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The Alfred Morris Dilemma

Embarrassed and relieved.

It’s not often those two feelings coincide with each other, but those were the two best words I had to describe how I felt today. You see, the partners and writers of DLF all play in our own leagues and do exactly what we attempt to help you do – make wise moves in an effort to win leagues.

Today, I put out multiple trade offers in two of my leagues in an effort to get some trade discussions brewing. Admittedly, I rarely come out with my best offer at first, so I expected to have counteroffers come back my way. In fact, many times I’ll just bunch some players together and make an offer just so I can get an idea of who the other team may have interest in later on – that’s for another article, though.

Back to those oddly paired feeling words.

You see, in two of the leagues I was making offers in, I offered up the same player in some way, shape or form – one whose value is admittedly all across the board right now. In both instances I received the same feedback from other owners – they were either insulted or disappointed by the offers. I, in turn, had those feelings I spoke of earlier. You see, relationships are the most important thing to me in a dynasty league as it’s important not to burn bridges, come across as condescending or seem as if you’re insulting someone’s own intelligence or extraction level within the league. I never want that to happen and felt terrible that it did as it was clearly not my intention. However,  I was also oddly happy that no trades actually worked out.

So, which player can cause someone to feel both embarrassed and relieved when a trade offer is rejected?

As you can guess, that player is none other than Redskins running back Alfred Morris. There are two extremely different schools of thought on Morris right now and that much became even more obvious to me today. While I was embarrassed and disappointed that coaches would think I was blatantly trying to take advantage of them, I was also relieved my offers weren’t accepted – that’s just how much the value of Morris is in flux even in my own mind and it gave me the premise for this article.

Over the past couple of months, Morris has been a lightning rod for debate on DLF and that’s certainly not going to change any time soon. We chose him as our Redskins sleeper this season and at this point, he’s easily the waiver wire pickup of the year. He’s also the first player in recent memory who finds himself not only in the top five in rushing yards after five weeks of the season, but at the same time seen by many as a total mirage and nearly void of having any real value in dynasty leagues. It’s a truly unique and amazing situation.

First, let’s learn a little more about the player we’re putting in the crosshairs before we get too far into the debate.

Morris quietly became a Redskin in the 2012 NFL draft after being taken in the sixth round as the 173rd overall pick. The durable college runner was a three year starter at Florida Atlantic, notching over 225 carries every year from 2009 – 2011.  He averaged a respectable 4.8 yards per carry with 27 touchdowns in his career. Though his competition wasn’t great, his production was certainly adequate.

We noted in our sleeper post earlier this year that he’s more polished as a runner than we would have otherwise expected.  He’s in possession of an NFL build, has a thick lower body and has a powerful leg drive to churn out yards after contact.  We also noted his large hands suggest better performance in the passing game (he had only 30 catches in college) and if not for a slower than desired forty time (4.67), he would likely be used more in that capacity.  Watching film on Morris also showed a well developed sense of patience and natural feel as a runner.  He’s not the most elusive or speedy back, but he was able to break tackles in college. To say his game has translated well to the NFL and the offensive scheme he finds himself in is an understatement.

The coaching staff in Washington has latched on to Morris as their latest project and have even given him praise to suggest he has a little bit of Terrell Davis in him. Take that for what it’s worth, but it’s significant nonetheless.

With all that being said, let’s take a look at the case to buy or sell on Alfred Morris.

The Case to Sell

This is easy.

I wrote an article earlier this year about Mike Shanahan and his crazy running back carousel. When you go back into the archives of Shanahan running backs, you’ll find the dusty fantasy corpses of Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, Tatum Bell, Reuben Droughns, Mike Bell, Selvin Young, Ryan Torain, Keiland Williams, Tim Hightower, Roy Helu and Evan Royster – all players who were at one time considered starters for a Shanahan-led team. Each of them had short stints of production followed by a drop in value more severe than stocks of Enron.

It’s easy to lump Morris into that group and feel pretty comfortable about it. After all, the running back position is as interchangeable as ever and Coach Shanahan obviously has shown little to no loyalty to anyone. Even when he had a very productive back in Clinton Portis, he shipped him away for Champ Bailey, feeling cornerback was a much more difficult position to replace than running back. The only real back to ever seemingly find a warm place in Shanny’s heart was the aforementioned Davis.

The case to sell on Morris really is this simple. Historically, running backs in this “one cut and go” system can be churned through and replaced at the drop of a hat. You certainly can’t look at Morris and say he’s incredibly talented or dynamic like Davis was. With this much risk associated, it makes sense to get what you can now. I believe the old saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me eleven times, shame on me.”

The Case to Buy

Oddly enough, this may be just as easy.

Of all the running backs on the list of players we’ve gone through, it’s hard to find one who looked this good so early AND had so little behind him on the depth chart to challenge for playing time. With Roy Helu on the shelf for the season and only Evan Royster and Ryan Grant behind him, the job is as secure as it really can be.

Now, let’s talk about production.

The two things that will get you benched as a running back for Shanahan are fumbling and a lack of productivity – Morris has neither thus far. Through the first five games of the year, he’s fifth in the league in rushing with an impressive 491 yards, is tied for second in the league with four rushing touchdowns and is also tied for second in carries that have gone for 20 or more yards, bringing that issue of his lack of speed somewhat into question. In addition, he has the same number of fumbles as you and I do with zero. He’s averaging a healthy 4.9 yards per carry on the season and 5.5 yards per carry in the last four games. In addition, his yards per carry average has gone up in each of the past three games as he’s become more and more comfortable in the offense.

At his current rate (though obviously early in the season), Morris is on pace for nearly 1,600 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns – numbers like that don’t get you benched, regardless of who the coach is. If the boss was anyone other than Mike Shanahan, would there be any doubt that Morris was legitimate? Just think about that for a minute. No, really. Think about it for a whole minute.

In addition, there’s more to compare than just the running backs who played under Mike Shanahan, you have to look at his son Kyle and the comparison of offensive systems, like the one he employed in Houston under the likes of Gary Kubiak. You know, the same one that unearthed the undrafted Arian Foster and turned him into one of the greatest weapons in dynasty league history. Now, I’m not saying Morris is the second coming of Foster, but we’ve seen players who weren’t highly regarded coming out of college burst on to the scene and find success in this type of offense before.

While it’s easy to simply say, “Shanahan running back” and hard to just accept what we’re seeing, the fact is Morris has done nothing but produce so far. You can assume the Redskins will look elsewhere for a back later on, but why would they if Morris continues to be this good? Our good friends Matt Williamson at ESPN tends to agree. He’ll face some stiffer defenses in the coming weeks, but he’s improving each and every week and is starting to really become a weapon in both reality and fantasy. With RGIII commanding so much attention, Morris is going to have lanes to run through. Backs in this system have been replaced, but productive backs who don’t fumble won’t be.

Summary

There are players who come and go through the years who create a massive amount of debate. Alfred Morris is the latest player to cause a firestorm of controversy within the DLF community. While some are simply dismissing him, others are starting to believe he’s a legitimate asset and targeting him as a “buy low” candidate. If anything, he’s certainly a target of a contending team as his production this year seems to be all but a certainty (well, as much as can be assumed given his circumstances).

In the end, I’ve realized there are actually three schools of thought with Morris. One school considers him a “sell” because of all their years of being burned by Mike Shanahan, one school considers him a “buy” because seeing is believing and living in the past won’t get you anywhere and those like me are in a completely different and third school – one that features such a mixed bag of emotions they wish he was someone else’s dilemma.

And that my friends, is what makes dynasty leagues so much fun.

Ken Kelly
8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. JBlake

    October 11, 2012 at 2:45 am

    Great article, Ken. Another factor contributing to Morris’s extremely high short-term value is that he is a rare workhorse RB (ranked 5th is rushing attempts). Shanahan has commented that he gets stronger as the game goes on, so he’s not going to be relieved by Royster or Grant for an entire series as you see some coaches do with their RBs.

    I’m a Redskins fan who’s starting to come around on Morris. I think if I was a Morris owner, I would ride him this season and try to trade him during the offseason. I’m still not sure he’ll be the starter next year (watch and see if they take another mid/late round RB in next year’s draft), but I’m pretty sure he’ll be the starter every game this year barring injury. Roy Helu was already being pidgeonholed into a 3rd down receiving role before his injury, so I don’t think he’s a threat to Morris next year. Ryan Grant is Ryan Grant, so he’s no threat. Evan Royster is the wildcard here. Some people don’t realize that Evan Royster, not Roy Helu, was going to be the starter until Royster’s preseason injury opened the door for Morris.

    The frustrating and fascinating thing about Shanahan is that his player evaluations seem to reset week-to-week. He rewards players who look good in practice, and he doesn’t have much of a doghouse for gameday mistakes unless you’re a kicker or Rex Grossman throwing a fourth interception. If Royster gets completely healthy, and Morris gets banged up or there’s a week where Royster looks better in practice than Morris, I think Royster could still get a surprise start this year.

    So what is a fair trade value for Morris? In my league after Week 3, the Chris Johnson owner traded Michael Floyd straight up for Morris. Normally if I told you a team traded their WR5 for an RB1, you would say the team getting the RB got great value, but again, this is Alfred Morris, and it blows our collective mind to see a 6th round pick so quickly attain equal value to a 1st round pick. But as you said, that’s the great thing about dynasty, we don’t know if that was a good trade until we can look back two years from now.

    One last thing (sorry for the long post), if you like to follow the local beat reporters, Chris Russell is usually spot-on with he Redskins. He’s @Russellmania980

  2. Zach Levitt

    October 11, 2012 at 6:12 am

    What do you think about Helu’s long term value? Do you think he’ll change teams or be stuck in the black hole of the Redskins?

    • Ken Kelly

      October 11, 2012 at 6:43 am

      I think he’s stuck as the possible passing down back for the Redskins at best for the short term. It’s anyone guess long term. The one thing to keep in mind is that one bad season could mean the end to Mike Shanahan as well and that turns this whole thing upside down. He’s certainly worth holding on to, but the allure of Helu is just about gone, especially with his tendency to get hurt.

  3. Keith Fortier

    October 11, 2012 at 6:45 am

    Great article Ken, thank you. The Alf owner in my league isnt letting him go, I havent even attempted offers because it would cost me someone as productive right now, he’s counting on him to be in his lineup every week. I’d be shot down in a NY Minute if i offered Kendall Hunter, for instance.

    I’ve never been one of those “Shannanigans” people, and have gotten in heated debates with people who dismiss this backfield with only that statement as their only grounds for debate. It’s shortsighted. I went back through the logs of the past 3 years and noted the starter and fantasy production of said starter. Yes, the starter changed frequently, but when that guy go the start, that guy not only got the majority of carries (no less than 80%), they averaged high end RB2/Low End RB1 numbers. The only exceptions where when the starter got hurt, or fumbled (usually on the second fumble). At which point he was replaced and THAT guy continued to get the great majority of carries.

    The only reason i’ve stayed away from this backfield in the past is because you usually have to roster all of the capable backs. This sucks up too many roster spots for 1 position. You also have to pay very close attention to the game day chatter (though not so much any more with Morris seemingly with a stranglehold on the job). High maintenance, YES. But if you have the patience, and the roster spots, then its a profitable situation.

    If you want to hate on a coach destroying your fantasy days, look at Bill Belichick. He GAME PLANS RB’s out of the game. I can deal with the week to week changes, but the drive to drive, and even play to play it can change. Good luck trying to listen to the chatter and figuring that out! And i’m sorry, but i’m not rostering Danny Woodhead. (I’m a Pats fan, love the guy, but no.)

    Or McCarthy… Goal line carries go to ARodge and Kuhn…and just to REALLY piss you off he’ll throw BJ Raji a bone. GB RB’s live and die by yardage and there’s not enough ground work, or talent, for any one of those guys to be confidently started week to week.

    I’ve said my peace 🙂

  4. Cyrus

    October 11, 2012 at 8:05 am

    In one of my leagues an owner traded a first and a third for Morris.

  5. Brad Fiorito

    October 11, 2012 at 8:32 am

    There was a time when everybody wanted Shanahan’s RBs. Could that trend ever return?

  6. Andy Santangelo

    October 13, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    I’m a top Tight End away from having the team I’ve always wanted. I’ve opened conversations with the owner of Jimmy Graham. The owner is seeing his season quickly get away from him. I’ve offered two future 1st (rookie draft only) for Graham. He hasn’t bit yet but gave Week 7 as his deadline to see if 2012 is worth competing. Part of me hopes he counters looking for Alf Morris but part of me doesn’t. Right now my dynasty core is Brady, Luck, Rice, Wallace, Nicks, Harvin and Alf. If the other owner wants Morris and I do the deal I’d slide Graham in, go with Rice as my only RB and start the 3 WRs each week. My only concern is that Alfred Morris is for real…

  7. Chad Benner

    January 20, 2013 at 5:45 pm

    So what is the take on Morris now? He reached the 1600 yd, 13 TD projection he had in week 5. Sell high? Or keep?

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