In this debate, we take a look at two mid-tier runners, both with upside and red flags.
Imagine yourself in this scenario – you’re on the clock in the fifth round. You’ve already snagged a nice stable of wide receivers and an excellent running back to lead your team. You decide it’s time to take a RB2 to round out your squad. Looking at your board, you see two common names of still available – Alfred Morris and Andre Ellington. One back makes his name as a ground and pound consistency machine and the other as a shifty rusher who excels as a receiver, so you’re conflicted. Two backs who couldn’t be more different, yet they are often picked one after another. Their ADP is mighty close, so close they are actually the RB22 and RB23, respectively. Well, we’re here to hopefully help sway you in one direction or the other.
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The Case for Alfred Morris
Often times, winning a championship is about being lucky. You dodged the injury bug, your WR3 blew up in week 16 for 30 points and your kicker beat their kicker by five points. Congratulations, but how do you win multiple championships and become a true dynasty? I offer you one word – consistency.
In his three NFL seasons, the now 26-year old Alfred Morris has never fallen out of RB2 level in points, nor has he ever missed a game. He is the consummate consistency factor for your dynasty team. While it’s no secret to anyone that he isn’t much of a passing-down back, he has reached over 1,200 rushing yards in all three seasons and posted at least seven touchdowns, a feat only matched by Marshawn Lynch, while boasting a career 4.5 yards per carry. 2014 was a down year for him (he ended the year as RB17), but he still eked out 4.1 yards per carry with a team that had zero threat in the passing game and a cavalcade of mediocre quarterbacks. So, let’s call 2014 his floor and we can turn our attention to his ceiling, 2012, when his team was firing on all cylinders. 2012 was both Morris’ and Robert Griffin’s rookie season in the league and they came out with a bang. Morris put up 13 touchdowns and ran for over 100 yards a game, ending the year as the RB7. So, if his floor over three years is RB17 and his ceiling is RB7, that’s a running back who I want to rely on as my RB2, especially in this ever changing dynasty landscape where wide receivers reign supreme and leagues are transitioning to a minimum of one running back mandatory starter.
One of the biggest knocks on Morris (besides the whole not being a passing game back) is he is often vultured for a touchdown by another rusher. Well, this year the culpable vulture known as Roy Helu is in Oakland, leaving Morris free to be more of a three down back and the go to runner on the goal line. Coming back around to being a weapon in the passing game, in 2014 he saw a drastic increase in targets (double that of 2013) and I expect it to stay around the same or improve going into 2015. If he can reel in even a few more passes on the year, he could boost his PPR numbers drastically.
Now, before the reader gets on me about Matt Jones, I’m not concerned right now. While Jones is a very big, mean runner, he lacks the finesse needed in the modern day NFL. He might make a play for a few goal line rushes, or the fourth and inches we all love in football, but it takes nothing away from Morris for me. I’m not saying he is going to single handedly win you a championship (or multiple ones), but he gives you the confidence to roll him out as your RB2 each and every week, yes, even in PPR. In a recent PPR startup, I selected Morris as the RB26 (one pick after Andre Ellington), that showcases just how undervalued he truly is today.
My 2015 prediction: 280 Carries, 1,250 yards, 10 touchdowns and (hot take warning) 25 receptions.
The Case for Andre Ellington
The running back position is always difficult for me to support because I have wide receiver blood running proud and through me. When drafting wide receivers early, you become familiar with certain running backs in the middle rounds of a draft. Andre Ellington was counted on as the top running back in 2014 while playing for the Arizona Cardinals. Although he seemed to carry a constant injury with him while running the ball, he remained the better choice at running back over Stepfan Taylor and company.
Bruce Arians, the Head Coach for the Arizona Cardinals does not have a history of allowing his running backs the lion’s share of carries. Traditionally, he has spread the ball around and the running backs have had a craving for carries. Instead, he tends historically to be a fan of the quarterback – this in turn makes his wide receiver corps very productive. He may not have a standout wide receiver, but he has an active receiver nucleus.
Ellington was able to benefit in the Arizona blueprint due to his pass catching abilities as a running back. He had 11 games with double digit fantasy points in a standard one point per receipt (PPR) scoring system. He had a 22 touch per average for games played – this achievement was carried out while being listed on the injury report most of the season. He may have completed more games at this rate, but was put on a shelf in week 13 due to injury. He finished the year with 660 yards rushing, paired with 395 yards receiving. He also had five touchdowns and 46 catches in 2014. How’s that stat line for an injured sixth round draft pick out of the 2013 NFL Draft?
He does not have any really scary competition (more on Chris Johnson laster) outside of new rookie David Johnson and that is yet to be seen as he is struggling with a hamstring injury. I anticipate David Johnson being a long term added benefit for the Cardinals more than in immediate impact player. If he does emerge during training camp or early in the 2014 season, he will be a nice added relief for Ellington. I expect this type of play coupled with Kerwynn Williams or Robert Hughes to keep Andre Ellington fresh on each play and actually produce more while on the field – this could be the perfect potion to improve his 3.3 yards-per-carry and return him to his 2013 form of 5.5 yards-per-carry.
Due to the amount of hamstring injuries the Cardinal running backs are facing (Ellington, Marion Grice and David Johnson) the coaching staff decided to sign Chris Johnson, a former Tennessee Titan and New York Jets running back who we debated earlier this week. Although Chris Johnson had a career year with 2,006 rushing yards in 2009, he struggled to secure the starting job with the New York Jets during his career there. At most, I believe this creates a small-scale competition battle amongst the current running backs trying to make the Cardinals roster.
My prediction for Andre Ellington – 800 yards rushing 410 receiving yards on 52 receptions with six touchdowns.
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I’d rather have Morris. And it’s not particularly close.
100% agree. PPR makes it a but more murky for me, but with the advent of PPC in a lot of leagues in the future, Morris is a 10/10 for me over Ellington. I’m way, way more worried about David Johnson than I am about Matt Jones.
Give me the guy that’s more talented than either of the backups drafted for both teams and who has also shown the ability to get his work done in just a few carries, meaning his value won’t be completely destroyed if there’s a slight timeshare, with the versatility to catch out of the backfield with the best of them.
Andre Ellington is one of the bigger injury risks at the position, but Alfred Morris is mediocre enough that Matt Jones could outplay him and steal his job. Even if he just turned it into a committee he would lose a ton of value. As far as Chris Johnson is concerned, he was nearly dead last for PFF’s RB rankings (of 55 or so) while his teammate Chris Ivory was in the top 10.
If we were talking standard scoring then I’d side with the Morris writer for the consistency, but I’d much rather have Ellington in PPR. I was just faced with this decision a few weeks ago actually and I did choose Ellington. ($300 DFWC startup)
It is very possible the better choice depends on league scoring for these two RBs.
Agreed. Plus the risk you’ve already assumed when it comes down to choosing between them. I went for some cornerstone wide receivers early so I could take risks later.
Chris Johnson already has a hamstring injury (out 2 weeks) for anyone else reading the comments.