Dynasty Buy Low: Don’t Miss Out on Jalen Richard Just Because You Like DeAndre Washington
The Oakland offensive line returns three Pro Bowlers, including First-Team All-Pro Kelechi Osemele. I’m buying the whole backfield. One of my favorite dynasty buys is 2016 fifth round pick, DeAndre Washington. Despite a number of excellent articles touting Washington this offseason, he’s become dirt cheap since the signing of Marshawn Lynch. However, many analysts are convincing themselves to dismiss his backfield mate Jalen Richard, which I think is a major error. Richard may not only have the better short term value in the passing game, he may be the better prospect overall.
A mistake that fantasy players frequently make is forcing themselves into a false choice between players on the same roster. This is how many people gave up on James White last year, and how they missed out on Devonta Freeman in 2015. Just because Coleman was good didn’t mean Freeman was bad. Black and white thinking could have cost you a piece of Freeman’s league-winning season.
Don’t make this mistake with Oakland’s backfield. You should buy DeAndre Washington right now in dynasty. But you should also buy Jalen Richard.
By most measures1 Richard had a better rookie season than Washington, but he remains the cheaper player. There are two main reasons for this discount:
- Richard is perceived as a bad athlete
- Washington is seen as more valuable because of the role he saw on early downs
There is a good reason to question both of these assumptions.
The single biggest reason people discount Richard are his ugly pro day measurables. He ran a 4.6 forty, put up decent explosion numbers, and posted atrocious agility times.2
And yet all the things we hope these measurements convey — burst, elusiveness, long speed — arguably showed up on the field in Richard’s rookie year. He ranked ninth in breakaway runs and 20th in juke rate with 31 evaded tackles, according to Player Profiler. Pro Football Focus credited Richard with 28 broken tackles, and ranked him the third most elusive running back last year, and second in both average yards after contact (3.6) and touches per missed tackle forced on rushes (4.1). This is particularly good news in light of Josh Hermsmeyer’s recent work showing that evaded tackles are sticky year-over-year.
Richard also won both the kick and punt return jobs — ranking ninth in the league in return yardage — which seems unlikely for a player who doesn’t have at least passable agility and speed. He also clocked the 10th-fastest top speed in Week 1, on a 75-yard touchdown scamper, according to the NFL’s NextGen stats. Richard was also second in the NFL in RotoDoc’s Yards Per Carry Over Expected metric.3
As Richard tweeted to me, his play seems to trump whatever limitations his testing might suggest.
Obviously by my play you know those test numbers don't match my agility or speed 😂😂😂
— Jalen Richard (@RocketRich30) June 13, 2017
When we see on field production that doesn’t match up with a player’s measured athleticism, that is a great buy low opportunity. Even though we know combine numbers have limited predictive value, and that athletes sometimes just have a bad day at the combine, people can be slow to incorporate or even accept new evidence.4
Nevertheless, one season as a committee back is not a huge sample. Should we have confidence that Richard has sufficient athleticism to succeed long term? I believe so, and my reasoning goes beyond just giving Richard a free pass for a bad short shuttle.
Measurables & Athletic Profile
For one thing, we know that it rained on Richard’s pro day, which was held outdoors at Southern Miss. Artificial turf shouldn’t be treacherous in the rain, but it doesn’t seem ideal either, and in a radio interview5 Richard claimed that he kept slipping during his agility drills. Take that with a grain of salt, but I think it opens the door for us to at least question the accuracy of his bottom one percent agility scores — it only takes a fraction of a second to go from average to terrible.
Chase Stuart at Football Perspectives, has also shown that the broad jump and the three cone are biased against shorter, heavier players. For example, his work shows that Christian McCaffrey’s still-awesome three cone time was only the seventh best height- and weight-adjusted time.6
The one test that doesn’t disadvantage short players is vertical, and Richard posted an impressive 35.5 inches. In fact, his weight-adjusted vertical is more impressive than either of Deandre Washington’s vert or broad jumps.
The fact that short, high-BMI running backs are underrated by agility and explosion testing made me curious about whether this might be a good profile in general for buy-low prospects, especially since being short and having a high BMI are generally positives for a running back. Basically tweener Profile 2/Profile 3 backs: well-built pass-catchers that could play three downs in a pinch.
When I took a look at the Box Score Scout, the results were interesting.
Richard’s closest comps are almost a who’s-who of efficient college running backs that were written off for being too unathletic, yet found success anyway: Devonta Freeman, James White, Mark Ingram. Further down on the comp list we see Justin Forsett and Thomas Rawls.
I compiled players under 5 – 10 with top 50th percentile BMI, who ran slower than 4.5 seconds in the forty and received at least 30 targets in either their first or second seasons. In the last ten years, the full list of players under 215 pounds is: James White, Ameer Abdullah, Devonta Freeman, Duke Johnson, Branden Oliver, and Jalen Richard.7
This is an interesting list of players who were taken at all different points in the draft, but have all demonstrated that they belong in the NFL. Oliver is perhaps the least proven, but the Chargers appear comfortable with him taking over Danny Woodhead’s old job, despite coming back from an Achilles injury.
I love Richard’s price in the 17th round of startups as an arbitrage James White. The success of this cohort of players, combined with Richard’s rookie production, gives me confidence that either his pro day scores under represent his true athleticism, or that forty speed and elite agility are possibly less essential for success for this profile of short, high-BMI pass-catchers.
EARLY DOWN ROLE
Secondly, dynasty drafters seem to prefer DeAndre Washington’s upside as the early down replacement if Marshawn Lynch gets hurt. The Raiders do seem to prefer Washington as the early down runner, but that may not be the most valuable role this year.
If Richard is the one who is given more opportunities, he may seize them and not look back. Washington was the player the Raiders made inactive for three weeks down the stretch in 2016. And Richard was the player entrusted with the third down role and punt and kick return duties. It doesn’t matter if Washington is slightly better than Richard as an all-around back if Richard is better at the role he actually has in the NFL.
This year could be a situation like Miami, where Kenyan Drake looks to be the true backup to Jay Ajayi, but Damien Williams may actually see the snaps and be the contributor in the passing game, so long as Ajayi is healthy.
Or it could be a situation like New England, where Dion Lewis looks like the more electric player as a runner but could serve primarily as a backup, while James White is the one with the new three-year contract and the bulk of the receiving duties.
Ultimately, Washington was a fifth round draft pick, and the Raiders already drafted another early down banger in Elijah Hood in addition to signing Marshawn Lynch. If Washington’s long term future in the NFL is more likely as a change of pace back, he may be falling behind Richard, who is already proving himself in that role.
While some drafters tout Washington’s advantage in draft capital, being an UDFA may actually benefit Richard rather than hurt him. His rookie contract will expire first, and he could be offered an extension next year, securing his role on the team. That is similar to what happened in Jacksonville, where Allen Hurns’ early production landed him a second contract, and Marqise Lee may be the odd man out when he and Allen Robinson become free agents at the end of the year.
My recommendation is that if you like Washington, you should try to acquire Richard as well. Don’t convince yourself you need to pick the right guy. There are too many unknowns, and both are talented backs at a low cost with a great opportunity ahead of them.
Does This Look Like a Player with Zeroth Percentile Agility?
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- Richard had more rushing yards, receiving yards, receptions, touchdowns, yards per carry, and games played than Washington, as well as winning the role of both kick and punt returner. (back)
- 4.95 shuttle, 7.36 three cone, which are combined bottom one percent agility numbers. (back)
- Washington was fourth, which suggests that Oakland’s line has some hand in this success, however, Latavius Murray was 40th with a negative YPCOE. (back)
- “My grandma could’ve run for a 75-yard touchdown on that play.” (back)
- The interview took place after Week 1 of the season, long after Richard had already made the team. (back)
- Solomon Thomas was first, with a 6.95 second time at 275 pounds. (back)
- Heavier players that fit the list were Zac Stacy, Doug Martin, and C.J. Anderson (back)