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Chris Thompson is This Year’s Jeff Demps: “I Feel Like I’m Taking Crazy Pills!”

christhompson

The guys at RotoViz are generally crazy. We commit ourselves to helping you win fantasy championships, which means that we are inherently contrarian. Our job is to help you find value where none appears to exist. As a result, in the quest to see that which often goes unseen we can appear crazy, sometimes luda-crazy, but in reality a subtle genius (or at least a methodology) is at work. And how do we know that the motivating force behind our perspectives is genius, not insanity?

The difference between genius and insanity is utility. –Myself

The answer is utility. Our suggestions tend to be useful, especially when one considers that often we’re digging for gold in coal mines. That might sound crazy, but sometimes the best way to find gold is to dig where no one else is digging, and, if I can say this with humility, we find gold quite a bit for guys who mine in all the “wrong places.”

And one of the places where the RotoViz studisticians have recently been mining is Chris Thompson, the short and speedy rookie RB drafted by Mike Shanahan in the fifth round. Coleman Kelly started it with an article on Thompson before the draft, and then Davis Mattek joined in when he ranked Thompson the #8RB overall in the RotoViz staff’s pre-draft Composite Rookie RB Rankings (I recommend you check them out; they’re still very informative). After that, Shawn Siegele wrote this piece about Thompson, suggesting that the Washington RB might be a better fantasy pick than Gio Bernard. I must admit that Siegele made some good points in that piece, especially when talking about the receiving opportunities Thompson could have in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. With his athleticism, Thompson very well could become the next Sproles.

But he probably won’t. That’s an obvious statement, as most guys drafted in the fifth round probably won’t have great success in the NFL, but it bears repeating. Thompson is probably fool’s gold, and he’s very unlikely to be a significant fantasy asset. Why do I think that? Because Chris Thompson weighs fewer than 200 lbs., and I generally hate short and small RBs. (Click the link to find out why.)

After Shawn’s article, I felt I couldn’t let the Chris Thompson bromance continue unchecked, and so I tried to bring reason into the madness with my hate piece. It’s not that I hate Chris Thompson. I actually think he’s quite talented, and I’m especially pulling for him because of his previous injuries: You have to admire a guy who breaks his back and then tears his ACL in college and still commits himself to playing professional football. Basically, I’m rooting for Thompson for the exact reason that I don’t want him on any of my fantasy teams—he’s so unlikely to have success.

So I wrote the hate piece, and I thought that was it. But then something happened: John Keim of the Washington Post wrote something positive about Thompson, and both Davis and Shawn—on the same day!—used Keim’s three sentences of affirmation as the starting point for their own posts (here and here), in which they reaffirmed their positions on Thompson.

Now, I have to reaffirm my position. While I don’t actually disagree with anything in particular that Shawn and Davis said in their pieces, I notice that they both left out Keim’s last sentence, his Thompson takeaway, which I think is actually the most important part of his article. In short, Keim doesn’t just say that Thompson is elusive. He also expresses concern.

Here’s the full quotation:

“Thompson offers excellent burst, which he showed at Florida State. He’d be a good fit in what the Redskins want to do with some triple-option looks or on third downs. However, he’s listed at 5 feet 7 and did not always excel at blitz pickups, nor did he have a lot of experience in that role. But he is elusive. Oh, he’s also coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament, he broke his back two years ago and he did not practice with the Redskins this spring. It’ll be a lot to expect him to have a big impact early.”

While the first part of that quotation is what Shawn and Davis have focused on, I find the last sentence, written by a guy who covers the team, to be significant, as it calls into question the possibility of Thompson contributing to his NFL team. And let me say this about Shawn and Davis: They’re two of the best fantasy minds I know—I can’t fully express how much I enjoy reading their work—and questioning them feels a little bit like Fredo questioning Sonny and Clemenza: Who the hell am I to question them? Really, Shawn and Davis are just channeling their enthusiasm for a prospect they feel is highly undervalued. That’s totally understandable.

But in this instance, I have to say something, because I think they’ve possibly developed a blind spot. Keim is saying that, while talented, Thompson is unlikely to contribute in the near future. I don’t know how that can be spun into something positive.

So what am I saying? I think that Shawn and Davis irrationally value Thompson. To be clear, I don’t mind if they irrationally like a guy. I just don’t think they know they’re being irrational. Each of us inevitably has the prospect or two we like against reason. For me, it’s this guy and this guy. Are my guys collectively the most undervalued RB and the #2 RB in the 2013 class? Probably not. I know I irrationally like them.

I fear that, in recommending Thompson to readers, Davis and Shawn may not know that they are (probably) going against reason—that they have crossed the line that separates genius from insanity. Chris Thompson is not an elite talent. He’s a short and small late-round RB who’s fast but who also is recovering from his second major injury in as many years. That’s not the profile of an elite RB.

OK, what I’ve just said is a tad harsh, both to the writers and to the player. But it’s not as harsh as it might’ve been, considering that right after I read Davis and Shawn’s follow-up posts I felt a lot like Jacobim Mugatu at the end of Zoolander: “Shut up! Enough already, Siegele! Who cares about Chris Thompson anyway?! The man has only one leg for Christ’s sake! Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey, Chris Thompson? They’re the same guy! Doesn’t anyone notice this?—I feel like I’m taking crazy pills! Mike Shanahan invented the late-round running back—he invented it! What have you done, Mattek? Nothing! You’ve got nothing! Nothing!!! And I will be a monkey’s uncle if I have you ruin RotoViz for me, because if Alfred Morris can’t get the third-down job done, then Helu or Royster will! Die you Thompson-backing scum!”

What I guess I want to say is this—Thompson is being treated like a guy who is rare. He’s not. He’s this year’s Jeff Demps. Guys really similar to him come around every year, another one is coming next year, and most of these guys accomplish little in the NFL.

Here are some tables of guys from 2011 and 2012 who are really similar to Thompson (small, fast, late-round draft picks or undrafted, etc). I’ve also included Dri Archer, a.k.a. next year’s Chris Thompson. He was draft-eligible for 2013, but decided to return to college for his senior year. The following list may seem cherry-picked, but it’s not. It’s a complete list of all the RBs to enter the NFL in 2011 and 2012 who are 1) no taller than 5’9”, 2) no heavier than 200 lbs, 3) no slower than 4.50 in the 40-yard dash, 4) drafted no earlier than the 4th round, and 5) have a collegiate rushing average of at least 5.75 ypc. This list eliminates some guys who are sort of similar to Thompson, but my point is this—those other guys (like LaMichael James, Ronnie Hillman, and Isaiah Pead, none of whom have impressed so far either) are not that similar to Thompson. Instead, these guys are Thompson’s true comps from 2011 and 2012. Some of them might weigh significantly less than Thompson, but their draft range, college production, and intended use as satellite players in the NFL makes their differences in weight less important. In other words, the difference between receiving backs who weigh 180 lbs. and 190 lbs. is not all that remarkable, as neither of them could be mistaken for workhorses.

 

Player Draft Year Age Round Pick Ht Wt
Jeff Demps

2012

22

Und Und

67

191

Noel Devine

2011

23

Und Und

68

179

Chris Rainey

2012

24

5

159

68

180

Dri Archer

2014

23

?? ??

68

173

Avg NA

23

NA NA

67.75

180.8

Chris Thompson

2013

23

5

154

67

192

If Demps had decided to pursue football and not the Olympics, he could’ve been drafted in the same range as Rainey and Thompson, and Dri Archer is already receiving hype for next year’s draft. Basically, these 4 guys are the Chris Thompsons of 2011, 2012, and 2014. And, it goes without saying, none of them have an injury history like Thompson’s.

And how are these guys as athletes?

Player Ht Wt 40 Time Speed Score 40 Time Status Explosion Score Agility Score BP
Jeff Demps

67

191

4.3

111.7351

Jr. Pro Day NA NA NA
Noel Devine

68

179

4.43

92.95401

Pro Day

156.5

11.13

24

Chris Rainey

68

180

4.45

91.80418

Combine

156.5

10.43

16

Dri Archer

68

173

4.29

102.152

Workout ?? ?? ??
Avg

67.75

180.8

4.368

99.35201

NA

156.5

10.78

20

Chris Thompson

67

192

4.42

100.6102

Pro Day NA NA

21

Both Demps’ and Archer’s 40 times are reported from college workouts and are thus somewhat suspect, but Demps’ was reported by Pro Football Weekly and Archer’s by CBS Sports, so these 40 times aren’t totally out of nowhere. Basically, if you look at these numbers, you see that collectively these players are similar to Thompson. They weigh a little bit less but run a little bit faster.

And what about collegiate productivity? Here are their collegiate rushing statistics.

Player Gm Att Yds TD Y/A A/G Yds/G TD/G TD%
Jeff Demps

49

367

2470

23

6.73

7.49

50.41

0.47

0.063

Noel Devine

51

729

4317

29

5.92

14.29

84.65

0.57

0.040

Chris Rainey

51

396

2464

13

6.22

7.76

48.31

0.25

0.033

Dri Archer

36

257

1815

18

7.06

7.14

50.42

0.5

0.070

Avg

46.75

437.25

2766.5

20.75

6.33

9.35

59.18

0.44

0.048

Chris Thompson

35

275

1739

14

6.32

7.86

49.69

0.4

0.051

In more games, these guys were generally more productive than Thompson as rushers. On a per touch basis, this cohort is almost identical to Thompson. The RB from Florida State might be dynamic, but in his college career he really didn’t accomplish anything that other similar (and more durable) runners don’t accomplish. Note in particular that Dri Archer, in three seasons, has played in more games than Thompson did in four. And most of Archer’s production came in 2012. In other words, Archer has proven that he could carry a full sack of mail for an entire season. Thompson hasn’t. Thompson probably isn’t even the best of this cohort.

OK, maybe Thompson doesn’t need to have workhorse potential. Maybe he needs only to be able to carry the ball 5 or so times a game and serve primarily as a third-down and receiving back. How do Thompson’s receiving stats compare to the cohort’s?

Player Gm Rec Yds TD Y/R Rec/G Yds/G TD/G TD%
Jeff Demps

49

57

481

1

8.44

1.16

9.82

0.020

0.018

Noel Devine

51

98

710

2

7.24

1.92

13.92

0.039

0.020

Chris Rainey

51

69

795

6

11.52

1.35

15.59

0.118

0.087

Dri Archer

36

74

867

8

11.72

2.06

24.08

0.222

0.108

Avg

46.75

74.5

713.25

4.25

9.57

1.59

15.26

0.091

0.057

Chris Thompson

35

45

430

1

9.56

1.29

12.29

0.029

0.022

Thompson’s not a bad receiver, but he’s not anything special compared to these guys. With basically an identical receiving average, he catches fewer balls per game and scores (far) fewer TDs per catch. Again, compared to guys who are very similar to him, his productivity is nothing special.

So what’s the takeaway? If you like Chris Thompson, you basically like this year’s version of Jeff Demps—a type of player who is far more common than many might suspect—and you hope that he will be able to overcome major injury issues and unseat established veterans, despite not being able to practice—and, if he does that, you’re hoping that Shanahan won’t quickly replace him with another RB.

If you like Chris Thompson, that’s cool. Feel free. Just know what he is, and know that you’re probably insane.

 

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