In 2014 fantasy owners in every league invested heavily in Andre Ellington with the hopes that he would have a breakout sophomore year. Unfortunately, Ellington experienced what can only be considered a sophomore slump. His previous 5.5 yard per carry average plummeted in 2014 to 3.3, and he was only able to rack up 8 more rushing yards in 2014 (650) than in his freshman season (642), on 83 more carries. These numbers are disheartening for fantasy owners, but on the bright side he was struggling with injuries throughout the year that could be considered the primary cause for his decline. Whatever the reason, fantasy owners are looking ahead and trying to decide whether or not Ellington will be worth an investment in 2015. In this article, we will look at the factors affecting his value in 2015 and try to figure out just where to draft this boom or bust candidate.
Can Ellington be a lead back in today's NFL?
The NFL today is a completely different animal than it once was. The days of a a single RB racking up 300+ carries on any given team are over, typically being replaced by RBBC's. The fact is that the league has evolved into a faster, pass-heavy style of play where individual backs serve different purposes such as pass catching, pass blocking, rushing between the tackles, and edge rushing. While this fact doesn't only have an effect on Ellington, it hurts him as much and possibly more than other backs because of his size. Measuring in at 5'9" and only 195 lbs, many believe that Ellington doesn't have the size and durability to be a lead back in today's NFL. Think Giovani Bernard minus 10 lbs. Like Bernard, don't be surprised if Arizona looks to add a bruiser at running back to take 1st and 2nd down carries, while spelling Ellington to 3rd down duties. Now, this isn't to say that Ellington can't be a lead back, but unless he can bulk up in the off season like the Cardinals want, expect another RB to enter Arizona leaving fantasy owners everywhere with another headache.
Can Ellington stay healthy in 2015?
In 2014 Ellington was plagued with a series of injuries that made it seem like he was made of glass. A week before the season started, Ellington tore a tendon in his left foot and then dealt with a hip flexor issue. Finally, Ellington's season was ended by a sports related hernia which required surgery that sidelined him for the remainder of 2014. Because Ellington has proven to be so injury prone, the need for Arizona to add not only a bigger, but also a more durable back is only more dire. Because of his injuries, Ellington was limited in his carries this season and failed to record a single 100 yard game.
Where to target Ellington entering 2015
When looking at Ellington's current situation, we really find nothing but question marks. Can Ellington bulk up in the off season? Can he stay healthy in 2015? Will the Cardinals bring in another back to compliment Ellington? The questions go on and on. The only certainty entering 2015, is that the Cardinals will have improved run blocking in the form of elite run blocking guard, Mike Iupati. Unfortunately, even the addition of Iupati isn't enough to sell me on Ellington. Currently, Ellington is being drafted as an RB2 in most standard mocks due to the Cardinal's lack of depth at the RB position. However, the question marks surrounding Ellington are too much to ignore, and it's likely that the Cardinals will look to add a big back in either free agency (fingers crossed for Adrian Peterson) or the draft. Either way, any decent addition to the Cardinals backfield will only further hurt Ellington's value. I wouldn't reach for Ellington come draft day, but as a true boom or bust candidate I wouldn't mind taking him as my third or fourth RB. Nothing earlier.
Gopher it Gopher it.
That's what you should be saying to yourself when you peer into your dynasty draftboard during the later rounds and realize Minnesota product David Cobb is still available.
His journey up until this point
Aside from Melvin Gordon and Jay Ajayi, no running back had more carries (314) than Cobb did in 2014. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry in a run heavy offense that allowed him to maximize his stats and finish 11th overall in rushing yards.
One of the biggest knocks on David Cobb throughout the draft process has been his speed. He ran a 4.81 40-yard dash at the combine, which ranked 4th worst among more than 30 running backs who participated. He injured his quad during the run, which likely played a role in the slow time. Since then, Cobb recently clocked in at 4.65 and 4.70 at his pro day earlier this week. Slightly better than last, but don't let the slow 40 times fool you, there are reasons to believe this won't hinder him too much from being a relevant fantasy back in the future.
Even going back to the history of running backs and 40 times, a 4.4 40 hasn't always been the best indicator of fantasy success. Le'Veon Bell, who ranked second overall among running backs in fantasy points last season, ran a 4.6 40. C.J. Anderson, one of the hottest fantasy running backs of the year down the stretch in Denver, ran a 4.6 as well. At 5'8, 224 lbs, Anderson is similar to Cobb in size but oddly enough his college stats were very similar to Bell's senior season.
Back when he was at Michigan State as a senior in 2012, Bell ran for 1763 yards and 13 touchdowns on 382 attempts (4.7 yards per carry). Cobb ran for 13 touchdowns and 1626 yards on 314 carries (5.2 yards per carry). Both running backs were a huge part of their team's offense, and both displayed similar tendencies in yardage, yards per carry and touchdowns. Both running backs have also shown the ability to catch the football, as Bell ranked No. 1 among PPR running backs in 2014. Cobb, who obviously hasn't shown this ability at the pro level yet, is a capable receiver and we'll talk about his catching ability later in this article. But first...
His running style
A few things to take note of when you watch Cobb run. For one, he makes up for his lack of explosiveness with a decisive running style that allows him to create 4 or 5 yards of positive yardage quickly. He uses his size to his advantage, running through small gaps without slowing his feet for a millisecond. And that's perhaps the best trait Cobb possesses — he's a very fluid runner. He doesn't stop on a dime to
After that, it's just a matter of the offensive line giving him enough room down field and/or Cobb making one guy miss. Cobb doesn't rely on violent jukes to shake defenders, instead preferring quick lateral cuts that are effective at breaking tackles without slowing his feet down.
Now, Cobb is not the kind of running back that's going to break enough tackles to run for long touchdowns especially at the NFL level. But he possesses the kind of vision and purposeful north-and-south running style that allows him a certain reliability. He
A 5'11 senior, Cobb runs compact and can get slippery in tight spaces, a skill most running backs of bigger size can't replicate. He also keeps his feet moving after contact which allows him fall forward for a few extra yards more often than not. You rarely see Cobb get jacked backwards due to his low center of gravity.
Because of his compact size and aggressive running ability, you rarely see Cobb get pushed backward, get off balance or look indecisive, three traits that can often make a difference between a short gain and a big loss at the NFL level. Below you'll see a clip on how Cobb against Mizzou during the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl. Notice how quickly he gets up the field and how his compact frame allows him to stay upright after contact before falling forward for an extra few yards.
His other positive traits
Much like Le'Veon Bell, Cobb has an ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Watch this play where Cobb lays out for a pass. Even though the catch didn't count since he was out of bounds, it was still a good example of his athleticism and hand-eye coordination.
Where he works best
Cobb would be very valuable in a pass-oriented offense that employs a committee-style running approach. It's unlikely he's ever a feature back (very few running backs these days are anyway) but he can definitely provide value as a PPR running back in offenses that have an elite quarterback. He's also proven to be durable which is a valuable trait at an injury-prone position. Cobb should be taken in dynasty drafts in the mid rounds which is the spot where he will offer the most value.
View Mark Danielson's Flickr page here.
Every season I like to put fantasy players into two different categories. The first category is a player that I BUY, or that I believe is going to possess above average fantasy value for the 2015 season. One the other hand, a player that I SELL is deemed as a player that I feel is either going to be a bust, or fall to live up to the expectations of their draft slot.
Buy: Teddy Bridgewater QB/Minnesota Vikings
If you follow me at all on twitter (@JoshMenschNFL) you will know that I am a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan, but I promise you my love for the fantasy potential of second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is not just a case of myself drinking the purple cool-aid. Going into the 2014 NFL Draft, a lot of people questioned Bridgewater from a number of ridiculous aspects including his preference to wear gloves, his "skinny knees" or my personal favorite — that he wasn't tough enough to play QB in the NFL (Played with a two severely sprained ankles and a broken wrist in college).
Bridgewater came out scorching hot in his first career start as he picked apart the Falcons defense for 317 yards passing and a rushing touchdown, a performance good enough to win him Pepsi's Rookie of the Week. In the next 7 weeks, Bridgwater definitely had the look of a rookie adjusting to the pace of the NFL game, sporting a worrisome 3:5 TD:INT as well as ranking in the bottom 10 in the NFL in yards-per-attempt (6.6).
With those numbers some of you may be wondering why someone with numbers like this would be a quarterback that you would want as a QB1 in fantasy football. In the second half of the season Bridgewater looked like a quarterback that was finally becoming comfortable running an NFL offense. In weeks 11-17 Pro Football Focus graded Bridgewater as the no. 3 quarterback in all of football (9.6), trailing just Drew Brees (13.6) and Aaron Rodgers (17.3), posting a much improved 11:7 TD:INT and a quarterback rating of 95.2.
Going into his sophomore season Bridgewater has a chance to take a major step forward, for a fraction of the price of some of the premier quarterbacks in fantasy football. Disgruntled running back Adrian Peterson's status is still unknown, but if he is still in a Vikings uniform that will no doubt relieve some pressure off of the young quarterback. Besides the charades that have been going on with Peterson the Vikings have been very active adding potential playmakers to the offensive side of the football this offseason. The Vikings acquired Mike Wallace and a 7th round pick from the Dolphins in exchange for a fifth round selection in the 2015 NFL Draft. Although Walace was not able to match the production in Miami that he did in Pittsburgh, Wallace is still a legitimate deep threat and should benefit from the downfield passing game Vikings' offensive coordinator Norv Turner likes to employ.
According to Fantasy Football Calculator's average draft position chart, Bridgewater is currently being drafted in the middle of round 10. At this position Bridgewater is being drafted after players like Colin Kaepernick and Ryan Tannehill. Not to say Kaepernick or Tannehill cannot be successful fantasy options, but they do not possess the natural passing abilities, or offensive weapons Bridgewater does.
Sell: Peyton Manning QB/Denver Broncos
Now before anyone rips my head off for telling you to SELL Peyton Manning I just want to let it be known that I am not telling you not too draft the soon to be first-ballot Hall of Famer. What I am telling you fantasy owners is too proceed with caution with the soon-to-be 40 year-old quarterback for two reasons.
1. Gary Kubiak Offense
Anyone that has followed Gary Kubiak's career knows that there are a couple of things his teams features on offense. The first is a running back that possesses the ability to be successful in a zone-blocking system, and with C.J. Anderson they definitely have that.
Due to the presence of a strong rushing attack, Kubiak has not been one to feature a quarterback that puts up gaudy passing numbers. Just for comparison's sake, while Matt Schaub played under Kubiak in Houston he only surpassed 4,000 passing yards three times, a number that Manning has reached in all but two of his 17-year-career.
The second aspect Kubiak likes to feature is a mobile quarterback that has the ability to make plays outside the pocket on bootlegs and roll-outs. I think it is safe to say that Manning is not going to make many plays on such plays.
Despite posting the second-highest yardage total in his career in 2014, Manning saw his average yards-per-attempt drop below 8.0 for the first time in three seasons. In an offense that will be predicated on short throws that rely on the receivers ability to make plays after the catch Manning could see that average continue to slide.
2. Departure of Julius Thomas
I expect Julius Thomas' departure to Jacksonville to have major impact on the Broncos offense next season. When healthy, Thomas was one of the most productive tight ends in the NFL, posting a 108/1,277/24 line over the last two seasons.
The biggest downside of Thomas' game lies in his ability to stay healthy for an entire season. In the three games that Thomas missed last season Manning and the Broncos offense took a step back in terms of productivity. In the three games that Thomas missed in 2014 Manning averaged only 203 yards-per-game, and two touchdown passes a game, equating to about 14 fantasy points-per-game with Thomas sidelined. While some of the struggles could be attributed to the quad injury Manning suffered, it was clear that he missed his safety blanket in the middle of the field.
Obviously Peyton Manning is going to cost a premium pick in fantasy football drafts, but I urge fantasy owners (Who are not in 2QB leagues), to wait too address arguably the deepest talent pool in fantasy football.
Like I said earlier I am not telling you guys that Manning is a player who will bust, but I do think that he is line for a dip from his normal production. Manning is currently being drafted as the third quarterback of the board in fantasy football behind Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers, coming of the board at the end of round 3. While there are still plenty of weapons on the Broncos offense to think they will be one of the top-10 units in football next season, I think there are better values at the quarterback position in fantasy football.
Photo Courtesty of Jeffrey Beall's Flickr Page
On Friday's episode of Treatment, the Helpers welcome guest Eric Moody, of FFLockerroom.com. Moody talks about his process when evaluating players and also gives his take of some of the most recent fantasy news, including the recent signing of Josh Freeman, Matthew Stafford and the Lions offense opening up the playbook more and Austin Seferian-Jenkins breakout potential.
Eric Moody's process
You focus a lot on analytics when it comes to analyzing players. Can you elaborate on what that is and how that plays into your evaluation process?
How would you say analytics differs from the conventional methods of analyzing a player?
What types of factors come into play when you analyze a player? What are the most important to you?
What have you deduced from your analysis? What's been your big takeaway?
After doing this type of analysis, what players are you most excited about in 2015 so far?
The signing of Josh Freeman to the Dolphins.
Gave Freeman a one-year deal. Details of it are still unknown. Freeman is still only 27 years old, and while it was always puzzling to see him not on an NFL team considering how he still has a big arm and threw for 30 touchdowns just four seasons ago, you have to figure he's really regressed as a quarterback throughout the last three years. He's currently the No. 3 quarterback behind Matt Moore and Ryan Tannehill. Freeman has thrown for 25+ touchdowns twice in his career, once in 2010 and another time in 2012. He's got a big arm, and Miami does have a few deep threat receivers with Kenny Stills and now a presumably healthy Jordan Cameron, what can we make of Freeman in Miami?
Matthew Stafford's passive play
Stafford and the Lions tried to become a smart, throw the ball away first before taking any chances offense last season under Joe Lombardi. While it helped keep Stafford's interception rates down, he threw a career-low 12 last year, it also led to the Lions being one of the most sputtering offenses in the league from time to time. This is an offense with Golden Tate, Calvin Johnson (though he was hurt a lot last year) and some monster potential at tight end with Eric Ebron and also Brandon Pettigrew. This offense is a jet engine, you shouldn't be trying to just fly it at low altitudes to avoid any turbulence.
A lot has been made of the NFC South and how bad that division was over the course of last season, but there were plenty of bright spots to be had fantasy wise. You had Mike Evans burst onto the scene in Tampa, as did Kelvin Benjamin in Carolina and also Julio Jones in Atlanta. Also in Tampa, there's a 6'5, 262 lb tight end lurking in the distance, and that guy is Austin Seferian-Jenkins. The tight end position in fantasy became razor thin last season, with Rob Gronkowski setting himself apart from the rest and there really wasn't anybody who came close to as many fantasy points as he had. ASJ dealt with injuries as a rookie and only played in nine games, had 21 catches for 2 touchdowns. He averaged 10.5 yards per catch though, which is exactly what Jimmy Graham averaged. Now, he's got a smaller sample size of games, but I think it's still very telling and is a good sign for those who want to draft him in fantasy.
Now, before you all go and gather your pitchforks, hear me out... I know that many fantasy owners have been burned by Eli in the past, and it's impossible to ignore the fact that just two seasons ago, Manning threw for just a mere 18 TDs and a pathetic 27 INTs and finished as the 21st QB overall. A lot of people like to hate on Manning because of these numbers but if you watch the film, a large chunk of those interceptions were on passes that bounced off of his receivers' hands. Additionally, Manning was stuck behind an abysmal offensive line and in the system of mediocre offensive coordinator, Kevin Gilbride. Manning turned those numbers around in 2014, throwing for over 4400 yards, 30 TDs and a respectable 14 INTs, finishing as the #10 QB in standard scoring. What's even more impressive than his turnaround was his ability to post these numbers in the first year of a completely different offensive system that was orchestrated by ex-Packers QB coach Ben McAdoo. Going into 2015, Manning has more potential than ever to be a top Fantasy QB. Why, you ask? Let's take a look.
X's and O's: Gaining familiarity with the McAdoo offense
When Ben McAdoo became the Giants offensive coordinator last year, fans were ecstatic that they were finally free from the Kevin "Shotgun Draw on 3rd and 20" Gilbride system. Hopes were high that Eli would immediately become a stud. However, as any quarterback can tell you, learning a new offensive system always involves a learning curve. Always. For Manning, it took the entire preseason and the first three weeks of the regular season until he finally began to adjust to the new system, throwing for 300 yards and 4 TDs in Week 4, finishing with 32.1 points as the #1 QB that week. About half way through the season, Manning looked like he finally had acclimated to McAdoo's offense. A lot of people wonder why it took him so long. I mean he was just learning a new playbook, right? Wrong. From changing his drop back, to his reads and his release, Manning completely changed the way he played the quarterback position. With an entire season and another off-season of experience under his belt, Eli's knowledge and execution of the Giants' new offensive system will only improve.
Bodyguards: An improved offensive line
When free agency rolled around a couple of weeks ago, many analysts and Giants fans had figured that due to their offensive line troubles, the G-Men would target at least one of the top offensive linemen available in Mike Iupati, Orlando Franklin or Bryan Beluga. Nope. Instead, the Giants picked up former Bengal, Marshall Newhouse (an average offensive lineman at best). Additionally, the Giants went outside the box to improve ther line situation by turning to our neighbors to the north. This off-season, the Giants picked up the Canadian Football League's best offensive lineman in Brett Jones. Jones, 23, was voted the CFL's top rookie in 2013 and will add some much needed depth to the Giants offensive line. Aside from free agency, we cannot forget about this year's NFL draft. Many NFL analysts believe the Giants will take an offensive lineman (Brandon Scherff or Andrus Peat) with the ninth pick of the draft. Regardless of whether they decide to take a lineman in the first round or not, it is an absolute certainty that the Giants will look to bolster their pass protection at some point in the draft, and it will most likely be earlier rather than later. Finally, with Geoff Schwartz returning from injured reserve (along with 19 other Giants), Eli Manning will undoubtedly have more time in the pocket next year.
Weapons Galore: A bolstered receiving corps
Last year Manning had one of the most productive seasons of his career, completing 63.1% of his passes (highest completion percentage of his career) for 4410 yards, 30 TDs and only 15 INTs. What makes these stats even more impressive is that Eli was able to accomplish these numbers in a new offensive system, missing his favorite receiver in Victor Cruz since week 6. Before being injured, Cruz was on pace for another 1000+ yard season. Fortunately, the loss set the stage for rookie receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to have a record breaking rookie season, solidifying him as one of the most elite receivers in the NFL. Eli will look forward to having Cruz, his favorite receiver, back in 2015 and if all goes according to plan, he will return 100% healthy. However, things rarely go according to plan after such a major injury (torn patellar tendon). The top concern entering 2015 is that Cruz won't be able to regain his elite speed and route running ability. However, a sigh of relief may be in store for the Giants entering the draft. Recently, more and more buzz has been revolving around the idea that if Amari Cooper falls to the Giants in the draft, he may become the newest member of Big Blue. Now, while many people argue that the Giants don't need to take a receiver in the first round, GM Jerry Reese is notoriously known for picking the best available player on the board, regardless of team need. Either way, expect the Giants to have a better wide receiver corps in 2015.
Additionally, the Giants gave Eli another weapon through free agency in the form of pass-catching specialist running back, Shane Vereen. In 2014, Manning completed 379 passes on 601 attempts (63.1%). Of his 379 completions, only 62 (16.5%) were caught by running backs. Enter Shane Vereen. In 2014, Vereen hauled in 52 passes from former teammate Tom Brady for 447 yards and 3 TDs. The year before, he caught 47 passes for 427 yards and 3 TDs. Without a doubt, Vereen has solidified himself as one of the most reliable pass catching backs in the NFL. In fact, last year only a handful of RBs had more receptions than Vereen, most of them being workhorse backs (Matt Forte, Le'veon Bell, Demarco Murray, and Fred Jackson). Expect Vereen's numbers to increase even further in 2015 under McAdoo's quick pass system, becoming Manning's number one check down option. Additionally with TE Larry Donnell proving that he is an unrefined but talented pass catcher and WR Rueben Randle finally showing flashes of greatness at the end of the season, it is easy to say that the Giants will have one of the most dangerous receiving corps in the NFL.
Conclusion: What to expect from Manning in 2015
Coming off one of the best seasons of his career (1st in completion percentage, 2nd in yards, 2nd in TDs, and 2nd in INTs), in a brand new system, missing his favorite receiver, Manning's fantasy potential has never been higher than it is entering 2015. A bolstered offensive line, the return of all-pro wideout Victor Cruz, and the addition of Shane Vereen means that the Giants look to be a pass first team next year under McAdoo's quick pass offense. Add all of those with the fact that Manning will finally have a full season of experience in McAdoo's system and you're left with a top 5 QB. What makes Eli even more enticing for 2015 is the fact that his name is Eli "27 Interceptions" Manning. This means that Manning will outlast most other QB1s in the draft, further increasing his value.
2015 Projection: #4 QB Overall Standard Scoring
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.
Trent Richardson and guy from Ohio State with a nickname 'Boom.'
Those two running backs composed the backfield of the Indianapolis Colts for a majority of the 2014 season. As a team that managed to upset the Denver Broncos in the AFC divisional playoffs and sneak their way into the AFC Championship game all having a below average running game, you have to figure there's a good enough team around whoever is in the backfield that it could translate to decent fantasy production.
But last year, the running back wasn't a hot commodity in Indy. The Colts scored just nine total rushing touchdowns in 2014, which ranked 24th overall. They also led the league in fumbles with 10.
No running back really came in and took the reins as a 20-25 carry a game game. Richardson was the first to get a crack at it but his plodding style has continued to lead to less than stellar results in the NFL. Remember when everybody said Richardson just needed time to adjust to the Colts run scheme after his suspect year in 2013? Turns out that wasn't what was plaguing his numbers.
Richardson finished with just 519 yards on 159 carries (3.3 yards per carry) and was castoff to the Oakland Raiders this past offseason. It's crazy to think that the Alabama running back who was drafted the highest among his former teammates (Eddie Lacy and Mark Ingram) will likely be considered the biggest bust when all is said and done.
Ahmad Bradshaw offered the Colts a decent receiving option with 38 catches through 10 games before he broke his leg and ended up on injured reserve. The Colts also opted to not resign Ahmad Bradshaw and the 29-year-old back also dealt with some off-field issues that likely played a role in his departure.
But there were some bright spots for the Colts rushing attack in 2014. After stepping in for Richardson midway through the season, rookie Dan 'Boom' Herron didn't exactly unload two smoking barrels of fantasy worthy statistics, but he didn't exactly shoot blanks either. Herron outplayed Richardson by a wide margin during the regular season, averaging 4.5 yards per carry on his way to
Even though his numbers outshined Richardson, Herron failed to cross the 100-yard plateau in every game he started last season. His numbers also dipped in the postseason as his 4.5 ypc average dropped to 3.8 over the span of three playoff games. So the Colts went out and combated the problem with a key veteran signing.
Welcome Frank Gore
The Colts signed the former San Francisco 49ers running back to a three-year, $12 million deal that includes $7.5 million guaranteed. Coach Chuck Pagano already envisions Gore as the feature back which doesn't seem out of the realm of possibility despite Gore's age. Due to turn 32 in May, Gore finished 2014 off strong with back-to-back games of over 100 rushing yards. His 4.3 yards per carry average was more than respectable and while he only accumulated four rushing touchdowns, it's safe to say his has the potential to rush for more due to his total touchdowns over the last three seasons (9, 8, and 8). So for the sake of this article, let's assume Gore is healthy and still solid as ever and take a look at what could impact his value.
Woes on the offensive line
While we can always place blame on the running backs, we can't leave out Indy's offensive line. A unit that ranked in the bottom 10 in yards per carry (3.9) in 2014, the Colts have gone out and made some changes to hopefully improve their run blocking, but they still have a few question marks.
Colts starting tackle Gosder Cherilus struggled last year while battling knee problems and recently underwent a knee scope in January. They signed former basketball player and 6'8 athletic freak Demarco Cox as well, but he hasn't played any football and is unlikely to crack a roster spot.
Perhaps one of their best moves was picking up veteran Todd Herremans from Philadelphia. Now 32 years old, Herremans was part of one of the best offensive lines in the league in 2013 and helped LeSean McCoy claim the rushing title for the first time in his career. Herremans did struggle with injuries in 2014 though, as he eventually tore his bicep which rendered him useless for the rest of the season. There's a good possibility he takes over one of the starting spots in 2015 based on his upside.
There's also question marks at the center position as neither Khaled Holmes and Jonotthan Harrison really established themselves as an effective option and will likely have to battle it out in training camp for the starting role. Another darkhorse to start would be former CFL player Ben Heenan, a guy that Colts added last February. Now 25 years old, Heenan played for the Saskatchewan Roughriders for three seasons.
They also resigned the versatile Joe Reitz to a three-year deal, but he also wasn't rated that highly according to Pro Football Focus.
Overall, an average offensive line could be something that puts a minor dent in Gore's fantasy value. Remember, he played with some of the best offensive lines in San Francisco for a lengthy period of time, which was a big component to his success and run of 1,000-yard seasons.
Although Agholor did not have the heralded college career like Alabama's Amari Cooper or Eastern Carolina's Justin Hardy, Agholor quietly established himself as one of the most pro-ready wide receivers during his final season as a Trojan. Through his first two seasons Agholor posted a total of 74 catches for 1,259 yards and 8 touchdown receptions in mostly a reserve role for the Trojan offense.
During his sophomore season Agholor earned a starting spot opposite eventual Jaguars draft pick Marquise Lee. While Lee was battling lingering lower-body injuries, Agholor made the most of his opportunities, posting a team-high 918 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns.
Not only did Agholor become the focal point of the Trojans passing offense with Lee sidelined but also displayed electric playmaking ability as a punt returner, averaging over 19 yards per return and bringing two back for scores.
Agholor used the momentum gained from a strong sophomore season to become the clear-cut no. 1 receiving option for the Trojans passing attack his junior year posting a 104/1,313/12 line. Despite posting his lowest YPC average during his junior season Agholor showed more versatility to his game than being a situational deep-threat, showing the ability to use his quickness in the slot against safeties and linebackers.
Player Comarison: Jeremy Maclin
As far as Agholor's physical skill-set goes, I think that he will be better off as a high-end no. 2 wide receiver as opposed to being the focal point of a team's passing attack. Equipped with quick feet and an explosive burst off the line Agholor has the ability to not only beat defenders down the field, but make an impact on crossing routes and other routes designed to take advantage of players skills after the catch.
The instant I turned on the tape of USC wide receiver Nelson Agholor I was immediately reminded of Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. Like Maclin, Agholor does not possess any elite traits that scouts look for in a no. 1 wide receiver at the next level, but does possess a well-rounded game that I believe translates to a high-end no. 2 receiver with the ability to make an impact in the slot.
Due to a dislocated finger suffered during on-field drills at the NFL Scouting Combine Agholor did not participate in any of the speed and agility drills, but like many expected showed above average speed (4.42/1.53) for a player with his his size.
Although Agholor was the main target of the Trojans passing game his Junior season (104 receptions) I do not see his skill-set translating to that of a bon-a-fide no. 1 wide receiver at the NFL level. That is not to say that Agholor can not become a valuable asset for an NFL offense as he possesses quick feet and the ability to run a full NFL route tree right out of college.
One of the main reasons I see Agholor having early success in his career is because oh his refinement in the finer point of being a wide receiver, i.e. using leverage, route-running, and knowledge of the soft spots in zone-coverage.
The benefit of playing at the University of Southern California is that it gives offensive players experience playing in a pro-style offensive system. Due to this experience Agholor has experience running a complete NFL route tree. Not only does Agholor have experience running NFL route concepts, but he is very polished as well, as Agholor runs each route with the same intensity and ferocity.
Like the majority of rookie receivers immediate fantasy success is largely dependent on the situation they are drafted into. However there are a few teams that I am going to out line that I believe Agholor could provide instant on-field production.
- Chicago Bears
Going into the 2014-15 season the Chicago Bears were a popular sleeper Super Bowl pick out of the NFC. However, "Smoking" Jay Cutler once again proved unable to take the reigns as a franchise signal caller, and the Marc Trestman experiment proved to be a disaster leading to a complete face lift for one of the leagues storied franchises.
Going into the 2014-15 season the Bears wide receivers were considered to be one of the top units in the league. With Brandon Marshall and second-year wide receiver Alshon Jeffery catching passes in the Bears offense there was no reason to believe that they would be in a position to draft a wide receiver, unless it was for depth purposes. However, with Marshall now in New York playing for the Jets and Jeffery taking over as the team's no. 1 wide receiver the Bears could be in position to draft some young playmakers in the draft.
New offensive coordinator Adam Gase has some experience with players of Agholor's skill-set. Last season Emmanuel Sanders posted 101 receptions for 1,404 yards and 9 touchdowns with Gase calling plays, all new career highs. While it would be foolish to expect the same kind of production from Agholor in his rookie season that Sanders did in his 6th season, I do feel there is room for Agholor to see extended playing time during his rookie season.
- Philadelphia Eagles
There is no better replacement in my mind for Jeremy Maclin than to replace him with a player that I feel nearly mirrors his playing style in Nelson Agholor.
Head Coach Chip Kelly has made his fair share of head scratching moves this offseason. First Kelly shipped the franchise's leading rusher in LeSean McCoy to the Bills for Kiko Alonso, a talented linebacker who missed the 2014-15 season with an ACL injury. It was thought with the extra cap space the Eagles front office would lock up wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. However Maclin decided to re-unite with former Eagles head coach Andy Reid to the tune of $11 million per season.
With Maclin now gone the only two receivers that the Eagles have on the roster that saw significant playing time are second-year wide receiver Jordan Matthews and veteran Riley Cooper. Matthews showed some promise during his rookie season posting 67 receptions for 876 yards and 8 touchdowns, but he will need some help around him if he wants to take the next step in his development.
In my opinion Agholor would be the perfect fit for Chip Kelly's up-tempo offensive scheme. Not only does he posses the ability to beat defenses vertically, but possesses a well-rounded game that has the ability to make plays at all three levels of the field. Due to his on-field awareness and ability to process things quickly I feel playing in a system that has multiple reads built in to each play like Kelly's does would do wonders for Agholor's progression in pro game.
I currently have Agholor rated as my number 6 wide receiver for the 2015 NFL Draft, and feel he possesses the ability to provide an instant impact to which ever team is lucky enough to land his services. Regardless of where Agholor ends up in the draft I feel he has the skill-set to be a day one contributor to an NFL offense due to his crisp routes and experience playing in a pro-style offensive system.
For the most success I would like to see Agholor land in a system that emphasizes his versatility, lining him up at several different positions within their offense. While Agholor may never be the no. 1 wide receiver that teams look for, there is no doubt that Agholor has a skill-set that makes him valuable commodity around the league.
I expect Agholor to hear his name called anywhere on day 2 of the draft. Due to the concerns I have about his inability to be the bon-a-fide no.1 wide receiver for an offense, and his struggles making catches with defenders around him, I do not feel I can list Agholor in the same tier as guys like White, Cooper, Parker, and DGB. While Agholor may not possess the elite measruables that scouts and fans fall in love with, he does possess a very polished game for a college receiver and should provide instant production for whichever team draft him.
Grade: 2nd Round
Photo Courtesy of Neon Tommy Flickr Page
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.