By: Rich Torres
With every NFL draft that runs its course, there’s always a handful of players that many in the Twitter football community refuse to budge from praising, despite those players not going as early as expected by the tape grinders. While some of these players do reward them for their patience, the majority of them do indeed fail. Although there are plenty of bright, aspiring football minds in the social media community, these NFL scouts are the ones collecting the paychecks for a reason.
Having said that, one of this year’s more popular mid-to-late round draft picks was a productive player in college and is currently an in-house favorite at TFA: Samaje Perine. Is he a threat to Matt Jones’ and/or Chris Thompson’s touches in Washington, or was he a waste of a mid-round pick? Let’s take a look under the hood and find out.
Lack of Competition
Two of the main reasons that Perine is an immediate threat to the workloads of Jones and Thompson are, well, Jones and Thompson. Despite having a top-five run-blocking offensive line in 2016 (according to PlayerProfiler.com), Jones was outside the top 25 in yards/touch, yards after contact/touch, evaded tackles/touch, and breakaway runs/touch. Calling him a starting-caliber running back is either awfully generous or just flat-out wrong, based off of your perspective. And his 2015 season wasn’t any better. In fact, it was notably worse.
With Chris Thompson, his situation is a completely different, but the result is similar. Unlike Jones, Thompson was one of the most efficient rushers in both 2015 and 2016, with a top ten yards/touch and a top ten breakaway run rate in both years. Based on this data, he would stand to benefit from a larger workload. However, standing at 5’7 192, he will always be a ‘less is more’ kind of player. And, luckily for Perine, most of Thompson’s work comes in the form of receptions. The passing game has never been an area the former Sooner has ‘won’ at.
Some may have expected the Kelley-Perine debate before the previous two rushers mentioned. Kelley, however, isn’t as big of a threat as some may think. Kelley is terribly unathletic (2nd-percentile terrible) and doesn’t provide much more as a receiver than Perine does. That wouldn’t matter anyway, considering Thompson is a better receiver than them both. If the Redskins were truly enamored with Kelley, they wouldn’t have spent a premium pick (for a running back, at least) on a player fitting in the same mold as he.
As mentioned earlier, Washington boasted a top-five group of run game maulers last year. But the abundance of offense doesn’t stop there. The Redskins’ quarterback, of course, is Kirk Cousins. He has been both efficient and prolific in each of the last two seasons. Because of this, he’s adept at leading his offense to numerous red zone trips every game. Contract disputes between him and the Washington brass have complicated his future in the nation’s capital, but if anyone tells you they know what is going to happen, they’re lying. Catching passes from Cousins is a deep and talented receiving corps. From Terrelle Pryor to Jamison Crowder to Josh Doctson to Jordan Reed, this team won’t have many issues scoring points, and more points mean more touchdowns for Perine.
Although Chris Thompson won’t stop Perine from getting on the field and efficiently producing, he could stop him from becoming a star in fantasy football. In today’s NFL, the majority of the best fantasy football rushers can both run and catch the football. Each of the seven highest-scoring running backs of 2016, each one caught at least 40 passes.
Thompson, however, shouldn’t be the only person taking the blame for Perine’s lack of receiving production. He may simply just not be good at catching the ball. Perine was able to earn only about 4% of Oklahoma’s passes in 2016. And when he connected with his QB, he wasn’t even able to accrue 6 yards per catch. Perine’s only hopes for a truly elite fantasy season may be something similar to a rushing season from 2016. Both LeGarrette Blount and Jordan Howard were able to play like RB1s despite not making many catches. A replication of the former’s season is unlikely. The Redskins offense in 2017 will likely perform a step down from the offense of the reigning World Champs. That leaves Howard’s rookie season, which is totally possible due to the parallels in the two offensive lines that are present.
*Note: I specifically excluded “draft capital” from this section. Being an early round 4 pick isn’t enough to hinder his opportunities, in Perine’s case. His only competition is a very late round 3 pick who has done nothing but disappoint. The team likely hasn’t designated a set number of between-the-tackles carries for anyone yet.
Is He Worth It?
Although the cons are definitely limiting, they’re not deal breakers. This is specifically because they are already factored into his price, possibly even too much. Based off of the ADP data of numerous sites, Perine is constantly going in the late first round. I would understand him dropping from an early first rounder to a mid-first rounder. This isn’t what’s happening, however. Many fantasy owners are taking him after tight ends and running backs that have even more limitations than he does (Alvin Kamara). Let’s not overthink this. I’d have no problem using any draft capital past pick 1.04 in order to acquire Perine’s services for my fantasy team.
There you have it, folks. It looks like we’ve diagnosed a situation where the NFL Scouting Industrial Complex may have made a mistake. And if they’ve screwed up in the manner that I suspect they did, many teams are going to look on in regret as Perine leaves their defenses in his wake.