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Free: Is Jerick McKinnon Worth a 2nd Round Pick?

Originally published April 10, Is Jerick McKinnon Worth a Second-Round Pick? is part of our Memorial Day weekend look at the best of RotoViz.

A few weeks ago I called the 49ers the most underrated backfield in fantasy football. While they weren’t efficient in 2017, they were fourth in the league in expected points from their running backs.

The most fascinating figure in all this is Jerick McKinnon. He’s the most obvious beneficiary of what should be a bounce-back season for the 49ers. McKinnon started out the offseason in sleeper territory, but those days are long gone.

Jerick McKinnon’s Rapid Rise

McKinnon’s market value was set in the seventh round of early MFL10 drafts but has absolutely blasted off, landing in the mid-third round as of the past week.

mckinnon adp

Since the start of April, McKinnon has been drafted 34th overall on average, right between Brandin Cooks and Stefon Diggs. He’s gone as high as 19th overall in that time and has been seen going in the second round in several drafts, so the cat’s out of the bag.

Now it’s a question of if he’s worth it. A second-round pick is starting to getting mighty pricey for a back who’s never broken out. download

McKinnon has mostly been a backup. He’s never cracked 600 yards rushing, and he’s never had a 1,000-total-yard season. In his last two years, as he was finally given more than 150 rushing attempts, his yards per carry sank to career lows of 3.4 and 3.8 YPC, respectively. He was handed 65 fewer carries than running mate Latavius Murray last year and took a backseat to Murray when the Vikings got near the goal line. However, McKinnon averaged 47 catches over the past two campaigns, and that helped him to a RB16 finish in 2017.

Regardless of how the rest of the 49ers backfield shakes out, he should take over the main receiving role from Matt Breida, and it’s a valuable one. Only the Saints backs had more expected receiving points in 2017.

Team RB Rec Expected Pts
New Orleans 260.4
San Francisco 234.2
New England 231

For that reason, McKinnon buys you a safe floor, and he should be reliable week-to-week option. But does Kyle Shanahan really view him as a workhorse who can handle more than 200 carries? The coach reportedly envisions McKinnon playing a Devonta Freeman role in his offense, and McKinnon’s new contract would seem to support that. The four-year, $30 million dollar pact makes him the fourth-highest-paid RB in football, so they’re certainly paying him like a workhorse.

Freeman has averaged 229 carries over the past three seasons, and if Shanahan really is about to hand his new RB a workhorse role, McKinnon could even be a value at that price.

Rookie Incoming?

Despite the handsome contract, it’s not out of the question that the 49ers still draft a RB in a class loaded with options. Shanahan’s teams have picked an RB in six of the last seven drafts. If Saquon Barkley falls to the 49ers at No. 9, could Shanahan resist? Maybe that’s unrealistic considering how much help they need on defense, but what if Rashaad Penny is there in the second round? Or Kerryon Johnson?

Does Shanahan pass over potential talent like that in order to give 200+ carries to a guy who’s never done it and averages less than 4.0 YPC?

Considering the contract they gave McKinnon, I would lean toward saying yes, he probably does pass. But given Shanahan’s history with RBs, we can’t rule it out, and that introduces an element of risk to McKinnon’s ADP.

Other Contenders

Breida turned in a solid rookie season, cracking 100 PPR points and finishing as the RB47. He currently has an ADP in the 15th round as drafters are hoping he can hold his PPR role and perhaps steal some rushing work from McKinnon.

Here are the closest historical comparisons to Breida’s rookie year.

breida1

In reality, even the more optimistic comparisons like Ameer Abdullah aren’t very sensible. The thing about Breida is that he’s very small at 180 pounds, much smaller than the rest of these comps. Asking him to fill a bigger role than he did as a rookie is a stretch. The list of backs who were productive at 180 pounds in the last 10 years is short, and the list of those who are also UDFAs is non existent.

While he may seem like a high-upside option in a Shanahan offense, Breida is not only handicapped by build, but he’s now competing for receptions with an RB who’s averaged 47 catches in recent seasons. McKinnon hurts Breida’s floor, and the upside isn’t there.

Joe Williams remains on the roster after missing all of his rookie season, but it sounds as though he’ll have to work to keep that spot. Still, it’s too early to write of Williams completely. For starters, he was the guy Shanahan “banged the table” for during the 2017 draft, so he should have some rope.

He’s also a fine prospect. Williams was very productive in college, rushing for 1,407 yards in his final season at Utah and earning a solid set of comparables coming out as a 21-year old.

JoeWilliams

If the 49ers do draft a back, Williams may find himself on the street. However, a turnaround from a talented back playing in a Shanahan system isn’t exactly unheard of. You can’t target him in best ball drafts, but he makes a fine high-upside flier in dynasty leagues.

Another RotoViz favorite, Jeremy McNichols, rounds out the depth chart in San Francisco. He was cut by the Buccaneers after they used a fifth-round pick on him, and the 49ers never gave him a single touch after signing him. He’s an extremely deep stash in dynasty and not an option in redraft leagues.

Conclusion

Between the big contract handed to McKinnon and the fact that the 49ers really haven’t been connected to many RBs in this draft, McKinnon should be a favorite to enter training camp as the starter. If that happens, he really has no current competition for carries in a very valuable backfield, and his ADP will certainly shoot up once again.

Despite the lack of a breakout, McKinnon stands to get a ton of opportunity in 2018, and in a Shanahan offense, that means a realistic shot at an RB1 season.

By Cort Smith | @cortnall | Archive

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