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Should You Buy the Jerick McKinnon Hype?

The hype for NFL training camps has begun to rival that of the summer blockbuster. A whopping seven franchises acquired new head coaches, and several faces in the fantasy football realm found new homes. None of those players has generated as much excitement as Jerick McKinnon.

McKinnon inked a four-year deal with the San Francisco 49ers worth nearly $37 million, and he is the favorite to assume the near 300-touch workload Carlos Hyde left behind on his way to Cleveland.

McKinnon is Finally “The Guy”

McKinnon’s average draft position has skyrocketed throughout the summer, peaking in the early-second round in 12-team points per reception formats. McKinnon has never been ‘the guy’ according to most of his detractors, and they’re not entirely wrong. Over the past two seasons, McKinnon has received at least 15 touches in just 42 percent of his games played. However, he has been a phenomenal fantasy commodity whenever he’s been given decent volume.

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After Dalvin Cook’s injury last season, McKinnon’s usage surged from 5.5 opportunities per game all the way to nearly 16. In these 12 contests, McKinnon averaged a stout 13.8 PPR points, which would project out to roughly 221 seasonal points. For reference, that would’ve equated to an RB11 finish in 2017.

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The sample size doesn’t include just last year, however. McKinnon was heavily utilized in 2016 following Adrian Peterson’s meniscus injury. While he wasn’t as productive, his 37 receptions after Week 4 were good for eighth at the entire position. In addition, McKinnon scored at least 13 fantasy points in eight games, and logged at least 20 points in five.

The Kyle Shanahan Effect

Next, let’s look at the scheme in which McKinnon will be featured. 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan is widely regarded by the fantasy community as an offensive guru. He was behind Matt Ryan’s MVP campaign in 2016, as well as Robert Griffin III’s incredible rookie season in 2012. His impact as a genuine fantasy commodity producer extends beyond the quarterback position. Here are the six most productive running back seasons that have occurred under Shanahan’s offensive coordinating or head coaching:

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A Shanahan-coached back has scored at least 258 fantasy points on five different occasions, while all of the backs, sans Alfred Morris, caught at least 50 passes. Shanahan’s system has produced a top-eight PPR back in each of the last three seasons, including Devonta Freeman’s monstrous RB1 overall 2015 campaign. It’s also interesting to note the consistent production of Tevin Coleman in 2016. Despite playing second fiddle to Freeman, Coleman was able to deliver an RB2 season himself.  Coleman averaged 14.7 PPR points per game; good enough for the 13th highest average in the NFL that season. History suggests that the Shanahan backfields provide plenty of opportunity (EP) and the potential explosiveness to outperform from an efficiency perspective (FPOE). Even if a McKinnon teammate impresses this season, the 2016 season helps illustrate why the high ceiling remains for their new starter.

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Relative to this, Carlos Hyde underwhelmed last season despite the workload he received. Hyde produced nearly 47 fantasy points less than his expected total, which could potentially indicate why San Fransisco ultimately cut ties with him. 

How the Volume Will Split

As far as available volume and snap share are concerned, McKinnon is projected to be the bell cow. Starting back Carlos Hyde accumulated a whopping 328 total opportunities in his last season while primary backup Matt Breida earned just 141. Missing from the backfield last year due to injury is Utah product Joe Williams. Williams possesses a similar build to McKinnon, while Breida seems a bit undersized to earn a much larger role. Between these two, it wouldn’t be shocking if Williams ultimately emerged as the primary backup to McKinnon this coming season.

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While we’re on the topic of volume, it’s worth noting that McKinnon’s every-down credentials are a little stronger than most realize. Over the final 16 games of 2018, including playoffs, McKinnon logged more than half the snaps for his teams’ backfield 12 times. Despite getting more carries, Latavius Murray failed to out-snap McKinnon in all but two contests.

ADP-Based Value

Given McKinnon’s past performance and the system he is expected to be featured in, he could easily be one of the best values of draft season. According to the MFL10 ADP App here at RotoViz, McKinnon’s ADP has a ceiling of 14th overall and a floor of 33rd. These are the absolute highest and lowest positions where he has been selected, while his overall average falls around the 24th pick.

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McKinnon is being drafted in an interesting spot based on the players regularly being selected around him. Chicago Bears RB Jordan Howard is going less than two spots after him on average, while Cincinnati Bengals RB Joe Mixon’s ADP is less than a full spot lower. Despite the dangerously close ADPs of these three players, McKinnon was the most consistent option last season from week 4 onward.

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For instance, McKinnon was the most productive of the three by netting a respectable 13.7 fantasy points per contest, compared to 11.6 from Howard and just 11.0 from Mixon. McKinnon was also the only one to exceed his expected fantasy point total. Howard ultimately lost passing down work to Tarik Cohen, explaining his failure to reach receiving expectation. Mixon also saw his receiving role diminish at the hands of Giovani Bernard, but struggled with rushing efficiency as well, thus falling just short of reaching his expected fantasy point total. The overall value given McKinnon’s high-end RB1 ceiling puts him in a brilliant position to outperform his ADP.

McKinnon’s head coach has made a living out of producing RBs who outperform even their expected ceilings, such as Hyde last year and Morris back in 2012. There’s a reasonable case to be made for McKinnon warranting first round draft capital this season. He doesn’t, so this is a stock worth buying in virtually all formats, including dynasty and standard-scoring leagues.

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