Admit it, you’re a little worried about Robert Griffin III. Not because you need to be, or because he’s given you a reason to be worried to this point. No, somewhere deep in the back of their mind those who own fantasy football’s leading point producer are worried due to both a simple fear of the unknown, and, well, because worrying when worrying is senseless has always been a firmly-embedded fantasy instinct.
Those who are concerned — see, a softer word — are wondering about sustainability. No one’s ever done what Griffin is doing as a rookie quarterback. Allow that to sink in, because as we watch his brilliance weekly, sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the week-to-week hype and forget about the overall gravity of what we’re seeing. He has a passer rating of 101.8, and he has 13 total touchdowns through seven games. But it’s on the ground where he’s been the most productive as a fantasy commodity, averaging 7.3 yards per carry and 66.9 per game on his way to 468 overall. That’s more than remarkable. It’s historic.
But is it sustainable? There’s that scary (worrisome?) word again.
For this week’s Five Questions I talked to Bryan Fontaine, the dynasty league editor and Quick Snap Podcast host for Pro Football Focus Fantasy, and he thinks RGIII will be fine, and he’ll maintain his record-smashing pace. We also discussed Chris Johnson, the Cardinals backfield, and the recent struggles of some elite wide receivers.
1. Robert Griffin III was a highly-drafted quarterback (especially in keeper and dynasty drafts this past offseason), and despite his high price tag most of his owners are likely surprised with his production through seven games, as he’s currently on pace to shatter Cam Newton’s rookie QB rushing record. Are his rushing numbers sustainable?
Yes, his rushing numbers are sustainable. Griffin III is averaging nine rushing attempts per game, but they are not all designed runs. He is scrambling on 10.4% of his pass drop backs – the highest percentage among starting quarterbacks this year. For a frame of reference, Newton scrambled on only 7.9% of his drop backs last year. Griffin III’s propensity to scramble is more in the line with that of Michael Vick in recent seasons than Newton. As long as Griffin III can stay healthy – he can shatter Newton’s rookie rushing totals from last season. His extrapolated rushing totals over a full 16 games amounts to 1,104 rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns if he maintains his current scramble rate.
2. What do we make of Chris Johnson now? That question has been asked repeatedly throughout this season, but he’s now rushed for 286 yards over the last two weeks after finishing with only 45 yards in his first three games. Will this upward trend continue, or is this a sell-high opportunity for Johnson owners?
Given the lack of other quality running back options now, I would be looking to hold Johnson for now – though I wouldn’t blame anyone if they wanted to cash out while they were ahead. Through seven games, he brought his yards per carry amount up to 4.6 – which would be his highest total since his magical 2009 season when he averaged 5.7 YPC. The concern I have with Johnson is not his YPC, but his lack of yards per carry after contact. His yards after contact have been in steady decline since 2009 to only 1.7 yards now. The running lanes have been there the last few games, but once they are taken away by opposing defenses, I worry that we will see the same Chris Johnson we did at the beginning of the season. If you don’t mind roller coasters, then stick around for the ride throughout the remainder of the season. If you are more risk adverse, sell high while you can.
3. This week three top wide receivers did more than just struggle, as A.J. Green, Brandon Lloyd, and Calvin Johnson had a combined 48 receiving yards. Was this little more than a one-week shut down for all three, or is there reason for concern? Lloyd is struggling the most overall, with only one touchdown.
Wide receiver can be the most volatile fantasy position on a week-to-week basis – even for the elite players. That being said, it is merely a coincidence that Green, Lloyd and Johnson all struggled this week. Calvin Johnson only has one touchdown in six games. He is bound to get going soon – his 2.6% TD rate in 2012 is way off from his 16% TD rate the last two seasons. That and his target volume is way up. He is averaging 11 targets per game after averaging 9.1 the last four seasons. A.J. Green was bound to have a bad week and he still got in the end zone for his fantasy owners. Brandon Lloyd is struggling the most of the three receivers mentioned, but there is still hope for him also. His target volume has remained steady, and the touchdowns will come. His aDOT is down to 13.4 from 15.2 last season, but he still getting red zone looks (6 targets, 4 receptions) without converting so far. If anything, I would be looking to buy low on Lloyd based on his metrics.
4. LaRod Stephens-Howling could be emerging as the top option in the Cardinals’ backfield. What’s your outlook for him going forward?
I am probably more reserved about Stephens-Howling’s prospects for the remainder of the season than most. He certainly had a great game against Minnesota with 20 rushing attempts and four receptions, but he doesn’t have the body type to withstand that workload on a weekly basis. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry last week – though going into the contest he had 23 rushing yards on 23 attempts. Stephens-Howling is more attractive in PPR leagues; however, I’m letting someone else use up their waiver budget on him. The Cardinals have never been a consistent running team, and William Powell still looms large to take back some of the workload in the backfield.
5. Lastly, for those in Dynasty and deep keeper leagues, who are the early sleepers coming out in the 2013 draft that you’re watching?
I haven’t had time to watch much college football this season with my duties at PFF, but some names that I have seen impressive highlights from in addition to the endorsements of player evaluators I trust include QB Geno Smith, RB Marcus Lattimore, WR Justin Hunter, and WR Keenan Allen. On the surface, this rookie class appears to be top heavy, though we won’t know for sure until the underclassmen either declare for the draft or stay in school. If my dynasty squad were in the middle of a rebuilding phase, I would hesitate to load up on rookie draft picks next year until we get more information.