Not that long ago, Maurice Jones-Drew was a perennial Pro-Bowler and fantasy football savior who excelled despite playing for some truly awful teams. During his stay in Jacksonville in which the Jags only finished above .500 once (2007), Jones-Drew averaged 1,368 total yards and 9.8 touchdowns per season.
By signing with the Oakland Raiders this offseason, Jones-Drew again finds himself in a similar situation on a below-average team.
After missing 10 games in 2012 and finishing with a measly 3.4 yards per carry in 2013, Jones-Drew looks to take advantage of a change of scenery and recapture his old form. Can the man they call “Pocket Hercules” climb the mountain? Is he even the best running back in Oakland?
A Dicey Situation
According to NFL.com, Jones-Drew was quoted as saying he thought about retirement following last season, but now believes he is in the best shape of his life.
Perhaps I’m a pessimist, but when a 29-year-old running back openly questions his abilities and contemplates retirement in the offseason, I find it difficult to get excited about his prospects moving forward. Even the most ardent optimist among us would have a hard time feeling confident in a big-time resurgence.
In terms of fantasy football, however, even dicey situations can sometimes provide value.
It’s important to mention the offensive line that Jones-Drew ran behind in Jacksonville last season ranked 31st in run blocking according to Football Outsiders. The Raiders offensive line ranked 26th. Offseason acquisitions will change the makeup of the Raiders front-five, but to assume they turn into a dominant unit in just one season is unlikely.
The Raiders were the 11th-most run-heavy team last season, despite five of their 12 losses coming by 14 points or more. The Raiders also finished 13th in numberFire’s Adjusted Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) per rush, a measure of how efficient a team is running the ball on a per-attempt basis. Check out our glossary to get the full rundown on Net Expected Points.
Facing a lot of off-script situations, the Raiders showed commitment to the run game, and were above average from an efficiency standpoint which should benefit whoever gets the majority of carries in 2014.
At this point it appears Jones-Drew will be the Week 1 starter in Oakland. With the help of numberFire’s metrics, we can take a closer look at Jones-Drew’s performance over the last few seasons, to see if his poor 2013 showing was either a fluke or a trend that should cause us concern.
|Year||Rushing NEP||Rushing NEP per Attempt||Success Rate|
Going back to 2009, the season in which Jones-Drew took over the as the full time starter for the Jags, you can see a drop in terms of his Rush NEP and Success Rate over the successive seasons. The slight rebound in 2012 in terms of Rushing NEP per rush can largely be attributed to the fact he accumulated only 86 attempts; therefore not giving him enough opportunity to pile up negative NEP. A few big runs and his total is skewed.
His -21.21 Rushing NEP last season ranked 20th out of 22 players with at least 200 carries. His 34.89% Success Rate ranked 19th. It was clearly an uninspiring season from a guy who has played well in the past despite poor team performance.
One thing that Jones-Drew has going for him is his ability to supplement his rushing output with receptions. Excluding his injury-shortened 2012 season, MJD has never recorded fewer than 34 catches in a season. Running backs with receiving ability should be fantasy targets due to their higher-floor, especially in PPR formats.
All things considered, it’s fair to wonder if the wear and tear accumulated over his career is starting to affect Jones-Drew; and that the end is not far from sight.
Darren McFadden's Presence
The longest tenured member of the Raiders backfield is six-year veteran Darren McFadden. If it’s surprising to hear that he’s been in the league for six years, that’s probably because he's never played more than 13 games in a single season, and has missed 19 games in the past three seasons - you may have simply missed him.
While I am a proponent of not rushing to judgment about “injury-proneness,” McFadden is a difficult case to disprove. Much like Miles Austin, McFadden missing games is an annual rite of passage.
Looking at his NEP metrics starting with his breakout season in 2010, an ominous picture begins to emerge.
|Year||Rush NEP||Rush NEP per Attempt||Success Rate|
In 2010, McFadden’s 4.16 Rushing NEP ranked 8th among 45 running backs with at least 100 carries. In 2011, his 7.25 score ranked 11th out of 51 players with 100-plus carries. By looking at these numbers, it appeared McFadden was on his way to becoming a superstar.
His 2012 and 2013 performances, however, have greatly tempered those expectations.
Out of the 42 running backs with at least 100 carries in 2012, McFadden finished dead last in Rushing NEP. This means that, over the duration of the season, McFadden lost almost 41 points for his team. The next closest player was Mikel Leshoure at -22.18.
McFadden did improve his metrics last season, but he still ranked 38th out of 47 running backs in Rushing NEP and 43rd in Rushing NEP per carry. While a renaissance is certainly not out of the realm of possibility given McFadden’s natural running ability, the combination of horrid efficiency and a very real injury history, make it seem unlikely to occur.
Adding insult to injury – I promise, no pun intended - the Raiders may be looking at McFadden as a possible kick returner this season, making it apparent that they don’t have very much faith in him being their main ball-carrying option.
While he may be considered third on the depth chart heading into training camp, Latavius Murray could be the one most likely to emerge as a lead-back in Oakland this season.
After missing the entire 2013 season with an ankle injury, the Raiders coaching staff sees Murray as the running back with “the biggest upside.”
Without any actual NFL snaps to analyze, we must use Murray’s college production and workout measurables to forecast his ability at the next level. Although Combine results are not the end-all in player evaluation, Murray’s are nothing short of phenomenal given his size.
If injury were to strike Jones-Drew, McFadden, or both, Murray would be in line for a large opportunity in a Raiders offense that wants to run the football and control the clock.
The Raiders are certainly not the sexiest offense when evaluating fantasy football. New quarterback Matt Schaub is coming off the worst season since he became an NFL starter, and the most accomplished receiver on the roster is newcomer James Jones.
As bleak as the situation may seem, it doesn’t mean you should totally ignore the it.
Comparing numberFire’s newly-released Fantasy Football Cheat Sheet with current My Fantasy League average draft position (ADP) is a good way of determining which options can provide value on draft day. (Data below reflects full-point PPR leagues.)
|Player||ADP||numberFire Ranking||vs. ADP|
Jones-Drew is the best value according to the above table, as we have him ranked 12 spots ahead of his current ADP. McFadden comes in nine spots ahead, while Murray is actually being over-drafted according to our projections.
In reality, having Jones-Drew as your theoretical RB4 in a 12-team league would be acceptable. McFadden seems to be too much of a risk to bank on. But certainly don’t expect either to greatly outperform their ADP, which is what we should be looking for late in our drafts.
numberFire's projections are based on actionable information and don't necessarily place much value on hypotheticals, like the potential injury risks necessary for Murray to see legitimate playing time. But if you’re looking for a late-round running back dart, Murray is it. If things play out in his favor, he could end up returning massive value in comparison to his current price.