Now THIS is the Mike Shanahan we all know and love. For a few years we fantasy owners felt like a bride left at the altar as Shanahan seemed to have lost his ability to find a workhorse and ride him. We longed for the days when drafting a Shanahan back -- any Shanahan back -- was a ticket to fantasy success.
- Terrell Davis (1995) -- RB12
- Terrell Davis (1996) -- RB2
- Terrell Davis (1997) -- RB2
- Terrell Davis (1998) -- RB1
- Olandis Gary (1999) -- RB14
- Mike Anderson (2000) -- RB4
- Clinton Portis (2002) -- RB4
- Clinton Portis (2003) -- RB5
- Reuben Droughns (2004) -- RB14
- Mike Anderson (2005) -- RB10
- Tatum Bell (2006) -- RB31
- Selvin Young (2007) -- RB38
- Peyton Hillis (2008) -- RB47
- Ryan Torain (2010) -- RB32
- Roy Helu (2011) -- RB31
- Alfred Morris (2012) -- RB5
Last offseason at this time we had a lack of clarity. Would Roy Helu get the job? Perhaps Evan Royster's back to back 100 yard games as a rookie were enough to make him the starter? Veteran Tim Hightower would be in the mix for touches, at least on third downs, if he was healthy. About the only running back on the roster being discounted was the 6th round draft pick out of Florida Atlantic named Alfred Morris. The 5'9", 222 lbs. bowling ball wasn't really in the mix, right? He was no better than bench depth...or so many thought.
Yet for all those who say "the preseason doesn't matter" let the story of Alfred Morris be a lesson to you. After early preseason reports hinted that Morris would have to convert to fullback to make the 53-man roster, training camp painted a different story. He ran for 54 yards on 15 carries in the preseason opener and Coach Shanahan praised his instincts. Morris then got the start in the second preseason game, which some were quick to dismiss as "Shanahanigans." Yet, Morris got the start in the all important third preseason game (which is usually the dress rehearsal for the regular season opener) and ran for 107 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. Finally, the team sat Morris out of the fourth preseason game -- again an indication that he was viewed as a key Week One starter. The rest, shall we say, is history. Yet fantasy owners failed to read the tea leaves and Morris went undrafted in most leagues while the likes of Roy Helu, Evan Royster and Tim Hightower were rostered. OOPS!
Morris is a Special Player...It's Not Just the System
I hate when I see fantasy analysts dismiss Morris as a product of the system. How did the system work in 2006 or 2007 or 2008 or 2010 or 2011?!? IT DIDN'T. While Shanahan's zone blocking scheme has proven results, it only has proven results when there is an RB on the roster with the requisite skill set to flourish. And Morris certainly flourished...
- 335 attempts (3rd in NFL)
- 1,613 yards rushing (2nd)
- 13 rushing TDs (2nd)
- 4.8 yards per rush (9th)
- #1 ranked RB in PFF's pass blocking efficiency
- #2 in runs of 15+ yards
- #4 in yards after contact (2.99 yards after contact per rush)
Morris ran with power, ran with vision, and was explosive. He doesn't go down on contact, converted his goal line carries with aplomb, and handled a massive workload. What more can fantasy owners ask for?
PPR League Caveat
In points per reception (PPR) leagues, Morris' prospects remain compelling but aren't QUITE elite. Last year Morris only caught 11 receptions and it looks as though Roy Helu will be the 3rd down back in 2013, so we don't expect Morris' receiving numbers to balloon. As a result, Morris should be viewed more as a low end fantasy RB1 in PPR leagues, but he's still someone worth considering in the late first round and ABSOLUTELY worth drafting early in the 2nd round.
- Morris is the unquestioned starter on a team committed to the running game
- The Redskins receiving corps isn't well suited to dominate in the red zone leaving the majority of scoring opportunities for Morris and Robert Griffin III
- Morris demonstrated power (near the top in yards after contact), explosiveness (near the top in runs of 15+ yards) and was the league's best blocking back -- he will be on the field the majority of snaps
- Morris only caught 11 passes last year and doesn't quite rate as an elite RB1 in PPR formats
- Robert Griffin III is returning from major knee surgery and is the catalyst to making this offense productive
Don't over think things. It's ridiculous to discount Morris stellar rookie season simply because he MIGHT not have gotten a shot without injuries to the other RBs on the roster. That's the very nature of the NFL. The focal point of our analysis should be what Morris did ONCE HE GOT HIS CHANCE. He dominated. He was a true workhorse in an era where most teams use a committee approach. He's young, has no flaws as a runner, and should remain the centerpiece of one of the league's top offenses for years to come. Sure, his role in the passing game is limited and that should keep Morris from being in the hunt for a top 5 pick in PPR leagues, but once those all purpose studs are off the draft board, Morris is near the top of the remaining options. He brings the dual qualities of elite production AND relative safety -- and that's the blueprint for a winning 1st or 2nd round fantasy choice. Draft accordingly.
THOUGHTS FROM AROUND THE WEB
David Shockey of Bleacher Report believes Alfred Morris should be a Top 5 fantasy pick:
Alfred Morris has shown that he is a productive, reliable runner who can put it in the end zone with the best of them. While Morris may not have the biggest upside, his consistent high-level production is what makes him an elite fantasy back and worthy of a top-five overall pick.
As is often the case, it comes down to personal preference. Richardson was the No. 3 pick in the draft for a reason. He's a superstar talent, capable of delivering the kinds of big plays for which Morris isn't inclined or asked to try in the Redskins' one-cut rushing offense. If you're looking for upside, Richardson's likely the better play, even though we haven't seen him in the particular offense the Browns plan to run this year. He's not a scheme-specific back. Morris probably is a scheme-specific back, but he's in the same scheme that made him a rookie star. This isn't a "Mike Shanahan running back" thing, where the guy is likely to lose his role without warning. Morris is the man in Washington, and while he may not deliver the high-end spectacular production some of the top backs offer, there are few surer bets in the first round this year.
More from Jason Wood:
Preseason Watch List - July 22
Preseason Watch List: AFC North - July 22
Preseason Watch List: NFC North - July 22
Preseason Watch List: AFC South - July 22
Preseason Watch List: NFC South - July 22
Player Spotlight: Andre Ellington - July 21
Preseason Watch List: AFC West - July 21
Preseason Watch List: NFC West - July 21
Preseason Watch List: AFC East - July 21
Preseason Watch List: NFC East - July 21