In my last article, I mentioned that I had identified five rookie RBs likely to be top-30 players if given opportunities, and I looked at the bottom three. Two of them are unlikely to receive serious chances, but the third, Zach Line, I predict will eventually have some fantasy use, perhaps as early as 2014.
In this article I want to look at the top two guys, both of whom I think will eventually be top-30 RBs. But, first, here are two honorable mentions, guys with decent non-QB Dominator Ratings who didn’t quite make the deep dynasty all-star team: Ray Graham and Stefphon Jefferson.
Why didn’t these guys make the list? Well, Graham is small, unathletic, and didn’t have quite the raw production necessary to overcome the 80.53% nQBDR he posted in his junior year, before he tore his ACL tear. If he were 220 lbs., his nQBDR would be great. But since he’s just below 200 lbs., his nQBDR would need to be around 90% for him to look a guy with true top-30 potential. Currently, Graham is in a three-way fight with Dennis Johnson and Cierre Wood to earn the right to backup Arian Foster in 2014. In Houston, Graham could potentially become a top-30 RB if he were to became a starter, but I just don’t see that happening.
And Jefferson, with an nQBDR of 84.59% in 2012, looks like a guy at 213 lbs. who could eventually be a top-30 RB—but he’s not currently on an NFL roster, and he played almost exclusively out of Chris Ault’s pistol offense at Nevada. Additionally, he had only one year of collegiate success. If I’m going to bet on a guy not currently in the NFL actually becoming a fantasy asset, I’ll bet on Montel Harris. At least he dominated the ACC for multiple seasons.
And as for my top two late-round nQBDR RBs? Here they are:
2) Marcus Lattimore
I know, I know. I almost feel as if I’m cheating by putting Lattimore on this list, but hear me out. He was a fourth-round selection in the NFL Draft, and in the RDL rookie draft I selected him with the 18th pick. I might be alone in this opinion, but I think that’s criminally low for a guy with first-round talent, even if he does return to only 80% of his 2012 self (and if he returns to 80% of the 2010-2011 pre-injury version . . . oh my). Starting in 2015, I think Lattimore has a solid chance of being at least an RB2. That’s great value at the 18th pick in a rookie draft.
As a freshman in 2010, Lattimore produced an nQBDR of 80.86%—which is more than enough to indicate that a big guy with first-round chops drafted in the middle rounds has top-30 potential. Before his first ACL tear in 2011, Lattimore recorded an nQBDR of 78.92%. Still solid. And after his first injury, Lattimore returned in 2012 with an nQBDR of 75.28% before his second ACL tear. In other words, even after one major injury he still was the foundation of his team’s rushing production.
I know that Lattimore’s second injury was worse than his first, but if I saw a 220-lb. RB with major college production sitting on the board in the second round of a rookie draft, and the knock against him was that he was slow and a little rigid—yeah, I would probably still take him. That’s Lattimore. Given his dynasty draft position, I think his upside warrants the risk. He’s perhaps the most talented runner in the 2013 class—and yet I still don’t like him as much as this next guy.
1) Michael Cox
Who the hell is Michael Cox? He’s the next Ahmad Bradshaw, Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward, and Andre Brown. I wish I would’ve written this article a month ago, when I grabbed him off of waivers in the RDL for 0.2% of my waiver budget, before any press on this guy started to leak out.
Who is he? Michael Cox is the guy who shows why nQBDR has value—the guy who could lead you to a championship within the next few years. He was the last RB selected in the 2013 Draft, one pick away from becoming Mr. Irrelevant. He’s the next late-round RB Tom Coughlin is going to turn into a fantasy asset. He’s the poor man’s Christine Michael who may just end up outplaying Christine Michael.
The Giants drafted Cox in the seventh round, and they apparently are impressed with him. He’s a guy worth cheering for, and people are starting to think of him as a sleeper. Before playing in 2012 for the 1-11 UMass Minutemen in their first year of D-I competition, Cox wasted away on the bench at Michigan. In three seasons with the Wolverines, Cox managed only 19 carries. Wishing to show the NFL what he could do, Cox graduated early from Michigan and enrolled as a graduate student at UMass, putting up this amazing line in 12 games: 198-710-3.6-5. Ouch. And here’s what he did as a receiver: 13-63-4.8-0. Oh my.
So how did this guy, who will be a rookie at 24 years of age, get drafted? Why don’t I let the Giants tell you. Here’s this, via BigBlueView:
“If you look at his stats at UMass, they aren’t that impressive but he gets the ball and there are two guys in the backfield, he’s trying to make everything on his own there,” said Giants Director of College Scouting Marc Ross. “Runs hard, he’s got size, he’s got really, really good hands, excellent hands, got a little burst to him. We had him in for a visit, real good kid. Our coaches were impressed with him so we were happy we’re getting a big, fast guy who runs hard that late in the draft.”
Here’s why Cox was drafted:
1) UMass gave him the ball. With an nQBDR of 79.59%, Cox was the rushing offense. He scored only five rushing TDs all season—but he scored all of his team’s RB-rushing TDs except for one. And his subpar 3.6 rushing average? It doesn’t really matter, since he was playing for a 1-11 team making its move up to D-I football. Cox was practically getting tackled off the bus during the handoff. Under those circumstances, Cox’s rushing average is almost miraculous.
2) He’s big. At his pro day on March 4, Cox measured in at just a hair under 6’0” and weighed 220 lbs. As Marc Ross emphasized, he’s got size, and he put that size to work by running hard. If he was small, he’d just be another late-round pick. Because of his size, he’s a late-round back with workhorse potential.
3) UMass didn’t utilize Cox all that much as a receiver, but the Giants think that Cox has “got really, really good hands, excellent hands,” and that means that Cox has three-down potential. In other words, his best-case scenario is not Stevan Ridley, a plodder with hands of stone. His best-case scenario is Doug Martin.
4) Speaking of Doug Martin . . . Cox has “got a little burst to him.” At his Pro Day, Cox ran the 40 in 4.58 seconds, producing a Speed Score of exactly 100.00, which isn’t out of this world, but it puts him, according to this piece by Shawn Siegele, in the vicinity of other big runners such as Doug Martin, DeShaun Foster, Delone Carter, Stevan Ridley, Joique Bell, and Le’Veon Bell. It also puts him close to Christine Michael, who ran a 4.54 at 220 lbs. to yield a Speed Score of 103.57.
Now, a Speed Score of 100 is average, but when it’s combined with an Agility Score of 10.96 (a great score for a big man) and an Explosion Score of 165 (a great score for anybody), then a pretty intriguing prospect emerges. And it’s not as if Cox is a weak 220 lbs. that merely flies all over the place. In the bench press he put up 24 reps. This guy is built. Basically, he’s a slightly less athletic Christine Michael with a better nQBDR (Michael’s best, from his freshman year, is 57.4). If you could get that off of waivers in a dynasty league, would that interest you?
5) He seems like the kind of guy Coughlin likes. He’s hardnosed, and when he faced obstacles at Michigan he showed determination in making his way to UMass, proving that he didn’t think he was too good to do whatever he had to do to see playing time. As a motivated guy, he graduated from Michigan early so that he’d be able to play immediately at UMass without waiting a year per NCAA rules. In short, he’s a guy who perseveres, and Coughlin likes those kinds of tough guys. And Cox is tough. He was an accomplished hockey player in his youth, but he took up football in high school to give himself a physical challenge—since hockey was too easy. Can’t you just see Coughlin falling in love with this guy? As Ross put it: “We had him in for a visit, real good kid.”
OK, you get it, I like this guy. But what else makes me think that he has dynasty potential? Well, consider this—in addition to the aforementioned points:
6) Since Tom Coughlin became head coach of the Giants in 2004, these are all the RBs to have been selected by the organization: Derrick Ward (2004, 7.235), Brandon Jacobs (2005, 4.110), Ahmad Bradshaw (2007, 7.250), Andre Brown (2009, 4.129), Da’Rel Scott (2011, 7.221), and David Wilson (2012, 1.32). Yes, this organization knows how to draft RBs, big RBs, athletic RBs, and late-round RBs. Note that four of the five RBs chosen after the third round have been fantasy contributors at points in their careers; and also note that all of the big RBs (Ward, Jacobs, and Brown) have had fantasy relevance. Cox is just the most recent of these guys.
7) Ryan Torain and Da’Rel Scott are immediately blocking Cox’s path to the third-string job. Torain currently is out with a concussion, and he hasn’t done anything up to this point in his career to make me believe he’ll beat out Cox—and neither has Scott, especially since Cox can play all three downs. He might not do it immediately, but Cox should eventually win the third-string job.
8) Within the Giants organization, once a guy wins the third-string RB job he usually doesn’t stop there. Often, that guy somehow works his way into the rotation and becomes either the starter or the backup. This is especially relevant because . . .
9) Andre Brown is a free agent in 2014—and he’s not known as the sturdiest of dudes. In other words, by next year (or even sooner) Cox could be the big-bodied component in the Giants’ rushing committee, which is especially pertinent since . . .
10) David Wilson is unproven. He’s wildly talented but still an unknown. If he falters, Cox could have an opportunity to play. In other words, all Cox needs to gain fantasy relevance (if he’s the third-string back) is an injury to or ineffective play by either Wilson or Brown. I think the likelihood of at least one of those options occurring in 2013 is better than many think.
Will Cox actually become a fantasy asset? Who knows, but for what it’s worth he—not Da’Rel Scott—led the Giants in rushing yards in the first preseason game on Saturday night. That doesn’t mean everything, but it probably means something. And if Cox actually earns the third-string job, watch out.
This year is probably too soon for startable production, but 2014? Yeah, I think by next season he’ll be a guy everybody knows, and eventually he’ll be a top-30 guy. Maybe he’ll just be the guy who replaces Andre Brown—and maybe he’ll turn into only Derrick Ward, who had one top-30 season—but maybe he’ll turn into Brandon Jacobs or Ahmad Bradshaw. For as athletic as Cox is, I think that’s his upside.
Either way, within a few years I bet that Cox somehow produces at least one top-30 season. And if he does—and if you grab him now off of waivers—that “unexpected” production just might be the difference in your fantasy season.