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Baylor-Ganaway-Footba_Mill

Steven Jackson is officially an Atlanta Falcon, leaving the St. Louis Rams after nine years of fantasy studliness, and now the race is on to see which fantasy website can produce the most articles on Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead, and their fight for the top spot on the St. Louis RB depth chart.

In the end, I think that one of them will emerge at the beginning of the 2013 season as the pseudo-starter. By the end of the season, though, I think the Rams RB with the most dynasty value and momentum will be neither. Instead, the player to own will be the third RB on the roster taken in the 2012 draft—the 239 lb. Terrance Ganaway from Baylor University.

I have written other articles at RotoViz about the value of big-bodied FBS-producing under-drafted RBs in the NFL. For instance, here’s one article on the guy I consider to be the most undervalued RB in the 2013 draft and another article on Zac Stacy, in which I consider him in the context of his SEC forerunners. Out of these guys who are still under the radar, I think that Ganaway has quite a bit of potential for the coming seasons.

Made in the mold of big-body bangers Shonn Greene and LeGarrette Blount, RG3’s Baylor running mate had a prolific senior year in 2011, rushing 250 times for 1547 yards (with a 6.2 avg) and 21 TDs. Blessed with hands fashioned from presumably the softest of stones, Ganaway still managed to catch 6 passes for 52 yards and an additional TD. Coming into the NFL, Ganaway certainly did not profile as a fully functional three-down back, but a guy who can carry the rock 20 times a game for 16 games a year is literally no small thing, especially when he can wear out a defense with power run after power run. Prior to the 2012 draft, Ganaway was basically last year’s version of a heavier, shorter, less pass-savvy Le’Veon Bell.

When Ganaway slipped into Round 6, Rex Ryan and the Jets pounced, selecting yet another runner for the (so-called) ground-and-pound attack. With Shonn Greene entering a contract year, Ganaway seemed destined to stick to the Jets roster as a contender for the position of heir apparent, especially when he scored the Jets’ only TD of the preseason—on (of course) a reception. And then the Jets did what they traditionally do with promising young RBs sporting outstanding college production (Danny Woodhead says hi): They axed him in the final round of cuts.

Presumably the Jets intended to sneak Ganaway onto their practice squad, but the Rams intervened, claiming him on waivers and proceeding to bury him on the depth chart behind Jackson and the two featherweight rookies. At one point in the 2012 season, Ganaway was so far down in the pecking order that he was listed on www.rotoworld.com not as the team’s (distant) 4th-string RB but as the FB. Ganaway was not a forgotten man; no one even knew him in the first place. Suiting up for only three games, Ganaway received an inordinate number of carries for even a man of his prodigious size—ZERO. Talk about being ignored.

Ganaway, in fact, is so far off the radar that RotoViz’s (excellent) RB Similarity App does not even calculate a similarity score for him—how can one determine the likelihood of year-over-year performance for a player who failed to submit any performance in the previous year? Still, Ganaway is a player with talent, and, given his position on a roster without a clear top RB, he deserves consideration.

What will Ganaway do in 2013? Well, with Richardson and Pead not known as short-yardage pile-movers, I think that next season Ganaway will get at least one single solitary carry, and, if he does, the odds—based on the careers of his big-bodied under-appreciated FBS-producing forerunners—are decent that he could be in line to receive many more carries in the following years.

Here is a chart of the FBS RBs who 1) entered the NFL after 2000 as, at best, 5th-round selections, 2) play (or played) in the NFL at 230 lbs. or more (according to www.pro-football-reference.com), 3) played college football at the FBS level, and 4) had at least one season in college of 1500 total scrimmage yards, of which at least 1175 are rushing yards—two statistical benchmarks that I find to have predictive value in the analysis of undervalued RBs. The table is arranged in chronological order. Most of these positional rankings come from www.pro-football-reference.com.

Name Rookie Year Round Drafted Y1 Rank Y2 Rank Y3 Rank Y4 Rank Y5 Rank
Michael Turner 2004 5 106 59 48 69 2
Arian Foster 2009 Und 58 1 4 3
Anthony Dixon 2010 6 67 92 99
Jonathan Dwyer 2010 6 120 108 41
John Clay 2011 Und 115
Terrance Ganaway 2012 6 No Carries
Avg sans Ganaway 93.2 65 48 36 2

Out of the four RBs on this list who actually received carries in their second seasons (John Clay was barely in the league as a rookie and has not played since), two of these runners, Foster and Turner, became fantasy studs, while Dwyer received a significant opportunity in his third year to seize the starting job. And with Frank Gore aging, Kendall Hunter recovering from a serious injury, and LaMichael James tilting the scales at only 194 lbs., few people should be surprised if Dixon in the future is presented with the opportunity to become a grinding starter.

One particular trend in this chart seems salient. While the sample size is admittedly small and gets smaller as the RBs age, the average positional rank for the cohort improves with each additional year. This trend suggests, albeit weakly, that Ganaway, if given the opportunity to play in his second year, has the potential to see his value and production increase progressively throughout his career.

Additionally, year three in particular seems to be a crucial year, when value emerges for some in the group and is reaffirmed for others. In his third year, Turner showed the extent of his potential in limited action by rushing 80 times for 502 yards and 2 TDs for an average of 6.3 yards; additionally he caught 3 passes for 47 yards and a 15.7-yard average. According to this search at www.pro-football-reference.com, Turner’s third season was unprecedented in the modern era, being the only example since 1978 (when the NFL initiated the 16-game season) of an RB weighing 230 lbs. or more to rush for an average of 6.0 yards or greater on at least 75 carries. In fact—and how could you not see this coming?—the only other RB in all of NFL history to pass this particular test was the man Matt Waldman calls the greatest RB of all time, the truly incomparable Jim Brown, who managed in one of the greatest rushing seasons ever to average a monstrous 6.40 yards on 291 carries while starting every contest of a 14-game season. Yes, in his third year, Turner added his name to a list that had comprised only one other name for over 40 years. Not only did Turner prove himself to be the most valuable of backups, as LaDainian Tomlinson’s HC, but he also showed that he would be an immense asset once he landed his own starting gig. In his third season, Turner transformed himself into a legitimate dynasty buy-and-hold, not because he was LT’s backup, but because he was a player worth rostering on his own merits.

Similarly, albeit to a lesser degree, Dwyer saw a third-year bump in his value, moving from a third-string project to the Steelers’ top-ranked RB and most consistent producer. In overtaking Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman, the stout Georgia Tech product converted himself (in his starts) into a usable player who may see even more starts in the future.

Furthermore, Foster’s third-year saw his value reaffirmed, as he proved himself to be not a mere one-year wonder but a bona fide full-on fantasy stud worthy of a top pick in all leagues. And Dixon (although he received few third-year carries) had his value confirmed by Jim Harbaugh, who—despite drafting RBs in consecutive years—decided still to roster the third-year RB, an asset too valuable to cut from the team.

What does all of this mean for Ganaway? If he sticks with the Rams through his second year, seeing the field as the short-yardage and goal-line thumper à la Brandon Jacobs and Marion Barber early in their careers, then his third year is likely to be even better as he works himself into a larger role, with the loser of the Richardson-Pead contest eventually being phased out of the offense due to general inefficacy and redundancy—the Rams are unlikely to use as a change-of-pace option a player who is vastly similar to the nominal starter, who himself is just a change-of-pace option pretending to be a starter. Enter Ganaway.

Finally, some cause for optimism comes from the RB-usage patterns Jeff Fisher has exhibited since he became the head coach of the Houston Oilers in 1995. Before the 2012 season, Fisher had carried on his Oilers and Titans teams 8 rookie RBs either undrafted or drafted after Round 4, and none of those 8 guys ever became actual fantasy options. In 2012, though, Fisher changed his ways. In promoting seventh-rounder Daryl Richardson to the backup job and giving him close to one hundred carries, Fisher showed that he is willing to entertain the notion of trusting a lowly-drafted RB, and the next one he trusts could be Ganaway.

And, most importantly, is this fact. Fisher likes big RBs—especially those who produced in college. In his 17 years as head coach, Jeff Fisher has had only 4 big-bodied RBs who produced at least one FBS 1500-1175 season. As the table below shows, the three before Ganaway had productivity. (This information is from www.pro-football-reference.com.)

Name Rookie Year Draft Status Ht Wt Y1 Rank Y2 Rank Y3 Rank Y4 Rank Y5 Rank T30 Seasons
Eddie George 1996 1.14 6-3 235 8 12 11 3 3 5
Chris Brown 2003 3.93 6-3 219 76 24 20 87 44 2
LenDale White 2006 2.45 6-2 240 66 15 19 72 Not in NFL 2
Terrance Ganaway 2012 6.202 6-0 239 No Carries
Avg sans Ganaway 50 17 16.7 54 23.5 60%

This table indicates that, because of his draft position, Ganaway is available at a discount relative to the production of his big-bodied Fisher-forerunners. Most impressive is that, out of the 15 seasons in the table (including Ganaway’s rookie year) 9 top-30 performances were produced. Yes, 60% of the time, they . . . you probably know the rest.

And of particular note is the averaged top-30 productivity in years two and three. All three pre-Ganaway RBs submitted top-30 seasons in those years. What does this mean for Ganaway? He could gain some serious traction in the St. Louis backfield, perhaps as early as 2013. He’s unlikely to be the next Arian Foster, but he could be the next Chris Brown or LenDale White, and for a guy who is available cheap, that’s a pretty good return on investment.

Of course, Ganaway’s prospects with the Rams are not dependent only on his talents and attributes. Any deliberation on Ganaway’s future must also consider the prospects of the two RBs currently ahead of him on the depth chart: Daryl Richardson, the 2012 7th-round draft pick who last year stole the St. Louis backup job, and Isaiah Pead, the 2012 2nd-round pick from whom Richardson stole the very same job. A consideration of their prospects will come in later articles.

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