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So You’re Saying There’s A Chance…Ben Tate and the Better Late than Never Breakout Candidates
Shane Vereen
Courtesy of Flickr.

My new running back model uses a combination of draft order, Speed Score, and Dominator Rating (a market-share concept borrowed from Shawn Siegel’s work on wide receivers) to predict likelihood of fantasy success.  If you want to know more about my thought process, the methodology behind the calculation, or some results for existing NFL players and 2013 rookies, look here.  If you want to just take my word for it, keep reading…

An interesting exercise with a model like this is to remove the draft slot factor of the equation and renormalize the other two factors – rushing Dominator Rating (DR) and Speed Score (SS) – to come up with a draft-agnostic model.  Basically answering the question “Who would my model like the best if they were all drafted around the same spot?”  I re-ran the model on my 160 RB sample and the results are actually really exciting.  It does a fairly good job of identifying late-round and UDFA guys who became successful once they got their opportunity.  More on that in a follow-up article.  In the meantime, give me the benefit of the doubt when I say it’s worthwhile to look at a running back’s score on the draft-agnostic model in addition to the full blown one.

You don’t need to read an article telling you about the guys who have already succeeded, so here are some guys drafted in the first three rounds since 2010 that my model gave high scores, but who haven’t panned out…yet.  They’ll come at different costs to acquire based upon your league size and type of owners, but generally they’re going to be fairly cheap as pieces of bigger trades or really cheap as waiver wire fodder.

I think you could look at these guys a couple of different ways.  One perspective would have you conclude they aren’t worth much because even though their teams drafted them in a range that normally suggests an intent to get them on the field, they haven’t actually decided to use them much.  I theorize that draft order is a proxy for a team’s evaluation of a player’s talent as well as their intent to use him.  So, if they don’t actually use him it suggests that portion of his value in my model was just a mirage.  The other angle to take is: they do still like the guy, but for a number of reasons they’ve either chosen not to use him or they haven’t had to use him as they originally intended.  From this perspective, these guys could be very productive if they’re finally given the opportunity that their draft position originally implied.

These guys all scored in a range that would suggest a 70% chance of producing at least one top 30 RB finish, and a 57% chance of producing a top 20 RB finish.

Name Team Age Height(in) Weight(lbs) 40Yard Speed Score Agility Score Rush DR Draft Slot Model Score Draft-Agnostic Model Score
Toby Gerhart Vikings 25.4 73 231 4.50 112.7 11.19 0.69 51 1.10 1.25
Montario Hardesty Browns 26.3 73 225 4.49 110.7 11.01 0.65 59 0.95 1.06
Shane Vereen Patriots 24.0 70 210 4.49 103.3 11.23 0.65 56 0.89 0.85
Ronnie Hillman Broncos 21.5 69 200 4.42 104.8 0.00 0.68 67 0.88 1.04
Ben Tate Texans 24.7 71 220 4.34 124.0 11.03 0.46 58 0.76 0.56

There’s a common theme among all of these guys – they’re stuck in wretched situations where they’re either behind “once-in-a-generation” running back talents or they’re heaped into a RBBC situation that looks to the untrained eye like steaming dung pile.  There’s a chance none of these guys actually delivers another top 30 season.  There are plenty of factors working against them.  But as Frank was saying about RotoViz, “…what you can expect from us is that we’ll do a good amount of yelling and screaming about players that we feel are undervalued and then it’s up to you to monitor their situation so that you can make up your own mind as to whether they make sense on your roster.”  Always do your own homework on these guys, but here are my quick takes and some plots of similar players’ YoY change in fantasy points, courtesy of the RB Similarity Score App.

  • Toby Gerhart – The highest scorer on both the regular model and the draft-agnostic model is probably the hardest to believe in as a breakout candidate.  It’s extremely hard to envision the Vikings giving Gerhart more carries when they have a rushing deity on the roster.  That said, Gerhart is an unrestricted free agent after the 2013 season and the Vikings grabbed Zach Line and Robbie Rouse as UDFAs.  It’s not impossible to think the Vikings would let him walk in free agency and he could be a cheap-but-effective member of a committee in his next landing spot (ringing endorsement, right?).  He’ll be 26 in December, which is usually the peak of a running back’s productive years.  He may actually have a year or two more to reach his peak since his NFL mileage is so low.  I’ll finish with the stats from his relief duty at the end of the 2011 season, as I feel like they speak for themselves:

    Week Date Tm Opp Result Rush Att Rush Yds Y/A TD Rec Rec Yds Y/R TD
    12 12/4/2011 MIN DEN L 32-35 21 91 4.3 0 8 42 5.3 0
    13 12/11/2011 MIN DET L 28-34 19 90 4.7 0 3 19 6.3 1
    14 12/18/2011 MIN NOR L 20-42 2 12 6.0 0 4 46 11.5 2
    15 12/24/2011 MIN WAS W 33-26 11 109 9.9 0 0 0 0.0 0
    16 1/1/2012 MIN CHI L 13-17 15 67 4.5 0 1 3 3.0 0
    Total 68 369 5.4 0 16 110 6.9 3


  • Montario Hardesty – The draft model likes him quite a bit and the draft-agnostic model likes him even more.  A popular dynasty pick heading into the 2010 season, Hardesty tragically blew his ACL in the preseason.  Peyton Hillis did his thang for the Browns and carried so many teams to fantasy victory that season.  In 2011 Hardesty got caught up in the black hole that was the Browns’ 29th ranked offense as he shared carries with Hillis and Ogbonnaya.  Then Trent Richardson happened.  However, he too is an unrestricted free agent after 2013 and is 26 this season.  He has size and speed and boasts an agility score of 11.01.  He hasn’t been fantastic when given opportunities so far, but there are worse guys you could pick up off the waiver wire and stash at the end of your bench.


  • Shane Vereen – Now we’re getting to the sexy guys.  Despite a lower model score than Gerhard or Hardesty, Vereen is a guy who is easier to envision truly being on the cusp of a good opportunity.  Others have spilled more pixels and done a better job than I could ever do evaluating Vereen’s talent.  I’ll just say this – the Kevin Faulk/Danny Woodhead role in the NE offense has been a sneakily productive one over the years.  Ridley will get his, who knows about Bolden, and Blount is just a total head-scratcher.  None of them should impact the piece of NE’s offensive pie that Vereen is in for.  Leon Washington would be his only competition for that smaller pass-catcher role and at the ripe old age of 30, I don’t see that being much of a problem for Vereen.  Plus, there’s this little nugget about goal line usage from the 2012 season – on a percentage of rush attempts basis, the Pats aren’t afraid to give the small guy the ball with goal-to-go:

    Player Goal-to-Go Attempts Yards Y/A TD Success Rate Total Rush GTG Rush/Total Rush
    Stevan Ridley 30 35 1.17 10 33.3% 290 10.3%
    Danny Woodhead 11 25 2.27 3 27.3% 76 14.5%
    Shane Vereen 8 20 2.50 3 37.5% 62 12.9%
    Tom Brady 6 9 1.50 4 66.7% 23 26.1%
    Brandon Bolden 8 8 1.00 1 12.5% 56 14.3%

    I haven’t done any work on average success rate with GTG so I won’t make any broad statements about Vereen being the most effective RB at scoring with his opportunities, other than it’s nice to see.


  • Ronnie Hillman – Another guy who’s draft-agnostic model score is better than his normal model score.  He was probably overdrafted in dynasty leagues last year, and it’s disconcerting that he was completely passed over by Moreno (who the model actually really likes – not sure how I feel about that) when McGahee went down.  Throw in the Montee Ball pick and it all looks like a horrific sign for Hillman’s dynasty prospects.  My model doesn’t like Ball very much (less than Hillman) and Ball looks especially bad on the draft-agnostic model – most of his value is coming from the notion that Denver probably plans to use him a fair bit.  At the same time, I think it’s foolish to completely write Hillman off.  He showed flashes in limited opportunities in 2012 and I can’t imagine this same regime spent a high 3rd round pick on him only to sit him on the bench.  I think the best approach with Hillman is to see if you can get him for really cheap from the current owner and stash him as a flier.  His value may not crater until Ball Fever (porn title?) really heats up in August or perhaps not until the season if Hillman isn’t getting much work.  Between his model score and the fact that he won’t even be 22 until November, he still has plenty of upside optionality if you can get him for the right price.


  • Ben Tate – While he’s not a total standout on either model, he’s still a solid prospect.  Just like Hardesty, he was a highly regarded dynasty prospect but suffered a season-ending injury in week 1 of the preseason in 2010.  The rest is history with Arian Foster.  Of all of these targets Tate has arguably been the most impressive with his opportunities with a 5.4 YPC in 2011 and 4.3 YPC during his injury-hampered 2012 campaign.  Dude has a RIDICULOUS speed score of 124 (3rd all-time only to Knile Davis and Mario Fannin, to my knowledge).  Plus, he has a very solid non-weight-adjusted  Agility Score of 11.03.  Most guys in that range weigh closer to 205 than 220.  With the mind-boggling workload Foster has received over the past three seasons, the fact that he’s already 26 and turning 27 in September, and the way the Texans grabbed FOUR rookie free agent running backs within the first 24 hours after the draft – my money is on Tate getting his fair share of carries this season.  Tate will be 25 at the start of the 2013 season and he’s an unrestricted free agent come April 2014.  I think he’s a terrific candidate for production this year and beyond.  If he’s not already rostered by the Foster owner, I’d be checking his price tag before the start of training camp this year.

    Tate’s comparables YoY:


    And Just for fun, here are Foster’s YoY comps (yikes!):


Stay tuned for my next couple piece – late round and UDFA running backs who could excel if given the opportunity.

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