One of the things we as human beings tend to do an awful lot of in our lives is react to the things we see around us. Often times this is a good thing. For example, if a car just so happens to be driving down the same sidewalk you are walking on, you better get out of the way! That’s definitely a good reaction.
There is another side of the coin, though – that is the gross overreaction which is becoming more and more common into today’s world, thanks in part to social media. This isn’t just in life but also in the world of fantasy football. It isn’t uncommon for the smallest of things are blown way out of proportion. Other times what should be a minor blip on the radar gets way more attention than it deserves. There are also times when we ignore all of the warning signs and try to stay the course, not realizing we are heading for a cliff. Don’t worry though, because I’m here to help with these very things.
Each week I will examine a player or sometimes multiple players to see if their value is on par with what people are talking about. Often times this will be a player who “breaks out” the previous week and might be getting a lot of attention in trade talks or on the waiver wire. Other times it might be a player who received a lot of hype during the off-season who isn’t living up to expectations. Regardless of what it is, I’ll be doing my best to steer you in the right direction and get you a step ahead of your league mates.
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Keep in mind that no one is perfect. After all, I told you to ignore Justin Forsett after opening weekend last year. Hey, we all make mistakes, but I like to think I’ve had a pretty good track record over the years of doing this. Two years ago, I was one of the first to lay out why you needed to trade Trent Richardson for whatever you could get, much like the Browns had done a week or two before. At the time I was blasted by readers, but if you listened you sold before his value crashed. I was also dead on with Larry Donnell fading down the stretch, Allen Hurns being good enough to stay ahead of Marqise Lee on the depth chart, Antone Smith being little more than a rarely used homerun hitter, and countless other takes from the last few years. Moral of the story, I miss from time-to-time like everyone else, but I feel I get it right much more often. When I’m wrong, I’ll own that mistake.
This week I’m going to devote the entire column to an undrafted running back out of Tulane. While he had a solid game week seven for the Giants, the prices he went for in the free agent blind bidding in the two DLF staff leagues prompted me to take a closer look. He went for 45% of the budget in one league, and 47% in the other. Part of this is just a function of it being later in the season, but highly knowledgeable people don’t spend that much without seeing something they like. So let’s take a closer look at Orleans Darkwa.
Orleans Darkwa, RB NYG
Week 7 stats: Eight rushes for 48 yards (6.0 yards per carry) and one touchdown.
The running back position is one of the most fickle positions in the NFL. I would say kickers are more fickle, but that’s a whole different discussion. With running backs, teams go one of two directions: they either get a blue chip talent they can ride for years (like the Rams did this year) or they basically ignore the position and play the mix-and-match committee game. On rare occasions, a late round or undrafted player will emerge from the fog and take charge of a committee attack. This is the hope of every franchise choosing the latter option.
Last week, the undrafted second year player gave the Giants a spark. While his statistics weren’t earth shattering by any stretch of the imagination, they are clearly much better numbers than the team has been producing. In fact, the other three running backs on the roster have combined for a season with just 3.65 yards per carry.
Who exactly is Darkwa, and can he be the spark the team needs? This is his second year in the league, and last year he split time between Miami and New York, in that order. Between the two teams, he only had nine attempts for a total of 23 yards and one touchdown. He also added in five receptions on six targets for 48 yards. Not the kind of usage or numbers you would expect from someone who could lead a backfield, but there is an awful lot of talk about him this week, so let’s explore.
The Good: When I look at Darkwa, one of the first things to stand out is his size. He looks the part of an NFL running back. At six feet tall and about 215 pounds, he has the build to take a pounding and carry the load. On Sunday he did a decent job of falling forward, moving the pile, and running through arm tackles. While he didn’t have any short yardage looks in this game, he seems like he could easily fill that role for the Giants.
What I liked even more than his power was his style. He seemed to see and feel the holes opening and didn’t hesitate. That lack of hesitation is what really sets him apart from the other Giants running backs this season. They have been known to dance in the backfield a little bit and the offensive line isn’t opening up huge holes. If you aren’t going to take what is there, then there isn’t going to be much to run through. Darkwa seems willing and able to hit whatever hole develops, even if it is a small window. That’s a huge plus for him.
Not only is he big, but he has some speed as well. At his pro-day he managed a 4.46 second time in the 40 yard dash. During college, he managed to turn this mix of speed and power into tying Matt Forte’s mark for the school record in career rushing touchdowns. He has also been productive during the preseason, both this year with New York and last year with the Dolphins; seeming capable of producing at the NFL level.
The Bad: The biggest concern I have for Darkwa’s production and fantasy relevance is the team he plays on. The Giants and head coach Tom Coughlin were one of the first teams to embrace the running back-by-committee approach with their earth, wind and fire group back in the late 2000s. Ever since then, they have been one of the more dedicated committee attacks in the NFL. Shane Vereen isn’t going anywhere, and when healthy is one of the better passing specialists at the position. He will get a decent portion of the snaps, especially in obvious passing situations. One of the other running backs could still definitely be mixed in from time to time as well.
The other concern I have for him is that no one is going to mistake him for Barry Sanders. He isn’t going to make many defenders miss. Yes, he has speed, but he isn’t sudden enough to juke defenders in the open field. Instead he is just going to lower his head and try to run through them. This will get him through weaker tackles, but he plays to contact instead of trying to avoid it. This, combined with a relatively upright running style, could make him a little more likely to be injured.
The Ugly Truth: Darkwa has size, solid power, good straight line speed and good instincts/vision. What he lacks is that special agility to make defenders miss in the open field or in the hole. Instead he will play to contact and try to push the pile or power through a tackle. In short, he isn’t an elite talent. When you add in the Giants’ propensity for the running back by committee approach, he isn’t the kind of player who is going to be an RB1 for fantasy teams for years to come.
What he does have is the ability to take the reins from an aging Rashad Jennings and push Andre Williams to a backup role for the rest of the season. I would expect Darkwa to see about 8-12 carries per week moving forward. There is going to be some volatility in that number though, based on game flow. If the Giants get behind, Vereen is going to see a lot more action. If they have a huge lead, Darkwa could surpass 15 carries as he grinds out the clock late in the game.
Long term, he could keep his role for a few more years if he continues to perform. He is in only his second year in the league, which means the team could retain him cheaply as an exclusive rights free agent. If he continues to produce, I’m sure they will do exactly that and continue to pair him up with Vereen as their one-two punch.
Final Verdict: I see Darkwa as a low-end RB2 most weeks due to role and the committee approach. I think 8-12 carries is going to be the norm for him. If he can find his way into the endzone on a semi-regular basis he could be worth starting on teams with injury issues or a severe lack of depth. I think he is definitely worth an add if he’s on your waiver wire, but keep expectations in check. The Giants aren’t going to abandon the committee approach. After all, they practically invented it.
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