davidwilson

Or at least he is in the fantasy realm.

In any season, there is a relatively small handful of players who will swing leagues and define drafts. In 2013, you’ve got to decide what you’ll do if Aaron Rodgers falls to you in the third round. You’ve got to decide whether to take Jimmy Graham early or play Late Round Tight End. And you have to decide who you’re going to select as your RB2 if you ignore my suggestion that RB-RB is the only way to go this season.

For many people, David Wilson is the answer to that last question. The feedback from my most popular post, How to Lose a Draft in 10 Picks, has been quite enthusiastic except for one small point. People do not want to pass on Julio Jones in the second round in order to roster Chris Johnson, even though he’s going to have a monster bounceback season. Almost everyone says they’re going WR in Round 2 because David Wilson will be better than CJ2K and is available in the third round.

If that’s the case, Wilson might be the highest leverage player in the entire draft. RotoViz has suggested Wilson is either vastly undervalued or vastly overvalued. One of the site’s most viewed posts breaks down the Giants backfield using Ryan Rouillard’s paradigm-shifting RB model.

Drafters want to know what Wilson is going to do. And since I often fail to follow my own advice, I want to know what he’s going to do.

The wisdom of crowds suggests markets will value things efficiently . . . unless an informational cascade occurs. And in fantasy drafts, cascades are the rule not the exception (which is where RotoViz comes in). For the wisdom to work, we need to bring in a wide variety of perspectives to inform our expectations. The two most obvious pieces of evidence are these: 1) Wilson passed the eyeball test with flying colors last year – well, he passed my eyeball test in last year’s preseason but evidently not Tom Coughlin’s. 2) The Giants seemingly plan to make him their starter.

That’s probably enough to justify a 4th round valuation, but an early third? To select him there, we need to see clear RB1 upside. With that in mind, let’s see how he compares to former first round picks who gained fewer than 400 yards in their rookie seasons.

David Wilson Rookie Comparables Since 2000

Player Year Att Yds Y/A TD Y/G N+1 ADP N+1 Breakout
David Wilson 2012 71 358 5.04 4 22.4 30 ?
C.J. Spiller 2010 74 283 3.82 0 20.2 108 No
Donald Brown 2009 78 281 3.6 3 25.5 112 No
Felix Jones 2008 30 266 8.87 3 44.3 82 No
Rashard Mendenhall 2008 19 58 3.05 0 14.5 118 Yes
Cedric Benson 2005 67 272 4.06 0 30.2 87 No
Larry Johnson 2003 20 85 4.25 1 14.2 157 No
Deuce McAllister 2001 16 91 5.69 1 5.7 25 Yes
Shaun Alexander 2000 64 313 4.89 2 19.6 115 Yes
Thomas Jones 2000 112 373 3.33 2 26.6 31 No

 

Of this group, three broke out (Mendenhall, McAllister, and Alexander) and four developed into fantasy starters later in their respective careers (Spiller, Benson, Johnson, Jones). Brown and Jones look like busts.

Wilson is probably in a better situation than most of these players, but his ADP is also disproportionately high. The only two similar players were Alexander and Jones. A two person sample doesn’t tell us anything, but anecdotally a 50-50 hit rate is worrisome.

It’s very tempting to suggest Wilson’s rookie year efficiency speaks to a talent level worth betting on. Wilson was drafted with the last pick in Round 1, so I generated a list of former first and second round players who averaged at least 4.5 yards per carry as rookies in limited touches. If Wilson’s explosiveness bodes well, we should see a pretty high breakout rate.

David Wilson High Efficiency Comps Since 1990

Player Year Age Att Yds Y/A TD N+1 Breakout
Felix Jones 2008 21 30 266 8.87 3 No
LaMont Jordan 2001 23 39 292 7.49 1 No
Byron Hanspard 1997 21 53 335 6.32 0 No
Terrell Fletcher 1995 22 26 140 5.38 1 No
Tatum Bell 2004 23 75 396 5.28 3 Kinda
Blair Thomas 1990 23 123 620 5.04 1 No
David Wilson 2012 21 71 358 5.04 4 ?
Steven Jackson 2004 21 134 673 5.02 4 Yes
Shaun Alexander 2000 23 64 313 4.89 2 Yes
Robert Smith 1993 21 82 399 4.87 2 No
Maurice Morris 2002 23 32 153 4.78 0 No
Ladell Betts 2002 23 65 307 4.72 1 No
LaMichael James
2012 23 27 125 4.63 0 ?
Harvey Williams 1991 24 97 447 4.61 1 No
Napoleon Kaufman 1995 22 108 490 4.54 1 No

 

This is a very dispiriting group. Players like Felix Jones, Tatum Bell, Blair Thomas, Robert Smith, and Harvey Williams all bear a striking resemblance to David Wilson. Our only true breakouts remain Steven Jackson and Shaun Alexander.

The clear takeaway is that Wilson’s rookie year doesn’t really matter. In fact, it’s a blatant trap situation. As a result, it’s even more important that we look at Wilson’s previous track record and try to determine what his true talent level might be.

Just How Athletic is David Wilson?

Before the NFL Draft, I did a series on the rookie runners, specifically examining their athletic comps. I don’t have a one size fits all approach to running backs. In the Johnathan Franklin article, I proposed three different profiles that could generate reality and fantasy value.

1. The All Around Superstar – This relatively small group excels in both Speed Score and Agility Score. These types of runners qualify as elite early down backs and yet also dominate on passing downs because of their electric abilities in space. Examples would be Jamaal Charles and C.J. Spiller.

2. The Early Down and Goal Line Star – These are the Speed Score darlings. The traditional NFL back, these guys are often revered for their “violent” running styles and ability to drive the pile. Examples would include Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch.

3. The In-Space Star – This is the Agility Score group. Potentially undervalued, this group would include players like Darren Sproles.

Although exceptions exist, the vast majority of successful NFL runners fit one of these categories. I mentioned it in the Franklin article because he does not. (This was during the pre-draft phase when many were expecting him to be drafted in the second round.) Unfortunately, his peer group included significant overlap with David Wilson.

David Wilson Athletic Comps

Year Name College Weight 40 Yard Speed Score Vert Leap Agility Score
2012 David Wilson Virginia Tech 206 4.49 101.4 41 11.21
Year Name College Weight 40 Yard Speed Score Vert Leap Agility Score
2010 James Starks Buffalo 218 4.5 106.3 36 11.12
2007 Brandon Jackson Nebraska 210 4.54 98.9 37 11.14
2011 Ryan Williams Virginia Tech 212 4.59 95.5 40 11.14
2007 Kenny Irons Auburn 203 4.45 103.5 38 11.17
2010 Andre Dixon Connecticut 205 4.56 94.8 40 11.18
2011 Shane Vereen California 210 4.49 103.3 34 11.23
2012 Isaiah Pead Cincinnati 197 4.47 98.7 33 11.27
2005 Ryan Moats Louisiana Tech 210 4.46 106.1 36 11.33

 

Wilson’s measurables do not quite match up with his game tape. Usually players who possess big play ability can run a sub-4.4 forty or at least own a Speed Score over 110. Players with elite ability in space tend to post Agility Scores below 11.1 (with a sub-11.0 score preferred). The best argument for Wilson comes in the form of an incredible 41 inch vertical.

The Fantasy Douche has recently published a study demonstrating how vertical leap is often an effective proxy for speed. Wilson does incredibly well on his Explosion Index. In creating my list of comps, I tried to emphasize players with excellent numbers in the vertical. (I included Vereen and Pead because they’re the roughly similar players who probably interest fantasy owners the most. They both lack the measurables to be clear NFL starters.)

The discouraging thing here is the lack of an elite player coming out of this peer group. It’s easy to say Wilson is just a better prospect than players like Starks, Jackson, Irons, and Dixon, but every player from this group recorded a college season with double digit touchdowns and 1,000-plus yards from scrimmage. They aren’t exactly chumps.

In analyzing the Andre Brown versus David Wilson battle, most pundits opine that Wilson is the far better athlete, but Brown ran the same 40 time at 224 pounds. With a Speed Score of 110, he actually does fit one of the draftable profiles.

What do the Collegiate Advanced Stats say?

The best place to go for college football info is Bill Connelly’s Football Study Hall. He recently published advanced RB stats for the last two seasons. You’ll note that we’ve already discussed the way in which efficiency numbers are often random at the running back position, but when we’re looking for potential NFL stars explosiveness is very important.

FSH offers Highlight Yards, which basically demonstrate what percentage of a player’s value came on long runs. In order to find comps for Wilson, I searched for players with at least 200 carries who posted more than 6.0 highlight yards per opportunity. The chart is sorted by highlight yards per attempt. BSR is block success rate, or the percentage of runs where the line provided the opportunity for a long run. Adj. POE is a line and schedule adjusted measure of Points Over Expected (essentially how many more points the running back was worth over an average runner in the same environment).

Year Player Rushes Yards Hlt Yds HY/A HY/O BSR Adj. POE
2012 Kerwynn Williams 218 1512 858.7 3.94 9.98 39.4% 38.3
2011 LaMichael James 247 1805 912.5 3.69 7.73 47.8% 46.5
2011 David Wilson 292 1707 866.4 2.97 7.28 40.8% 36.0
2011 Zac Stacy 201 1193 585.8 2.91 7.14 40.8% 24.6
2012 Johnathan Franklin 282 1734 807 2.86 6.40 44.7% 27.5
2011 Robert Turbin 249 1527 658.2 2.64 6.39 41.4% 15.3
2011 Trent Richardson 283 1679 742.7 2.62 6.24 42.0% 35.4
2011 Terrance Ganaway 249 1538 646.2 2.60 6.53 39.8% 28.7
2011 Lamar Miller 227 1272 579.6 2.55 6.66 38.3% 23.1
2011 Isaiah Pead 237 1259 586.3 2.47 6.37 38.8% 17.6
2012 Zac Stacy 206 1147 501.7 2.44 6.52 37.4% 12.9

 

There are plenty of different ways to interpret this list. If you want to believe Kerwynn Williams is a great sleeper, you can. If you want to believe LaMichael James and Johnathan Franklin were merely the beneficiaries of great offensive line play, you can.

Wilson was plenty explosive, but so were supposedly plodding backs like Robert Turbin, Terrance Ganaway, and Zac Stacy (who just happens to be an Agility Score star).

This is your quintessential good news, bad news situation. Wilson flashed game-breaking potential in college. On the other hand, he continues to slot in with players like LaMichael James, Johnathan Franklin, and Isaiah Pead. The not-quite-big-enough/not-quite-fast-enough all-stars will be a very intriguing group to follow the next several seasons.

Final Take – Not Atlas But Perhaps the World Turtle

Wilson is currently going in the mid-third of fantasy drafts and that looks like fair value to me. Media projections of a 60-40 carry split between Wilson and Brown seem accurate. The second year player doesn’t project as a big enough talent to earn all the carries, nor is he enough of a size/speed guy to be a good bet for goal line work.

As we’ve seen, there’s quite a bit of risk involved in selecting an unproven player early in drafts. There’s more risk when questions exist as to his talent ceiling. In this case, I think those risks are fairly priced. I wouldn’t build my entire draft strategy around David Wilson, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up as a swing player in a lot of fantasy leagues this season.

To see where David Wilson lands in my comprehensive RB Rankings, check out Trent Richardson No. 1 in Complete Projection of Top 20 Running Backs

Shawn Siegele is the creator of the contrarian sports website Money in the Banana Stand and Lead Writer for Pro Football Focus Fantasy.

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