MFL10 drafters are giving the Giants’ backfield a wide berth. When Bran Stark stumbled on a zombie army led by a sinister white king with glowing blue eyes, some might argue he also should have given them a wide berth. Instead Bran messed his diaper and turned Hodor into a meat doorstop. Cautionary tale? Hardly. We can do better.
“I’m here to help…regardless of anybody’s opinions of me. I’m here to help win a championship.” – Rashad Jennings
When Rashad Jennings is available in the ninth round, just take him. With a positional ADP of 42 he’s severely undervalued, and his role is more secure than you might think.
Not convinced? Let’s go through the possible objections one by one.
Rashad Jennings is old, like Melisandre
Jennings is heading into his age 31 season, and if you pay any attention to running back age curves you’re probably already clenching your chair with something other than your hands.
Unclench. Jennings only looks old. Running backs entering their age 31-32 season are actually one of the most projectable cohorts at the position. The following table shows year-over-year correlations for a variety of fantasy relevant metrics. Att/G weighs in at a whopping 0.884, and Yds/G at an equally compelling 0.831.
Rashad Jennings actually isn’t very good at his job, like Ned Stark
Jennings is athletic. He has either a 55th or 75th percentile speed score, depending on if you use his combine or pro day 40 time, and his strength and agility are elite. Back when he was at Liberty he posted solid production numbers.
So the question becomes, “If Jennings is good why didn’t he get more opportunity and volume over his NFL career?”
This volume critique is the hardest to overcome. Last year was the first time in Jennings’s career that he approached 200 rushing attempts in a season. Injuries and what I can only surmise is relative lack of talent have kept him from securing the volume you expect from an every down workhorse.
Still, the Giants gave him enough touches in 2015 to amass 1159 all purpose yards so they see something in his game. Is there any evidence that they may replicate that workload in 2016, or even add to it?
Projecting opportunity in muddled backfields usually requires a trip down narrative street. I’ll try something a little more rigorous (but still potentially fraught).
Pro Football Focus has been grading players since 2007. If their grades captured something that regular stats were missing it would follow that players getting high grades from them would stand to see more opportunity in the future.
For a long time this wasn’t the case. From 2007-2011 PFF’s grades – relative to future opportunity – were worthless noise. But in 2012 something changed and they actually got fairly predictive. What happened?
I’m skeptical that PFF as an institution suddenly got better at player grading. We do know that the Giants hired Neil Hornsby during their Super Bowl run. And perhaps more importantly, we know that 2012 was the year Cris Collinsworth purchased PFF.
The most likely reason for the sudden rise in predictiveness is that NFL teams incorporated PFF data into their evaluations and made some decisions based on it.
If we look at just RBs that earned positive grades from PFF from 2011-2015 there is a positive, significant correlation between Rush Grade and Y+1 Att/G (n = 179).
I’ve labeled Giants players on the plot. They all come in above the best fit line, and opportunity generally rises the higher the Run grade. In 2013 Andre Brown received more Att/G than Ahmad Bradshaw, who had a lower (but still positive) Run grade. This lends some support to the notion that the Giants continued to pay attention to PFF grades after 2011.
Will the Giants use PFF data in 2016 to make decisions on who will run the ball? Current head coach Ben McAdoo wasn’t with the Giants in 2012, but he was offensive coordinator from 2014-15, so the processes former HC Tom Coughlin instituted stand a reasonable chance of remaining in place. It’s also interesting to note that McAdoo was a quality control coach starting out in the NFL. QC is where you would expect play level data like PFF’s to be incorporated.
Jennings is your Hodor
If you’re buying what I’m selling, then it’s good news. Jennings had the highest Rush grade on the Giants last season, at 5.6 (15th in the league).
If we plug league median numbers into the RotoViz Projection Machine, adjust YPC to a below median 4.0, give Jennings 51 percent of the team carries and an extra target per game, out pops 1200 strong, zombie hoard impeding all-purposes yards.
That’s a screaming value at RB42. Pick Jennings, and let him hold the door while you make a championship run.