Fork in the Road: These three guys were heavily sought after in 2014 drafts, with all three routinely drafted in startup leagues as RB2 upside plays. They all had solid dynasty profiles: Ryan Mathews was a former first-rounder who’d finished 2013 on a tear and had finally put it all together; Zac Stacy was young and had dominated the Rams’ volume last year; and Toby Gerhart had been signed from Minnesota to be the catalyst of the Jaguar offense. Let’s just say it hasn’t panned out in any of their cases. So, how do we treat them going forward? The Fantasy Gumshoe and I do our best to sort these messes out.
The Fallen Phenom
Ryan Mathews sustained another injury, this time in a contract year. What lies ahead?
Jeremy Hardt Follow @FantasyGumshoe
Long gone are the days where a running back prospect like Ryan Mathews inks a 4 year, $20.47MM rookie contract. 2015 will be another chapter in the Mathews story as the San Diego Chargers are likely to move on from a player that comes with a storied injury history. Running backs are easily replaceable in today’s NFL, so Mathews should expect to enter free agency and be lucky to see Knowshon Moreno money.
The market price for Mathews is in the 2nd round rookie range as no one is offering up a 1st round pick to essentially bring on a running back that can’t stay on the field. He’s a bruising and powerful running back, much in the mold of DeMarco Murray, and that also serves as his downside since his anatomy just wasn’t desinged to withstand the punishment. The range of teams he signs with can be anywhere from the Oakland Raiders to the New England Patriots, but any team that signs him will likely need to leverage him in a platoon of some sort. This offers Mathews owners upside some weeks, middling flex play production other weeks, and a potentially wasted roster spot if and when he sustains another multi-week injury. Hang onto the 2nd round rookie pick as there will be plenty of Mathews replacements in the 2015 draft.
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Justin Howe Follow @JustinHoweFF
I’ve never been much of a Mathews fan, but this offseason, I closely examined his ability to be a workhorse back. The results weren’t bad, but they definitely weren’t awesome. On the plus side, Mathews led all qualifying RBs in touches/snap in 2013; in other words, when he was on the field (on early downs), he got the call. He answered the bell from a rushing standpoint, churning out seven games of 99+ rush yards over the team’s last eleven games with a 4.7 YPC mark over that span. In fact, he finished second among all RBs in PPR points/game over the entire season.
There were some troubling indicators. Mathews is a liability on passing downs; any team that invests in him is also required to invest in a third-down back. Also, Mathews isn’t much of a goal line guy. In 2013, he took just 39% of the Chargers’ carries inside the five, a lower percentage than both Reggie Bush and Jordan Todman. He’s not going to help much beyond first or second down, and he’s not going to score TDs very consistently.
Should he remain with the Chargers, the Bolts have a crowded backfield. Danny Woodhead will return next season, as his release would cost the Bolts $7M in dead money over the next two years. Donald Brown is also a fair bet to return, as his release would leave $3.2M dead over the same span. Branden Oliver projects as a decent three-down back. the team appears somewhat set across the top three spots on its depth chart. I can’t see them offering him more than peanuts on the open market with all of that money already invested in such a replaceable position.
I was fairly high on Mathews when we ranked these guys in October, but I think that was more of a reaction to the sorry state of the Charger running game. Brown was looking awful as Mathews’ heir apparent, and Oliver hadn’t yet broken out, so I kinda viewed Mathews as some kind of savior. I don’t really see things that way anymore. Mathews produced when he’s on the field, but his limitations force him into an early-down-only role which can knock a runner down noticeably. To maintain startability, he’ll have to land on a team that features him heavily on those early downs, and that’ll be a risky bet to make on a 27-year-old free agent who gets hurt a lot. I think he’s a dynasty RB4 type unless I see him land in an ideal spot – and San Diego likely isn’t it.
The Unappreciated Power Back
What went wrong with Zac Stacy, and what does the future hold?
As a Draft Day steal, I was bought-into the workhorse running back with undervalued work-out metrics when he landed in St. Louis. There were a couple moments on start-up draft day that I found myself looking at both Zac Stacy and Christine Michael on the draft board knowing I was going to pick one of them. I just wasn’t quite sure which one to draft as I fell in love with Michael’s combine measurables and Stacy’s undervalued workhorse ability couples with high agility scores. I ended up splitting the difference as one team I built for the future and the other I built to win a championship. For the latter, I saw a path that could open up for Stacy to become the lead back in a Jeff Fisher system.
This off-season, I started shopping Stacy on that team. Once the Rams drafted Tre Mason it was clear they weren’t sold on Stacy long-term and were looking to go in a different direction. The best I was able to come up with was a high 2nd round rookie pick, and I didn’t think it was enough. In hindsight – I was wrong – Allen Robinson, Davante Adams, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, and Donte Moncrief all told me so and continue to tell me so in my dreams. There may or may not have been a shower cry involved.
With a quick query of the Rotoviz.com Fantasy Efficiency app, we can see that Stacy held 52% of the ruATTMS (Rush Attempt Market Share) between Weeks 1-5. From weeks 5-7 it dropped to 40%. From Weeks 7-10 it dropped further to 26% with a sudden yet staggering 61% ruATTMS going to Tre Mason. The rest was history for Stacy as he now finds himself under contract through 2016 on a team that doesn’t want to use him in either early or passing down situations.
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If you’re a believer in the talent, that’s okay, but it’s going to be a couple years before he has a potential opportunity outside of an (at best) running back-by-committee. For me, sometimes the play is to sell low and get what you will, and I’m afraid this is that case. Find the Mason owner and package Stacy with another player for an upgrade where it makes sense for you.
Asher Benjamin Follow @therealABC and I talked about Stacy for awhile on the most recent Pigmatic Podcast. Good Lord. Poor Stacy. Productive throughout college, productive as a rookie, rescued a dead running game, dependable in the passing game – and Jeff Fisher couldn’t shuffle him away fast enough. I didn’t get the Tre Mason pick – not a fan of the prospect, and didn’t see ANY need to add to a Stacy/Cunningham backfield – and I still don’t get it, considering Fisher suddenly wants some forced committee. That kind of consistency and attention to detail must be what’s guided him to the playoffs a whopping six times in 19.5 seasons.
Stacy was a true bowling ball as a rookie. According to Pro Football Focus, he churned out 2.45 yards/attempt after contact – eighth-best in the league. Despite being such an effective power back, he posted a better breakaway rate (percentage of rushes that went for 15+ yards) than Gio Bernard, Marshawn Lynch, and Le’Veon Bell. He also ranked #8 in pass blocking efficiency. Despite all of this, Fisher seems to have washed his hands of Stacy and moved along.
Going forward, who knows? A trade isn’t going to happen; the dude makes $1.3M over the next two years, so there’s no incentive whatsoever to move him. Stacy’s only path back to relevance involve a coaching change and a Mason injury/faceplant. Both could very well happen, since Fisher sucks and Mason lacks some skills needed to stay on the field consistently. But it’s hard to bank on them both happening, and neither on their own would guarantee Stacy anything. I don’t think Stacy has another RB2 season left in St. Louie barring a couple of breaks, and dynasty owners can’t invest too much in that. If you’re in a true dynasty league, where you keep everyone from one season to the next, then Stacy is worth a hold. He’s 23 and talented and has already produced at an awesome level. But if pressed, I’d slot him definitively lower than a youngster who’s ascending his depth chart rather than descending. Just know that if his opportunity arises in 2015 – say Fisher is gone and Stacy runs circles around Mason throughout camp – he’ll have boatloads of RB2 appeal.
The Career Back-up
Toby Gerhart’s stint in Jacksonville has been disastrous. Is there any hope?
Toby Gerhart’s 5.05 career Y/C as a Minnesota Vikings reserve running back looks extremely fluky at this point given his putrid performance as a Jacksonville Jaguar. It would appear that the offensive line had much to do with his previous success. Nobody likes Gerhart at this point and you’re lucky to receive a 3rd round rookie pick for him. Be careful to bring up his name as you’re likely to receive a hazing of some sort.
According to Football Outsiders, the Jaguars are not running well up the middle. They’re only getting 3.84 adjusted line yards up the middle, which is a metric that evaluates how well the line is blocking for the running back and evaluates the yards the line owns. You’ll see (with the exception of runs in the direction of Left Tackle), the offensive line isn’t doing their job. Denard Robinson, however, has seen much success behind this line. He is having a lot of success be running to the outside (20% left and 20% right), essentially avoiding the lack-luster opportunity the line presents. His skill-set is simply better equipped to allow him to not get caught in the trenches.
With the state of the offensive line, there is no way Gerhart is able to perform in this offense as he’s a between-the-tackles runner with less versatility than Robinson. I do think his health has also hampered him, but until the line improves, we can’t expect to see Gerhart perform when things are going well for Robinson, again, by bouncing things outside away from the turmoil.
Your best bet is to hold Gerhart and hope for the best as his value is at an all-time low. I was high on Gerhart going to Jacksonville and getting his opportunity, and I do think there is much room for improvement next year as the passing game opens up a bit and there are improvements made on the line. Recency bias is in full force, and Gerhart simply is not as bas as both he and that situation for in inside runner has looked. At best, however, it will be a timeshare and he won’t be the every down guy we had hoped for.
No, I don’t see any real hope – even if Shoelaces hadn’t already cemented himself in the #1 role. I’ll admit, I had always considered Gerhart to be a very limited, blah-type guy. Not long ago, I reviewed his combine numbers and was blown away. Apparently, he was a very gifted athlete in that tank top workout that day. And his YPC throughout his Minnesota stint impressed me as well, inconsistent as it was. So Gerhart isn’t quite the turd I’ve always thought him to be.
All of that said… I’m not buying. When next season starts, Gerhart will be 28.5 with, in all likelihood, a season-high of 109 rushes – back in 2011. (No, I didn’t expect him to have unseated All Day. But it’s troubling that his role decreased as his time in Minnesota wore on.) His YPC has yo-yo’d since entering the league, from 4.0 to 4.9 to 3.4 to 7.9 to 2.6. There’s just not enough there to intrigue me, let alone make me forget about his first starting opportunity going so awry, let alone make me expect a turnaround while blocked by Denard Robinson behind a god-awful front line.
Back in October, I ranked Gerhart 48th among dynasty running backs. I don’t think the needle will move much this offseason, especially while Robinson is going strong.