Are We Sleeping Too Hard on Roy Helu?
What do we know about the Washington RB situation? Alfred Morris (a stealth star with secondary breakout appeal) is, by all accounts, locked in as the RB1. So why talk about Roy Helu? Helu apparently has the 3rd down job locked up, which gets him on the radar in PPR formats. And I think he has considerable upside.
I’m not trying to convince you that Helu will usurp Morris. But I think Helu has more value than most people realize. Here’s why:
Short Term PPR Flex Play
Over the past 20 seasons, here’s the median RB performance under Mike Shanahan (PPR format).
If Helu is the RB2, he’s a flex play. And I think he’s good for more than 7.8 points/game, as I explained here. With just 5 touches a game (2 carries and 3 receptions), Helu should top 8 points/game if he keeps his current yards/attempt and yards/reception rates. Also consider this: Nine times in the past 20 years, a RB has led Shanny’s team in receptions, but not rushing attempts. Those players had a median total of 35 receptions and 7.6 PPR points/game. In each of Shanahan’s last 8 coaching seasons, at least 2 RBs averaged more than 8 PPR points/game. And in the past 20 years, 35 Shanahan RBs have averaged 8+ points/game in PPR formats (that equaled RB33 last year).
So even if Morris leads the team in rushing, there’s a decent chance that Helu carves out a useful pass catching role. Alfred Morris is no slouch, physically, but that didn’t translate to passing game success last year. It could this year, but Roy Helu is also an impressive physical specimen, and has already demonstrated pass-catching chops.
Let’s look at this in a slightly different way. Over the past 20 seasons, the average Shanahan RB catches 13 passes. Only 16 of 109 Shanahan RBs had a season with more than 30 receptions, and only one (Watters, 66 in 1994) had a season with more receptions than Helu’s 49 in 2011. Helu caught almost 4 times the passes an average Shanahan RB catches.
Conversely, on only 3 occasions did the team’s leading rusher garner fewer catches than Morris’ 11 last year. Two of those three (Travis Henry and Michael Pittman) were out of football the following season. I’m not saying Morris will be out of football this year! But the discrepancy in pass catching between Morris and Helu is pretty stark. Why wouldn’t Shanahan take advantage of Helu’s ability? Based on Morris & Helu’s pass catching history, and Shanahan’s tendencies, it seems likely we’ll see a role split this year, with Alfred and the main runner and Roy as the main pass catcher.
And if Morris falters or is injured, Helu has already had a productive RB1 season with Shanahan, and could again. In other words, Helu has tremendous value if Morris doesn’t produce or gets hurt. Just look at Morris’ 2012 or Helu’s 2011 to see what a fully featured back can do in Shanahan’s offense.
Long Term Dynasty Potential
Mike Shanahan has a reputation for not only producing productive RBs, but for confounding fantasy owners with his decision making about which RB to start. On the surface, this seems well-founded: in the past 6 seasons, 6 different RBs have led Shanahan-coached teams in attempts. But if we look back farther, we see that in the 14 seasons from 1992-2005, only 6 different runners led Shanny’s teams in attempts:
In other words, he does have the ability to stick with a RB. Is Alfred Morris the type of RB that Shanahan will continue to stick with? Other than Terrell Davis, Morris is the ONLY Shanahan RB of the past 20 years with more than 300 rushing attempts in a season. That seems like a vote of confidence. And Morris’ 2012 was the 3rd best rookie rushing season ever, so there’s not an apparent reason to suspect he won’t continue to be the Washington Workhorse.
If Morris falters or is injured though, watch out: Helu had the type of season in 2011 that makes him a great candidate for repeat success in Shanahan’s system. Eleven times in the past twenty seasons a RB has led Shanahan’s teams in both attempts and RB receptions. Roy Helu is one of them. Of the other 10, 9 either had another season as Shanahan’s leading rusher, or another team’s leading rusher. So not only could Helu succeed again if he replaces Morris, if he is eventually traded or released, he could flourish on another team.
It’s Helu’s pass catching ability that makes me think he still has a good future, whether or not he stays in Washington. Consider that Helu is one of only 7 players on the last 20 Shanahan coached teams to lead the team in both rushing attempts and RB receptions. Four of the other six had at least one other season where they led Shanahan’s team in rushing attempts (Watters, Davis, Anderson, and Portis), and one of the 6 (Reuben Droughns) went on to have two productive follow up seasons with a different team. Here’s how all of the RBs who led Shanahan’s team in attempts and RB receptions fared in the following season. You can see that there’s precedent for future success.
|Year Led Team||Player||N+1 Yr||N+1 Comment|
|1994||Ricky Watters||1995||Led team in att & rec, 1700+ yards/scrimmage.6 more seasons with more than 1500 yards/scrimmage.|
|1995||Terrell Davis||1996||Led team in att, 18+ fantasy points/game. 3 more seasons with 1800+ yards/scrimmage.|
|1997||Terrell Davis||1998||Led team in att & rec, 23+ fantasy points/game|
|1998||Terrell Davis||1999||Only 4 games, but averaged 9+ fantasy points/game.|
|2000||Mike Anderson||2001||Led team in att, split time with Terrell Davis.|
|2002||Clinton Portis||2003||Led team in att & rec, 24 fantasy points/game|
|2003||Clinton Portis||2004||Led team in att & rec, 1500+ yards/scrimmage. 3 more 1500+ yards/scrimmage seasons.|
|2004||Reuben Droughns||2005||Led team in att & rec, 1600+ yards/scrimmage.|
|2005||Mike Anderson||2006||39 att/9 receptions.|
|2006||Tatum Bell||2007||Stole luggage. And underwear?|
If not for his injury, Helu may have had an impressive 2012. Even though he didn’t, it seems possible that he still might. Remember, although this is his third season, he’s only 24 years old. As quickly as Helu lost his opportunity to Morris, he could gain it back, either in Washington or elsewhere.
At the moment, Helu is under contract for this season and next, at an affordable price, as is Alfred Morris, so it’s not immediately obvious that he’ll get a chance to change teams soon. However, consider these two things. First, Helu is the most expensive RB on the Washington roster. If Morris continues to dominate, something will likely need to change. Second, Shanahan doesn’t seem to have a particular allegiance to his RBs. Take a look.
Leading RB 2003
Traded to WAS
Leading RB 2004
Traded to CLE
Leading RB 2006
Traded to DET
Leading RB 2007
Leading RB 2008
2nd RB 2006, 10 PPR points/game
2nd RB, 7 PPR points/game
Left via FA
There were of course unique circumstances to all of these transactions – and there could be unique circumstances that emerge that allow Helu (or Morris) to change teams, giving him the chance he needs to shine again..
What to Do
Take a look at the 25 RBs going ahead of Helu in Redraft and Dynasty formats:
|Jonathan Stewart||Ronnie Hillman|
|Bryce Brown||BenJarvus Green-Ellis|
|Danny Woodhead||Ryan Williams|
|Mikel Leshoure||Latavius Murray|
|Johnathan Franklin||Jacquizz Rodgers|
|Pierre Thomas||Mikel Leshoure|
|Jacquizz Rodgers||LaMichael James|
|LaMichael James||Pierre Thomas|
|Isaiah Pead||Mike Gillislee|
|Shonn Greene||Robert Turbin|
|Zac Stacy||Kendall Hunter|
|Michael Bush||Fred Jackson|
|Bilal Powell||DeAngelo Williams|
|Joseph Randle||Mike James|
|Daniel Thomas||Denard Robinson|
|Ryan Williams||Knile Davis|
|Joique Bell||Knowshon Moreno|
|Knowshon Moreno||Joique Bell|
|Michael Turner||Andre Ellington|
|Christine Michael||Stepfan Taylor|
|LeGarrette Blount||Mike Goodson|
|Jonathan Dwyer||Marcel Reece|
|Marcel Reece||Michael Bush|
|Marcus Lattimore||Shonn Greene|
|Robert Turbin||Kerwynn Williams|
|Roy Helu||Roy Helu|
Which players are you sure will have better seasons, or careers, than Helu?
I think Joique Bell, Shonn Greene, Pierre Thomas, Danny Woodhead and Bryce Brown will have useful seasons. But I’m not positive they’ll be better than what Helu can offer as Washington’s RB2. And if all the guys in the redraft column became RB1s this year, I’d still think Helu has as much upside as any of them. Likewise in the Dynasty column, I think a few guys have the potential for a better career, but again, I’m not positive.
Since Helu costs practically nothing to acquire, and offers both short term usability and long term upside, why not find a spot on your roster for him?