
Overall, the Chargers present possibly one of the best fantasy situations for running backs in 2015 and are a team you must monitor in the offseason if you need a running back either on your dynasty team or if you're drafting one in a redraft league. If you want more information on Todd Gurley, check out Josh Mensch's prospect piece.
Last year the NFL was blown away by the amount of rookie wide receivers that were able to come in and make an immediate impact for their football team. This year, I expect the 2015 class of running backs to be one of the deepest in recent memory.
Upon early evaluations I have at least 16 guys that I deem "draftable" at this moment. Headlined by Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, this draft has the potential to have several impact players at the position in their rookie season.
While a lot of people are familiar with the top players at this position, it is time to introduce everyone to the rest of the of the talented members of the 2015 running back class. It would take all day to discuss the players that have entered the draft, so what I am going to do is try and give a quick little insight on how I value each player.
What I am going to do is split my top-10 running backs into separate tiers, as well as give a few guys to keep your eye on once the combine, and pre-draft visits roll around.
TIER I: Instant Starter, Impact Players
1. Todd Gurley RB/University of Georgia
Weight: 232 lbs
- Angry Runner
- Accelerates through hole
- Plus pass catcher experienced running singleback and with a lead blocker
- Home run hitter
- Underrated athlete
- Gets great leverage on defenders
- Excellent Vision
- Injury Concerns
- Off-the-field Concerns
- Autographs for Pay Scandal
- Autographs for Pay Scandal
Photo courtesy of Thomson20192's Flickr Page