In Part 1 of this (lengthy) analysis of the Rams backfield, I suggested—via a consideration of his big-bodied under-appreciated FBS-producing forerunners—that Terrance Ganaway can become the most valuable member of the Rams backfield in 2013 and beyond . . . if (unlike John Clay) he manages to stick on a roster in his second year. Other articles in which I talk about big-bodied undervalued RBs can be found here.
Specifically, I said this in Part 1: “By the end of the season [. . .] I think the Rams RB with the most dynasty value and momentum will be [. . .] the third RB on the roster taken in the 2012 draft—the 239 lb. Terrance Ganaway from Baylor University.”
Of course, any thorough consideration of Ganaway’s prospects with the Rams must include an analysis of the two RBs currently ahead of him on the depth chart: 2012 rookies Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead. Parts 2 and 3 treat Richardson; Part 4, Pead.
The last RB chosen in the 2012 draft, in fact the penultimate selection overall, the almost-Mr.-Irrelevant Daryl Richardson attended Abilene Christian University and competed in the Lone Star Conference (Division II). For a small school, ACU had produced a remarkable number of NFL draftees in the few years before Richardson’s selection: Johnny Knox (2009, 5.140), Bernard Scott (2009, 6.209), and Edmond “Clyde” Gates (2011, 4.111). Further, Richardson’s NFL bloodlines are more than just collegiate; they are literally consanguineous. Scott is Richardson’s brother, and Gates is his cousin. Despite his non-FBS pedigree, Richardson is an NFL-caliber player, and he could be on an NFL roster for years—but most likely only as a backup and change-of-pace option.
Having said that, I believe that Richardson will enter the 2013 season as the starter and will improve upon his 2012 rushing and receiving statistics (98-475-0, 24-168-0). He may even remain the nominal starter for the entire season. And almost certainly Richardson will finally score some TDs, so he could easily finish the year as a top-40 and maybe top-30 RB. Indeed, RotoViz’s (excellent) RB Similarity App (which compares any given RB to a historically analogous cohort) projects marked year-over-year improvement for Richardson in 2013. [I encourage you to check out this innovative statistical tool.]
Also in Richardson’s favor are the RB-usage patterns that Jeff Fisher has exhibited since he became the head coach of the Houston Oilers late in 1994. With the exception of 1996 and 2008, when first-round rookies Eddie George and Chris Johnson suddenly took control of their backfields, the way a Fisher backfield has changed hands is simple. If the top RB from one year wasn’t the top RB the next, then it was the guy who the prior year had been the #2 RB (in fantasy points and/or on the depth chart). In 2004, when Eddie George left the Titans, his former backup, Chris Brown, took over. In 2006, Chris Brown in turn was replaced by the previous year’s #2 rusher, Travis Henry, who in turn was replaced in 2007 by the second-year LenDale White. In general, when a Fisher starting RB gig is transferred, it’s passed to the guy already on the roster who is next in line. Right now, Richardson is that guy.
Richardson, however, is unlikely to stick for an entire season as the workhorse—he simply does not fit the profile. If one looks at the top-30 fantasy RBs in each season since 2000, one will find few non-FBS players—and those who do come from non-FBS schools differ from Richardson in crucial ways.
Here is a table of all the top-30 non-FBS RBs since 2000 and the statistics they produced collectively in their last collegiate year. The table is arranged by rushing yards in descending order, and the statistics are taken from a variety of sources, in most instances the official websites or the athletic departments of the players’ alma maters. The players’ weights have been determined by consulting player profiles at www.nfldraftscout.com, www.rotoworld, and www.pro-football-reference.com.
|Name||T30 Year w/ Rank||College||Lbs||Gm||Car||RuYd||RuTD||Rec||ReYd||ReTD|
|Joique Bell||12 (29)||Wayne State||220||11||326||2084||29||23||293||3|
|Derrick Ward||08 (23)||Ottawa (KS)||233||10||263||2061||28||4||47||0|
|Tim Hightower||09 (23)||Richmond||226||14||327||1924||20||32||228||3|
|Jamel White||01 (26)||South Dakota||222||11||314||1905||19||41||607||5|
|Fred Jackson||09 (15) 10 (21) 11 (14)||Coe College||215||12||299||1702||24||19||234||2|
|Brian Westbrook||03 (20) 04 (10) 05 (18) 06 (6) 07 (2) 08 (10)||Villanova||200||11||249||1603||22||59||658||6|
|Danny Woodhead||10 (28)||Chadron State||195||11||250||1597||21||38||484||2|
|Dominic Rhodes||01 (11)||Midwstrn. State||203||11||229||1387||17||16||248||1|
|Derrick Blaylock||04 (29)||Stephen F. Austin||205||11||202||1382||8||10||60||0|
|Troy Hambrick||03 (25)||Savannah State||233||11||183||1189||18||14||111||1|
|Marcel Shipp||02 (21)||UMass||230||10||257||1106||12||23||230||0|
|Maurice Smith||01 (24)||N. Car. A&T||235||12||167||1022||6||1||45||0|
|Brandon Jacobs||07 (21)||Southern Illinois||256||12||150||992||19||8||83||0|
|Samkon Gado||05 (30)||Liberty||210||9||138||901||11||12||95||0|
|Mike Tolbert||10 (19)||Coastal Caroline||243||11||111||748||9||7||58||0|
|Single T30 Avg||25.6|
|Multiple T30 Avg||17.42|
Since 2012, non-FBS RBs have produced only 28 top-30 finishes for an average of 2.15 top-30 non-FBS finishes per season. Additionally, 13 of these finishes (almost half) were produced by 3 RBs, and so for non-FBS RBs not named Westbrook, Jackson, or Jacobs the rate of top-30 finishes in this timeframe is 1.15 per year—a rather discouraging number.
Furthermore, if one averages the 28 top-30 non-FBS finishes, a mean positional ranking of 20.0 is produced. Thus, on average, these top-30 seasons represent low-end RB2 performances, production that is useful but not markedly substantial. And, most importantly, every one of the ten better-than-average non-FBS finishes were submitted by RBs with at least two top-30 seasons in their careers—and if one averages the top-30 finishes for those players with only one such season then the mean positional rank is 25.6. In other words, unless a non-FBS RB is the type to put up multiple top-30 seasons, the one top-30 year he does submit (as a pseudo-starter, an injury fill-in, a change-of-pace/third-down option or a goal-line RB on a team lacking a strong starter)—that one top-30 year will barely be a top-30 year at all.
Of note, also, is the sheer size of these RBs. The average weight of 222 lbs. implies that these runners are generally stout, built to handle a full workload. Even Westbrook and Woodhead, who are on the lighter side of this cohort’s spectrum, are thickly built because of their diminutive statures. In general, these 15 non-FBS RBs, although they attended small schools, are not small rushers. They have the sizable builds of players accustomed to being workhorses.
And, in college, they usually were workhorses, and the production in their final collegiate years was prolific. As a cohort, they averaged exactly 231 carries for 1440 yards and 17.5 TDs in 11 games, with 20.5 receptions for 232 yards and 1.5 more TDs. Although playing lesser competition, these non-FBS RBs consistently dominated and proved themselves to possess FBS capability. For instance, Woodhead won the Harlon Hill Trophy (given to the most valuable player in Division II football) for the 2006 and 2007 seasons, and Bell won the same award for his 2009 campaign. In fact, Ward, Hambrick, and Jacobs even played at the FBS level before transferring to other schools for a variety of reasons. In short, these top-30 non-FBS players, despite their “low pedigree,” did not enter the NFL as typical non-FBS projects. All of these players owned a degree of legit NFL talent, possessing certain employable skills. If any given player was not a prolific rusher, at least he had the physicality to score TDs (Tolbert), the ability to run fast for his size (Jacobs), or some other particular attribute.
What does all of this mean for the non-FBS RB looking for a top-30 finish? In general, the question is not so much whether his NFL team gives him the chance to start. Rather, the question is whether his skill and physical makeup will enable him to excel at and keep the job they give him—whether he has attributes that facilitate his success in the particular roles he is expected to perform. In sum, a small-school RB is unlikely to produce like Brian Westbrook as a pro if he is not stout like him and did not produce like him as an undergrad.
Is Richardson stout like Westbrook? Did Richardson produce like him in college? For that matter, how does he even compare to the RBs who preceded him at Abilene Christian? Here is a table of Richardson’s seasons at ACU, as well as the seasons of the three lead RBs he followed.
Uhm, yeah, ooh, uh, yeah, I’m, uh, gonna need to get back to you about, uh, that top-30 finish thing, yeah. Did you get that memo? Not only is Richardson smaller than all of the runners in the top-30 non-FBS cohort, but he weighs less than all the other ACU RBs presented above. And of all the top-30 non FBS RBs, the only one Richardson outrushed in his senior year was fullback Mike Tolbert, whose NFL productivity depends not on his rushing prowess but primarily on his TD-making ability, which Richardson (to be charitable) is yet to prove he possesses as a professional. Yes, Richardson’s receiving production throughout his collegiate career suggests that he has the chops to be a top-30 RB, but it also suggests—when placed next to his average collegiate rushing stats and his slender physical makeup—that he is best used as a change-of-pace/third-down option, which the Rams already seem to know. Last year Richardson was used not for inside runs but for plays designed to get him the ball outside and in space. Whether Richardson actually has the skills and strength to run inside (as many starters are expected to do) remains to be seen.
Forget comparing Richardson to Westbrook—the two have little in common. In fact the stud non-FBS RB with whom Richardson is most similar is not a top-30 RB but instead his brother, Bernard Scott, not only because they are related and both went to ACU but also because they have similar running styles, makeups, and NFL capabilities. And, still, even when compared to a non-FBS RB yet to record a top-30 season, Richardson does not benefit from the assessment.
While Scott has never been presented with the opportunity that awaits Richardson (Scott has always been relegated to second-string duty behind workhouse plodders, first Cedric Benson and now BenJarvus Green-Ellis), Scott’s two seasons at Abilene Christian were as dominant as any two-year stretch in Division II history. In 2007 only Danny Woodhead’s outstanding senior year could keep Scott from winning the Harlon Hill Trophy, which he rightly received in 2008 after another exceptional season. In his junior year alone, Scott scored more TDs than Richardson did in his three years as the lead ACU RB—and Richardson totaled an impressive 17 TDs as a sophomore.
Likewise, Scott recorded more receiving yards in his senior year alone than did Richardson over the course of his college career. And in two years Scott almost doubled Richardson’s three-year total of rushing yards. If Scott failed to convince an NFL team that he could outperform the unremarkable Benson and Green-Ellis as a starter, what evidence exists to make one believe that Richardson is capable of remaining a starter if an NFL team even makes him one? At best, Richardson has the look of a non-FBS one-year wonder whose production is truly not all that wonderful; and at worst Richardson could become Scott, a backup who becomes a free agent with a negligible market after four years in the NFL.
Some people may believe that Richardson’s solid production as a rookie is evidence of his potential in the future. In Part 3, I will analyze his rookie season and place it in several (what I believe to be) predictive historical contexts.