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Dynasty Purgatory: Maurice Jones-Drew

Maurice_Jones_DrewA few months ago, in his weekly Stock Report, Ryan McDowell broached the concept of roster cloggers.  As Ryan stated, these are the types of players “stuck on the end of your bench who are not actually deserving of a roster spot.”  In these cases, it’s an easy fix:  open up a bottle of Drano and rid your team of any and all obstructions!

What about players whose roster candidacy isn’t so black and white?  You know, the types of clogs that might loosen up and drift away on their own accord, requiring nothing more than time and patience.  Instead of taking a hardline approach, these are the types of situations where we need to make like EL James and view them in shades of grey.

I’m referring to the players on our rosters who for various reasons are currently devalued, maybe even to the point of benching, but are not worthy of banishment to the waiver wire.  It’s almost as if they exist in a state of “roster purgatory.”  For whatever reason, these players just didn’t have the year(s) we were expecting, but they still carry value and name recognition.  If we were to overzealously drop these guys, they wouldn’t stay unclaimed for long!

Since the off-season is officially upon us, roster evaluation and maintenance moves to the critical forefront of our dynasty ownership obligations.  As such, this is an optimal time to consider those stuck in roster purgatory, and what we should do with them.  In that spirit, this semi-regular column will analyze players with clouded futures, and attempt to clarify and valuate their future prospects.  The series’ third installment will cover running back Maurice Jones-Drew.

Previous Installments

Philip Rivers

Santonio Holmes

The Essentials

Age:  27 (will be 28 before the 2013 season)

Team:  Jacksonville Jaguars

Years in the NFL:  Seven

Three-Year Statistical Arc

Year

Games

Carries

Yards

YPC

YPG

Receptions

Yards

Touches Per Game

2010

14

299

1324

4.4

94.6

34

317

23.8

2011

16

343

1606

4.7

100.4

43

374

24.1

2012

6

86

414

4.8

69

14

86

16.7

In 2010, Jones-Drew’s second season as the Jaguars’ clear-cut starter, we saw the running back average nearly 95 rushing yards per game at 4.4 yards per carry, as well as gain an additional 317 yards through the air.  Though MJD missed two games, he still finished the season with the fifth most rushing yards in the league.  2011 was even better, as Jones-Drew set a career high with 343 carries en route to leading the league in rushing (1,606 yards).

In fact, MJD’s 2011 rushing total was 242 yards higher than that of the next closest back, Ray Rice, who totaled 1,364 yards.   To bridge that gap, Rice would have required an additional 2.8 (on average) games.  Lamentably, MJD didn’t get a chance to defend his rushing crown this past season, as he succumbed to a mysterious foot injury in only his sixth game.  However, up to that point he was averaging 4.8 yards per carry, the highest total since his rookie season.

Reasons to Keep the Faith

1.  Holy (Bell) Cow!:  When Fred Taylor left the Jaguars following the 2008 season, MJD asserted total dominance over the backfield.  From 2009-2011, he averaged 20.7 carries per game, and didn’t have fewer than 299 carries in a single season.  To put that in perspective, the rest of the Jaguars’ running backs totaled an aggregate 250 carries during that time.  In other words, during those three seasons all Jaguars running backs not named Jones-Drew averaged only a combined seven carries per game.

2.  This Means WAR:  WAR, or Wins Above Replacement, is a common term used most notably in reference to a baseball player’s skill relative to the average.  Without going completely next level (but belaboring the above point), let’s consider MJD’s stats relative to those who took his place following last year’s injury.  His three direct backups (Rashad Jennings, Montell Owens and Jalen Parmele) combined to average 3.5 yards per carry, which was 1.3 yards worse than Jones-Drew’s value.  In fact, despite getting hurt a mere two carries into his sixth game, MJD still led the team in rushing.

3.  A Fresh Start:  Due to his injury, MJD sat the final ten games of the 2012 season.  This means that, despite his age, he should be relatively refreshed when training camp opens.  Combined with the “veteran treatment” he’s likely to receive in the preseason, Jones-Drew should be ready to go when the season begins.

4.  Injured Reserve:  Players like Jones-Drew (and the previously chronicled Santonio Holmes) are my favorite types of trade targets.  Whenever a player is hurt, they become almost immediately, subconsciously devalued.  MJD’s price tag might never be lower than it is now.

5.  Young Guns:  As mentioned, Jones-Drew led the league in rushing in 2011.  This was despite Blaine Gabbert’s “uninspired” play under center, as well as the leading receiver (tight end Marcedes Lewis) tallying a mere 460 yards.  Imagine what the presence of receivers Cecil Shorts III and Justin Blackmon, as well as potentially upgraded quarterback play will do?

Reasons to Abandon Ship

1.  Curses!:  In my piece about the Curse of 370, I used a mathematical formula to determine a running back’s potential drop-off in production relative to when he carried the ball roughly 370 times in a given season.  While MJD “only” hit 343 carries in 2011, he did also have 43 receptions, for a total of 386 touches.  So while he might not quite fall under the umbrella of the curse, it’s close enough to run the numbers.

The formula utilized equal parts age and prior usage to determine the forecasted drop-off, and suffice it to say, MJD’s value would have been higher than any others considered.  Prior to his 2011 season, Jones-Drew was already 26 years old, and had 1,141 carries to his name.  Granted, while this is fuzzy math at its finest, it doesn’t bode well for MJD’s future numbers.

2.  Reception Deception:  Over the years MJD has developed a bit of an unwarranted reputation of being a “dual-threat” running back.  However, his career best in receptions (62) occurred in 2008, and he hasn’t topped 43 catches in the past three years.  In fact, during that time he’s only averaged 3.5 targets per game.  With an improved receiving corps, Jones-Drew might not be quite the check-artist he’s perceived to be.

3.  Act Your Age:  MJD will be 28 years old by the time the 2013 season begins, which is higher than the classical number for a “stud” dynasty running back.  While Jones-Drew did average 4.8 yards per carry last year, his season ended prematurely due to injury.  It’s possible that his efficiency and risk of injury are beginning to indirectly correlate.  If this pace persists, MJD might not have many seasons of RB1-level production left.

4.  Scoreboard!:  The 2012 Jaguars were, in a word, horrible.  They finished a lowly 2-14, “earning” the second pick in the 2013 NFL draft.  On average, they were outscored by 11.8 points per game, which is reflective of deficiencies of both sides of the ball.  As the Jaguars stray away from keeping games competitive, MJD’s potential to lose carries rises.  If Jones-Drew doesn’t get the requisite touches, he stands to drop from the ranks of the elite.

5.  Coaching Merry-Go-Round:  The Jaguars fired first-year coach Mike Mularkey, and have yet to hire a new leading man.  While MJD’s talent seems evident to all of us, it’s impossible to predict what a new coaching staff will do.  This type of uncertainty, if only minimally, jeopardizes Jones-Drew’s value.

Conclusion and Recommendation

Maurice Jones-Drew has been a fantasy stalwart ever since he gained the starting job back in 2009.  Averaging over 4.5 yards per carry while routinely residing amongst the leaders in rushing yardage over the years, it’s been impossible to remove MJD from our lineups.  So why is he stuck in Dynasty Purgatory?

Unfortunately, a combination of age and uncertainty clouds MJD’s future.  His recent injury, though only temporary, also serves to muddy his current value.  How should dynasty owners treat this potentially falling star?

The proposition that follows is another example of the dichotomy in dynasty fantasy football.  My personal belief is that Jones-Drew is likely to have, at most, two or three more years of fantasy relevance.  Therefore, contending teams should make a play for the Jaguars’ dynamic back in the hopes he can push them over the top to a championship.  Conversely, rebuilding teams should wait until Jones-Drew establishes himself early on in the 2013 season, and then promptly sell.  Unless an attractive offer presents itself, resist the urge to sell “low” during the off-season as MJD has yet to return from injury.

Regardless, the combination of MJD’s production with his age and prior usage represents distinct trade opportunities.  While he could still push competitors over the top, the risk factors are disadvantageous for teams that are years away from competing.  No matter which side of the fence your team is on, appropriate treatment of MJD during his twilight years can and should yield favorable results.

Follow me on Twitter @EDH_27

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9 years ago

Great article. I think MJD is a prime target. I have one time with running back issues, and I traded 2013 first and third round rookie picks for MJD. I usually don’t advocate selling rookie picks this far from the draft, but in this case I felt I could not get a better player in the rookie, nor do I think the value of my picks will rise above a player like MJD. It is interesting to speculate about Adrian Peterson vs MJD. Granted, their injuries were not the same, but both are the same age. MJD was an elite, top 10 running back before he got hurt last year. MJD has denied having a Lis Franc injury, and if it was only a fracture without displacement of a Lis Franc, that bodes well for him. MJD is a tough guy, and before this happened he had no history of major injuries. I would absolutely buy MJD now, as his owner might be so frustrated, MJD might be had for a cheap price. Not long ago, MJD was mentioned alongside AP and Foster as a dynasty stalwart. Plus, he is a free agent after 2013, and that’s of some interest as well.

Cyrus Miller
9 years ago

MJD owner in my league demanded the 1.04+ stuff or Martin to trade. I laughed.

Adam Franssen
Reply to  Cyrus Miller
9 years ago

You’re joking, right? MJD carries much more value than the 1.04 in the 2013 draft. Probably much more value than your entire 2013 draft. Martin is a tougher sell. He had a good season, but I don’t yet trust the Bucs to laugh in the face of proven value.

Cyrus Miller
Reply to  Adam Franssen
9 years ago

As Eric said, injury, workload and age are giant factors for me.

I won the Championship in 2012. I don’t need MJD. What betters my team in the long run, trading the pick for MJD and hoping that he comes back from injury and produces? I see him as being good for 2 years.

Or, using the 1.04 on a RB like Lattimore, Bernard, Lacy, stashing the RB on my taxi squad for a year or two and then having a young RB in his prime?

I’m not saying the rookie will outproduce MJD, but I do think that I would prefer the rookie to MJD for any dynasty team. Add that I would have to give up other picks/players in ADDITION to the 1.04, it was clear to me I didn’t want to trade.

Cyrus Miller
Reply to  Cyrus Miller
9 years ago

I will also add– my team is guaranteed to make the playoffs, IMO. Therefore, I need MJD for Weeks 14-16, not for weeks 1-13.

MJD was injured this past year and was injured in week 15 of 2010. Trading the pick doesn’t guarantee he is healthy when I need him in the playoffs. Therefore, I don’t know if it even helps my team when I need the help.

I’d rather have the rookie on my taxi that might be a bust, but might be a stud for 5+ years.

Reply to  Cyrus Miller
9 years ago

I agree with Eric. MJD is a nice buy for a team in contention. For those teams that are rebuilding, it wouldn’t make sense to trade for him. I expect MJD to have two very good years, and probably 1-2 okay years before he is done. That’s probably not enough to part with a first round rookie pick for a rebuilding team. But, a team that is one or two players away should absolutely try to get MJD. AP is going 1.01 in dynasty start-ups, and is the same age as MJD. Obviously AP is coming off a monster year, but MJD has minimal touches last year, unlike AP. In a weird way, I think MJD might be a great target given his low volume of usage (as Eric mentioned in his article), history of elite production, and low cost relative to a player like AP.

Matt Weltner
9 years ago

I’m an MJD owner on a team that went 7-6 last year, mostly without him. If my team starts slow, but he reestablishes himself what do you think is the right value to look for in trade?

Reply to  Eric Hardter
9 years ago

I agree with the players on this list. But, as a JStew owner on a few teams, I would stay far away from him. I think JStew is destined to be another Ryan Mathews, great talent but frail and forever will be a player with unrealized potential. I also realize JStew owners will probably hate me for saying it, but as a former member of the JStew Dynasty Fan Club, I have to say I’m done with that guy. I like all other players on that list, particularly Mike Wallace and Torrey Smith.

Will Finnegan
9 years ago

I rented MJD this year at the nice price of Ridley and a mid 1st, the next week he was hurt- I LOST that one
the reason behind that trade was bc this when ridley was splitting carries with everyone
I was worried(plus i dont like Patriots)

Well a week after the season ended i traded MJD and Eli and a 2nd for Drew Brees and the 1st overall
I have Trent and Spiller so I am okay with my rbs and the i feel brees>eli

So i sold in the red but i feel i made up the value

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