Three key topics today

I’m gearing up for my vacation next week (actually, starting this weekend), and I’ve today made a last-minute decision to take my two oldest boys up to New York to see my Dodgers play the Mets, but I have a few items I want to cover before I do.

Ronnie Brown

I see people are starting to get really excited about him this summer, and I’m not really seeing it. As regular readers know, I may be the president of the Ronnie Brown Fan Club, starting from Day One, so I’m not down on Ronnie Brown. I just don’t see why people are suddenly becoming enamored with him. Yes, I know he’s another year removed from his knee injury, and that is good. Brown told me on Sirius in November that he was 100% and had no restrictions, but he said last month that he feels more explosive this year. That’s nice, but here’s the problem with Brown: He’s never truly carried the load, and he likely never will.

Ive liked Brown since Day One, but at some point, you are what you are, and hes been in the league four years.

I've liked Brown since Day One, but at some point, you are what you are, and he's been in the league four years.

He was 19th in fantasy points per game last year, and unless it winds up being a down year for fantasy RBs, that’s about where he’ll be this year. I say that for several reasons. For one, they love Ricky Williams, and that freak (I mean that in a good way) can still play at a very high level. Brown and Williams’ numbers last year were almost identical, minus Brown’s monster 5 TD game and Brown getting about 50 more carries. Brown averaged 4.3 yards a carry to Ricky’s 4.1; Brown had 43 pass targets and 33 catches to Ricky’s 39 and 29; Brown got 7.7 yards a catch last year to Ricky’s 7.6.

Take away the huge Wildcat game against the Pats, and they basically had the same season.

Brown was a fantasy stud in 2007, but a lot’s changed since then. For one, Ricky wasn’t a factor. Brown was also then not a RB who had a serious knee injury in his past. He was two years younger then. He was in an offense run by Cam Cameron that threw the ball a ton to the RBs. Brown had 39 catches in 7 games, which prorates to 90 catches for the season. Last year, he had only the 33 catches in 16 games. Between the presence of Ricky and the lack of strong interest by the coaches in getting the ball to their RBs as receivers, Brown’s fantasy value won’t likely get much of a boost in the passing game.

If I’ve learned one thing covering the madcap world of fantasy football, you can’t just assume something you think should happen will happen, and you certainly can’t will something you think should happen to actually happen. When the 2008 season ended, I did think Miami would have more of a commitment to Brown, a year removed from his injury. After all, one of the strengths of their offense is their young and improved OL. They may, but it’s an unwise assumption to believe Brown’s going to be a fantasy beast, or someone with significant upside.

Sure, you may get lucky and he might have a few big games and land in the top-10 at the position. But assuming he will is just a guess, and it’s not really a calculated guess.

Here are the facts on Brown:

-         He was a rotational back in college at Auburn with Cadillac Williams.

-         In the three years he played most of the season, he’s averaged 221 carries a year.

-         In the two years he’s played with Ricky Williams he’s averaged 210 carries.

-         His pass targets dropped under the new coaching staff in 2008 to 2.6 a game from 6.5 a game under Cameron.

-         He had 9 games without a TD in 2008.

-         He had 13 games with less than 100 yards rushing in 2008.

-         He had only 2 games with 20+ carries in 2008.

-         He scored 40% of his TDs in that New England game, when they unleashed a new and significant wrinkle that
teams are now prepared for.

Again, I like Brown, but I’m not going to make it a point to draft him, and I’m certainly not drooling over his upside. I did think in January that maybe they would make more of a commitment to him, but I see little evidence to support that notion. In fact, when they drafted QB Pat White this spring, the evidence that they would continue to utilize trickery in their offense (and not just pounding the ball with a power running game) seems clear.

The Chiefs and Matt Cassel

As mentioned in my last entry, it appears KC will NOT be running much of a spread offense in 2008, and they will ask Cassel to operate in more of a traditional offense, with QB drop-backs and the like. I supposed this makes some sense given how they still have RB Larry Johnson on the roster, but I’m concerned about Cassel.

Last year, almost 90% of his pass attempts in a 6 game stretch beginning week 11 came out of the shotgun. That’s when he played his best, and he’s unproven otherwise. The Chiefs, of course, don’t have equivalent players to Moss, Welker (Engram is not Welker) and Faulk.

Now, I do still believe this will be an offense that throws it around plenty, and there have been reports that they still may experiment with a spread concept. Keep in mind Kurt Warner last year threw out of the shotgun a lot with Todd Haley, so I do expect Cassel to be in the shotgun a good amount. But I’m not sure we can refer to this offense as “pass happy” the way New England or Arizona’s was. If Cassel struggles, and keep in mind he’s signed for only this year, it’ll be interesting to see what they do because Tyler Thigpen, a quality player in his own right, is even less experienced out of the spread/shotgun than Cassel is.

The moral of the story here is that Cassel is still worth a shot as a backup, but we should pull back a little from him and all their receivers, although if he’s up for it Dwayne Bowe should be very active. More importantly, Larry Johnson could be pretty darn handy this year. He’s on the downside, but he did show some juice last year, and he’ll be much more affordable this year to the point at which he won’t be much of a risk.

Ray Rice

Apparently, Ray Rice is becoming a hot commodity in fantasy circles, and while he’s another guy I do like, I’m not seeing it. I really liked Rice last year, but his play on the field actually proved me more wrong than right.

If people are reading into him running with the ones this year as an indication that he may be their lead back, I think they’re wrong. I think he’s mainly there because Willis McGahee isn’t 100%.

Rice is a change-of-pace guy in space, but he’s not explosive. He’s effective in spread formations because of the seams created by the scheme. He can make people miss in space. Remember that big 21/154 game he had last year? It was almost all out of the shotgun, with the defenses spread out. Rice proved very little as a feature back running inside in a power formation last year.

The Ravens last year morphed into power team, with 3 OTs in heavy formations. In these sets, LeRon McClain was the feature back. Willis McGahee can be the featured back. Since they still have a young QB and limit weapons at receiver, the offense needs to dictate fronts and coverage to get their guys one-on-one. This is what you need to do when you don’t have #1-type WRs. McClain is the right RB for this type of scheme, and McGahee can be solid. Ideally, McGahee is the lead back because he’s more talented and versatile than McClain. But if McGahee flops, I think they will turn to McClain (yeah, I know he was fat this spring) more so than Rice.

I know Rice looks great this off-season and his role should be expanding, or at least settling into a consistent one. Maybe he surprises and runs with more power and explosiveness and does command more touches. But assuming he’ll be the guy is just a guess, and there’s little evidence to support the guess is correct.

I’d just be careful and not overpay for Rice in like the 5th or 6th round if the Internet hype heats up later this summer.

Category: Fantasy Football

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18 Responses

  1. ANT says:

    John,
    Ronnie Brown had 214 carries last year, one year from the ACL injury. You dont think his workload DEFINITELY increases year 2 from the injury, coupled with the fact that Ricky is a year older (and reports are he has lost a step), and Ronnie is in great shape?

  2. John Hansen says:

    They should increase, but as a high #1 pick in 2005, he got only 207 carries, so I don’t think they dramatically increase.

    In his senior year in college, he got only 107 carries, so he’s never been a true workhorse. I don’t know how a report can say Ricky’s lost a step running in shorts, but he looked pretty darn good to me last year.

  3. Hail Skins says:

    Jon, if you could pick one Baltimore RB (of the 3), and ONLY one, right now, today, this very moment, which one would it be? Factoring in everything you know about each of them, including draft position and value. I’m leaning towards McClain because I see him as being a TD vulture as well as being serviceable to split carries if (when) Rice or McGahee goes down.

  4. jbeau aka Phish fan do or die says:

    Die hard Phish fan, but I totally agree with you on all 3 subjects. WIth the exception of the Pats game, Brown was kinda disappointing, and that is a true RBBC…at least was last year. I thought Ricky ran better most games too.

    Cassell, staying far away from him…he is my bust of the year candidate.

    Rice, Love him since I am a Rutgers alumni, but don’t like him unless both McClain and Willis get hurt. Staying away from that 3 headed backfield unless absolutely necessary.

  5. Jimmerz says:

    I’d bet money that McClain ends up the highest scoring Raven RB in 2009.

  6. ANT says:

    fair point John, but back in 2005, Ricky was 4 years younger and got 170 carries himself. In 2007, he had 119 carries in 7 games before getting hurt, which projects to 270 carries for the whole year.

  7. John Hansen says:

    I still think McGahee has the most upside, but he’s hard to trust. You could make the argument that McClain is the safest, probably followed by Rice, actually, since they should have secure roles.

    On Brown, Ant, you kind of helped my point. The one year he was on pace for a high number of carries, he blew out his knee. Probably a coincidence, but the fact remains, he hasn’t ever truly carried the load. The difference in 2007 was no Williams and the catches, but Williams is there and Cameron is gone.

  8. Idiot Savant says:

    Very reasoned blog… I agree on all points. Talent alone does not dictate fantasy success..its talent, scheme, opportunity for the players and also getting players at value.

    Keep it up John.

  9. ANT says:

    thanks for the response John. I just dont believe Ronnie’s ACL injury is due to the high workload he got. Yes, Ronnie hasn’t proven he can carry a load, but to me everything lines up for him to have his best year as a pro in 2009. I’m not expecting 300+ carries in 2009, but more like 300 touches (250-270 rush, 40-50 rec).

  10. Scot says:

    Completely agree on LJ. I can see him free-falling in 10 team drafts and being an absolute steal in Round 9-10.

  11. Baller says:

    It seems that this year if you don’t really love Ronnie Brown, you won’t be able to draft him at all. So I’ll avoid completely unless he’s sitting there in the 4th round.

    Ravens are best when they employ a power running game, which last year worked with McClain and O’Neil. I hope they remember that this year. Rice doesn’t really fit that mold.

  12. Wax Man says:

    Regarding the Raven’s power run game, O’Neil is gone and McLean will have to fill that role. McGahee to get the scores?

  13. Austin says:

    I think people forget that LJ was actually pretty explosive last year with numerous long runs. He has plenty of juice left to be very good. While I don’t think he will produce like a top 10 guy I think he can be a very good #2 especially for guys who are forced into going wr heavy early in the draft based on value.

    John I have to admit I was high on Brown but your analysis of him is making me hesitant to draft him. I don’t think I’ll target him unless like another poster said, if he falls into the 4th round. I was banking on Brown looking more explosive and Williams being another year older and pushing 33. Everything would seem to be in place for a big year. I’ll definitely be watching this situation and trust your thoughts. Thanks for all the good work!

    Any chance a Mcfadden can have a big year especially in ppr formats?

  14. John Hansen says:

    Normally, I wouldn’t make such a federal case about it because Brown’s certainly a nice #2 RB. It’s just that people seem to be way high on him this year. I can certainly see why, but given my argument I’m probably where Baller is in that I probably won’t be getting him since I’m not targeting him and making it a point to get him. Kevin Smith for example looks like a better value a round maybe even two later.

    McGahee in theory could get a lot of them, but McClain could certainly still get his.

  15. ANT says:

    from early drafts i’ve participated in, Kevin Smith and Ronnie Brown are 3-5 picks apart in average, early to late 3rd round picks.

  16. Austin says:

    Every year someone in the 35-45 adp range at running back ends up in or near the top 10. One guy I’m watching this year is Moreno. I think he has a chance to be this years Turner, a guy you can draft in the 4-6 round range and get a huge return. Other guys that seem to fit the bill are Ward,Brown,Grant,Smith,Wells etc.

  17. bill opiola says:

    John,
    Do you think you could adjust your thinking when citing someone as a “3rd or 4th round” pick? I play in 10 ,12 & 14 team leagues. A guy going at 41 is a 5th round pick in a 10 teamer while he would be a 3rd round pick in the 14 teamer. I like the way Austin refers to a pick going 35-45 adp.
    TYVM, BillyO

  18. David Witt says:

    John,
    What about Ronnie Brown in a dynasty league? How would you assess him from that standpoint?

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