Fantasy Football: Samaje Perine Is the Running Back to Target in Washington

Rob Kelley has earned all of the first-team reps through two preseason games, but how long can he hold off rookie Samaje Perine?

Rob Kelley was a great story in 2016. As an undrafted rookie free agent with one helluva nickname, he emerged from relative obscurity to lead the Washington Redskins in rushing over the second half of the season as they pushed for a playoff spot.

Fast-forward to this season and Kelley is the presumptive starter entering 2017, but there are a few reasons to be concerned about just how long he'll be able to hold on to the job.

While he did come out of nowhere, his performance wasn't overly impressive, his stat line was inflated by one big game, and his enduring quality is that he just doesn't fumble. There's also more competition in the backfield now with fourth-round rookie Samaje Perine entering the mix.

From a fantasy football perspective, Kelley and Perine were equally valued prior to the Redskins' preseason opener on August 10. Average draft position (ADP) from FantasyFootballCalculator showed both players were being drafted in the beginning of the eighth round.

But then the opener against the Baltimore Ravens happened. Kelley played exclusively with the first team and Perine had a fumble, which he recovered, before dropping a pass on the very next play.

Perine's ADP took a hit following that game, sinking to the end of the ninth round. Meanwhile, Kelley's ADP has climbed to the beginning of the seventh round, putting the rookie a full two rounds behind him. Kelley is currently the 32nd running back drafted while Perine is the 43rd back off the board.

Fantasy Football ADP for Samaje Perine, Rob Kelley

Just like that, Perine's value is as low as its been all summer. While it appears Kelley is on track to be the Redskins' starter, Perine is a superior talent, and he should get an opportunity to contribute on the field sooner rather than later.

Kelley's Breakout Performance

Kelley was a strong waiver-wire pick-up after taking over for Matt Jones in Week 8. Between Weeks 8-16, Kelley was the RB11 in both standard and point-per-reception (PPR) leagues.

That's pretty good, but his production is deceiving upon digging a little deeper. Over that eight-game span, his production was buoyed by a Week 11 performance against the Green Bay Packers, in which he ran for 137 yards and 3 touchdowns. That one game accounted for 31 percent of Kelley's fantasy scoring output during this period of time.

In terms of weekly performance, Kelley was hit or miss -- he had five top-20 games, but also had three performances that fell outside of the top-30 running backs. And when we use our own metrics, like Net Expected Points (NEP) and Rushing Success Rate, we see that Kelley's production was just mediocre.

NEP tracks the efficiency of both teams and players by evaluating whether a play helped or hurt a team's chances of scoring. Additionally, Rushing Success Rate is the percentage of carries which result in positive NEP. For more on both of these stats, check out our glossary.

Among the 42 running backs with at least 100 carries last season, Kelley ranked 25th in Rushing NEP per attempt (-0.02), which was the league average. And if we take a look at Success Rate, Kelley (37.50%) ranked 29th among that same group of running backs, which was below league average (40.28%).

He wasn't even the best running back on his own team.

Player Carries Rushing NEP per Attempt Success Rate
Chris Thompson 68 0.09 50.00%
Matt Jones 99 -0.03 44.44%
Rob Kelley 168 -0.03 37.50%

Chris Thompson
was the most effective on a per-carry basis and owned the highest Success Rate, and while Kelley and Jones were equally effective in terms of Rushing NEP per attempt, Jones was also significantly better in terms of Success Rate.

For an undrafted free agent, Kelley showed well, but Perine offers more competition for early-down carries than the fumble-prone Jones.

Competition in the Backfield

Despite sharing the Oklahoma backfield with Joe Mixon over his final two seasons, Perine posted three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons for the Sooners before Washington took him in the fourth round. Rushing for 1,000 yards -- either in college or the pros -- is something that Kelley, a product Tulane University, has yet to accomplish.

Perine also has his teammate beat in nearly every metric upon looking at his athletic profile. According to PlayerProfiler, Perine most closely compares to Jordan Howard, while Kelley's closest comparison is Matt Asiata.

In addition to all that, Perine also offers more versatility.

While it's likely that Thompson will once again take on the lion's share of targets out of the backfield -- he played on 46 percent of the Redskins' offensive snaps in 2016 and was targeted 62 times -- Perine offers more in the passing game than Kelley, who caught just 12 of his 18 targets -- including four drops -- and averaged 6.8 yards per reception.

Invest in Perine While the Cost Is Low

Over the past two seasons, Washington has been a top-12 scoring offense. The offensive line was a big part of that in 2016, as they were ranked as the sixth-best run blocking unit, per FootballOutsiders.

On a high-scoring offense with a strong offensive line that's returning all five starters from a year ago, the Redskins' starting running back offers a lot of appeal from a fantasy perspective. From a talent standpoint, Perine appears to be the best bet to maximize that potential, but he just needs the opportunity, as the coaching staff continues to give Kelley most of the first-team work in the preseason.

The Redskins will play their third preseason game Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, and it will be important to see if Perine gets an opportunity to play with Cousins. If he does, it's an indicator that he's inching closer to playing some kind of role on the offense.

In the end, Kelley has shown himself to be a below-average talent and his preseason performance thus far -- 12 carries for 11 yards -- leaves a lot to be desired. Given Washington's situation on offense, Perine offers the most upside of any Redskins running back, especially when he can be drafted two rounds after Kelley. This is a great opportunity to buy low on a talented rusher and stash him until the opportunity to produce presents itself.