Rashad Jennings Is a Big Fantasy Football Bargain
It's true the he's 30 years old, playing a position that calls for youth. It's true that he's in what appears to be a crowded backfield. And it's also true that he's failed to play a full 16-game season during his NFL career.
But Rashad Jennings is a value in fantasy football this year. Let's look at why this is the case.
Is It Really Crowded?
In Jennings' absence last year -- he missed five games and barely played in another two -- Williams mostly carried the load, finishing the season with 217 rushing attempts, the 14th most in the NFL.
Add in Vereen, and things get a little messy.
Or does it?
Andre Williams was Carl-Lewis-National-Anthem bad last season. Of the 17 running backs who ran the ball 200 or more times in 2014, according to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric (read more about NEP in our glossary), Williams ranked 16th, ahead of only Andre Ellington. Williams' Rushing NEP of -17.73 was roughly 26 points lower than the average 200-plus carry back, meaning he basically lost that many points for the Giants last season with his ineffective running.
What's probably worse about Williams' rookie campaign, though, was his inconsistency. As a larger back -- dude is 6'0'', 230 -- you'd assume he was able to grind out plays, but perhaps not see large chunks of yardage, which could lower his Rushing NEP.
Nope. Instead, Williams' also had the second lowest Success Rate among the cohort of 17 backs, having a positive play, in terms of NEP, on just 36.57% of his runs. That was 12th worst among the 43 running backs with 100 or more carries, too.
His well-documented stone hands don't help his cause, either. Entering the NFL, the receiving aspect of his game was a huge question mark. In 2014, he did nothing to help doubters. He caught just 18 passes on 37 targets, which was the lowest catch rate among running backs with 25 or more targets (33 of them) last year.
If you believe Andre Williams is a legitimate threat, then you believe he's about to make a massive jump from Year 1 to Year 2. Banking on that is a stretch.
And then there's Vereen. He'll certainly fill a receiving void in the Giants' backfield, and that's a knock to Jennings' ceiling. But Vereen's also been just that throughout his NFL career -- a receiving back. With the Patriots, Vereen never saw more than the 96 attempts he did last year. And that was on a team that lost its top running back early to a season-ending injury. There was opportunity, but that type of role isn't what Vereen's used to.
Is Jennings Still Their Man?
That brings me to Jennings. Is he a capable runner? Will he lead the Giants' backfield in touches? What does that all mean?
Data can directly answer the first question. The answer to it is yes -- yes, he's a capable runner. Last season, in a similar situation as Andre Williams (who, again, was dreadful), Jennings finished with a Rushing NEP per rush of 0.00. That may look average, but it's not -- because rushing is inherently less efficient than passing, the average per tote score within the metric is usually around -0.02 or -0.03. Jennings was well above average.
He was also way better than Williams, who had a per rush NEP of -0.08. And remember Williams' really low Success Rate of 36.57%? Not only did Jennings best that by about eight percentage points last season, but the veteran's Success Rate was one of the better ones in the NFL a year ago.
Will he lead the Giants' backfield in touches? According to ESPN's Dan Graziano, yes. And what evidence do we have to suggest otherwise? Jennings was a double-digit attempt runner before he went down with an injury last season, and even hit the 34 attempt mark in a Week 3 contest versus Houston. Andre Williams is ineffective, and Shane Vereen has never, ever been a high-volume guy.
Volume matters in fantasy football. We know this. And right now, you're potentially getting a higher-volume running back in fantasy drafts in the sixth round.
The big question mark, as it always is with Jennings, is health. But fortunately, that aspect is sort of baked into his ADP -- that's a key reason he's not a fourth-round selection. And even if he does hit the injury report again in 2015, it's not as though all is lost. Last season, where he was only able to see double-digit carries in nine games, he still finished with six top-24 running back performances in PPR leagues. For comparison, only 22 running backs had more. So even with an injury, Jennings was still plenty valuable.
Our current projections have Jennings ranked 21st among backs, which is a round and a half to two rounds higher than his current average draft position. Our numbers have him at 183 touches, which seems fair considering his injury history and the Giants' overall situation.
And you can get that in the sixth -- sometimes seventh -- round. For teams who don't go with a running back-heavy approach early on in their draft, he's a perfect player to snag.