Welcome to another round of the Great Fantasy Football Debate brought to you by myself and Ray Tannock. During NFL training camps and the regular season, FantasyKnuckleheads.com will be giving you our weekly Great Fantasy Football Debate for the 2012 season. Every week, Ray Tannock and myself will choose two players from the same position and give reasons why you, as an owner, should draft them in your fantasy football leagues. Now we aren’t going to take the easy way out and debate Tom Brady against Alex Smith. But we will randomly pick players who are so close in terms of their Average Draft Position, that you could lean either way when one of these guys becomes available at your turn in your fantasy draft.
In our last debate, my and Ray delved into a battle of the Quarterbacks which pitted Bears QB Jay Cutler against Texans QB Matt Schaub—you can catch up by reading here. This week we will target the RB position with two interesting competitors that many fantasy football fans we talk to are sort of on the fence with.
One might think it wouldn't be easy to talk owners into the Jacquizz Rodgers hype since he barely has a resume', but there are a few factors that lead me to believe he could have a big role in 2012 after sitting on the bench for most of the 2011 season.
Before I get into Rodgers, let's take a look at current starter Michael Turner. Turner has been a fantasy commodity for quite some time now. If you look at his stats as a Falcon, you can see that the team has relied heavily on him in the run game. And I mean HEAVILY.APG=Average Yards Per Game, 100YG=100 Yard Games Michael Turner's role looks to slow down in 2012.
Looking back at the tail end of Turner's 2011 season, some might argue that there is still plenty of value left after the guy blew up the Buccaneers in Week 17, rushing for 172 yards and two touchdowns. But it's not hard to argue the fact that the Buccaneers had the worst rushing defense in the league, allowing a whopping 156.1 yards a game. I could have scored on that mess of a defense.
The next week, Turner showed his true colors and ran on fumes, notching a mere 41 yards off of 15 carries in the Wild Card loss to the Giants. Turner had been known for having negative runs throughout the season, but it all came to a head in this game. Not to mention that the Falcons opted to use Matt Ryan on two fourth-and-short plays. Turner may have been able to notch 1300+ yards in 2011, but it's not that hard to do when the team gives you the ball so many times in one season.
Right after the loss, HC Mike Smith said the running back position was a big concern entering the offseason:
“It’s a big concern. You’ve got confidence in your football team that they are going to be able to move the football a half yard. There were many times this season when we were unable to get that accomplished. In the past, our fourth-down efficiency has been very good. This year it’s not so good.”
A few days later, newly-hired Falcons Dirk Koetter said the team wants to improve their screen game, something Turner doesn't have the speed for.
Now while I could ramble on and find more subtle hints on why Turner's career will be on a downward spiral in 2012, I'd like to start getting into the reasons why I love Rodgers' upside going into training camp.
First off, the guy excels in both the running game and in the passing game. Compared to Saints RB Darren Sproles coming out of college, Rodgers ran much stronger than his 5'6 frame would dictate, averaging 4.63 yards per carry in his junior year at Oregon State. NFL Films guru Greg Cosell said Rodgers had the best lateral agility + explosion of any back and had surprising power. He also showed great hands coming out of the backfield, notching 151 catches during his college career. After the Falcons traded up for him at the No. 145 pick in 2011, Rodgers should have been in the thick of things right off the bat last year. But Rodgers, like all rookies, had their growth stunted due to the lockout.
Fortunately, the Falcons appear to have big plans for the second-year pro, saying they have "high hopes" that Rodgers can handle an increased role this season. He should wind up being the primary back on passing downs. And that job could wind up being bigger with the news that the Falcons want to become a more pass-heavy team. And if he can prove his toughness at the next level, Rodgers could find himself getting fed more and more carries as the weeks go by. Jason Snelling figures to also have a role so the team can lighten Turner's workload, but he doesn't have the explosiveness or game-changing ability that Rodgers has.
As for Rodgers' fantasy value: If Rodgers and Daniel Thomas were sitting there in my draft, I'd have to lean on Rodgers. Not only for the reasons I said above, but the latest news on Thomas doesn't sit well for his projected 2012 value. Besides his highly disappointing 2011 season, where he averaged a mere 3.52 yards a carry and dealt with injuries, the Miami Herald says Thomas is now expected to battle for the No. 2 spot with Lamar Miller and Steve Slaton. I don't give Slaton a chance in hell, but Miller could give Thomas a run for his money if he can suck in the playbook in time. Thomas could eventually beat out both guys, proving last year was just a simple brain fart. But for now, I'll put all my moolah on Rodgers having the better value of the two as of now.
I’ll admit that this is a very tough debate. The biggest area of concern here is the gap between each player in regard to ADP. Daniel Thomas is currently projecting as a 10th round selection (10.06) and has fluctuated between being an 8th round selection to a 13th round selection.
What I’m going to focus on today is value versus strategy.
The Miami Dolphins are hoping like hell they can transition into a “new team” this year. In 2012 the Dolphins are hoping to push the pace more with a variant of the West Coast Offense that HC Joe Philbin put together in Green Bay.
What’s interesting is just exactly how they plan to do this.
Miami’s version of the WCO will be very similar to the old spread offense, and in order to run this effectively, the offense will have to tweak the RB role. Last year starting RB Reggie Bush sort of fell into a “workhorse” role, and he excelled, but everyone is also well aware of his abilities as a pass catcher and experience with variants of the WCO—precisely what Miami hopes to harvest this season.
The Dolphins are hoping to split Bush out wide, much more than they did in 2011, which is certainly guaranteed to open the door for more carries for backup Daniel Thomas.
This particular approach could eventually manifest into a hybrid RBBC situation.
In addition to this apparent strategy, the Dolphins are hoping that Thomas can improve upon his blocking skills as a blitz pick-up back (particularly on third downs), in an effort to utilize this approach.
Even GM Jeff Ireland believes in Thomas but acknowledges the second-year back needs to toughen up and keep his feet grounded when coming in contact.
So how do we translate this projected strategy into value?
The Value Aspect:
I haven’t been shy when speaking about Falcons RB Jacquizz Rodgers; I really do like the guy. But I also fear that Atlanta could wind up pushing the line with Michael Turner since he has been the primary workhorse back in Atlanta for quite some time.
The Dolphins, however, do not appear to be taking the same approach and it does make sense since Reggie Bush’s durability concerns take precedent, and the offensive approach doesn’t require such a role.
So when I consider value, I have to take Thomas.
One aspect of fantasy football we preach here at FK is making sure you stick with your draft until the very end. That simply means making sure everyone we can get a hold of understands that finding a potential impact player in the late rounds of your draft is just as paramount as selecting the expected stud in the first two rounds.
Daniel Thomas certainly has the history of a being a power-back and certainly has the potential to be that impact player.
During his time at Kansas State, Thomas turned one head after another. This was the 2011 scouting report from our friends at nfldraftscout.com:
[box type="info"] "2010: Last season’s Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year, Thomas recorded the second-most rushing yards in a season at K-State with 1,585 this season, which is also a new record for a senior back, and ranked eighth nationally. He also led the Big 12 with 19 rushing touchdowns, one shy of the school record. His 2,850 career rushing yards rank second all-time at K-State, while his 30 rushing touchdowns rank fourth, his 12 career 100-yard performances rank second and his 269-yard outing at North Texas in the 2010 regular season finale was the third-most ever by a Wildcat running back...2009: Earned Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year honors, while also being named First Team All-Big 12... Named a midseason All-Big 12 performer by Phil Steele... Finished the regular season as the Big 12's leader in rushing yards, attempts and yards per game... His 247 attempts were 2nd in school history, while his 1,265 yards ranked 4th in school history and 2nd among juniors... in Tied for first in the Big 12 and 6th in school history with 5 100-yard rushing games... Was 6th in the Big 12 in all-purpose yards per game (128.9)... His 1,547 all-purpose yards are tied for the 11th most in school history... He also finished the regular season 12th in the league in total offense per game (109.6), the most by a non-QB... Completed the regular season 22nd nationally in rushing yards per game and 10th in rushing attempts...JUCO: A four-star prospect by Rivals.com and the No. 35 junior college prospect in the nation... Also a three-star prospect by Scout.com... Rated as the No. 8 JUCO prospect in the state of Mississippi by the Sun Herald... Rushed for over 500 yards and seven touchdowns as a freshman and helped lead Northwest to a division championship... Accounted for 618 yards and six touchdowns last season on 103 carries... Also threw for 450 yards and two scores... A JUCO All-American." - nfldraftscout.com[/box]
Thomas only racked up 581 yards on 165 carries (3.5 ypc), while adding 72 receiving yards and a single TD in 2011, but he did so injured. Thomas only competed in 13 games last season and had a shortened off-season ta boot.
This year, however, Thomas is completely healthy with a full off-season program under his belt/at his disposal.
In addition to this, the Dolphins were wise to retain Richie Incognito at Guard, upgraded with Artis Hicks at opposite Guard, already have a Pro-Bowl tackle in Jake Long and got everything they wanted and more from Center Mike Pouncey last season.
The only area left to be developed is rookie sensation Jonathan Martin (Stanford), who is expected to make an immediate impact at RG.
So, where does this all leave us?
1. Well for starters, Miami isn’t being shy about their anticipated offensive approach this season; an approach that will open doors for Thomas nearly all season long.
2.The Dolphins have obviously upgraded their O-Line which always bodes well for RBs.
3.The Dolphins face three teams that were horrible against the run in their first six weeks (Oakland, Arizona and STL). Atlanta faces a bunch of teams who were also weak against the run in 2011, but many of those teams have improved or will be with impact players they were without in 2011 such as DNV, CAR and KC, so the opportunity appears to favor Thomas just a bit.
What I believe is this: When I look at these two RBs I see a lot of potential, but I see more potential from Daniel Thomas.
I see more because of better opportunity. I see more because of a better “RB friendly” situation. I see more because of a game-plan that already incorporates Thomas. I see more because there simply is more in Daniel Thomas.
And when that 10th round comes rolling around, if I have to choose between the two, I’m convinced Thomas is not only the better choice, but the better overall value for the pick.