If you own a twitter account or a television or have a human football brain, you were inundated with Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams hot takes during last night’s Hall of Fame game. Jennings is currently going in the 5th round of most drafts and offers the same sort of proposition in both PPR and standard leagues; he’s a pretty good bet for solid, if unspectacular, volume at the running back position at a spot in drafts where the options get pretty dicey. With David Wilson reportedly needing a miracle to ever play football again, we are looking at two man backfield of 4th round pick Andre Williams and free agent signee Jennings, with perhaps some RotoViz favorite Micheal Cox thrown in.
A quick recap for those who didn’t watch.1 Rashad Jennings played most of the time the first team offense was on the field, recording 7 carries and 3 receptions. We’ve been hearing reports from Giants camp that Williams was working with the first team inside the red zone and lo and behold, when the Giants got into the red zone, Williams recorded 2 straight totes. First a nice first down to the 15 yard gain and then a goal line carry that he converted into a touchdown. None of these stats really matter, but it is more the usage pattern that we are looking at for clues. I think that it’s pretty clear Jennings will get the lion’s share of the passing work out of the backfield, but that a huge chunk of his value is going to be taken away by Williams near the goal line.
Coughlin has a long history of working a 2 RB backfield with one runner playing in between the 20’s and another supplanting him at goalline, which seems to be what is happening here. A more in depth analysis of the Giants rushing split throughout Coughlin’s history can be found in this excellent article by Ryan Roulliard. To quote him “While the Lead Back dominates the carries, the goal line work is a lot closer to even, especially considering the carry advantages that the Lead Back enjoys.” Really, reading the entirety of Ryan’s article (which was about the potential split between Andre Brown and David Wilson last season) convinced me even further that Jennings will be the lead back and that Williams will complement him at around 8+ carries a game, plus goal line work.
Jennings is a pretty interesting player himself, having been stuck behind Maurice Jones-Drew for 2 years in Jacksonville, missing a season with a torn ACL, and then being terrible in his recovery year, before finally having a breakout year at the age of the 28 for the Oakland Raiders. On one hand, you could say “He’s a 29 year old running back on his 3rd team, why should I be excited?” (and to be honest, I’m not sure you’d be wrong) but the more accurate way to look at it is that he has no competition for the role of primary back. He has recorded at least 16 receptions in every year of his career, including 26 in his second season and 36 last year for the Raiders and he’s probably the only running back on the roster who has the chops to play in the passing game. His role as the lead back in Coughlin’s offense is secure on that fact alone.
To get yourself acquainted with Williams, please give Shawn Siegele’s Andre Williams, Adrian Peterson, and the Three Draftable Profiles. A quick summation is this: some really awesome names, like Adrian Peterson, Ryan Mathews, Mikel Leshoure (pre injury) and Alfred Morris show up on his comparables list. Shawn came to a conclusion that I think most statistically inclined fantasy football players would: Andre Williams is really freakin’ good, even if he won’t catch many passes. Generally at RotoViz, we like our running back prospects to project as pass catchers, as it makes them less volatile weekly players from week to week. Touchdowns are a relatively low frequency occurrence, whereas pass catching adds in yards that are much easier to attain than rushing ones.
Unfortunately, Williams just doesn’t profile as that sort of player. Williams had only 10 catches in college and 0 in his final collegiate season in which he lead all of Division 1 football in both yards and attempts, while averaging an outstanding 6.1 yards per carry. There’s no way around it, Williams was an absolute stud in the same vein as other more popular prospects like Bishop Sankey or Carlos Hyde… other than the lack of ability to catch passes. The young runner has even attempted to improve his pass catching skills by catching raquet balls after practice. Everything is price sensitive, so it’s okay that Williams will probably never become an elite or even average pass catcher, as long as he’s productive on the ground.
In tying together Mr Roulliard’s work on the historical composition of Giants backfield, Siegele’s profile of Williams as an athlete and early indications from the Giants organization, I think the most likely scenario is accurately reflected by the fantasy football market already. Jennings will likely earn his value as a 5th round pick, accumulating 250 total touches with an unequal amount of them coming in the passing game, but suffer from a lack of touchdowns that will keep him from being anything other than a mid tier RB2.
As with almost everything we do at RotoViz, an investment in Andre Williams in redraft must be price sensitive. After a strong showing in the Hall of Fame game, we will inevitably see a rise in Williams’ ADP. Whether or not that rise is artificial will probably depend on quotes from Giants coaches as well as how Williams does in the next several preseason games. No one was ever super excited to own Brandon Jacobs when he was the lesser half of the Ahmad Bradshaw Thunder and Lighting duo, but he was still a useful player for fantasy, albeit an unpredictable one. If Williams can carve out a role where he is getting 10 carries a game and the majority of the goal line work for a team that doesn’t have a superior red zone weapon, he’ll likely destroy his current projected value. Most of the Giants pass catchers have a history of being unreliable in the red zone, although Reuben Randle’s collegiate production and physical frame suggest he excel past the 20’s. If that remains the same, then we could be looking at scenario where Williams scores a dirt-cheap 10 TD’s coming off the board after the 9th round in a majority of leagues.
- who am I kidding? (back)