Micheal Turner’s corpse is finally out of Atlanta, leaving many Jacquizz Rodgers dynasty owners happy while at the same time, restoking the fire of those who drove Rodgers’ 2012 Redraft ADP up to 28th running back taken. Rodgers ultimately disappointed, rushing for 362 yards on 94 carries and catching 53 passes for 402 yards. Originally rumored to be joining Atlanta, free agent Stephen Jackson is now almost certainly signing with the Green Bay Packers (ruining my favorite sleeper, DuJuan Harris). Atlanta’s offense has been incredibly productive the last two years, and even Micheal Turner was able to produce as an RB2 in the system. Given Turner’s production, even without any discernible skills, Rodgers could be on his way to fantasy football superstardom.The first thing one thinks when looking at Rodgers is “Holy shit! That dude is tiny.” Rodger’s is truly miniscule compared to his teammates and the opposition, standing 5’6 and weighing 197 pounds. The coaching staff in Atlanta, however, has reiterated multiple times that Rodgers is capable of being a 3 down running back. Most recently, Mike Smith told PFT at the combine that Rodgers has the ability to be just that. Historical NFL Combine data shows that Darren Sproles is the same size as Rodgers, and C.J Spiller is the exact same weight. Kendall Hunter is one inch taller than Rodgers and actually weighs less and Hunter is one of the more trendy dynasty targets. Maurice Jones-Drew, a frequent comparison to Rodgers, stands one inch taller than Rodgers and weighed 8 pounds more at his combine even though MJD is now listed at 210 pounds. If the coaching staff believes Rodgers can play 3 downs, and other playerss of his stature have done the same, it is safe to believe that he can.
The main blemish on Rodgers physicality however, is not his height or his weight. It is his atrocious 40 yard dash time. A running back his size would be expected to have a time in the low 4.4s. Size comparables Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy, and Maurice Jones-Drew ran 4.42, 4.5 and 4.39 times, respectively. Rodgers official 40 time falls at 4.59, which is slower than notable plodders Rudi Johnson, Beanie Wells, Brandon Jacobs and Mikel Leshoure, who are all much larger than Rodgers. A slow 40 time doesn’t doom Rodgers to fantasy football nothingness however. Given that maybe 70% of running back fantasy points are dependent on volume and usage, and unrelated to talent, slower backs can still produce. Additionally, Rodgers’ success as a return man indicates that he has solid lateral agility and decisiveness necessary to succeed as an NFL running back. Also, Pro Football Focus suggests that Rodgers has an elite Elusive rating, higher than all but 4 running backs who 25% of their teams carries.
As a rookie, Rodgers barely touched the ball, getting only 78 touches all year. His 2011 yards per carry of 3.6 didn’t leap off the page, and neither did his lack of involvement in the pass game. Rodgers is a unique case of the draftnik scouting communities influence on fantasy football. Rodgers had no real statistical case to justify his astronomical ADP, which lead to disappointment in 2012 when Rodgers was firmly behind Micheal Turner in the fantasy points pecking order. Per Pro Football Focus, Rodgers played 470 snaps and Turner played 481; despite that, Turner outscored Rodgers 159 to 88 in fantasy points. Micheal Turner got the ball an astounding 56 times in the redzone, compared to Rodgers’ 23; 22 of those touches for Turner came inside the one yard line. If the usage between the two backs in the redzone would have differed even slightly, the performance outcome could have been dramatic.
That’s why Rodgers is so intriguing, as most young running backs are. To get a better understanding of where Rodgers is at and some possible outcomes for his future, I used our very own RB Similarity Scores App. To get a better understanding of what Rodgers would do with more involvement, I only used games where he got 6 or more carries. Two caveats apply: One, that the similarity scores do better at predicting a breakdown, instead of a breakout and two, that young pass-catching running backs score well. That said, the top 5 comparable players create an interesting dichotomy. Darren McFadden shows up in Rodgers’ comparables continually, no matter how you filter them. 2009 LeSean McCoy and 2008 Ray Rice are the next 2 players, which are basically his best case scenario; a small, shifty runner gets the opportunity. 2010 Justin Forsett and 2010 Mike Goodson are the next two players, which completes the dichomtomy. Oftentimes, these smaller backs end up as nothing but career timeshare runners.
Even if the Falcons don’t win the Steven Jackson sweepstakes, that doesn’t mean that they are doing acquiring running back talent. Eddie Lacy and Giovani Bernard are two runners in the 2013 draft class that have the scouts drooling. Lacy is Matt Miller’s (@nfldraftscout) #32 overall prospect and Bernard is Miller’s 62nd prospect. Other running backs that would be viable as instant starters are Joseph Randle, Andre Ellington and Le’Veon Bell. All of these running backs, except for Bernard, have something in common; they are power backs, much like Turner was. Even if the Falcons selected one of the top running backs with the idea that they will start, Rodgers knows the offense and has already carved out a role in a timeshare. Unless the Falcons break the bank for Jackson, we can count on Rodgers playing at least 50% of the snaps and most likely, getting increased value due to a shift in touch distribution in the redzone.
From a dynasty perspective, arguments can be made for aggressively buying and aggressively selling Rodgers at the moment. There’s enough evidence on either side of the ledger such that we have no idea what he will be in 2013 and beyond.