Decisions are hard. Choosing which pants to wear in the morning is difficult enough, but clicking the right name once the cold sweats kick in and you’re stuck between two similar players at the same position is undoubtedly the hardest decision of your life. We’re here to help, or maybe make this worse and more confusing.
I like writing these posts, and here’s to hoping you kinda like reading them too, because I’ll maybe/probably be rolling them out more often as our pre-August journey into the great unknown continues. If don’t like them, shhhhhh.
In these hazy days of mid July when wearing any clothes at all feels like the toughest task of your day (solution: become a blogger), this feels like the ideal way to explore both player valuations, and by extension the often difficult decisions they present. So far we’ve looked at a wide receiver quandary involving two targets whose skillsets are nearly identical, and two running backs who are equal parts injured and disappointing.
Now maybe the most mirror image yet: Robert Griffin III vs. Colin Kaepernick.
Before we continue much further, know that we’re doing so under the assumption that RG3 will be healthy and just fine for Week 1. Clearly there’s still some element of risk in that thinking, because torn knee ligaments suck. But with all the bubbling positivity around his recovery (which has been a “smashing” success), we’ve reached the point where it would be at least mildly surprising if Griffin wasn’t on the field for the Redskins’ opener on Sept. 9 against the Eagles, a date that’s still 55 days away.
In Kaepernick and Griffin we’re discussing two quarterbacks with the same upside, and the same risk. Griffin’s shredded knee vividly demonstrates that the latter is true, with quarterbacks who run the read-option inherently exposed to more abuse. There’s an argument to be made that a running quarterback is actually safer because he’s moving towards defenders and dictating the terms of contact, instead of sitting prone in the pocket. Fair enough, but the sheer volume of hits is still plentiful.
They’re both dynamic, dual-threat options who will accumulate valuable rushing points, and they’re both available right now at nearly the same point in fantasy drafts. Looking across the ADP spectrum, Fantasy Football Calculator has Griffin at 74.4 overall and Kaepernick one spot earlier among quarterbacks at 69.6. Meanwhile, in ESPN drafts Griffin is coming off the board right now at 56.3 on average, while Kaepernick is a little further up at 44.4, and FantasyPros has Kaepernick only nine spots ahead of Griffin overall.
So, who ya got?
Even though he hates the 49ers passionately and has a deep-rooted desire to play his football for the Dolphins and we know this because of a hat, Kaepernick remains poised to keep rumbling in the open field as the centerpiece of Greg Roman’s ground-game trickery. Let’s review his staggering rushing numbers that are made even more incredible by a limited sample size (only 10 starts, including the playoffs):
- 679 rushing yards overall, with eight touchdowns.
- If we include his sporadic carries in a gadget role when Alex Smith was healthy, that’s an average of 7.7 yards per carry.
- His overall total includes three runs of 30 yards or more during the regular season, and a 56 yarder during the playoffs.
- In San Francisco’s 45-31 divisional round win over Green Bay, Kaepernick smashed the single-game postseason quarterback rushing recording, finishing with 181 yards and two touchdowns.
- His rushing numbers alone led to 67.5 fantasy points for Kaepernick owners.
Oh, and please remember that despite starting in eight more games, the fellow we’ll discuss in more detail below still had only 157 more rushing yards than Kaepernick, even though he led the league in that particular statistic among quarterbacks during the regular season. Yes, yes, Griffin was hobbled during Washington’s final games and in their lone playoff game too, which limited his rushing ability. But still…damn.
The kid can throw too, but that’s where the future fright lies due to the uncertainty around Michael Crabtree’s injury. We bravely confronted that fear just last week, coming to the conclusion that Kaepernick’s legs could and should act as his safety net, making Crabtree’s absence result in only a minor fall. Nonetheless, this is the part when I remind you that during Kaepernick’s starts including the playoffs, Crabtree was his intended target on 94 of his 272 pass attempts. That’s a rather terrifying 34.6 percent of his throws, and although the addition of Anquan Boldin helps, he’s not a vertical threat. Crabtree’s hole then has to be filled by some combination of Vernon Davis (no really…maybe), A.J. Jenkins, and Quinton Patton.
Patton is a rookie and Jenkins pretty much is too, and Mario Manningham still isn’t expected to return until late August, when he’ll likely start the season on the PUP list. Youch. But hey, that read-option whizz-bang stuff will still allow Kaepernick to plug away after he averaged 18 fantasy points per start last year, especially since he still has strong run support from Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, and LaMichael James. Ummm, but Griffin has a lot of that too…
Robert Griffin III
The funny thing about the read-option (or, you know, any play involving play-action) is that it generally functions much more effectively when the running back you’re faking to puts deep fear in the defense’s heart. Collectively, the 49ers’ backfield makes the defense’s soul turn into a charred black color. Likewise for Alfred Morris, whom you remember as the guy who rushed for 1,613 yards (a franchise record) with 13 touchdowns during his rookie year.
Despite missing a game and being hobbled in two others, Griffin finished the 2012 regular season as the fifth highest fantasy scorer with 312.5 points. Much of that was achieved through the use of his legs, with seven rushing touchdowns, and six games with 60 rushing yards or more. But there was an overall chunkiness to Griffin’s play, in addition to his much appreciated care and caution.
Let’s do this numbers thing again…
- Between his rushing and throwing, Griffin had eight +40 yard plays
- He also logged eight games with 8.0 yards per pass attempt or better
- And three games with five or fewer incompletions, highlighted by a Thanksgiving Day win over the Cowboys in which he misfired only once
- A lack of mistakes is most evident in Griffin’s TD:INT ratio (20:5).
Here’s the most important digit: every time Griffin touches the ball for the purpose of advancing it forward either through a run or pass attempt, he averaged 1.7 fantasy points. But alas, that adds to the difficulty of a difficult decision, because Kaepernick was nearly as productive, averaging 1.5 fantasy points.
Hmmm, well surely Griffin can win this little Real Steal style donnybrook based on the Crabtree factor, right? Well, that depends on how much faith you have in Pierre Garcon’s foot remaining in one piece.
Garcon had shoulder surgery earlier this offseason, but it’s his lingering and highly restrictive toe issue which is the main concern. Even though he’ll be ready to go, he’s already admitted that he may not be fully healthy to start the 2013 season, and he’ll be wearing a special protective shoe on his right foot, the one with the torn ligament last year.
Though I’m still not entirely sure if being “injury prone” exists, having a foot that’s delicate and a little fragile sure does, and feet are pretty important for football folks like Garcon who excel when they’re able to burst forward quickly. If we exclude weeks 4 and 11 — two weeks when he was on the field in physical form only, and still not close to healthy — Garcon was targeted 7.9 times per game. More importantly, in the games when they were both fully healthy and playing, Griffin targeted Garcon on 28 percent of his throws.
Winner: Again, we’re assuming renewed health and Herculean strength for Griffin in this discussion. Right now, his value has fallen to a level where if we stick with that assumption, he’s creeping close to late-round quarterback territory in some drafts.
Rushing ability here is a complete wash, with efficiency in the read-option and the open-field galloping of each quarterback equal. Sure, you remember Kaepernick’s record-setting day on the ground in the playoffs, but this hasn’t been deleted from the ol’ memory bank, right?
The risk, of course, lies in the aforementioned (twice) assumption we’re making: that the breakaway speed you see above will return, and Griffin will resume being the crazy man he was last year. Thing is, though, even if RG3′s ADP rises, a life without Crabtree could be a sad life, and it could impact Kaepernick just as much as the injury concerns that linger over Griffin.
That’s why if you’re faced with this decision on draft day, it’s the kind which leads to more than just cold sweats and hives. There will also be another case of chicken pox. Griffin is healing fast, and Crabtree will be out for nearly all of the fantasy season. Since this is an exercise rooted in edge hunting, that’s where we’ll find it with Griffin.
It’s excruciatingly close, but I’ll embrace the injury risk with warm, open arms, and take Griffin.