The word ‘fatal’ may sound extreme, as it elicits feelings of doom and despair. And yes, it is definitely exaggerated for the purposes of this article, but hey… it created alliteration in the title and you clicked on it so here we are, looking at these fatal flaws for four top rookies.
There are some incoming rookies that are more of a ‘sure thing’ than others, but even a few of the top prospects carry some serious question marks. While these are by no means ‘fatal’ to the player’s potential to be a fantasy asset, they are red flags that give me pause when I am determining how I value each player.
This topic was introduced on Twitter by Chris Wright, and I received his permission to run with this idea for a podcast/article. So shout out Chris! If you have any questions about getting into cycling, he’s your guy.
Player: Henry Ruggs
Fatal Flaw: No Breakout Age
Breakout Age (BOA) is just one of many metrics I consider when looking at a player’s profile coming into the NFL, as it considers the age at which a receiver first accounted for 20% of their team’s receiving yards and touchdowns. An elite BOA is age 19 or younger and was achieved in this year’s rookie crop by Jalen Reagor (18.7), Tee Higgins (18.6), and Bryan Edwards (17.8) among others, with some of the more prominent receivers being right on the cusp including CeeDee Lamb (19.4), Jerry Jeudy (19.4), and Justin Jefferson (19.6).
Henry Ruggs enters the NFL Draft with no BOA – as in, he never achieved 20% of Alabama’s total receiving yards and touchdowns throughout his career. The argument has been made that Ruggs was playing with other top-end receivers that made the 20% threshold of receiving production more difficult than usual to hit. Ryan McDowell even went as far as saying Ruggs was playing with a more talented group of receivers in college at Alabama than he will ever be competing against at the next level.
While that may be the case, there is no doubt that Ruggs comes with great risk and will most likely cost you a first round rookie pick. All rookies are risky, I understand that, but more so than most other first rounders, Ruggs is a projection of fantasy relevance. Using Dave Wright’s mega database, we see 107 wide receivers with no BOA. Those 107 players averaged under four fantasy points per game in the NFL, with only seven notching even a top-36 fantasy finish. Those players include:
- Tyreek Hill
- Adam Humphries
- Marquise Goodwin
- Travis Benjamin
- Danny Amendola
- Steve Breaston
- Wes Welker
Obviously Ruggs will be a first round NFL selection, so you can assume he will get the opportunities to succeed in the NFL. But he would have to do something 93% of his peers could not just to sniff fantasy relevance.
Player: Cam Akers
Fatal Flaw: Yards Per Carry
YUCK! Yards per carry is a somewhat sucky stat because it hardly tells the whole story about a player. So many factors can contribute to a running back’s yards gained on each carry such as: play calling, offensive line blocking ability, and of course the back’s talent.
Much has been made about Cam Akers and his awful offensive line, so I don’t want to belabor that point too much. However, it is important to acknowledge how poor their play was in 2019. According to Graham Barfield (the creator of the Yards Created metric), the Florida State offensive line allowed Akers to be contacted at or behind the line of scrimmage nearly 1/3 of the time (30%). PFF ranked the line 129th out of 130 (that’s not great, Bob). So obviously, the poor line play had a part in Aker’s poor yards per carry.
However, looking at that career YPC of 5.0 puts Akers in an uphill climb to return fantasy production in the NFL. There are 155 running backs in the database with a career yards per carry of 5.0 or lower in college, and only three returned a top-36 fantasy season. That comes out to 1.9% for those without a calculator handy. Steven Jackson is the most notable outlier, as he turned his first-round NFL draft capital into a career 16+ fantasy points per game and five top-12 finishes. Could Akers see the same type of NFL success as he experiences better line play at the next level? Perhaps. But again, the odds are not in his favor.
Player: Jonathan Taylor
Fatal Flaw: College Offensive Scheme
Jonathan Taylor is one of the most accomplished college football running backs ever, and has many avid supporters that are eager to add him to their fantasy teams. I am not trying to be hot-takey, or contrarian for the point of being contrarian, however, I have some concerns around the system Taylor was in at Wisconsin and how that may translate.
When watching Wisconsin games, it is impossible not to recognize the sheer number of blockers the Badgers leveraged on many of their running plays. It was not unusual for Taylor to be running behind a fullback and/or a tight end or two in addition to his stellar offensive line. Now, Taylor did face 8-man boxes on 29% of his carries and he still was extremely successful. So, were defenses putting 8 in the box to combat the heavy formations, or was Wisconsin forced to use so many blockers because their poor quarterback play had defenses stacking the box? Whether the chicken or the egg, this has me curious how Taylor will perform at the next level if he is drafted by a team with a below-average offensive line.
Player: Clyde Edwards-Helaire
Fatal Flaw: Most College Production Occurred in One Season
We are familiar with the term ‘one-hit wonders,’ and one has to wonder (wow, tongue twister) if CEH falls into that category. The LSU offense as a whole took off in 2019, and as a result a number of their players posted career-best stats. Edwards-Helaire is no exception to that, and it begs the question as to whether he is closer to the player from 2017-2018, or the player from the record-setting 2019 season.
In the 2020 class, CEH has by far the highest percentage of his career scrimmage yards coming from his final collegiate season. With over 69% of his career production coming in 2019, he far outpaces other top prospects like J.K. Dobbins (44.1%), Cam Akers (40.7%), and Jonathan Taylor (a steady 34.4%). Looking back at previous classes, 2019 was paced by Alex Barnes (51.1%), 2018 saw Nyheim Hines lead in that category (54.2%), and 2017 with Joe Williams (73%). Since 2010, there have been 68 different running backs drafted that saw at least one top-24 PPR finish. The average percentage of career college production occurring in their final season was 42.8%.
On one hand, you would expect a player to improve skill-wise as their career progresses, but a jump like that raises red flags. If the new offensive scheme LSU implemented in 2019 unlocked all of Edwards-Helaire’s strengths, then he very well could be a PPR monster in the NFL. However, if this was more of a flash in the pan, he may struggle to fully reward fantasy owners that sink a mid-first round pick on him.
Fatal, No. Concerning? Maybe.
As I mentioned at the top, these flaws are by no means ‘fatal’ to a player’s prospective fantasy production, so please don’t hear what I am not saying. There is a chance some or all of Ruggs, Akers, Taylor, and Edwards-Helaire will be stars in the NFL, and at that point thinking that some of these factors were ‘red flags’ will seem ludicrous. However, it is important to always remember that no prospect is fool proof, and all come with some inherent risk (some more than others).