Editor’s Note: This is the first installment in what will be a weekly series focusing on a lesser known rookie or young player who dynasty owners should have on their radars or watch lists. The “Who is” series is designed to give us more information about some of the less mainstream players who are hoping to make some future noise in dynasty leagues. Jaron Foster has taken the helm on these and we’re excited as Jaron has proven to be a huge asset for DLF over the years.
In the nearly eight weeks since the 2014 NFL Draft, many rookie drafts have completed and dynasty owners are now looking for options to upgrade their rosters via trade or free agency. In the NFL Draft, 77 offensive skill position players (quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and tight ends) were selected, not to mention the many undrafted free agents (UDFA) who were signed in the hours and days following. Non-IDP rookie drafts are generally between two and four rounds, meaning that at most, 48 rookies are no longer available. While the majority of players that are likely to become fantasy relevant are already rostered, the next Zac Stacy (fifth round in 2013), Alfred Morris (sixth round in 2012), or Charles Clay (sixth round in 2011) could be on the waiver wire. This weekly series will feature a different late-round or UDFA talent to track throughout training camp and consider adding to your roster. Featured in the first article of this series is Marion Grice, a running back from Arizona State (ASU), selected by the San Diego Chargers in the sixth round with the pick #201 overall in May.
Grice, drafted in the range DLF’s own Ghost predicted in the ORANGE Report, was the 17th running back selected. Scouting reports on Grice are literally all over the board, from three-down lead back to a poor man’s Joseph Randle, and missing the Senior Bowl and Combine due to injury threw a wrench into the pre-draft analysis process on him. The key to Grice is whether San Diego emphasizes his strengths and protects him from his weaknesses, both of which will be covered below.
Though he was drafted out of ASU, Grice actually began his collegiate football at Blinn Junior College in Texas. As a freshman in 2010, he rushed for 1,169 yards and 17 touchdowns. He followed that up with over 1,200 all-purpose yards and 18 total touchdowns in 2011, earning a bevy of honors and recruitments. Choosing ASU over the likes of Baylor, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas A&M, Grice led the Sun Devils in 2012 with 1,104 all-purpose yards and 19 total touchdowns while he emerged as an excellent receiving option out of the backfield with eight touchdowns on 41 receptions. His senior year was even more impressive statistically despite missing the final three games with the aforementioned lower-leg injury, totaling 1,434 all-purpose yards with 20 touchdowns and 50 receptions in only 11 games. He also averaged 25 yards per kickoff return and 176 all-purpose yards per game, and was a Hornung Award Finalist as one of the nation’s most versatile players. During his time at ASU, he displayed a nose for the end zone as he is fifth all-time in school history with 39 touchdowns (in only 23 games).
Solely in terms of running style and size, at 5’11 and 205 pounds, Grice’s NFL comparisons are most frequently CJ Spiller and Matt Forte. However, Forte is a couple inches taller while Spiller is more dynamic, and both are high praise as they are much more talented backs than Grice. As you can infer from his ASU statistics, Grice possesses excellent hands and is a very strong receiver. He also holds on to the ball well with zero fumbles in over 400 touches during his junior and senior seasons. Though he has shown flashes of effectiveness between the tackles, his size, versatility and receiving skills may allow for him to be most effective outside of conventional running back formations, perhaps even lined up in the slot as he does well gaining yards after contact. Very good vision and patience, as well as the ability to catch anything thrown in his general direction, allow Grice to take advantage of the opportunities he is given on the field.
When and how those opportunities will arise are the big questions. One of the most prohibitive aspects of Grice’s game is his blocking, which is currently below average at best. For a running back who is at his best as a receiver out of the backfield, and thus will likely see the field more frequently in third down passing down situations, an inability to pass protect is concerning. On a team with an influential veteran leader at quarterback, Grice needs to improve his pass protection skills or the opportunities will be very limited in a crowded San Diego backfield that already includes Ryan Mathews, Donald Brown, Danny Woodhead, and one-time Indianapolis deep sleeper Kerwynn Williams. A lack of explosiveness, average speed and issues with consistency all lead to questions on how his fairly one-dimensional game will translate to the NFL in anything more than a situational role.
In terms of dynasty value, if Grice can improve his blocking enough to merit third-down responsibilities after Woodhead departs, there is definitely potential for flex value in PPR leagues. A situational back who occasionally lines up in the slot or out wide can accumulate a handful of receptions per game, so it will be interesting to see how the Chargers choose to incorporate Grice into their offensive scheme. It’s possible he could become more than a third down specialist if he bulks up his lean frame enough to handle rushing between the tackles, but I see enough limitation and mediocrity in Grice’s overall game to doubt whether he can be anything more than a complementary piece in an offense.
In 2014, expect the Chargers to utilize his versatility on special teams. Beyond that, I’m keeping an eye on the contract situations for Mathews and Woodhead, as well as looking for marked improvement in the deficiencies discussed above.The good news is that the investment in Grice is minimal as he is currently commanding only a seventeenth round pick in DLF mock drafts. Simply put, I’d take the flier in PPR leagues, but would look elsewhere for a flier in formats that are non-PPR or tiered-PPR leagues that discount running back receptions.
Who would you like to see featured in a future “Who is?” column?
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