Taking a Look Under the Hood
Editor’s Note: John Lapinski won the 2017 RotoViz Writing Contest. His winning entry is here; the following version has been updated to reflect the NFL draft. If you’d like to write for RotoViz, we have a standing offer for new writers.
RotoViz. A site where a secret cabal of fantasy gurus feed freshly harvested data into arcane algorithms to summon forth previously-unheard-of prospects from the darkest reaches of the football realm. At least that’s how I presume it works behind the curtain.
Every week or so a new, indecipherable acronym shows up, and suddenly I find myself getting hyped for a prospect whom I had previously never heard of. And yet somehow, a player who as a 19-year-old sophomore was top three in the ACC in every rushing category, behind only some guy named Dalvin Cook, doesn’t have even so much as a blurb anywhere on the site, much less a full article. Until now. That player is Elijah Hood.
Hood, a four-star recruit coming out of high school, originally committed to Notre Dame before opting to stay close to home with North Carolina. As a true freshman, he was used sparingly, slotting in behind sophomore T.J. Logan. He exploded onto the scene as a sophomore, posting over 1,500 yards from scrimmage and 17 TDs. Had Hood’s final season numbers even just maintained that level of production, then he’d certainly be much higher up rookie draft boards; however, injuries derailed his junior campaign, forcing him to miss two games, leave another early, and play at less than full speed in several others.
UNC head coach Larry Fedora doesn’t discuss injuries. Larry Fedora doesn’t let his players discuss injuries. However, we do know from Hood himself, as well as from the UNC coaches, that Hood was banged up for all of 2016 with various ailments, even though there’s no way to quantify how it affected his play. We also don’t know how Mitchell Trubisky’s emergence as a true pocket passer may have affected his role.
What we do know is that in his healthy sophomore season, he completely took over as the team’s workhorse running back to the tune of a 0.74 Workhorse Score. This compares favorably to the final season Workhorse Score for many of the other backs in the 2017 class, coming in ninth, right between Joe Williams and Christian McCaffrey. It’s a production profile that certainly has a chance to translate to the NFL, with a few productive players showing up in his comps:
What might make this even more impressive is that the only RB he really ceded any production to (T.J. Logan, who probably also deserves a closer look as a profile three back) was a year older and was also drafted. Jon Moore’s research shows that perhaps we should view a lead back’s production even more favorably if there was another talented back on the roster.
And despite Hood’s drop off in play in 2016, there were still some bright spots to his game. His YPC stayed at a respectable 5.9, and he did something that every owner in a PPR league loves to see: add receptions. His 2.3 receptions per game, taken in the context of a big workhorse back, are enough to make him intriguing as a big back who can still catch passes at the next level. In fact, despite his injuries in 2016, Hood still posts a solid score in the RB Prospect Lab:
|ELIJAH HOOD||NORTH CAROLINA||21||2014||232||4.57||7.12||13.2||78||0.7||2.3||54|
The next Jordan Howard?
In fact, Jordan Howard is eerily similar to the sophomore version of Hood:
And while neither back has athletic metrics in the Box Score Scout, their Pro Day numbers are pretty much dead on:
Though Howard did show more explosion in the jumping drills, Hood compares well in every other category. Hood certainly has a lot more question marks than Howard entering the NFL. Howard ended his college career on a high note, while Hood mysteriously fizzled out.
It’s important to remember that one good comp alone is no guarantee of success, however, it does show that a player with Hood’s profile and early production similar to Howard’s can find success in today’s NFL.
The Oakland Raiders drafted Hood in the seventh round with the 242nd overall pick. This is an excellent landing spot for Hood, as he will get a chance to fill a backup role that has an opening for a player of his profile:
Neither Deandre Washington nor Jalen Richard has the size preferred for early-down duties. Fullback Jamize Olawale, in his five seasons with the Raiders, has never seen more than 35 touches. This leaves Hood as the only “large” RB on the roster, backing up a 31-year-old Marshawn Lynch who has not taken an NFL snap since 2015 and ended that season injured. If Lynch were to go down it’s highly unlikely that Hood would immediately assume all of his touches, but he should at the very least be considered for goal line duties, which is a valuable role in the potent Raiders offense. In the same role last year, Latavius Murray was seventh in the league with 25 rushes inside the opposing 10-yard line. Murray was able to convert these 25 attempts into 11 TDs while running behind an offensive line ranked fourth overall by Pro Football Focus.
In fact, we already have a pretty good example of what a player with Hood’s profile can do when backing up an aging Marshawn Lynch:
In 2015, Thomas Rawls, an inferior prospect to Hood in almost every respect, put up 18 PPR points per game once Lynch went down. The 2017 Oakland Raiders have more talent on their RB depth chart than the 2015 Seahawks did, so 19 attempts per game might not be realistic for Hood in this hypothetical scenario, but he could still be a viable starter even with fewer touches.
On average, Hood has been going off the board at pick 41, according to the Dynasty ADP App, which is right in the middle of the fourth round. As a late-round pick, he’ll have an uphill climb to relevance, but early reports are promising. In later rounds, I like to take a shot on guys who have a reasonable path to playing time in their first year and Hood certainly falls into that category. Hood is probably not a player you should reach for but definitely presents more potential immediate upside than many other players being drafted in the fourth round.