With Robert Griffin III Back, Alfred Morris' Fantasy Football Stock Is About to Rise
You've probably heard the story of Alfred Morris' old car, a 1991 Mazda which he calls "The Bentley," which he kept even after earning his first NFL paycheck. Even on a modest salary of a late-round rookie, Morris could have bought a nice BMW or Subaru or whatever else he wanted. But instead, he opted to keep his old, trusty ride to get to and from work.
Late last year, Morris had the car restored to "near-1991 factory specs" according to Jalopnik, in an effort to keep the car he loves on the road for a long time to come, rather than buying a nicer, newer car. The car was a bit of a mess when he brought it to the Mazda dealership which provided the overhaul, but once it was done, "The Bentley" was looking as good as new (check the link above for photos).
(Ready for the totally forced segue into a fantasy football article? Brace yourself.)
On the football field, Morris received a bit of a tune-up this past weekend with the return of Robert Griffin III to the lineup. The oft-injured signal-caller returned after an ankle injury, and Morris had one of his best games of the season, rushing for two touchdowns and a season-high 92 yards. But just how important is Griffin to Morris' success?
The Baylor product is the engine for the Washington rushing attack (I'll stop, I promise), and when he is in the garage (ugh), the ground game sputters and stalls (no seriously, stop already). So with Griffin back in action, is it time to buy into Alfred Morris ahead of big performances to finish the 2014 season?
A Shift in Focus
Since the start of the 2013 season, Washington has played 25 games, and in 15 of those, Robert Griffin III has played long enough to throw four or more passes. That leaves 10 games in which Griffin either did not play (nine occurrences) or did play, but only briefly (this year against Jacksonville). And the data we can pull from those games paints a pretty clear picture of how Griffin impacts the Washington offense.
Here's a look at the full-season pace for the "with RGIII" and "without RGIII" Washington offense over the past two seasons using our Net Expected Points (NEP) data for the team, adjusted for strength of opponent.
|Full Season Pace||Adjusted NEP||Adjusted Passing NEP||Adjusted Rushing NEP|
The offense isn't noticeably better or worse as a whole with Griffin under center (four expected points over 16 games is hardly worth discussing), and the unit has essentially been "as expected" (close to 0 NEP) over the past two seasons. But the way they accomplish their average performances changes when Griffin plays.
The passing attack has been noticeably better when Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy have been under center, while the rushing attack has improved with Griffin running the show. In fact, the running game has been around 45 NEP better with Griffin than it has been without him since the start of the 2013 season, which was after his ACL injury that would theoretically have limited him as a rusher.
So whether it's the play-calling (including use of the read-option, something Griffin is very good at), Griffin's running ability, or other factors, the underlying metrics prove that Washington runs the ball better with RGIII healthy. This manifests in Morris' numbers, too.
Getting a Boost from Griffin
When using the same criteria as above (using games in which Griffin played and threw more than four pass attempts), here's how Morris' numbers shake out.
|Alfred Morris Rushing||Attempts||Yards||YPA||TD|
With his athletic quarterback alongside, Morris averages over a yard more per carry, and requires an average four fewer carries between touchdowns. This makes sense, as the rushing numbers above are almost entirely driven by Morris, who has been the team's lead back over the past two seasons.
Because while Roy Helu has crept into the game plan, Morris has dominated the ball on the ground again in 2014. He has at least 14 touches in every game, and has 18 or more carries in5 of 9 contests this season. And when Washington is inside the 10, he has 12 of the team's 14 running back carries, and 12 of the 25 total touches.
He's still the lead back for Jay Gruden's team, and his play will only improve as Griffin settles back into the lineup. Morris was trusted with the ball despite less-than-stellar performances through the first two months of the season, and his stock is rising with the mobile signal caller back in action.
In other words, it's definitely time to buy in on Alfred Morris. This seemingly unspectacular back has been restored to former glory with the return of Robert Griffin III, and his value will only increase from here. Washington may not be better on the whole with their former first-round pick under center, but Morris certainly benefits from RGIII's presence. And that's something you should take advantage of in your fantasy leagues.