A year ago Stepfan Taylor was taken with pick No. 140 in the NFL Draft. Zac Stacy was selected a little while later at pick 160. Fantasy leaguers never agreed with Steve Keim’s selection of Taylor, and he routinely fell deep into Round 3 of rookie drafts. Meanwhile, the former Vanderbilt star frequently slipped into the tail end of Round 1. Stacy may have been the first player whose draft value was at least subtly affected by RotoViz. We argued that Stacy possessed rare athletic attributes, owned the best profile of SEC backs against conference opponents, and fit the mold of recent undervalued stars.
Now 2013 is in the books and the gap has widened considerably. In a startup mock I just completed with Dynasty League Football, Stacy was selected at 3.03 and Taylor at 20.09. While this may be an extreme example, these types of inefficiencies exist, and, much more importantly, the beneficiaries are predictable. That’s why I recently argued NFL Draft analysis is the key to your fantasy success. Today, we’ll look at a player who may just be even more undervalued than Stacy was a year ago.
What Makes A RB Prospect Elite?
I started my 2014 RB series by detailing the three draftable running back profiles and what types of physical measurables a player needs in order to fit into each. In that piece I introduced RB Profile No. 1: The Workhorse and suggested you target a potential star who’s more similar to Adrian Peterson than most realize. A couple of days later, I introduced RB Profile No. 2: The 3-Down PPR Star and suggested the deep but uninspiring 2014 class might actually hold the best running back prospect since Jamaal Charles. (Charles would have been considered an elite prospect by this system, but it’s worth remembering he was the ninth back taken in his draft alone. That was a strong RB draft, but the inefficiency represented is large and shows no signs of closing.) The third article looked at a quartet of explosive deep sleepers who profile as discount versions of Gio Bernard, Darren Sproles, Shane Vereen, and Jahvid Best.
The player we’re about to cover turned in such a good season and posted such stellar Combine results that he comes very close to fitting both Profile 1 and Profile 2. That’s the definition of most undervalued.
Tyler Gaffney – Zac Stacy 2.0
The Stanford star has several big red flags. He was essentially a one year wonder who played behind the aforementioned Stepfan Taylor for several years before taking 2012 off to play professional baseball. He was five years removed from high school when he excelled for the Cardinal last season, and he’s going to be an old rookie.
That’s the bad news. Everything else looks startlingly good. Despite his prolific production, draftniks expected a poor Combine. Instead, he was one of the few winners at the running back position, recording a solid 4.49 forty and elite Agility Score of 10.96.
In creating the comps, I also used Ryan Rouillard’s rushing Dominator Rating to tighten the list. I am, however, leaving that out of the chart to allow for his future column on the 2014 RB class. The stats represent final season numbers.
It’s pretty heady company when your comp list includes LaDainian Tomlinson, Matt Forte, Le’Veon Bell, Alfred Morris, Doug Martin, Cadillac Williams, and Zac Stacy. This list is so good it probably seems cherry-picked, but it’s not. Big backs who run sub-4.5 forties and post sub-11.0 Agility Scores do not grow on trees. Moreover, the average of the comps is almost identical to Gaffney both in terms of athleticism and in terms of final year production.
It’s also worth noting that not all of these players were early round picks. Only Tomlinson and Cadillac Williams were viewed as more than fringe first rounders. Zac Stacy and Alfred Morris were late round picks who didn’t just emerge, they emerged almost instantly for their professional squads. That’s very good news for a player who will probably go late in this draft and may be staring up at two or three players on the depth chart when training camp begins.
Who are his closest peers and what should we make of Gaffney?
A lot of the comparisons between players in college football are apples to oranges because schedules and environments are so different, but Gaffney finds himself matched up against some of his old Pac-12 competitors in the battle for draft position. Gaffney, Ka’Deem Carey, and Bishop Sankey all finished among the Top 7 in rushing with more than 1700 yards. Carey averaged 5.4 yards per carry playing against Arizona’s No. 23-ranked schedule. Sankey averaged 5.7 against Washington’s No. 11-ranked schedule, and Gaffney 5.2 against Stanford’s No. 4-ranked schedule.
When you look at advanced measures of explosiveness, Gaffney holds his own as well. In looking at Sankey, I pointed out that he averaged 5.44 highlight yards per opportunity, essentially a measure of how many yards were gathered on plays that were blocked successfully. This bested draft favorites Carlos Hyde (5.03) and Tre Mason (4.09). While Gaffney wasn’t quite as explosive as Sankey, he notched 4.86 highlight yards per opp, a better number than the supposedly more electric Carey (4.45).
Dynasty drafts include an important time element. It’s probably not the percentage play to expect a late round player to break out like Morris and Stacy did, even if the player is similarly talented. If you need to fill your RB2 slot for 2014, you don’t want to risk your success on a late round flier. It could take several seasons for Gaffney to even see the field. With the depth of this particular class, he’s probably not a realistic candidate to go in the first couple of rounds of your rookie draft. After that, all bets are off. Gaffney is a player to target, perhaps even move up to acquire if you can do so without giving up too much value. Don’t be surprised if he’s the next big back in the Agility Star mold to emerge as a three-down workhorse.
If you’re looking for other under the radar runners to add to your dynasty squad before rookie drafts take place, you might like my Top 10 sleeper article. It correctly anticipated the current Khiry Robinson phenomenon and has been a reader favorite.
Shawn Siegele is the creator of the contrarian sports website Money in the Banana Stand and Lead Writer for Pro Football Focus Fantasy.