AnalysisFantasy

2014 Minnesota Vikings: McKinnon A Must for Fantasy Experts

While we’ve been debating about the potential impact of Jerick Mckinnon on the running game, especially as the Vikings prepare against a stellar Buffalo Bills front and a phenomenal run defense (ranked 1st in yards per carry allowed (2.81!), and without only one run of over 15 yards—a 16-yard run from George Winn by the Lions), more than one fantasy expert has recommended Jerick McKinnon as a fantasy pickup—if not for this week, then in upcoming ones.

Numberfire, who makes some very interesting and exciting claims about McKinnon—and quickly becoming a leader in analytic football analysis and fantasy advice—was the first I saw to make significant claims about his value:

In his first six games in the NFL, McKinnon certainly hasn’t blown the world away, but he has also been at least respectable through the lens of advance analytics. Among the 34 running backs with 40-70 carries this year, McKinnon ranks 13th in Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) per rush. You can read more about NEP in our glossary, but it’s basically a measure of expected points added to a drive each time a player touches the ball. Who’s directly in front of McKinnon in this ranking? Asiata, of course. But the two even being similar should tilt the hand toward McKinnon in the name of development on a 2-4 team. I don’t think Matt Asiata is a guy you place in a high-powered offense. McKinnon is.

Part of being a rookie is progressing throughout the year. McKinnon has done that. On his first five carries of the year, McKinnon had a -2.05 Rushing NEP. That was obviously not good. But then he busted out for 135 rushing yards on 18 carries against Atlanta to make things a bit prettier.

Over the last three games (including two blowouts where the run-game was quickly phased out), McKinnon is averaging 15.33 touches for 93.33 yards per game. His role in the passing game has increased each of those weeks, culminating in six receptions for 42 yards last week. That’s good production.

. . .

Even with the limited touchdown potential, McKinnon is still worth a roster spot in all season-long leagues. He was featured in JJ Zachariason’s15 Transactions column for this week because dude is going to rack up yards if he’s given the chance.

. . .

With numberFire having McKinnon as a low-flex option on just eight carries per game, you’d be nuts not to snatch this guy off of waivers right now. Every bump in volume moves him up that chart. With his continued rise as a receiving option (something he never did at Georgia Southern), McKinnon should have a solid floor and be more than a “stash” guy on your bench.

Before the draft, Numberfire loved McKinnon, and found his closest comparison to be… Adrian Peterson.

We’re all just speculating until they play another game, but my guess is this change sticks. McKinnon isn’t a bruiser, but he’s got acceleration and quickness in droves, and enough strength and power to throw off defensive backs. He should be added in all leagues.

But, they’re not alone in their McKinnon love, though. He’s ESPN’s top “free agent find”, and even writers not immediately fantasy-oriented thought he deserved a pickup. While SB Nation’s fantasy regime is a little less optimistic-sounding on him, they definitely recommend picking him up.

Rotoworld’s Adam Levitan thinks he’s the top Week 7 asset at running back. So does Yahoo’s Brad Evans. Michael Fabiano at NFL.com thinks he’s the third-best waiver-wire pickup overall, and the second-best running back, behind Ronnie Hillman. Matthew Berry thinks you should pick him up, too.

The preponderance of fantasy experts seem to think McKinnon is rosterable. In the long run, I happen to agree. Not this week—when adjusting for opponent, they rank second overall for a “true” YPC allowed of 2.99, and ranks second in Football Outsiders’ rush defense DVOA—but it’s certainly a consideration for any fantasy-savvy Vikings fans.

On film, McKinnon is a much better running back than I would have anticipated at this point in his career. I’ve endlessly mentioned his surprising patience and instincts at finding holes, and Darren Page has done a good job documenting examples. He needs to know when to turn on the jets and when to exhibit that patience, as well as display more consistent pass protection, but he’s the better runner despite his experience.

But for now, I’ll take the skepticism that Evan Silva at Rotoworld displays, and that James Todd at Rotoviz explains perfectly:

Jerick McKinnon got over 60 percent of Minnesota’s rush attempts, vs. just 11 percent for Matt Asiata. What does it mean? Asiata dominated the rushing market share in Weeks 2, 3, and 5. What about Week 4? That week McKinnon earned a split with Asiata (46 percent to 41 percent for Asiata). Then in Week 5 things tipped right back in Asiata’s favor. So I’m not reading too much into McKinnon’s domination of opportunity in Week 6. It could be just a case of realizing that a back like Asiata has virtually no chance against a defense like Detroit. Or it could be a harbinger of things to come, and this could be the moment we all look back on and say “that’s when McKinnon took the reins and never looked back. That James Todd guy is such an ass.” Whatever. With a poor offense all around and just a middling RB schedule over the rest of the season, I’ll wait to see what happens.

I wouldn’t be against leaving him on the waiver-wire in ten-team redraft leagues and standard-size rosters, but in twelve-team leagues and those with relatively deep rosters, he’s worth a stash as an RB5. Just don’t expect gold from it.

In dynasty, though? I’d be surprised if he was available. Get him.

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One Comment

  1. I agree he’s ahead of the curve in reading run blocks and his vision is excellent. Where he’s lacking enormously is pass protection, and to quote Parcells, if you can’t pass block you can’t play in this league. A common area of improvement for rookie RB’s. Worth the 3rd rd pick? Absolutely. Enough credit is not given to Speilman for pulling the trigger a rd or two early based on position needs on this young prospect in last May’s draft. Pretty clear they may have been expecting an issue with their star RB? That to my knowledge has not been confirmed. Another area of fantasy value for the rookie RB is his increase in receptions. Through the first 6 games we’re seeing a steady increase in receptions and yards:
    Rec Yds
    0 0
    2 5
    2 9
    1 17
    3 22
    6 42

    Especially in PPR leagues there is increasing value here and as his fellow rookie qb settles in to Turners offense I expect McKinnon’s rush-rec numbers to increase making him a solid #2 RB start in all fantasy formats.

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