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The Case FOR Tyreek Hill For Fantasy 2017 (And Is The NFL About To Change As We Know It?)

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*This is a 6,000+ word monster, so plan accordingly…

*Re-post from July

The Case FOR Tyreek Hill For Fantasy 2017 (And Is The NFL About To Change As We Know It?)

The #1 topic I’m dealing with this early preseason is how to properly value Tyreek Hill for fantasy football 2017…and for dynasty long term. I’m a Tyreek advocate, but I did not realize the passion for the anti-Tyreek side.

I was recently on the RotoUnderworld podcast, and when the topic came up, of which I knew going in was a point of dissension between myself and the host, we had a fun/funny exchange about Hill, but then we switched gears/topics and later I realized that I didn’t really lay out my case fully…a case bigger than just Tyreek Hill. I realized that I left the debate hanging because I got several emails afterward asking me to finish what I started. It’s a study/debate that may not be made for a couple minutes of banter on air…it may be better in the written form, so I’ll lay out my case at the keyboard. Nearly 6,000 words worth of discussion, so pull up a chair – we’re going to be a while.

Boiling down the debate on Tyreek 2017 and into the future to its simplest form:

— The anti-Tyreek crowd is convinced that 2016 was an aberration that will not likely/cannot be repeated.

— My case is that there is more to explore with Hill, and furthermore, Tyreek 2016 could represent a massive sea change underway in the NFL…and it’s going to change the NFL and fantasy strategy as we know it.

The thing is, about this debate, I totally understand the alternative view. A couple years ago, I would have likely been on the other side. The anti-Tyreek group has history on its side – historically speaking, there’d no way a 5′8″ primarily college running back could just switch over as a rookie and become a legit NFL wide receiver of note. News of Andy Reid calling Hill their #1 wide receiver for the team in the sudden absence of Jeremy Maclin only fueled the opposition’s fire – Hill is perceived as a bad/mediocre wide receiver, more of a gadget player…and in no way is he a #1 wide receiver for an NFL team. History would back that up…in the sense that it really hasn’t happened before (a moderately productive, small college running back turned #1 NFL wide receiver, virtually with a flip of the switch – it’s not supposed to work like that).

Additionally, the anti-Tyreek group has more history on its side – the NFL never works wide receivers in the running game enough to matter. Every time it starts it stops…see Percy Harvin, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Tavon Austin.

Here’s the thing about history-changing events…they never show up and grab the majority by the shirt collar and shout into faces clearly, “The world as you know it is about to change!” What football person did not dismiss Russell Wilson as a nice college player his draft year…and lament: “If only he were over 6′0″ tall for the pro level!” Who thought shorter-than-normal tight end Jordan Reed would become a thing in the NFL where we would say in the future that a team is “…looking for a Jordan Reed-like tight end.” When Darren Sproles became a star in New Orleans, everyone was looking for their team’s “Sproles” at running back – now, nearly every team has or is looking for a ‘3rd down back’ for the passing game specialty weapon.

Wilson, Reed, Sproles – what do they all have in common? They are smaller/shorter humans than our football eyes/minds like – and they changed the game as we knew it. Football society likes Adrian Peterson, Calvin Johnson, and Peyton Manning-sized weapons. It’s a visual bias. It’s also an analytics bias – because the fact that the NFL has the visual bias makes coaches push ‘bigger’ players and dismiss smaller ones…so, of course, history then shows bigger players work (better production/statistics) and smaller ones usually don’t…with a few exceptions called, dismissively, ‘outliers’.

Five years ago, Tyreek Hill would never have been given a chance to accomplish what he did in 2016. 10+ years ago, Tyreek Hill would have been a kick returner or ignored…or a star in the CFL. In the past, a league looking for Calvin Johnson at WR and Adrian Peterson at RB would have laughed at, and had nothing in their playbook for, a guy like Tyreek Hill…as a running back or as a wide receiver.

I think the NFL is on the verge of a huge change in offensive strategy.

What if the next big thing for NFL offenses is running backs with RB-heavy experience/backgrounds/style/toughness who have some skill catching passes – what if they played more as quasi-wide receivers, and are just moved around all over into different pre-snap alignments to create mismatches and confusion? They might be in the backfield, on one play, and are a real threat to run the ball if they are…but they may just line up as wideouts, the next play, and are a threat there as well. They can run pass patterns from the tailback spot…they can take jet sweep handoffs as flankers. They don’t get 1–3 gimmick touches and play 10–15 snaps per game – they start becoming a focal point/integrated part of the offensive plan. Basically, what if the next big thing in the NFL is exactly what Kansas City scratched the surface of with Tyreek Hill in 2016?

I’m not talking about a running back shifted/forced into the traditional wide receiver role. Tyreek Hill is not Jeremy Maclin. But what if instead of confining the running back, especially these smaller, speedy ones, to the backfield…you simply line them up at wide receiver 30–70% of the time and put them out in space away from the 300+ pound lineman and just toss them bubble screens – and when the defense cheats up on it…send the 4.29 runner sprinting deep for a possible big play. I don’t need Tyreek Hill to be Larry Fitzgerald…I don’t want him to be. I want Hill to be what he was in 2016…only, I want more of it. And I think the NFL is about to invest heavily in ‘Tyreeks’ anywhere they think they can find them. Actually, they already are…more on that in a moment.

We mock NFL teams for being fixated on certain things/traits and ignoring others, but the football community and even the vaunted analytics crowd (and I am guilty of it as well) builds models looking for certain things, prototypical size-speed-production numbers. Prototypical is code for – it’s what has worked (favored by coaches with their bias) in the past. ‘Analytics’ identifying a guy as historically upper-limit ‘fast’ doesn’t matter as much anymore…there are a bunch of ‘fast guys’ in the NFL from Tyreek Hill to guys like J.J. NelsonPhilip Dorsett, and now John Ross. Anyone with decent number identification skills and a download of historical prospect data can tell you Tyreek Hill is upper-percentile fast…and shorter/smaller…and not a typical #1 wide receiver in the NFL. The role Tyreek is working is not ‘prototypical’…not yet, anyway.

Analytics people are going wild proving that Hill has bad metrics as a classic wide receiver and that he wasn’t a big producer in college overall anyway, so his great 2016 had to be an aberration. I get that, but why am I supposed to just completely ignore what happened in 2016? Why do Tyreek Hill’s  analytics studies stop at 2015 at West Alabama?

If I see three seasons of work: (1) his promising JUCO transfer to Oklahoma State debut season (2014), and then the (2) nondescript season where he was booted off Oklahoma State and landed at West Alabama (2015), and then (3) the historic NFL production with Kansas City in the NFL in 2016…well, excuse me if I take a little longer look at the amazing NFL season among the three options and don’t immediately rush back to West Alabama as my Tyreek reality. Sometimes in the analytics community, they take the college data as the tail wags the dog over what really happened in the NFL…but occasionally there are different backdrops, surrounding circumstances for the college performance, that don’t indicate what will happen in the pros. Sometimes someone in the NFL stumbles into something new…something genius to do with a ‘misfit’ prospect.

We’re not arguing whether Hill could EVER accomplish such a feat (his 2016 numbers) in the NFL – we’re just arguing whether he will again…and, perhaps, bump it a little higher. Why is his West Alabama performance the checkmate compared to WHAT HE JUST DID at the pro level? People think they have history on their side…his moderate college performance and the history of NFL not using guys like this regularly. I have history on my side too…September/October to December 2016. Why does that NFL time period, that reality, take a back seat in the argument of what Hill can accomplish in 2017?

I also don’t need analysis of his depth of targets in 2016, etc., showing he doesn’t run real pro pass routes. I don’t care. I don’t want or need Tyreek Hill running pro pass routes. I just need the team to get him the ball…the simpler the target the better. I’d rather have him taking handoffs and bubble screens than wasting time running intermediate out-routes. I don’t judge a cat for not being a dog. You don’t get a cat expecting them to bark when there is a knock at the door or to protect you on a daily walk. Don’t judge Tyreek because he’s not Antonio Brown. He doesn’t need to be a ‘professional’ wide receiver…he just needs the ball in his hands – like in 2016, only more.

We have an obvious analytics ‘A+’ athlete with Tyreek Hill…a 4.29 runner at his Pro Day with a 6.53 three-cone is ridiculous, along with a 40.5″ vertical. If you go, “Well, Pro Days can’t be trusted,” that’s true, but if you happened to catch Hill in action in the pros last year…it’s pretty safe to say he’s an ‘A+’ athlete, confirmed. No one argues against Hill as a ‘freak’ athletically…a weapon of mass destruction. Anti-Tyreek people only argue he can’t be a ‘real’ NFL wide receiver. Ummm, OK. Fine. I don’t want him to be. I want him to be a new-age RB/WR hybrid mismatch weapon…a position just now emerging and developing.

The other reason that Tyreek is crucified by critics as ‘not likely to repeat 2016’s success‘ is that the NFL isn’t going to stick with running a wide receiver often, and it never works out. Percy HarvinTavon Austin, and Cordarrelle Patterson are the examples used in the comparison. It’s not an ‘analytics’ argument on this, per se. It’s a trend, a bet on coaching plans/usage from the past. It’s not whether Hill CAN do it (again)…it’s whether the coaches WILL continue to use it. Anti-Tyreek people are right…the past says it’s not going to hold up with the coaches…if you assume Hill is a wide receiver looking for some gimmick carries. My argument is – I’m saying the NFL is about to change their ways and Tyreek is the tip of the spear. He’s NOT a wide receiver looking for carries because he’s so fast. He IS a running back mindset working at several RB and WR positions/alignments (classified as a WR) in order to get him the ball and confuse defenses. Tyreek smashed a lot of these barriers down as a rookie last season.

However, let’s take a second to examine the Harvin-Austin-Patterson argument for a sidebar moment…

For their careers (through 2016):

31 carries, 333 yards, 4 rushing TDs, 10.7 yards per carry = Cordarrelle Patterson

125 carries, 968 yards, 8 rushing TDs, 7.7 yards per carry = Tavon Austin

146 carries, 927 yards, 5 rushing TDs, 6.3 yards per carry = Percy Harvin

Group average: 7.4 yards per carry and a rushing TD every 17.8 carries.

 

I just want to put these numbers into a comparison for a moment to show you how effective these WRs were as runners. Top running backs get about 250 (or more) carries in a season, and you’re thrilled if they rush for 1,200+ yards and can score 8–10+ TDs with those 2015 carries. If you took the Patterson-Austin-Harvin’s career rushing numbers/the pace and applied 250 carries to them (and I know they are not getting 250 carries in a season, I just want to show the effectiveness of this ‘gimmick’ of the WR as a runner) their adjusted numbers would be (at the identical pace):

250 carries, 2,685 yards rushing and 32 TDs = Patterson

250 carries, 1,936 rushing yards and 16 TDs = Austin

250 carries, 1,587 rushing yards, and 14 TDs = Harvin

250 carries, 2,781 rushing yards, and 31 TDs = Tyreek Hill 2016

 

Again, I did not extrapolate the numbers to suggest these guys get 250 carries a season and I know there is a toll that comes with a larger workload. I am suggesting that the right WR profile running the ball…it’s incredibly effective – so effective that college teams started realizing this years ago and then put a different twist on it by deploying RBs as quasi-WRs or RB/WR hybrids – and lined them up all over the field as a new wrinkle. The NFL is, as usual, playing catch up to college offensive innovations (and will now play catch up to Andy Reid as a trailblazer). I’m not suggesting these RB/WR hybrids get 10–20 carries per game, but what if they get more than the 1.9 carries per game Harvin averaged in his career, or the 2.1 per game for Austin, or how about the ludicrously effective Patterson getting more than 0.5 carries per game in his career?

*Tyreek averaged 1.5 carries per game in the regular season. 1.9 carries per game from Week 7 on (11 games). 2.7 carries per game in his final 6 games in 2016 (including playoffs). 4.0 carries per game in his final 3 games (including playoffs).

This is not even to mention that Tyreek Hill has much more running back experience and physical build combination than Austin-Harvin-Patterson. I’m not arguing about WRs pushed into some RB work. Taking a shifty wide receiver and giving him some carries is/was smart…and radical back in the day. Tyreek Hill is a whole other animal. The situation flips…he’s not a WR background sparsely working some as a gimmick RB – Hill is a running back’s mindset lining up all over as a receiver to get touches.

All this discussion in centered in running back talents being used as wide receivers…not the other way around.

What if the NFL is waking up to this new reality…this possibility…this confusing mismatch wrinkle they can deploy by using RB-tough/RB-experienced players and move them to quasi-wide receivers for 4-8 targets per game – and then the coaches simply increase the carries for these RB-first WRs to 3–5 per game instead of 0–2?

If you give Tyreek Hill three carries a game, and I apply the career rushing average of Harvin-Patterson-Austin (7.4 yards per carry and a rushing TD every 17.8 carries) to those 48 carries in a season – Hill would pace for 371 rushing yards and 2.7 rushing TDs on average for a season. Last season, Hill rushed for 267 yards and 3 TDs in half the amount of carries, but let’s stick with the historical averages…the 371 rushing yards and 2.7 rushing TDs projection gives Hill 3.3 fantasy points per game before we account for any of his activity in the passing game (or return game) – just on 3.0 carries per game!

Also, consider in this argument – Tyreek Hill is 2–10 times the running back talent that Harvin-Patterson-Austin ever were. That trio was nifty – speedy WRs who you could give a surprise carry or two per game. Harvin actually got a decent push in the run game for a season several years ago – 3.3 carries per game for 345 yards and 2 TDs in 2011. Hill is different – he was a college running back and high school running back…he has a running back’s mindset. Hill is better suited and more prepared to run the ball in the NFL than WRs taking gimmick run game handoffs – and he is a better all-around athlete, measurables-wise, than any of that WR trio mentioned. I’m being kind/deferential to use those wide receivers as Hill-like comparisons in the run game – it’s a ‘worst case’ scenario comparison, to a degree.

Julio JonesOdell Beckham, and Antonio Brown combined for 4 carries for 18 rushing yards (and no TDs) last season. Let’s assume they aren’t running the ball for fantasy numbers in 2017. They don’t have to…they’re ‘real’ #1 wide receivers. Tyreek Hill, on increased carry counts to 3.0 per game, would project to be +3.3 fantasy PPG ahead of all three top WR names before we turn to actual receiving tallies.

In order to be a WR1/top 12 scoring WR for fantasy, last season…you had to get to 15.0+ fantasy PPG (in PPR) to be in the club. If Hill gets +3.3 fantasy PPG just from rushing totals, he only needs about 12 more PPR fantasy points per game to be in the WR1 discussion. The beauty of being a new age RB/WR is that part of the ‘gimmick’ is you don’t have to run savvy routes. You just need to line up all over, go in motion, line up as a running back one play, a wide receiver the next, and so on. All you want to do with a running back playing wide receiver is toss him short, simple passes to get the ball in his hands away from the middle of the field/out in space – which means a lot of easy catches for nice reception tallies.

Can we assume Hill is good for four simple catches per game, at least? Last year, he caught 3.8 passes per game not knowing much about being an NFL wide receiver…and barely getting the ball early in the season. He caught 4.2 passes per game from Week 4 on last season. He caught 4.7 passes per game from Week 8 on…including two games where he had zero catches on 8 targets (often used to denigrate Hill as a receiver, but one game was in extreme frigid temps and the other played in on-and-off rain).

Hill’s catches in games from Week 8 to Week 17: 5-3-10-4-9-5-6-0-0-5…anti-Tyreek people love/harp on the two zero-catch games and ignore his 9 and 10 catch games as aberrations. How can a guy be so bad at wide receiver and catch 9 and 10 passes in an NFL game as a rookie despite never really playing WR before (six of ten games with 5 or more catches)? It’s simple…he’s not a ‘real’ wide receiver, just a running back masquerading as a wide receiver from time to time, and the confusion and mismatches created are delightfully simple to target…and juicy for fantasy output (and for the team’s offense).

If Hill is good for 4–5 catches per game, most of them ‘simple’ pitch and catch throws AND if he gets +3.3 fantasy PPG as a runner…then let’s call it 7.8 PPR points per game in the bank for Tyreek before we consider receiving yards and receiving TDs.

3.3 FF PPG rushing + 4.5 FF PPG from catches = 7.8 FF PPG in PPR

Is it pretty safe to say Hill will get over 50 yards a game receiving if he catches 4–5 passes per game? From Week 8 on last year, Hill’s receiving yards in a game: 98-11-89-53-52-53-66-0-0-46 (46.8 yards per game). Let’s assume Hill is not going to have many ‘zero’ catch/yards games in his life…50+ yards per game should be easy for him to hit…60–70+ is more likely, but let’s stick with 50 yards per game as a receiver…thus 5.0 fantasy PPG from his receiving yards.

3.3 FF PPG rushing + 4.5 FF PPG from catches + 5.0 FF PPG from rec. yards = 12.8 FF PPG

12.8 PPR PPG essentially puts him as a back-end WR2 based on last year’s PPR rankings. A top 25 fantasy WR. And we still need to give him fantasy points for receiving TDs. How many receiving TDs do you want to bet on? Assuming a very moderate 70–80 catches for 800 yards in a season…what say you for TD count in 2017? He had 6 receiving TDs last season on just 61 catches. Percy Harvin had 8 receiving TDs in his top year as a runner-receiver…he had no less than 5 receiving TDs per season before his career fell apart after 2012. Tavon Austin has averaged 4 TDs per season the last two years as a receiver. What TD total do you want to go with for Hill? A low end of 4 receiving TDs? If so, and considering the 12.8 FF PPG we’re carrying over from catches, yards, and rushing totals, then he would have 14.3 fantasy PPR PPG…good for #17 among WRs in PPG last season.

Give Hill 5 receiving TDs in 2017…then he moves up to #15 among WRs based on last year’s PPR PPG in fantasy.

Give Hill 6 receiving TDs in 2017, to match his 2016 output, and Hill moves to #13 overall among WRs for fantasy last season.

50.0 yards receiving and 23.2 yards rushing per game with 8–9 total TDs in a non-PPR format is 10–11.0 fantasy points per game – which would be somewhere between 9th and 12th best in non-PPR WR scoring per game last season.

WR1 status for Tyreek Hill in 2017 is very possible.

…so is being the #1 overall fantasy scorer at WR.

Antonio Brown caught 7.1 passes per game last season, best among the WRs in 2017…meaning he had the ball in his hands 7.1 times per game. If Tyreek Hill runs the ball three times and catches 4.5 passes per game…he has it in his hands 7.5 times per game.

…and I love Antonio Brown, but Tyreek may be the most explosive weapon in all the NFL. Hill might be the fastest player in pads in the NFL. How could you not get excited about the fantasy possibilities of the most explosive player in the NFL getting his hands on the ball more than any other wide receiver in the NFL?

What if Tyreek has 7 receiving TDs…not 4 or 5 or 6 (as was just discussed)?

What if Hill takes not three, but 4.0 carries per game? Or 5.0 carries per game on average?

What if Hill catches 5.0+ passes a game instead of 4.5 or 4?

The Tyreek Hill upside is tantalizing…and as simple as taking what he did last year and bumping up his opportunity (targets and carries) by 10-20-30%.

The possibilities for Hill to have his hands on the ball 8-9-10+ times a game, as a WR, is on the table. You can’t say that about DeVante Parker or T.Y. Hilton…or even Antonio Brown, but you can wonder about it with Tyreek Hill…another reason to get excited about his fantasy scoring prospects.

In his final nine games of last season, including the playoffs, Tyreek Hill had his hands on the ball (actual catch or carry) seven or more times in a game five times…an average 6.9 times per game. You’re telling me you think it will be less than that in 2017? That Andy Reid is going to scale it back after what happened in 2016? You can take that position, but I’ll assume if Reid shoved him the ball that many times last season…he’s going to at least match it this year, but likely up it – as Reid’s been saying all 2017 offseason.

The team also cut Jeremy Maclin and Reid proclaimed Hill as having the skill to be a #1 wide receiver (which he won’t be used that way all game, but it’s great confidence from Reid). The talk all centers around Tyreek and getting him more touches this season. Andy Reid also announced Hill will no longer return kicks. Why? To take the ball out of his hands…the best return man in the NFL getting stonewalled? No…it’s because Hill is going to get more touches, more time, more work within the offense – a beautiful thing for fantasy purposes.

Whatever you think about Tyreek Hill for fantasy 2017…you cannot deny what he did in 2016. You also cannot deny this is a copycat league…they copycat success. Why wouldn’t they? I would submit that what Tyreek Hill did in 2016, his combined rushing + receiving + return activity…being used as a WR and as an RB…as a non-established rookie walking into the league. It was something like we’ve never seen before, and it was very successful/exciting and ripe for being copied.

A team finding their ‘Tyreek Hill‘…it’s not all that complicated. Even though Hill is a one-of-a-kind athlete you can’t easily replicate, nearly every team has a guy they could envision kinda fitting that role (maybe not as good as Tyreek, but with similarities). All a team has to do is copy KC’s simple plan and push their best athlete into it and they are in business, to some degree. Simple handoffs and bubble screens. It doesn’t even require a lot of playbook rewrites, brainpower, or payroll.

Why do you think the Bears drafted North Carolina A&T RB Tarik Cohen so highly? What do you think they are planning to do with a 5′6″/179-pound guy who destroyed opponents as a running back in college – a prospect who is not a ‘real’ NFL receiver, nor big enough to be the main carry RB? The team already has plenty of running backs on the depth chart…and wide receivers – they brought a bunch in from free agency. So, why draft Cohen highly on top of that? He’s their Tyreek Hill plan/attempt (whether it works or not). Cohen was a star running back in college – and has terrific hands in the passing game. The Bears used a 4TH ROUND PICK on a little running back out of NC A&T! Why? Oh, there’s a reason…and it’s not to be strictly a running back. It’s a running back-experienced/mindset player working all over the field – and he has terrific hands in the passing game.

Why did Bill Belichick spend a shocking chunk of change on previous unused/ignored Bengals’ RB Rex Burkhead in free agency? Because Rex has the hands of an ace receiver, but the long-time experience as a running back. You can line him up anywhere on the field. He’s not the athlete Tyreek is, but he brings a different twist –a terrific running back in college with a physical running back mentality who flashed well at the end of 2016 for Cincy…now, working as an RB/WR weapon. You can line him up anywhere and he’s a different kind of mismatch. Rex could be an all-pro wide receiver; his hands are that good. Belichick sees the possibilities.

This sea change in the NFL is not a shift of skinnier, speedy wide receivers who you suddenly think it’s cute to give some carries to because they are so fast. This is purposefully seeking out a running back background – the stronger, sturdy types who know how to run the ball but can be used as receivers…from the standpoint of just lining them up away from the line of scrimmage and getting them the ball in unique ways. A bubble screen is a glorified handoff…it’s also the easiest point you’ll get in a PPR fantasy league.

Tyreek Hill kicked down the locked door. Well, maybe Percy Harvin loosened the handle, but he was a frail, selfish, disinterested problem child…but had one year on top of the world as a runner-receiver. Tyreek Hill opened the door all the way in 2016. David Johnson should probably get some credit in there too but he is almost always lined up a running back…but he’d be an all-pro wide receiver if he wanted to convert there.

The Carolina Panthers may be about to bust the entire door frame down. Curtis Samuel may be the star in the sky that the Wise Men follow to find The Messiah for this dual RB-WR role.

*I wrote this next part weeks before Dave Gettleman was fired – the GM who drafted Curtis Samuel. I am now concerned Samuel will be overlooked with the new regime and Ron Rivera allowed to be old school without Gettleman over his shoulder. Maybe not, but that fear is more prevalent without Samuel”s advocate – Dave Gettleman.

Curtis Samuel could be the real tipping point in this theory. Samuel is not as good as Tyreek as an athlete/weapon, but he is more polished and experienced in the dual role coming out of college…he is the college prototype of what the NFL will start doing with the previously overlooked weapons.

People slam WRs of the past (Harvin, Austin, Patterson) who were really effective runners when given a chance – because they never sustained. Coaches didn’t stick with it. It’s not that the players themselves failed. It’s true…we have to worry about the coaches being ‘stuck in their ways’ in this theory. It’s logical to be skeptical of the coaches in all of this RB mindset utilized as an RB/WR hybrid weapon theory. But the times they are a-changing…

What Curtis Samuel did in 2016, how he was used in college, is undeniable…and we’re looking right past what he is bringing to the table because the media has their collective heads jammed so far up Christian McCaffrey’s ass they can’t see straight. Why do they love McCaffrey so? Why…because he has RB skills but can catch like a WR. Exactly. He’s a great example of the running-back-as-wide-receiver threat, and I will now coin the acronym RBaWR  to label players with primary running back backgrounds/skills who can be/will be used to line up all over the field and be new-age NFL weapons. It’s simple and to the point for a label.

McCaffrey is a great talent and might be a sweet RBaWR ™, but he’ll be classified as a running back for fantasy. Curtis Samuel was the epitome of an RBaWR ™ at Ohio State last year, and he’ll be classified as a WR for fantasy.

What do ‘analytics people’ want to argue here with Samuel?

Samuel was a near off-the-charts athlete at the NFL Combine – 4.31 40-time, 37.0″ vertical, 18 bench reps, a so-so 7.09 three-cone. In past years, NFL people were orgasmic when Philip Dorsett or Will Fuller ran in the 4.3s, but Curtis Samuel doing the same? Yaaaawwwwnnn. Not as fast/exciting as John Ross. Are you people high? Why ignore Curtis Samuel? Because he doesn’t fit what scouts and analysts have been conditioned to want in an NFL prospect at RB or WR.

Samuel isn’t just ‘fast’, and thus a neat prospect. He is much more – he had one of the most amazing seasons of college play you’ll find in a power conference. He was used like Tyreek Hill, actually even better…way better…way more advancing this theory, this coming RBaWR ™ tsunami to the NFL. Samuel lined up like a legit RB and took real carries and ran between the tackles some…not always in-motion jet sweeps/glorified end-arounds. When Samuel played at WR…it wasn’t as gimmick guy to soft toss to – Samuel works like a ‘real’ receiver. He ran proper routes. Made tough catches in coverage. He is maybe the ultimate dual-experienced runner-receiver threat today. 97 carries for 771 yards (7.9 ypc) and 8 TDs as a runner…74 catches for 865 and 7 TDs as a receiver last season for Ohio State.

Think about it – Samuel posted 1,636 total yards and 15 TDs in 13 games (125.8 yards and 1.1 TDs per game) in the Big Ten. Had a running back prospect rushed for 1,636 and 15 TDs in the Big Ten there would have been a ticker tape parade as he entered the NFL Draft. The fact that Curtis Samuel posted those yards split up near evenly as a legit RB and legit WR…we can’t, as a collective football fan, process it properly. We’ve never seen this before. We’ve seen gimmick versions but not like a real runner-receiver split threat. We can somehow handle make-believe scenarios of what Christian McCaffrey MIGHT do as a receiver…a guy lavishly endorsed by the media. McCaffrey is somehow a given in the dual role. However, Curtis Samuel literally dominated as a running back with his speed and surprising toughness and also starred as a legit wide receiver running all kinds of routes in a major conference for a top program…and we ignore it. We downplay it. We should be amazed and dazzled by the possibilities with Samuel. We’re not…because we’ve never seen someone do it as ‘evenly’, as balanced (success as a legit RB and legit WR) before in the NFL. You got a taste of it with Tyreek Hill in 2016, but Samuel is a whole other breed/mutation of this animal. In some ways, Samuel is the better all-around version of Tyreek Hill. They’re both extreme weapons in their own way.

The way Curtis Samuel was used at Ohio State in 2016 is the future of college and NFL offenses.

How the NFL uses the previously labeled ‘gimmick players’ is changing. We’ve seen flashes of the metamorphosis for years in the NFL – with Tyreek Hill 2016 taking it to a whole new level. There will be/are already copycat attempts going on with some teams in 2017…and by 2018–2019 the entire league will be tripping over itself trying to come up with their own version.

I could very well be too aggressive with my touch counts/projections on Tyreek Hill in 2017, and maybe Curtis Samuel is a Ferrari that just sits in the garage as the media-beloved Christian McCaffrey Lexus is used every game as the main focus of touches. I could be wrong that 2017 is the tipping point, but I think “it’s coming“…I think it’s already here. Teams are moving their warships into place to take a deeper look – Tarik Cohen, Curtis Samuel, Rex Burkhead, Christian McCaffrey…they’re coming in all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds…but they’re coming

Someday RBaWR ™ will be a thing everybody talks about in the NFL, like a ‘Jordan Reed-type tight end‘, but I will be given no credit for it and another label will be created and used by the mainstream to describe it…and I will die alone, broke, surrounded by lots of cats. Before that happens…consider getting ahead of the curve for fantasy 2017. It won’t cost you much as all these guys are pretty undervalued…especially the 2016-proven Tyreek Hill and highly drafted/highly ignored Curtis Samuel.

Others will be coming to the league in years to come to fulfill this role and they’ll be as good or better than Hill and Samuel, but for now, these are the cards we have to play. Or you could just draft/acquire more boring WR3s for your fantasy team in the middle/late parts of a draft or via trade – and you hope you get a good run of extra targets and solid TD counts this season from Donte Moncrief, DeVante Parker, et al.

The best, cheapest entry point on the RBaWR ™ is the preseason 2017, because once the regular season starts all hell may break loose on it. Heck, the actual 2017 preseason games may be the harsh slap-of-the-face reality of the onslaught arriving.

There are other guys already in the NFL, like Jacksonville’s Corey Grant, that can quickly convert into this role and shock the fantasy world this year…and we’re looking for and discussing guys like them in our 2017 Draft Guide and will be on watch every week of the preseason regular season. The time may be nigh. The greatest opportunity to get in cheap on the ground floor of the next big thing is at your doorstep – the RBaWR ™.

–rc@fantasyfootballmetrics.com

 

About R.C. Fischer

R.C. Fischer is a fantasy football player analyst for Fantasy Football Metrics, and College Football Metrics. His group also provides player projections for Advanced Sports Logic’s football software “The Machine.”

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