Zach Line is the Next Adrian Peterson… Handcuff – and Other Non-obvious Dynasty Stashes
In the last few months, my articles have primarily been centered around these three topics: 1) the RotoViz Dynasty League (RDL), hosted on FleaFlicker (which I as the commissioner and a player have found to be an excellent site); 2) my general distrust of small RBs as fantasy assets; and 3) a few RBs who I think are bargains in dynasty formats, some of whom are rostered on my RDL team, Riggins Rigs.
Some of these pieces have been almost pseudo-popular:
- The Rules and Rationales of the RDL. (I recommend this for commissioners.)
- A strategy piece detailing the tactics I used in the RDL veteran draft. Specifically, I earnestly traded down to acquire more “starter quality” picks; I drafted players with depressed values; and I targeted older (or perhaps “injury-prone”) players who are likely to outperform their draft positions in 2013. [Needless to say, the Danario Alexander pick hasn’t worked out as planned.]
- I don’t like small RBs, especially late-round small RBs, unless they have elite college production and agility, not to mention elite non-QB Dominator Ratings (nQBDR). Basically, I don’t like late-round small RBs unless they look like Darren Sproles or Ahmad Bradshaw.
- Out of all the small RBs selected late in the 2013 NFL Draft, the “Offensive Weapon” from Michigan is the only one I think has a legit chance of becoming a stud. He has the collegiate production and the athleticism. And his three-game nQBDR from the end of 2012, when he played RB, is quite high.
- I think S-Jax will flourish in Atlanta and has a strong chance of finishing the season as the 2013 fantasy MVP.
- And I love Reggie Bush in Detroit. I basically wrote him a four-part love letter. I’ve noted that RotoViz’s Similarity Scores App projects Bush to have, at worst, a solid 2013 season. In moving past the projections, I’ve written about how Bush has compared very well in recent seasons to another coveted RB with a higher ADP: LeSean McCoy. Bush should do well in Detroit, given the production of the Lions RBs in 2012: Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell. Basically, Bush has the upside of Detroit’s RB from 2011, Jahvid Best, and I think that’s a lot of upside.
In this article, these three strands will all meet, as I, the master weaver . . . whatever. You get the idea. I’ve identified five (non-small) late-round and undrafted rookie RBs who, based on their nQBDRs (and other attributes), I believe will outperform their dynasty draft positions. The bottom three players are presented here. The top two will be the subjects of my next article.
One quick word about nQBDR: In players who are not highly drafted, a high nQBDR is predictive of future top-30 positional success. Of all these types of players for whom I have done calculations, over 50% of those with high nQBDRs had top-30 seasons at some point. For perspective, if you look at this list of second-round RBs to enter the NFL since 2000, you’ll see that only 16 of the 31 runners have had a top-30 season (51.6%). What I’m saying is that nQBDR alone returns a group of disregarded prospects who beat that number. What is a high nQBDR? I prefer a luda-crazy high of 90%, but around 80% is certainly still high enough to prove predictive in many cases.
OK, here are #s 3-5 of the nQBDR rookie RBs, aka the non-obvious future all stars.
5) Montel Harris:
I first wrote in April about Harris as an ADP Arbitrage play, and he was one of the RotoViz writers’ favorite deep sleepers in our pre-draft Composite Rookie RB Rankings (which are still worth checking out).
Here’s the blurb I wrote about Harris in the composite RB rankings: “Zac Stacy may be our favorite sleeper, but Montel Harris may be our favorite deep sleeper. I’m talking coma deep. Ranked by Shawn, Ryan, and me, the medical-redshirt senior who transferred from Boston College to Temple finished his college career with four seasons of over 1000 scrimmage yards. That’s impressive. Neither fast nor extraordinarily agile, the 5’8” rusher still packs a punch at 208 lbs. He’s not likely to have great NFL success, but when you’re picking guys up off of waivers you could do a lot worse than snagging a rusher who produced consistently at the FBS level. In fact, I’d rather have Montel off of waivers than Montee with a second-round pick. He seems to have the same upside as Ball at a fraction of the cost. To me, he’s a straight-up Montee Ball ADP arbitrage play. As Shawn said in an email before we submitted our rankings, ‘the next running back article I have coming out is Montee Ball, and Harris’ comps are actually a little stronger.’ I’ll say it again, when you’re picking guys up off of waivers, you could do a lot worse than Montel Harris.”
Harris is currently not with an NFL team, so his dynasty ADP is non-existent. As one would expect, he’s not rostered in the RDL. But if he ever is picked up as a free agent, keep a close eye on him. As a freshman in 2008, Harris compared favorably to bigger ACC backs such as Jonathan Dwyer, Andre Brown, and James Davis. In 2009 as a sophomore Harris once again did well in a conference that saw stellar performances from Ryan Williams, C.J. Spiller, and Jonathan Dwyer. And in 2010 Harris trailed only Anthony Allen in rushing. For a span of three years, Harris was the most productive runner in the ACC.
And what was his nQBDR? In 2009, it was an outrageous 91%. In 2010, it was 89.44%. Harris isn’t likely to have NFL success, but if he gets in the league then he very well could.
4) Benny Cunningham:
Cunningham is the only St. Louis RB I haven’t written about, although Ryan Rouillard has written, suggesting that fantasy players shouldn’t forget to take Cunningham into account and that the other Rams RBs should beware the rookie runner. Before the draft I wrote a series on Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead, and Terrance Ganaway that culminated with a final piece in which I noted the strong likelihood that Fisher would draft another RB, and I ultimately came pretty freaking close to calling it on Zac Stacy—“And let’s assume that maybe Fisher takes a guy like Zac Stacy in the fifth round or so to replace Ganaway.” I later followed that piece up with my final word on the Rams backfield: D-Rich will be the lead RB in 2013, and Stacy may eventually take over as early as 2014.
So what does this mean for Cunningham, who’s just sitting on waivers in the RDL? It means that I don’t think the undrafted free agent from Middle Tennessee State is going to get a real shot with the Rams. After all, he didn’t even play in the first preseason game. But if he does eventually get a shot I think he has a real chance of becoming at least a part-time contributor, maybe a valuable handcuff with some team. Yes, he’s coming off a major injury that limited him to only 5 games in 2012, but he’s got decent size (5’10” and 209 lbs.) and strength (26 reps on the bench press), and in his four 2012 games against D-I schools Cunningham racked up a good (though not great) nQBDR of 78.97%, and his 27-217-5 performance against Georgia Tech was impressive. I don’t think he’ll ever register a top-30 season, but if he did I wouldn’t be surprised.
3) Zach Line:
I’ve been talking about this guy since March. I still think he’s perhaps the most undervalued RB of the 2013 class. If you play in an ESPN league, don’t even bother trying to pick him up—he doesn’t have a player profile: Line’s not even in ESPN’s player universe. That’s how off the radar he is. In the RDL I claimed Line off of waivers in late June for the cost of $2—our annual waiver budget is $1000 per team—and I probably overpaid. As far as I know, no one else in the RDL is really interested in Line.
And as I was writing that previous paragraph, Zach Line just scored a 61-yard catch-and-run TD on his first NFL touch. He broke a tackle at the beginning of the play, made a nifty cut to extend the play, and then broke another tackle to get into the end zone. Granted, this play occurred in the first preseason game of the season, but I think Line has Mike Alstott potential. He can pick up the blitz, he can catch out of the backfield, and he might be slower than most RBs but he can still run the ball effectively. I promise you that 232-lb. RBs with three straight FBS seasons of at least 1200 rushing yards and 10 TDs per year don’t just melt into the ether. Such guys tend to make an NFL impact, and Line is such a player, even if he is technically a FB.
Here’s how you should think about Line. Adrian Peterson is great, but he’s getting older. He won’t be around forever, and his handcuff has some value. AD’s handcuff currently is Toby Gerhart, who is basically just a faster version of Line and a guy who will be a free agent after this season. The third-string RB, Matt Asiata, is a large RB who nevertheless is older, smaller, and less athletic than Line. Don’t believe me? Go to their player profiles at NFL Draft Scout (here and here). Yes, the larger FB is actually more athletic than the RB. Additionally, Asiata was far less productive in college. In 2014, if one of these guys is going to be Peterson’s handcuff, I think it will be Line.
Even if all Line does is see the field as an RB/FB hybrid who pass blocks on third downs, catches passes out of the backfield, and gets the occasional early-down carry, that’s still valuable, especially if he can eventually vulture some TDs. Big guys like that—Mike Alstott, Peyton Hillis, Le’Ron McClain, and Mike Tolbert—find a way to contribute.
I think Line will be a contributor, and his nQBDR suggests as much. Once he became SMU’s primary RB as a sophomore in 2010 (switching from FB, by the way), he put together the best three-season stretch of nQBDR performance that I’ve found so far: 92.93%, 94.1%, and 93.04%. If he gets an opportunity, I think he’ll make something happen in the NFL—and big-bodied RBs with that kind of production generally get opportunities at some point.
Line probably won’t turn in a Hillis-esque top-2 season during his career, but under the right circumstances could Line submit a top-30 season as a fill-in starter and substantial role player? Yeah. More than one top-30 season is pushing it, but only one? I bet it happens, not in 2013 and probably not in 2014. 2015?—when Peterson is playing at the ripe age of 30? I’m calling my shot.
Zach Line will be a top-30 player at some point, perhaps as early as 2015.
And who are #s 1 and 2 of the non-obvious future all stars? Find out in the next article.