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by Nick Ercolano
July 23, 2018
Another #InTheMuckMonday, world famous at that, comparing two players that you're going to have to decide between in your 2018 fantasy football drafts. Today, we're breaking down two sophomore running backs - Kareem Hunt of the Kansas City Chiefs and Dalvin Cook of the Minnesota Vikings. Let's break it down like a shotgun.
Current ADP: 10, RB8
My Rank: 19, RB11
Current ADP: 14, RB10
My Rank: 17, RB10
Both guys are great running backs and I think will perform and be efficient where ever they end up. And I don't say that about every running back. Like Leonard Fournette, I'm not sure he would succeed outside of JAX, or at least at this level. He's in the perfect situation. Very good defense, very good offensive line, bad QB who they're masking with him. His volume is going to be so damn high as long as he's healthy. That's why I love him in redraft this year. I'm not sure I'm confident in saying any back outside of Zeke will have more rushes or rushing yards. But anyway, what I was saying, Fournette is not as good of a back as these two in my opinion. I really like where the NFL is going, as the league is getting smarter. You're seeing guys like Arian Foster, who don't win with their 40-time or being the biggest, strongest, but win with intangibles. Balance, vision, one-cut ability. I think for the longest time, teams only wanted the Adrian Peterson looking backs. But teams are getting smarter, and realize that guys like Cook or Hunt are the guys you want. Fuck a SPARQ score, we want yards more. WHAT A FUCKIN RHYME YA MANS IS OUT OF CONTROL.
Anywho yeah, both of thems is nice, but doesn't mean that will turn into fantasy niceness. Let's break down Kareem Hunt first and threemost.
Hunt, the Chiefs third-round pick last year out of the University of Toledo, smacked the league around during his rookie szn. Their was a real camp battle going on between Hunt and Ware last summer for the starting job before Ware tore his PCL and LCL. Hunt let the league know who he was on the very first night of NFL football in 2017. The opening game of the 2017 szn, Chiefs vs. Patriots, Hunt goes out fumbles on his first play. As football twitter does, Hunt was relegated back to the NCAA. And tbh I was like zamn, cause I had been telling everyone draft Hunt. draft Hunt, draft Hunt - that's big facts only. He'd end up finishing that game, his very first NFL game with 246 total yards, 17 rushes, 5 catches and 3 touchdowns. Yurp.
He'd have a roller coaster szn in 2017, concluding in a rushing title, beating out Todd Gurley (1,305) by 22 yards because he was rested in Week 17. Still impressive. Hunt racked up 1,327 yards on the ground and 8 touchdowns on 272 carries (4.9 ypc), adding 455 yards and 3 touchdowns on 53 catches. He was fantasy's RB4 overall, RB5 in ppg (16.8 fppg 0.5ppr).
His 4.9 ypc was 4th among NFL RBs behind Kamara, Dion Lewis and Ingram. His 3.1 YAC was 6th. He led the NFL in tackles evaded per PFF's metric with 61, the next closest guy, Melvin Gordon wasn't even close at 48. His 0.22 tackles evaded/attempt, an efficiency metric, ranked him 3rd.
Looking at PlayerProfiler:
Lastly, NFL Next Gen Stats, - "He averaged 4.63 yards after defenders closed within 1 yard of him this season, leading all backs with 175-plus carries."
Just so much goodness.
What was weird, was that stretch down the middle of the year, where, after scoring 6 TDs in their first three games, which obviously was unsustainable, he went scoreless over the Chiefs next nine games. But I don't look at this is a red flag, considering he went for more then 100 total yards in 4 of those 9 games, and caught at least 3 passes in every game except one. But you look at the way he finished the year as well, over their last five games including playoffs, he scored in every one of them, 6 scores overall in those five games.
Again, I relay that my concern with Hunt has nothing to do with him as a running back, and everything to do with Andy Reid's coaching style, play calling and personnel usage.
One thing I won't touch on here is that Hunt missed OTAs and some time at minicamp with a hamstring, which I explained in Wednesday's video, any preseason hamstring injury is a huge red flag, but this was over a month ago, so he's had plenty of time to rest it up, if it pops back up in August or something that's going to be a huge red flag for me.
So, I want you to take a look at this chart that I put together:
So just listen to me before you dive in otherwise you'll get confused and have no idea what this is lol. This is looking back to the year 2010, so 2010-2017. I wanted to see how much work the RB1 got in these Andy Reid offenses, relative to the RB2 and the entire backfield overall. So it's showing the % of carries, receptions and touches the RB1 has gotten in the Chiefs offense. When you look at 2017, the last column on the chart, you see a lot of green and a lot of red, these are the numbers that stick out to me. Kareem Hunt received 87% of the carries in this Chiefs offense last year. A number higher than any we've seen with Andy Reid in this offense. With Jamaal Charles there, not even when Larry Johnson had 416 carries back in 2006. He saw 80% of the touches which was the highest over these last 8 years, and probably farther back I didn't check. And you see the RB2 carries and touches was extremely low.
You have to assume, given the history, that it's because Spencer Ware went down. So, ultimately it comes down to the fact that I don't see Hunt getting anywhere near that carry rate of 87% in 2018.
We haven't been updated much about Ware, but I've seen his IG lately, he's posting videos working out and he's shifting very, very laterally, his knee looks to be fully beneath him. Ware was a very good back when healthy. I think he's really going to take away some of those carries from Hunt, and a decent chance he eats into GL carries. It's amazing that Hunt finished as high as he did considering he only saw 6 GL carries on the year. The 6th most overall carries, but those 6 GL carries were 24th in the NFL last year. As many as Thomas Rawls, Orleans Darkwa. Ware has 15 lbs on Hunt and saw 9 GL carries in 2016, despite playing in 2 less games than Hunt did in 2017. So, Hunt scores 11 total touchdowns, but only had 6 GL carries, 4 of his 11 came from 35+ yards or farther. Those are the type of shits that give me trust issues fellas. You can't rely on those type of touchdowns year over year. And IF he loses GL work to Ware, it might not be pretty. Not saying he will, but it's a red flag nonethemore.
And while we're at it, this is a team like GB, that passes the ball a ton in the RZ. Over the last two seasons, they've ran the 6th highest % of pass plays in the RZ (59%). They also just aren't a high-volume team. I think people assume they are because their offense is always super efficient, and seems to be really good, but per Evan Silva's Chiefs team preview, their play volume rank, so total number of offensive plays over the last 4 years, starting with 2014 - 29th, 31st, 27th, 24th. And like I'm saying, volume is my concern for Hunt, along with GL work.
They get Ware back, they also bring in former Dolphins RB Damien Williams and Kerrwynn Williams as insurance, they have Charmander West signed for another year. So, it's telling me they want depth and that they probably are going to split this work up a little bit more.
A few more things to touch on that effect Hunt's outlook. Their offensive line graded out well, 12th in FO RBing, 12th per PFF in YBC, don't believe they made any changes, so nothing concerning here.
The change in OC. We have former OC Matt Nagy leave to become the HC in Chicago. Eric Bieniemy takes over as the OC, he's been their RBs coach since 2013 in KC. I don't think he's really going to get much play calling this year tbh so I'm not sure it's that big of a deal from an FF analysis.
Lastly, of course, we have Patrick Mahomes stepping up as the new face of the franchise here. The only thing I'd say here is that what happens if Mahomes isn't the greatest QB of all time. The way people are talking about this Chiefs offense is as if we have Aaron Rodgers there. Like the QB is a sure thing. Not even talking about regression at the skill positions or anything, but what if Mahomes, is just, average in his first NFL season. What if he's not good. What if, like the large, large majority of people in the NFL, he doesn't live up to his ceiling which are what a lot of people seem to be banking on in this Chiefs offense guys. We have a running being picked top-10 in Hunt, a TE as a top-25 pick in Kelce, a top-30 WR in Hill, something's gotta give here. If Mahomes doesn't play out of his mind, at least one and more likely two of these guys are going to disappoint based on their ADPs.
Cook, like Hunt, a great runner, reminded me very much of his former teammate that was a bit older than him, Devonta Freeman.
Cook's szn obviously came to an abrupt end when he tore his ACL in four weeks into the 2017 szn. He was a beast prior to the injury though. Through four weeks, not even a full four actually, he rushed for 354 yards and 2 tuds, on 74 carries. He added 11 catches and 90 yards on 16 targets. So you're looking at 22.5 opportunities (carries + targets) and 111 total yards/game for Cook in those first four weeks. He also got tackled on the 1-yard line like an inch shy of the EZ on one of those catches, so it could very well be 3 scores instead of two. His 4.8 ypc ranked 6th for all RBs with over 70 carries (58 RBs), his 2.6 YAC was good, not amazing but still above average, which is good to see for a guy that's not huge, he's 5-10, 210lbs, but don't mistake that for being weak, he put up 22 reps on the bench press at the combine.
It was clear just how involved they were getting him in their team's plans.
The question we now need to answer is, following the ACL tear, are those plans going to be exactly the same? What we do know is that they will absolutely still be leaning on the ground game and their running backs heavily.
Last year, while Cook was on the field, Weeks 1-4
We see that with or without Cook they ranked highly in RB touches, it was their game plan. The rush attempts were a little higher without Cook, but the targets to the position were higher with Cook. As fantasy owners, we take it any way we can get it.
Over those last 12 weeks, 5-17, Latavius Murray and McKinnon combined for 342 touches and 56 receptions. There were a bunch of teams - the Dolphins, Lions, Raiders, Bengals, Browns, Packers, Bucs, Giants - that barely had more entire rushing attempts on the season, all RBs, QBs, WRs included.
There's a lot of work to be had in this offense.
There are a few pieces to this puzzle that need to be answered, as well as some question marks.
1. Kirk Cousins as the new QB
2. New OC in John DeFilippo
3. Poor offensive line
4. Latavius Murray's role
We'll start with Kirk Cousins, I really don't think this plays much of a factor into Cook's outlook tbh. He should put up around if not better numbers than Keenum, they should move the ball with ease in this offense. Don't think that much further analysis is needed.
Their new OC, John DeFilippo, is the former QB coach for the Eagles. He did a pretty damn good job there huh? He was the OC in Cleveland two year ago, but it's hard to look at those numbers from a play calling tendency because they were skewed due to how bad they were. I think this may lend itself to more of a pass-friendly offense tbh. Most of the other guys the Vikings interview were QB coaches and I think they're really looking to bring someone in to take Kirk to the next level. And if it is more pass-friendly, I actually like that for Cook's outlook because that's a big, big strength in his game, and we know based off last year, with Chris Thompson, Kirk has no problem checking down to his RBs.
The offensive line is definitely a concern. 19th per FO in RBing, 20th in YBC per PFF, and in PFF's new 2018 o-line rankings they have them ranked 28th. But those were pretty big improvements YoY from 2016-2017, so they're headed in the right direction. They did invest their 2nd round pick into Brian O'Neill an offensive tackle out of Pittsburgh, so that's a plus. I'm not too, too worried about this o-line in Min. It's not a strength but no longer a glaring weakness.
Lastly, and by far my biggest concern is Latavius Murray. Regardless of your feelings about him as a player, about his efficiency, whatever. The guy can get in the endzone. He's scoring 20 rushing touchdowns over the last two seasons. He did it with the Raiders, he did it with the Vikings last year, they pounded him the rock on the GL. At 6'2, 225lbs there's no reason not too. He's converted 15-of-29 rushes inside the 5 into TDs. More effective than most NFL backs. I don't think they're going to give Cook's early-down or in b/w the 20's work or the pass-catching work to Lat at all, but that GL work could remain his.
I think both guys are excellent running backs who will both have extremely efficient years, and if they bust, it's purely based on volume. However, the concern I have for Cook's volume is only on the GL. The concern I have for Hunt's volume is his overall touch-count. As we saw, there has never been a RB in the Andy Reid offense that has even flirted with the percentage of carries that Hunt saw last year, that number has to progress naturally, and with Ware back and them bringing in other backs, it will. Hunt should still see a big piece of the passing work out of the backfield, but like Cook, I'm not sure what we're going to see on the GL in KC. With Cook, I think he should see the heavy, heavy majority of rushes as well as almost all of the receiving work on a team that had 84 RB receptions last year. They should both realistically catch around 60 passes in 2018, give or take, but I personally think the offense in Minnesota is going to be much better than KCs, and their defense will be too which means the Vikings should be controlling the ball and the clock a lot, set up with very good field position frequently. I mean as you can see, I'm a little bit lower on both guys, why I have them at 17 and 19, I would not take either guy ahead of that second tier of WRs where we have Julio, Michael Thomas, Keenan Allen, etc. But I think when it comes down to it, Cook has less moving parts around him, while Hunt has a few more. For that reason, I lean Dalvin Cook here. But,
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