Very Deep Sleepers: Lorenzo Taliaferro (Ravens)
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On the surface, it seems like there’s no way Taliaferro is going to matter for fantasy football this year. The Ravens have a solid running back depth chart, which they have kept adding to via the draft the past two years.
My advance of Taliaferro as a ‘deep sleeper’ is not a depth chart analysis angle. We’ll address Baltimore’s depth chart blockade situation in a moment, and the two ways it could break positively for Taliaferro, but there’s a bigger factor at play here.
The reason to get excited about Lorenzo Taliaferro is that he may be the next Le’Veon Bell in hiding. Taliaferro was a fourth-round draft pick for the Ravens in 2014, a big bodied RB prospect who gained draft attention for how fluidly he moved, for his size, at the NFL Combine. He was a monster in his final season at FCS-level Coastal Carolina – he was named the Big South 2013 Offensive Player of the Year after rushing for 1,729 yards and scoring 29 total TDs in 2013.
Taliaferro entered the NFL with size+ at (6′0″/229), but could move swiftly and gracefully despite his larger frame. He made an instant impression on the Baltimore Ravens, immediately seeing action as a rookie in Week 1 (2014). He took on a main-carry role due to injuries above him in Week 3 vs. the Browns, and he immediately burst onto the scene with 18 carries for 91 yards rushing and a TD in that game.
He became a part of the Ravens’ rotation at running back for several weeks in 2014, splitting touches with Justin Forsett and Bernard Pierce, but then he hurt his foot and went on I.R. the final four games of the season. In the 2015 offseason, Taliaferro made a decision to cut weight and play 7–10 pounds lighter. A guy who was already freakishly agile at nearly 230 pounds was about to become lighter, and even more agile…and still ‘big’ at 220 pounds.
We wouldn’t get to see the benefits of Taliaferro’s offseason transformation much in the regular season. He sprained his MCL in the 2015 preseason and missed a few weeks, putting him behind once again. He was activated in Week 2 of the regular season, and he jumped right into the action with 34 yards rushing and a TD, catching three passes as well.
He looked good, but he pushed himself back too soon. Taliaferro re-aggravated his foot issue from 2014, played sparsely for two more games, and then was placed on season-ending IR. We never really got to see the impact of the new and improved Taliaferro.
The dark cloud hanging over Taliaferro was a Lisfranc sprain in 2014, and he decided not to have surgery to deal with it. He re-aggravated the same foot with the same issue and then decided to have the Lisfranc surgery in 2015. He’s fighting his way back to be ready for Opening Day 2016.
I went back and watched his preseason and regular-season work from 2015. You could see the signs. You saw a chiseled 220-pound runner who could change directions on a dime.
He made it look effortless. Most impressively was how his new shiftiness played in the passing game. Taliaferro can fly out of the backfield and make a cut on a short pass route as well as any running back in the NFL.
In his one game of real activity in 2015, he looked like a possession receiver working out of the backfield. He’s not only a threat on swing and screen passes, but he can get downfield and run routes and catch the ball as well.
Bell was a fine talent heading into the NFL in 2013 as a rookie, a big body with unnatural agility, but he went to a whole new level of performance when he cut weight going into 2014. There are many physical similarities between Bell and Taliaferro on tape and from their NFL Combines – and then they also have cutting weight and becoming even more ‘dangerously shifty’ in common as well.
The similarities end there because Bell went onto superstar status the year he transformed his body, whereas Taliaferro never really got off the ground, hampered by a foot injury.
NFL Combine comparison:
6′0″/229, 4.58 40-time, 1.60 10-yard, 6.88 three-cone, 18 bench reps = Taliaferro (2014)
6′1″/230, 4.60 40-time, 1.57 10-yard, 6.75 three-cone, 24 bench reps = Bell (2013)
OK, if Taliaferro is so wonderful, why do the Ravens keep drafting more running backs every year? That’s a great question. I think we could say the same about their tight ends and wide receivers.
I don’t know why the Ravens are going at least six deep at all the skill positions, but they are. Credit to them – they’re finding nice underground talents. But it’s not helping to give Taliaferro a clear path to touches in 2016.
When you look at the Ravens’ depth chart, Taliaferro is never listed as a starter. It’s logical, because he’s still working his way back from his 2015 surgery – a surgery that can take a year to fully heal.
Most analysts predict Taliaferro is on the 53-man bubble for 2016. There appears to be a little hope for the upcoming fantasy season, but I propose two possibilities…
1: Everyone assumes Forsett is the starter. I would advance that the Ravens are potentially going to release or trade Forsett by the end of August. They don’t need him with all the other talent they have, and his salary ($3.7M) in today’s running back market, with what he brings to the table, is a waste. Forsett can be released with a $1.4M cap hit to the Ravens.
After Forsett, on the depth chart, people love Kenneth Dixon and Buck Allen. I get it – those guys were recently drafted. Dixon and Allen are nothing like Taliaferro…and neither are workhorse running backs. They are primarily pass game weapons. I don’t know who will win the war between Dixon-Allen, but they’re both fighting for the same role.
I’ve scouted both for the NFL Draft, and I’m telling you neither of those guys can carry a running game for long – they’re not built for it. They certainly can’t carry an NFL workload like Taliaferro can.
2: If Forsett could be gone because of fiscal discipline and Dixon-Allen are better suited for a specific role, then there is a lane available on the Ravens for someone to be the workhorse/power runner. I would think Taliaferro is a shoo-in for that role, if he were 100% healed, but suddenly Terrance West has also lost weight and is making waves in OTAs. On top of West re-emerging, Trent Richardson has lost weight to try to enter the competition and save his career.
Either Taliaferro is going to beat out both West and Richardson for that role, or Taliaferro has to miss camp time, again – and, perhaps, the Ravens trade or release Taliaferro because of the numbers game/injury frustrations…and that’s where this ‘deep sleeper’ angle could really take off.
If Taliaferro hits the open market, he could be a fairly hot commodity. I could see teams like Miami or Washington, with their flimsy running back depth charts, making a move to trade for or grab the Ravens’ excess. If Taliaferro joins a team in need – he could be the shock fantasy running back of 2016.
Again, this is not a story about ‘what if this’ or ‘what if that’ on a roster opportunity. We could all construct conspiracy theories for many backup running backs to be viable if the main running back is hurt.
This is more a story about Taliaferro being such an athletic freak for his size, a transformation hidden from us due to his 2015 foot injury, that he might be a three-down running back superstar in this league in short order if he grabs an opportunity with Baltimore…or somewhere else. The downside risk is that the ‘L-word’ (Lisfranc) is scary, and you have to factor in some concern that Taliaferro doesn’t come back quickly, or battles the issue again in 2016 (hopefully, the surgery cleaned everything up).
Taliaferro, when 100%, is the most gifted running back talent on the Ravens’ roster; he’s also the least talked about this offseason unless you count people mentioning he’s likely to be released: i.e. he represents a ‘Very Deep Sleeper’ opportunity.
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