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Offseason Thoughts: No Average Joe

Mario Puig

Mario is a Senior Writer at RotoWire who primarily writes and projects for the NFL and college football sections.

• There appears to be an emerging consensus that Mike Gillislee will replace LeGarrette Blount's role in the New England offense, which most importantly involves most of the team's red-zone running. These things can change quickly and with no notice – I'm old enough to remember when Rex Burkhead was the back to own in New England – but it feels like this narrative has some lasting momentum to it. I generally buy the premise that Gillislee will function as Blount did, but I'm skeptical that he'll do so with anything resembling the volume Blount did last year.

ESPN's Mike Reiss got the ball rolling by singling out Gillislee as the most likely Blount replacement, and his reasoning makes enough sense. The Patriots clearly value Gillislee, yet he's never been much of a pass catcher. Indeed, Burkhead, James White, and Dion Lewis all make more sense for passing down work.

If Gillislee isn't active as a pass catcher, then he'll have to work almost exclusively as a runner. In a running back rotation otherwise made up of smallish pass-catching backs, Gillislee's distinction as a rushing specialist makes him the top candidate for short-yardage running almost by default. But beyond that, it otherwise seems as if short-yardage running just happens to be one of Gillislee's strengths. In 17 career carries on third or fourth down and short, Gillislee has 14 first downs.

With all that said, I don't think Gillislee is a good bet to hit 200 carries, let alone the 299 Blount claimed last year. After all, even Blount doesn't get there with Burkhead and a healthy Lewis around all year. Burkhead has converted all six of his third and fourth down and short carries for first downs in the NFL, and it wasn't long ago that Lewis looked capable of overtaking Blount as the leading snap earner in that backfield.

Gillislee especially makes sense in best-ball formats, where any volatility issues are neutralized by the scoring system, but I'd rather take White (116.56) and Burkhead (191.48) at their respective recent ADPs over Gillislee's 69.86. He's a good asset, but a bit expensive for me at the moment.

• There was some Twitter chatter Thursday in response to a article that suggested Jonathan Stewart, not Christian McCaffrey, would lead Carolina in carries this year. The article was cited as proof that McCaffrey's fantasy value was overstated and that Stewart was a greater threat than previously thought.

I'm just surprised anyone ever thought McCaffrey was going to lead the team in carries. Stewart is getting paid good money, and this is an offense built on power running. McCaffrey barely weighs 200 pounds. If McCaffrey's acquisition cost all this time was boosted by the premise that he would lead Carolina in carries, then people must have had absurdly high expectations for McCaffrey.

My stance all along – and I assumed this was a slam-dunk consensus – was that Stewart would remain Carolina's starting running back and would lead the team in carries, but McCaffrey, propelled largely by his pass-catching production, would easily outrank Stewart in production from scrimmage.

McCaffrey's fantasy value was never supposed to come from his work as a conventional running back, so my perspective on him hasn't changed one bit. I always found McCaffrey's third-round price tag a bit high for my tastes, but not outrageously so. If he starts slipping in drafts – PPR formats like MFL10s, at least – I'm probably going to start buying aggressively. Even if you presume a cap of 120 carries, McCaffrey's upside is unique due to his potential as a receiver. Particularly given Carolina's poor wideout rotation, I'd say McCaffrey is capable of 75 or 80 receptions in this offense.

In the ADP data for the most 'recent' sample of MFL drafts for PPR scoring, McCaffrey is going 35.51, which is right on the turn between the third and fourth rounds. I guess I'd be surprised if he fell much further than that, but if he does, I am in. Even in the meantime I'd take him over Isaiah Crowell, who's going a couple spots earlier.

•Similar to Stewart and McCaffrey, there also surfaced a report from the Bengals' official site where writer Geoff Hobson said Jeremy Hill will be “far from invisible,” stoking some takes that Joe Mixon might get a lighter workload than previously thought.

This one can be dissected a little more quickly than the Stewart/McCaffrey case. In the very next paragraph of Hobson's article he said, “The best guy plays.” Hill is not the best guy. Mixon's talent level and skill set are on the scale of an All-Pro like Ahman Green, whereas Hill merely aspires to be another Shonn Greene at this point. The only thing that Hobson unambiguously puts on the record here is that Hill won't be cut from the team, and that's not at all a necessary condition for Mixon to establish easy RB2 value this year.

Hill will be on the team and will have at least a ceremonial role, but the only way Mixon doesn't establish himself as the team's clear lead runner is if coach Marvin Lewis intervenes to make sure the workload is split on some basis other than merit. As a coach who has withstood numerous calls for his firing over a 15-year tenure in Cincinnati, I would think his seat feels hot enough that he wouldn't deliberately, knowingly undermine his own team's ability to compete.

I've seen others voice concern over Mixon with regard to Cincinnati's offensive line. This area of concern also goes nowhere for me. If the Cincinnati offensive line is bad, it will make all the more visible the contrast in talent between Mixon, Hill, and Giovani Bernard. Behind a strong offensive line the offense could get its necessary returns with lower-level talent. A bad offensive line makes the offense more dependent on Mixon's talent, which is of the sort to transcend poor blocking. Hill and Bernard certainly aren't that.