At RotoViz, it has become increasingly en vogue to open up your draft by taking consecutive running backs in rounds one and two. The reasoning is simple; there just aren’t that many reliable RBs, while wide receiver and quarterback are stacked with viable starters in later rounds.
The other day I got to thinking, “well, if there truly is a demand for running backs and I can still come away with some really great receivers and quarterbacks later on in the draft, why don’t I try to maximize the quality of my running backs?”
Enter Christopher Ivory, an angry-style running back with some really impressive attributes (6-foot 222 lbs, clocked at a 4.48 40m dash). We’ve all heard of Ivory for his body of work in New Orleans – a productive, albeit oft-injured, machine that racked up over 5 yards per carry in limited action. Ivory was traded to the New York Jets earlier in the off-season and has been touted as the surefire starter entering the season.
Ivory presents you with an interesting opportunity. He currently possess an ADP of 60 and is coming off the board as the 28th drafted RB. This has caused Ivory to fall into the third round and as far as the fourth in just about every mock draft I’ve done. I suspect there’s two reasons for this occurrence.
1) He has the reputation of being injury-prone.
2) He plays for the Jets.
I’ll address reason #2 first. The New York Jets carry a stigma. Between the butt-fumble, last year’s Tim Tebow debacle and the horrendous Sparano offense of 2012, every Jet offensive weapon is being dismissed because they wear the green and white jersey. While that’s all understandable, it’s actually a serious oversight when discussing Ivory.
Below are the rushing numbers that Rex Ryan’s teams have put up since his tenure in New York started as well as the leading backs for each season.
Jets Rushing Numbers Under Rex Ryan
|Year||Carries (rank)||Yards (rank)||TDs (rank)||W/L Record|
|2012||494 (6)||1896 (12)||12 (t13)||6-10 (missed playoffs)|
|2011||443 (16)||1693 (22)||14 (t12)||8-8 (missed playoffs)|
|2010||534 (2)||2374 (4)||14 (t9)||11-5 (AFCCG)|
|2009||607 (1)||2756 (1)||21 (t3)||9-7 (AFCCG)|
Jets Leading Rushers Under Rex Ryan
|Year||Lead Rusher||Carries||Rush Yards||YPC||Rush TDs||Receptions||Rec Yards||Rec TDs||FPPG|
At face value that charts tells us that as the Jets running game declined their win-loss record has gone with it. That said, even in the dismal 2012 season the Jets were 6th in the league in total running attempts. Shonn Greene, a much less talented back than Ivory, finished as a top-15 RB and racked up over 1,000 yards by virtue of carries alone. It’s also worth noting that Greene, whose career-long rush is a mere 36 yards, averaged 7 touchdowns in the two seasons he carried the load. In other words, the only way Greene was scoring touchdowns was due to his large volume of carries near the red zone – that’s great news for a prospective Ivory owner.
Using the historic carry and reception numbers of Rex Ryan’s feature backs in conjunction with Ivory’s career YPC (5.1) and career touchdown-per-carry number (.03), Ivory’s projection looks something like this.
Ivory Projection Unadjusted
This outcome is probably a bit optimistic given Ivory’s career YPC is likely to regress to the mean when the sample size increases. It’s also important to point out that Thomas Jones‘ carry number in 2009 (second table) is ridiculous and is unlikely to happen again. To be a bit more realistic, let’s knock down Ivory’s YPC number to 4.4 and take Jones’ season out of the equation all together.
Ivory Projection Adjusted
These projections aren’t exact by any means, but it’s very plausible that a healthy Ivory, given the same workload as the nonexplosive Shonn Greene, will thrive in the New York backfield.
Another thing to consider about the Jets running game is that one of the biggest renovations made this off-season was the the offensive line. Willie Colon was brought in as a free agent after being cut by the Steelers. He’s caught the injury bug of late but when healthy the big mauler was one of Pittsburgh’s best linemen. They thought enough of him to offer a five-year $29 million extension two years ago. If there’s one thing we know about he Steelers it’s that they do not spend money lightly. New York also took left tackle Brian Winters out of Kent State in round three of this year’s draft. They’re high on Winters, he’s a smart and athletic lineman that should push for the starting job at right guard. It’ll be a new position for the rookie, but with cornerstones Nick Mangold (C) and D’Brickashaw Ferguson (LT) anchoring the front, Winters should fill in pretty seamlessly.
The fact that Marty Mornhinweg‘s offenses have ranked in the top 10 in yards-per-carry average eight times in his 13 seasons as an NFL head coach or offensive coordinator? Well, that doesn’t hurt Ivory’s outlook either.
Now to the subject of Ivory’s running style. As a violent runner, Ivory does put himself in harm’s way quite often, but guys like Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch have been able to stay healthy despite a similar style. Hey, speaking of Marshawn Lynch, Ivory is almost identical in terms of size and speed.
Ivory’s history of getting dinged up is depressing his draft stock, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be healthy for stretches of the season, or the entire season for that matter. Frankly, predicting injuries is often an exercise in futility – we just don’t know.
I like to equate Ivory to a guy like Danario Alexander, he may not have a pristine health record, but he’s going to be given every chance to succeed – he’s fast for a big back, has an underrated offensive line, and plays under a coach that loves to run the football. In a year where solid RBs are so scarce, Ivory is a great guy to target in round three or four to complement the RB1 and RB2 you take with your first two picks. He’s being taken as a flex player, but his upside is immensely higher than that.
With RotoViz receiver favorites like Marques Colston, Eric Decker and Jordy Nelson likely to still be on the board in rounds 4 and 5, and the deep QB options to choose from, you can, and should, take Ivory as a wild card in the mid-to-late 3rd round or early 4th round.