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brandonbolden

I did the research for this piece in late March, but then I got distracted with the draft and never wrote the piece till now. I wish I wouldn’t have gotten distracted, because (with Shane Vereen’s injured wrist and Stevan Ridley’s fumbling issues) the price to acquire the second-year product from Ole Miss has likely risen. And I think he’s a player worth acquiring. Here are some points in his favor:

1) He’s an RB for the Patriots, who have shown a remarkable ability to turn lightly regarded fantasy RBs into assets.

2) Bill Belichick could decide to use him on a regular basis. It happened with BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead. It could happen with Bolden. Vereen is on the short-term IR. Ridley is perhaps one fumble away from the end of the bench. And I’m not convinced that LeGarrette Blount will keep Bolden at bay. Realistically, Bolden is a couple of bad plays away from getting (at least) a couple of series as a workhorse. And last year when he served as a workhorse (albeit on only a few limited occasions), he looked good.

3) Bolden is more versatile than the other guys who are presently healthy. Ridley isn’t a strong pass catcher (or pass blocker). Neither is Blount. Bolden, though, in his best collegiate season, caught 32 passes in 12 games for 344 yards and 3 TDs. He’s not Vereen, but he can catch the ball out of the backfield. And what about Leon Washington? He’s a great receiving back, but he’s not a workhorse—which bring me to my next point.

4) Bolden is solidly built. At the 2012 Combine, Bolden weighed 222 lbs. PFR has him at 220, and RotoWorld has him at 215. He’s big enough to carry the load. What’s more, he’s decently athletic for his size. He did the 3-cone drill in a blazing time of 6.96 seconds, and he had a 38-inch vertical jump, one of the highest in 2012 for RBs. So he’s big—and I like big RBs (to a fault)—and he’s not just a plodder. He could carry the ball 20 times per game if Belichick desires.

5) Finally, his 2012 production and his physical makeup place him in an intriguing cohort. Starting with Bolden’s physique (5’11” and 220 lbs according to PFR) and rookie statistics (56 carries and 4.89 rushing average), I used ranges of 5’9”-6’1”, 210-230 lbs, 46-66 carries, and 4.39-5.39 ypc. The result was a cohort of 6 players used primarily as RBs. (I removed Leon Perry, a FB in 1980.)

Player

Year

Age

Draft

Pick

Tm

Ht

Wt

Shaun Alexander

2000

23

1

19

SEA

71

225

Ladell Betts

2002

23

2

56

WAS

70

222

Fred Jackson

2007

26

8

263

BUF

73

215

Lamar Miller

2012

21

4

97

MIA

71

212

James Allen

1998

23

8

241

CHI

70

212

Pierre Thomas

2007

23

8

256

NOR

71

210

Avg

NA

23.17

5.17

155.33

NA

71

216

Median

NA

23

6

169

NA

71

213.5

Brandon Bolden

2012

22

8

253

NWE

71

220

The composite player is a little bit older and lighter than Bolden, but considering that he’s anywhere from 215-222 lbs this cohort seems fairly representative. Note that 3 of the 6 players (Jackson, Allen, and Thomas) were undrafted, like Bolden. Here’s the table of their rookie-year statistics.

Player G GS Att Yds Y/A TD Y/G
Shaun Alexander

16

1

64

313

4.89

2

19.6

Ladell Betts

11

0

65

307

4.72

1

27.9

Fred Jackson

8

1

58

300

5.17

0

37.5

Lamar Miller

13

1

51

250

4.9

1

19.2

James Allen

6

2

58

270

4.66

1

45

Pierre Thomas

12

1

52

252

4.85

1

21

Avg

11

1

58

282

4.865

1

28.367

Median

11.5

1

58

285

4.87

1

24.45

Brandon Bolden

10

0

56

274

4.89

2

27.4

As rookie producers, these 6 players are very similar to Bolden. I grant that this sample size is limited (it always is nowadays), but it seems representative. These guys as a group are the proto-Boldens. Here’s how they did in the 4 seasons after their rookie years:

Player Y2 PR Y3 PR Y4 PR Y5 PR High 5-Y PR
Shaun Alexander

4

5

6

1

1

Ladell Betts

53

58

57

10

10

Fred Jackson

39

15

21

14

14

Lamar Miller

??

??

??

??

??

James Allen

87

24

44

40

24

Pierre Thomas

21

20

Inj

27

20

Avg

40.8

24.4

32

18.4

13.8

Median

39

20

32.5

14

14

Brandon Bolden

??

??

??

??

??

A lot of upside exists in this group, especially for Bolden. We have no idea what’s going to happen with Lamar Miller, but Bolden is basically the discounted Miller who plays in New England. Three of the guys on this list peaked as RB1s (F-Jax missed six games due to injury in his fifth season, and he still finished with a high positional ranking). The other two (Allen and Thomas) peaked as low-end RB2/flex options. All of them experienced fantasy relevance. On average, the composite player’s best season in Years 2-4 was an RB1/RB2 campaign, and collectively in Years 3-5 the cohort players averaged RB2/3 positional finishes.

Does all of this information mean that Brandon Bolden will be a usable fantasy option perhaps as early as 2013? Not necessarily, but it does suggest that his chances of fantasy success, in a historical context, are better than most dynasty markets recognize.

Bolden probably won’t be the next Shaun Alexander—but he has that potential upside, and no one seems to acknowledge it. I think he even has a higher probability of reaching that upside than people think.

If one looked at RotoViz’s RB Similarity App, entering the season Bolden had a projection summary that perhaps was surprising. When one discounts the games he missed (some of which were due not to injury but suspension), this projection summary emerges:

Projection Summary

Bolden

Standard

Half PPR

PPR

Low

2.5

3.1

4

Median

4.6

6

6.9

High

9.1

10.1

11

Average of Season N+1 Results

NAME

AGE

WT

GMS

CARS

YDS

YPC

TDS

recs

recYDS

recTDS

Year N+1 Average

24.1

217.1

11.2

9.4

39

4.17

0.3

1.6

12

0.03

Basically, this projection suggests that Bolden has a decent chance of becoming Pierre Thomas. Here’s the year-over-year change plotted:

plot.bolden

At the top of the list? Shaun Alexander. Just based on history, Bolden has substantial upside and limited downside. And he very soon could receive his opportunity.

Bolden should be monitored closely. In deep 12-team leagues he should be rostered. If he’s on waivers in dynasty leagues, pick him up immediately. He’s a Lamar-arbitrage play with 2011 F-Jax upside. That deserves to be on rosters.

In 2010, Bill Belichick turned an undrafted free agent from Ole Miss into a starting fantasy RB. He could easily do the same again.

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