Or at least he is in the fantasy realm.

In any season, there is a relatively small handful of players who will swing leagues and define drafts. In 2013, you’ve got to decide what you’ll do if Aaron Rodgers falls to you in the third round. You’ve got to decide whether to take Jimmy Graham early or play Late Round Tight End. And you have to decide who you’re going to select as your RB2 if you ignore my suggestion that RB-RB is the only way to go this season.

For many people, David Wilson is the answer to that last question. The feedback from my most popular post, How to Lose a Draft in 10 Picks, has been quite enthusiastic except for one small point. People do not want to pass on Julio Jones in the second round in order to roster Chris Johnson, even though he’s going to have a monster bounceback season. Almost everyone says they’re going WR in Round 2 because David Wilson will be better than CJ2K and is available in the third round.

If that’s the case, Wilson might be the highest leverage player in the entire draft. RotoViz has suggested Wilson is either vastly undervalued or vastly overvalued. One of the site’s most viewed posts breaks down the Giants backfield using Ryan Rouillard’s paradigm-shifting RB model.

Drafters want to know what Wilson is going to do. And since I often fail to follow my own advice, I want to know what he’s going to do.

The wisdom of crowds suggests markets will value things efficiently . . . unless an informational cascade occurs. And in fantasy drafts, cascades are the rule not the exception (which is where RotoViz comes in). For the wisdom to work, we need to bring in a wide variety of perspectives to inform our expectations. The two most obvious pieces of evidence are these: 1) Wilson passed the eyeball test with flying colors last year – well, he passed my eyeball test in last year’s preseason but evidently not Tom Coughlin’s. 2) The Giants seemingly plan to make him their starter.

That’s probably enough to justify a 4th round valuation, but an early third? To select him there, we need to see clear RB1 upside. With that in mind, let’s see how he compares to former first round picks who gained fewer than 400 yards in their rookie seasons.

David Wilson Rookie Comparables Since 2000

PlayerYearAttYdsY/ATDY/GN+1 ADPN+1 Breakout
David Wilson2012713585.04422.430?
C.J. Spiller2010742833.82020.2108No
Donald Brown2009782813.6325.5112No
Felix Jones2008302668.87344.382No
Rashard Mendenhall200819583.05014.5118Yes
Cedric Benson2005672724.06030.287No
Larry Johnson200320854.25114.2157No
Deuce McAllister200116915.6915.725Yes
Shaun Alexander2000643134.89219.6115Yes
Thomas Jones20001123733.33226.631No


Of this group, three broke out (Mendenhall, McAllister, and Alexander) and four developed into fantasy starters later in their respective careers (Spiller, Benson, Johnson, Jones). Brown and Jones look like busts.

Wilson is probably in a better situation than most of these players, but his ADP is also disproportionately high. The only two similar players were Alexander and Jones. A two person sample doesn’t tell us anything, but anecdotally a 50-50 hit rate is worrisome.

It’s very tempting to suggest Wilson’s rookie year efficiency speaks to a talent level worth betting on. Wilson was drafted with the last pick in Round 1, so I generated a list of former first and second round players who averaged at least 4.5 yards per carry as rookies in limited touches. If Wilson’s explosiveness bodes well, we should see a pretty high breakout rate.

David Wilson High Efficiency Comps Since 1990

PlayerYearAgeAttYdsY/ATDN+1 Breakout
Felix Jones200821302668.873No
LaMont Jordan200123392927.491No
Byron Hanspard199721533356.320No
Terrell Fletcher199522261405.381No
Tatum Bell200423753965.283Kinda
Blair Thomas1990231236205.041No
David Wilson201221713585.044?
Steven Jackson2004211346735.024Yes
Shaun Alexander200023643134.892Yes
Robert Smith199321823994.872No
Maurice Morris200223321534.780No
Ladell Betts200223653074.721No
LaMichael James
Harvey Williams199124974474.611No
Napoleon Kaufman1995221084904.541No


This is a very dispiriting group. Players like Felix Jones, Tatum Bell, Blair Thomas, Robert Smith, and Harvey Williams all bear a striking resemblance to David Wilson. Our only true breakouts remain Steven Jackson and Shaun Alexander.

The clear takeaway is that Wilson’s rookie year doesn’t really matter. In fact, it’s a blatant trap situation. As a result, it’s even more important that we look at Wilson’s previous track record and try to determine what his true talent level might be.

Just How Athletic is David Wilson?

Before the NFL Draft, I did a series on the rookie runners, specifically examining their athletic comps. I don’t have a one size fits all approach to running backs. In the Johnathan Franklin article, I proposed three different profiles that could generate reality and fantasy value.

1. The All Around Superstar – This relatively small group excels in both Speed Score and Agility Score. These types of runners qualify as elite early down backs and yet also dominate on passing downs because of their electric abilities in space. Examples would be Jamaal Charles and C.J. Spiller.

2. The Early Down and Goal Line Star – These are the Speed Score darlings. The traditional NFL back, these guys are often revered for their “violent” running styles and ability to drive the pile. Examples would include Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch.

3. The In-Space Star – This is the Agility Score group. Potentially undervalued, this group would include players like Darren Sproles.

Although exceptions exist, the vast majority of successful NFL runners fit one of these categories. I mentioned it in the Franklin article because he does not. (This was during the pre-draft phase when many were expecting him to be drafted in the second round.) Unfortunately, his peer group included significant overlap with David Wilson.

David Wilson Athletic Comps

YearNameCollegeWeight40 YardSpeed ScoreVert LeapAgility Score
2012David WilsonVirginia Tech2064.49101.44111.21
YearNameCollegeWeight40 YardSpeed ScoreVert LeapAgility Score
2010James StarksBuffalo2184.5106.33611.12
2007Brandon JacksonNebraska2104.5498.93711.14
2011Ryan WilliamsVirginia Tech2124.5995.54011.14
2007Kenny IronsAuburn2034.45103.53811.17
2010Andre DixonConnecticut2054.5694.84011.18
2011Shane VereenCalifornia2104.49103.33411.23
2012Isaiah PeadCincinnati1974.4798.73311.27
2005Ryan MoatsLouisiana Tech2104.46106.13611.33


Wilson’s measurables do not quite match up with his game tape. Usually players who possess big play ability can run a sub-4.4 forty or at least own a Speed Score over 110. Players with elite ability in space tend to post Agility Scores below 11.1 (with a sub-11.0 score preferred). The best argument for Wilson comes in the form of an incredible 41 inch vertical.

The Fantasy Douche has recently published a study demonstrating how vertical leap is often an effective proxy for speed. Wilson does incredibly well on his Explosion Index. In creating my list of comps, I tried to emphasize players with excellent numbers in the vertical. (I included Vereen and Pead because they’re the roughly similar players who probably interest fantasy owners the most. They both lack the measurables to be clear NFL starters.)

The discouraging thing here is the lack of an elite player coming out of this peer group. It’s easy to say Wilson is just a better prospect than players like Starks, Jackson, Irons, and Dixon, but every player from this group recorded a college season with double digit touchdowns and 1,000-plus yards from scrimmage. They aren’t exactly chumps.

In analyzing the Andre Brown versus David Wilson battle, most pundits opine that Wilson is the far better athlete, but Brown ran the same 40 time at 224 pounds. With a Speed Score of 110, he actually does fit one of the draftable profiles.

What do the Collegiate Advanced Stats say?

The best place to go for college football info is Bill Connelly’s Football Study Hall. He recently published advanced RB stats for the last two seasons. You’ll note that we’ve already discussed the way in which efficiency numbers are often random at the running back position, but when we’re looking for potential NFL stars explosiveness is very important.

FSH offers Highlight Yards, which basically demonstrate what percentage of a player’s value came on long runs. In order to find comps for Wilson, I searched for players with at least 200 carries who posted more than 6.0 highlight yards per opportunity. The chart is sorted by highlight yards per attempt. BSR is block success rate, or the percentage of runs where the line provided the opportunity for a long run. Adj. POE is a line and schedule adjusted measure of Points Over Expected (essentially how many more points the running back was worth over an average runner in the same environment).

YearPlayerRushesYardsHlt YdsHY/AHY/OBSRAdj. POE
2012Kerwynn Williams2181512858.73.949.9839.4%38.3
2011LaMichael James2471805912.53.697.7347.8%46.5
2011David Wilson2921707866.42.977.2840.8%36.0
2011Zac Stacy2011193585.82.917.1440.8%24.6
2012Johnathan Franklin28217348072.866.4044.7%27.5
2011Robert Turbin2491527658.22.646.3941.4%15.3
2011Trent Richardson2831679742.72.626.2442.0%35.4
2011Terrance Ganaway2491538646.22.606.5339.8%28.7
2011Lamar Miller2271272579.62.556.6638.3%23.1
2011Isaiah Pead2371259586.32.476.3738.8%17.6
2012Zac Stacy2061147501.72.446.5237.4%12.9


There are plenty of different ways to interpret this list. If you want to believe Kerwynn Williams is a great sleeper, you can. If you want to believe LaMichael James and Johnathan Franklin were merely the beneficiaries of great offensive line play, you can.

Wilson was plenty explosive, but so were supposedly plodding backs like Robert Turbin, Terrance Ganaway, and Zac Stacy (who just happens to be an Agility Score star).

This is your quintessential good news, bad news situation. Wilson flashed game-breaking potential in college. On the other hand, he continues to slot in with players like LaMichael James, Johnathan Franklin, and Isaiah Pead. The not-quite-big-enough/not-quite-fast-enough all-stars will be a very intriguing group to follow the next several seasons.

Final Take – Not Atlas But Perhaps the World Turtle

Wilson is currently going in the mid-third of fantasy drafts and that looks like fair value to me. Media projections of a 60-40 carry split between Wilson and Brown seem accurate. The second year player doesn’t project as a big enough talent to earn all the carries, nor is he enough of a size/speed guy to be a good bet for goal line work.

As we’ve seen, there’s quite a bit of risk involved in selecting an unproven player early in drafts. There’s more risk when questions exist as to his talent ceiling. In this case, I think those risks are fairly priced. I wouldn’t build my entire draft strategy around David Wilson, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up as a swing player in a lot of fantasy leagues this season.

To see where David Wilson lands in my comprehensive RB Rankings, check out Trent Richardson No. 1 in Complete Projection of Top 20 Running Backs

Shawn Siegele is the creator of the contrarian sports website Money in the Banana Stand and Lead Writer for Pro Football Focus Fantasy.

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