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The Backfield Report (Part 2): The 2014 RotoViz Rookie Rankings, Carlos Hyde as a First-Round Pick, and Some Thoughts on Junior College Production

During the 2013 NFL season, I did Tuesday rundowns of all the NFL backfield situations, and I also put out a special Combine Edition of the Backfield Report in February. Given that the dust has just settled from the NFL Draft and the RotoViz studisticians have recently released the Official Composite Rookie Rankings, I figured that a Big-As-Balls Two-Part Post-Draft/Post-Rookie-Rankings/Pre-Training-Camp Super-Sized Edition of the Backfield Report was in order. Click here to see Part 1. Here we go!

Carlos Hyde

In the RotoViz Rookie Rankings, the staff collectively ranked Hyde as the #20 rookie overall. Of course, I had him ranked #9—no one else on staff was higher on Hyde than I was. To justify my ranking, I offer these two facts:

1) Bryan Fontaine also ranked Hyde #9. If you’re going to deviate from the norm, Fontaine is a good guy to do it with . . . that sounds not at all the way I wanted it to sound. That gives #Fontained a whole new meaning. Moving on.

2) Last year, I introduced the nQBDR metric, which measures a non-QB rusher’s production relative to the other non-QB rushers on his team. Basically, it measures the extent to which an RB is a workhorse. For more on nQBDR, here’s my introduction to the metric. A list of my nQBDR-centric posts can be found in my New Mexico Bowl Preview from a couple months ago.

Since then, I’ve been working on “The Workhorse Metric” (WM), which is basically nQBDR with “non-representative games” factored out—and by that I mean games in which a guy is injured and misses significant action and games that are blowouts (both wins and losses). At a minimum, I think that WM accurately describes the extent to which any given runner is a workhorse; that is, relied on by his offense in game situations that matter.

How does Hyde look in the context of this new metric? Hyde scored an elite 94.1 WM in his redshirt senior season. In the games he played, he was the only RB on the team to score a rushing TD (when you discount the meaningless TDs from Ohio State’s 76-0 victory over non-FBS Florida A&M).

Despite missing the first 3 games of the 2013 season, Hyde still submitted a stellar 1500-15 rushing season. He’s not fast or particularly young, but he’s huge, he’s got decent hands, he was drafted in Round 2 by a head coach who likes to run the ball, and he’s on a team that features 1) a declining 31-year-old lead RB in the final year of his contract, 2) a smallish change-of-pace RB in the final year of his contract, 3) an even smaller kick-returning RB who’s trying to get released from the team, and 4) a onetime top-tier college RB who slipped in last year’s draft and hasn’t seen a down of NFL action because of massive knee injuries. In other words, 2014 might not be Hyde’s year—but 2015 will be. To me, he’s a reasonable late-first-round pick in rookie drafts.

Andre Williams

Only a couple of rankers were higher than I was on Williams in the RotoViz Rookie Rankings, even though one of Le Douché’s RB models suggests that Williams is capable of rushing for lots of yards and Shawn Siegele has argued that Williams might have Peterson-esque potential. I still see Williams as a significantly younger, bigger, faster, more agile, more explosive, and more productive Shonn Greene. In his two seasons as BC’s fulltime starter he achieved a cumulative WM score of over 80, and when he filled in for an injured Montel Harris at the end of his freshman year he managed 255 rushing yards and 2 TDs in 2 starts for an elite 97.05 WM.

Importantly, the Giants have a knack for drafting undervalued big RBs who contribute in the NFL: Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward, Andre Brown, and some other guy. I think that Williams—like Greene—might not do much in his first couple of years, with Rashad Jennings and David Wilson on the team, but in 2016 and 2017 Williams should have some solid RB2 seasons (with upside). The question is this: How much is that future production worth now? To me, it’s worth more than a pick at the bottom of Round 2 in a rookie draft.

Jerick McKinnon

I don’t often draft converted QBs, but when I do I prefer dudes who look like Jerick McKinnon.

Dri Archer

I normally hate small RBs, but sometimes you have to look at yourself in the mirror and say “When in Rome.” There’s little to dislike about Archer except for his size. He’s fast, agile, explosive, and with Todd Haley as his Offensive Coordinator he’s poised to be everything that Dexter McCluster couldn’t be. (You know what, forget that last point. Todd Haley’s presence should never be invoked as anything positive.) Archer is basically Tavon Austin with more speed—and given that he managed a 25.10 receiving DR last year, despite playing RB, he may be even a better pass catcher than Tavon—so just think of him like Gio Bernard, minus 30 lbs. Near the bottom of Round 3 in a rookie draft, that’s good value.

Ka’Deem Carey

This guy (to me) is an intriguing prospect—he’s not big and not fast, but he’s a good receiver and capable runner who was drafted by an innovative coach into a situation that should provide ample opportunity within a few years. Most importantly (again, to me) in the Workhorse Metric he scored a 92.66 as a sophomore and a 93.52 as a junior. In a few years, if Carey is a legitimate fantasy option I’ll feel pretty good about the WM’s predictive value. If he sucks . . . I still might feel OK about the WM—and also about my standard disdain for smallish runners. In the meantime, if you can get this guy in Round 3 of rookie drafts as Matt Forte’s handcuff and potential heir to the Trestman throne, you should be satisfied.

Devonta Freeman

In the RotoViz Rookie Rankings, I ranked Freeman as the #40 rookie. The staff collectively ranked him #28. I know that he’s seemingly in an Ellington-esque ideal situation in Atlanta, but he’s—to quote what I said in February—“not exceptionally big, fast, agile, explosive, or productive.” I can already tell that I am highly unlikely to roster him on any team this year.

Tyler Gaffney

At 23 years old, Gaffney might seem old, but let me tell you who’s a lot older—DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, and Kenjon Barner—and those guys are all that’s separating the two-sport Stanford stud from fantasy glory. A high-upside prospect with All-Pro comps is exactly the type of guy you should be targeting late in rookie drafts. Gaffney is one of my favorite sleepers of the 2014 class, and I love his landing spot. Say hello to this year’s Zac Stacy.

Damien Williams

Get ready for something of a tangent—because, you know, the entire Backfield Report Series is widely known for staying on point.

The Douche has written before about the danger of arbitrary cutoffs. In general, he discusses physical and production numbers when on this topic. I want to shift gears a little bit and apply this same concept to level of competition or, more particularly, to the level of college football in which a prospect plays.

When we look at FBS stats, we prefer numbers that were accumulated against “good competition,” but we still for the most part take into account stats accrued against “bad teams” –otherwise Odell Beckham Jr. would have almost no stats at all, know what I’m saying?

Anyway, when we look at under-the-radar FCS, D2, or even D3 prospects (like these guys or these guys), we still acknowledge that the stats those players have, even though accrued at a lower level of football against presumably inferior competition, still have some predictive value.

But if a guy played at junior college for 2 years and then moves up to play FBS football, we totally ignore his JC stats—saying things like, “JC is basically glorified HS football.” In regards to JC stats, we’ve created a potentially arbitrary cutoff.

On the one hand, JC stats might not have as much predictive value as stats accumulated at higher levels of college football, but on the other hand 1) these stats exist and they might have at least some predictive value and 2) we’ll never know their predictive value if we don’t at least look at them.

For instance, when RotoViz had its first civil war last year, fought over whether or not Cordarrelle Patterson had the right to be called a great prospect—I thought he did, and I said so a lot—I wonder if those who questioned his ability on the basis of his low market share in one year of FBS play would have had a different position if they had known that as a sophomore in junior college he had a DR above 40% (with over 1300 scrimmage yards and 24 total TDs)—and that’s on top of the greater than 50% DR he had as a JC true freshman.

Now, you might think that looking at JC stats is a waste of time, but I’ve done some digging and found that JC production—in players who actually make it to the NFL—can have some predictiveness: Say hello to LeGarrette Blount, Vick Ballard, and C.J. Anderson.

And, since I’m introducing you to RBs, say hello to Damien Williams.

On the High Stakes Fantasy Football Hour in April I called Williams my favorite RB rookie deep sleeper, and now that he’s in Miami I think he has a real chance to be a Foster-esque breakout star in 2015, if not earlier. Since Bob Stoops has been at OU, all of the big, fast, and productive RBs to enter the NFL have had success. Granted, only two guys (AD and DeMarco) fit that description—so maybe I’m being a bit sensationalistic—but as an athlete and producer Williams compares with those guys. He did well at the combine, and I think that we at RotoViz are way too low on him.

In 2013, before the college football season started, NFL Draft Scout had Williams as its #2 RB. After the season ended with Williams’ expulsion from the team, the same site ranked him as the #38 RB. Now, maybe he shouldn’t have been ranked #2 in the preseason, but his #38 ranking feels like an extreme instance of recency bias. I mean, in 2013 did the guy somehow forget how to find the cutback lane? No, he’s basically the same player he’s always been—and in 2012 he was one of the best RBs in the FBS.

And—here it comes (finally)—in 2011 he was the best junior college RB in the country, so good in fact that he was able to transfer to OU the next year and become the starter—who said that what a guy does in JC doesn’t matter?

In 2011, Williams accumulated 2248 scrimmage yards and 31 TDs in 12 games with an insane—absolutely insane—99.20 WM. In other words, in any game that didn’t turn into a blowout victory (and I’ll admit that almost all the games for Williams’ JC team were blowout victories), Williams was the only RB touching the ball. In games that were actual contests, he was his team’s offense. And did I mention that he’s a good receiver?

In front of Williams in Miami are 1) an old Knowsho Moreno on a one-year deal, 2) an unreliable and underwhelming Lamar Miller, 3) a decaying Daniel Thomas, who’s also a free agent in 2015, and 4) the perpetually inactive Mike Gillislee.

This is what opportunity looks like when she wears sheep’s clothing.

Want more? Click here to see Part 1.

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