In this installment of “Max shapes his entire philosophy of life around an article Shawn wrote” I’m going to attempt to find third down backs who will have standalone value next season. My theory is that teams with Profile 1 backs are more likely to employ a full time passing down back because their starter lacks the ability to contribute out of the backfield.
The first task is to identify which teams have starting backs who do not contribute in the receiving game. Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch, DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews, Toby Gerhart, and Trent Richardson are all profile 1 backs. In addition, Eddie Lacy, Alfred Morris and Montee Ball aren’t quite fast enough to technically be considered profile 1 guys but that’s essentially how they are used. Ben Tate is hypothetically a Profile 1 and 2 Back, but his pass catching has left a lot to be desired, which I’ll get into in a minute.
Now that we have our initial list let’s use the AYA App to look at which of these guys have actually shown some pass catching ability so far in their career. I’ve included all the backs listed as well as their quarterback’s AYA when targeting them over the past two years.
|Name||Targets||AYA When Targeted|
Okay, so for what its worth, Trent Richardson’s AYA jumped to 6.95 on 41 targets as a Colt, which is part of why we believe he could be a true three down back so he’s out. Eddie Lacy was actually a little bit better than I thought last year. He’s never going to remind anyone of Marshall Faulk but an AYA in the 6 range is good enough to suggest he can play all three downs effectively. Marshawn Lynch is the surprise of the list with an AYA of 7.12. You’ll notice that 74 targets in two years for a starter is low for a guy who’s been a workhorse in the running game and if he actually played all three downs his efficiency would probably drop, but he’s at least capable enough catching the ball that you don’t need to take him off the field every time you want to pass (also, I don’t want to write about Christine Michael because his perceived value is already getting out of control.)
This leaves us with Adrian Peterson, Ben Tate, DeMarco Murray, Alfred Morris, Ryan Matthews, Montee Ball, and Toby Gerhart as the backs who should probably be replaced in passing situations.
Case by Case Breakdowns
Minnesota: Norv Turner has been vocal about wanting AP more involved in the passing game, though unless he can find a way to make him more efficient this seems like a bad idea. Third round pick Jerick McKinnon is an absolute monster of an athlete with a sub 11 agility score. However McKinnon was an option QB in college and only caught 10 passes in his time at Georgia Southern. While McKinnon certainly has the measurables of someone who could play on 3rd down, Norv Turners’ exuberance towards Peterson plus McKinnons’ complete lack of experience at RB makes me think we’re probably at least a year away from McKinnon seeing enough snaps to be relevant.
Cleveland: Terrance West doesn’t project to be any better a pass catcher than Ben Tate is, nor does undrafted free agent signing Isaiah Crowell. Edwin Baker is expected to make the team, but his agility score is 11.58 and he’s a fringe NFL player. Dion Lewis has an agility score of 11.08 but he’s not a favorite to make the team right now and, honestly, at 193 pounds with a 4.57 40 yard dash, an agility score of 11.08 is pretty shitty. The actionable takeaway here might be to give Ben Tate a boost if he wins the starting job just because the Browns really don’t have a viable alternative to give their RB targets to, essentially making Tate a de facto three down back.
Dallas: While its true that Demarco Murray has actually been targeted frequently over the past two years, putting up his 108 targets in just 24 appearances, it’s also the case that his yards per catch last year of 6.6 was poor and his Yards Per Target of 5.31 over the past two years is utterly pedestrian. On the other hand, Murray caught an insane 71 passes his senior year in college, so regardless of how efficient of a pass catcher he’s been at the pro level, he may be viewed as a reliable option just on volume. Either way, Lance Dunbar posted an elite NQBDR in college and his 10.94 agility score makes him a top 10 sleeper for 2014. Former Lions coordinator and current Cowboys Passing Game Coordinator Scott Linehan loves to throw the ball around and Tony Romo is a more than capable quarterback. DeMarco Murray probably has some pass catching chops, but I think he could probably get into the 30-40 catch range and still leave plenty of opportunity for Dunbar to have the type of season Danny Woodhead put together last year in San Diego.
Washington: I can actually see this going a couple of ways. Washington will probably pass a little bit more under Jay Gruden so the question is, where will any additional RB targets go. In my article on Jeremy Hill I noted that Ben Jarvus Green-Ellis actually ran a lot of routes for a guy who never caught the football. It’s also true that, at least when he has been targeted, Alfred Morris hasn’t been that bad, so there’s probably a real possibility that Alf gets into the 25 catch range this year, which would provide a nice boost to his value. Lache Seastrunk was a late pick and isn’t really ideal athletically, however backup Roy Helu is the owner of an elite agility score as well as an AYA of 6.95 on 39 targets from Robert Griffin. There were some reports that the Shannahans viewed Helu as “soft” but if new coach Jay Gruden is keen on involving his backs heavily in the passing game like he did with Gio Bernard last season in Cincinatti, Helu could easily become a legitimate RB2 in fantasy. Helu is undervalued in drafts as he is one of the only lower round backs who holds both significant handcuff value and potential standalone value.
San Diego: I already spilled a bunch of pixels about the San Diego backfield here.
Denver: With Montee Ball, we’re dealing with a pretty small sample, but we know he athletically doesn’t look like the type of back who catches a lot of passes and that really wasn’t a huge part of his game in college, though he did catch 24 passes as a Junior. CJ Anderson is a bigger guy and doesn’t really fit the pass catching profile. We don’t know Ronnie Hillman’s Agility Score, but at 5’09 200lbs we can guess he’s a profile three type. Hillman has an AYA of 7.24 on a limited sample of 25 targets with Peyton Manning so far in his career, so that’s a positive. Hillman is also entering his third year and was a third round pick out of college. The narrative that supports Hillman is that Knowshon Moreno was a great pass catching back in his own right and now that he’s gone, Hillman will be given the opportunity to flourish in the glow of the Peyton Manning Effect. On the other hand, we probably need to see the Broncos show some interest in using Hillman more before he becomes a strong buy.
Jacksonville: Toby Gerhart really wasn’t that bad when you consider his quarterback situation in Minnesota and how handily he outperformed AP as a pass catcher. Jordan Todman’s 11.42 agility score sucks and he’s shown nothing so far at the NFL level. Denard Robinson is considered a scat back type, but his Agility Score was a pedestrian 11.31 and right now he’s buried on the depth chart. If anything, we probably now have even more evidence that Toby Gerhart will be an every down back even if he isn’t a Zero RB Candidate anymore.