Continued from Part I.
2. Stud Backs Coming From Small"ish" Schools
Running back seems to be the skill position, more than any other, where guys pop up from just about anywhere and can have an immediate fantasy impact. From top ten pick to undrafted, from National Champion to Division III. While scouring for rookie sleepers I was looking into guys from small schools who put up huge stats in college, but it turned out a lot of these players were getting drafted early, and virtually all of them had been successful at the pro level in years one or two. Not to say the backs from the Texas, Oklahoma, USC, and Ohio States of the world are to be shunned, but the highly drafted smaller school guys are representing a good percentage of the elite runners entering the league. Not all those listed come from true "small" schools, like Central Littleville State Tech, but even those from the major BCS conferences are not from what you'd consider powerhouses. Below is a list of backs drafted in the first two rounds from what I would consider small"ish" schools and their first two years of stats. None of the rookie numbers are staggering, 2008 notwithstanding, so I'm looking at this segment from more of a keeper, long-term evaluation standpoint.
Previous Years Data
Year - Player - School (Rushing yards - Touchdowns),|STAR| indicates second year stats
2011 - none
2010 - Ryan Mathews - Fresno State (678 - 7/1,091 - 6|STAR|)
2008 - Matt Forte - Tulane (1,238 - 8/929 - 4|STAR|), Chris Johnson - East Carolina (1,228 - 9/2,006 - 14|STAR|), Ray Rice - Rutgers (454 - 0/1,339 - 7|STAR|), Rashard Mendenhall - Illinois (58 - 0/1,108 - 7|STAR|)
|STAR||STAR|Mendenhall missed virtually all of his rookie year due to injury, and Brown is a popular riser this season as he looks to be finally getting his chance to be the bell cow in Indy.
For reference, here is the list of backs taken over the same period of time in the first two rounds from what I would consider "bigger" schools: Mark Ingram, Ryan Williams, Shane Vereen, Daniel Thomas, C.J. Spiller, Jahvid Best, Dexter McCluster, Ben Tate, Montario Hardesty, Knowshon Moreno, Beanie Wells, Darren McFadden, Jonathan Stewart, and Felix Jones.
Doug Martin - Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Round 1, Pick 31
The Bucs traded back into the first round to select Martin, and he figures to overtake LeGarrette Blount as a more versatile, every down type of back. At Boise State he posted back-to-back 1,200 yard seasons and scored a combined 46 touchdowns over his last three. At 5'9", 223 pounds he has an ideal frame and good speed and hands.
Isaiah Pead - St. Louis Rams - Round 2, Pick 50
Pead is a smooth, one-cut style runner who showed good all-around ability playing at Cincinnati. He had 1,578 yards from scrimmage and 15 total touchdowns his senior year and is likely the heir apparent to Steven Jackson.
1. First Round Quarterbacks Start, Struggle Early
I'm not sure this is necessarily a new trend, but I do think the notion or ideal that quarterbacks should acclimate slowly and learn under a veteran has flown the coop. The pressure on coaches to win now and the money handed out to the incoming elite has gotten too great for patience. Like most of the information presented in today's column, this points to the fact you're better off bypassing the allure of being first on a shiny new rookie and "settling" for guys with at least one year of NFL experience. The upside to this trend is that in keeper leagues the wait for a return on quarterbacks could be shorter than in years past. On the heels of a monster rookie campaign for the ages by Cam Newton, and with two supremely touted new prospects joining the league, this figures to be a temptation that will be tough for many to abstain from this fall, but the numbers don't lie. Below is the rookie and second year stats for all first round quarterbacks since 2008.
Past Years Data
Year - Player (Passing yards - Touchdowns),|STAR| indicates second year stats
|STAR||STAR|Bradford lost six games due to injury and is a solid bounce-back candidate this season, while Stafford missed 13 games in year two before returning to post 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns in 2012.
Andrew Luck - Indianapolis Colts - Round 1, Pick 1
Everyone's favorite thing since slice bread, or Peyton Manning, I forget which. Truthfully, I don't see the weapons in Indy to allow him to go off in year one. I expect a Manning-like rookie campaign with his team trailing often and characterized by lots of passes, decent yards and touchdowns, but also lots of picks.
Robert Griffin III - Washington Redskins - Round 1, Pick 2
Yup, he can run the 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds, but he won't be Newton, or Michael Vick in year one. He's loaded with skills, has a decent supporting cast, but the NFC East is loaded with defensive talent.
Ryan Tannehill - Miami Dolphins - Round 1, Pick 8
Won the award for hottest wife in the draft, but he's also likely to win the Jake Locker award for "the only first rounder to ride the pine".
Brandon Weeden - Cleveland Browns - Round 1, Pick 22
Has to beat out Colt McCoy for the starting job, once that's over he has to make lemonade out of wide receiver lemons. Transition from a spread system has the Gabbert-effect quality to it also.
If anyone is still reading, I'm going to do a quick recap because this column certainly ran longer than intended and it got a bit cluttered with names and numbers.
- In all IDP leagues I'm taking a shot on a rookie pass rusher. Ingram is my favorite for big sack numbers due to his freakish versatility and athleticism.
- Fleener is going to be a stud, but I'm not reaching for him in yearly leagues. In keeper formats I put him third at the position, and I like each of the other three tight ends listed as fliers. If the past pattern holds true, Rudolph, Kendricks, or both could be in for significant jumps this year.
- Due to questionable quarterback play I won't be drafting this year's WR crop ahead of solid veterans in the same tier, and when it comes to keeper leagues I'm sticking to the NFL's assessments and not trying to break the mold with Alshon Jeffery, Stephen Hill, or Rueben Randle.
- Richardson is going to be good, he reminds me a little of Maurice Jones-Drew, but based on cost and the trend detailed above, I'm going to target Martin. For the same reason, I like Pead more than David Wilson or LaMichael James who come from higher profile schools.
- Outside of the Newton anomaly (and the Bradford/Stafford injuries), quarterbacks have struggled as rookies, but drastically improved with one year of experience. Armed with this knowledge, I expect Bradford to bounce back, and Ponder and Locker to make big strides in 2012. The book is out on Gabbert. Despite Griffin's speed and Luck's pedigree (and the fact I owned Newton in one of my two leagues last year), no rookie QBs for me in annual leagues, but for...
Has the quarterback, the rapport, the measurables, and all the skills to be great.
I'm a Rice groupie and this kid has a similar build and skill set. Plays tough, is quick, and has the deep speed.
In a vacuum, I have him slightly ahead of Martin, but I worry some about his team, his speed, and his hands. Absolutely love his power and balance though, and he should be a touchdown machine on a squad with a dearth of redzone options.
2. Griffin III
I think his rushing ability is overestimated at the pro level, especially in terms of touchdowns, but it will help him extend plays and pick up cheap fantasy points. I think Washington's talent hasn't shown because of their lack of leadership and efficiency from the position and Griffin will thrive as a passer.
It won't happen in year 1, but when the Colts stink again this year and they add Robert Woods to play opposite veteran Reggie Wayne and the two tight ends, look out in year two. He'll be a top-5/7 QB soon.