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Very Deep Sleeper: Robert Turbin (Colts)

Jul 11, 2017

Could 2017 finally be the end of Frank Gore as a starting running back?

R.C. Fischer discusses deep sleeper candidate running back Robert Turbin Indianapolis

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In order for you to buy Robert Turbin as a potential payoff for fantasy 2017, you have to believe two things I’m pitching. The first point I’ll make – you already inherently believe. The other point, an extended debate…it’ll make you think I’m nuts. You probably won’t sign on to my second point, but it will be a dark cloud that’s going to follow you around when you think about the Colts’ RB situation going into 2017.

First, you have to believe the end is near for Frank Gore…very near. He’s going to be 34.5 years old this season. He’s been a fantastic pro…you know he can’t keep this up. He cannot keep defying time and space. I know, you’ve thought that for the past 2–3 fantasy preseasons, but you’re here again…aren’t you? Gore has been under 4.0 yards per carry his past two seasons…the only times he’s ever been under 4.0 ypc for a season in his career. Time, age catch up fast. You or I would not be shocked if it’s already over, and we just haven’t seen the reality on the field yet.

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Let’s say Gore is done…and it becomes obvious in the preseason and/or right off the bat in the regular-season. Who stands to benefit from a Gore breakdown in the Colts backfield in 2017? You think Marlon Mack. I think Robert Turbin. You think I’m crazy. I think you’re suckered in by the ‘new car smell’ of fresh, ‘endless possibility’ rookies and that you’re overlooking the better player already. Let me, at least, give you pause to consider that Robert Turbin is a better running back than Marlon Mack

But Marlon Mack is the better athlete!!

Your first reaction to this Turbin v. Mack debate might be that Mack is clearly the better athlete. Is he? What do you base that on? Let’s look at their key measurables for a starting point…

5′10″/222, 4.50 40-time, 28 bench press reps, 36.0″ vertical = Robert Turbin (2012 Combine)

5′11″/213, 4.50 40-time, 15 bench press reps, 35.5″ vertical = Marlon Mack (2017 Combine)

*Note, Turbin ran a 7.16 three-cone, and Mack skipped all three-cone/shuttle timings (which is a red flag).

Well, just from sheer measurables…I could summarize the situation by saying that Turbin and Mack are the same 40-time/same speed, and then Turbin wins everything else. They ran the same 40-time, but Turbin did so nine pounds heavier and with nearly double the bench press. Give me the stronger, 220+ pound version of the same-speed guy every time. Strictly measurables-wise, Turbin is a better-built athlete than Marlon Mack.

I know what you’re thinking…BUT the Colts drafted Mack, they must like him a lot! Sure. Mack was the #143 pick overall in 2017…in the area of when RBs are taken in a draft for depth/development not seen as instant starters. Indy took Mack #143…Seattle took Turbin pick #106 in the 2012 NFL Draft, so you could say the NFL thought highly of Turbin coming out of college as well. They thought more of Turbin than Mack, just looking at the draft pick number.

But Marlon Mack was the better college performer, and especially projects well in the passing game!!

Are you sure about that?

Marlon Mack‘s best season of college play was his 2016 junior year – 98.9 yards (6.9 ypc) and 1.25 TDs per game rushing.

Robert Turbin‘s best season of college play was his 2011 junior year – 116.7 yards (6.1 ypc) and 1.31 TDs per game.

Both played in pretty flimsy conferences, so neither can claim an advantage over another there. At worst, you can say Turbin and Mack were both pretty productive as runners in college.

As receivers, you may be surprised to know that Turbin was a far superior producer out of the backfield in college…

Marlon Mack‘s best season as a receiver in college (2016), 2.3 catches for 18.9 yards and 1 TD.

Robert Turbin‘s best season as a receiver in college (2010), 2.5 catches for 34.8 yards and 5 TDs.

Turbin caught 11 TD passes in his college career (51 total TDs) and Mack caught just 1 TD pass (33 total TDs) in his career.

Judging them based on college performance, Turbin is clearly the better receiver. Judging them based on tape, I like Turbin’s hands and feel for the passing game better than Mack’s, from a scouting perspective.

Just a small aside…Turbin was his conference’s Offensive Player of the Year his final college season, and Marlon Mack was not tapped with any such accolades.

The 2017 reality, not the 2018+ possibilities…

Perhaps, Mack will be the future for the Colts at running back. I don’t think so, but it’s OK to think that. I’m only concerned with 2017 for this debate. There is a unique window with the Indianapolis Colts right now…a window that we shouldn’t even be considering – a choice of Turbin vs. Mack, are you kidding me? NFL teams shouldn’t be as shallow in RB talent as the Colts are in 2017. Neither Turbin nor Mack could make the Patriots’ or Seahawks’ roster, for context. However, this is the window we’re dealing with for Indy…

If Frank Gore falls off the table and the football grim reaper catches him to start 2017 season…it’s between Turbin and Mack for the main role.

You might think: what has Turbin done for the Colts to consider him over Mack?

Did you know Turbin led the team in TDs last season? I’m not joking. More than T.Y. Hilton (6). More than Donte Moncrief (7). Turbin (8) tied with Frank Gore for the team TD lead. Apparently, the Colts have some kind of faith…some kind of ‘good taste in their mouths’ about Turbin from his 2016 performance.

Over the final four games of 2016, check out these comparisons of Gore vs. Turbin in the passing game

2.3 catches (2.5 targets) and 18.3 yards per game with 1 TD = Gore

2.5 catches (3.8 targets) and 21.0 yards per game with 1 TD = Turbin

What if Turbin is the third-down back for Indy right now? As sad as that might seem…

You know how many TDs Turbin rushed for in his last five games of 2016? Four of them. Gore in the same time span…zero.

Turbin brings experience, better blocking, more time with the team, and recent success 2nd half of 2016 season to the table over Marlon Mack. Turbin is also bigger, stronger, and as fast/faster than Mack. Every comparison box gets checked in favor of Turbin over Mack for 2017.

Actually, there is one box checked in Mack’s favor – ‘recently drafted‘. I get that teams like their own draft picks. I also know what else teams like…especially ones with a head coach on a hot seat and a franchise QB that they cannot seem to protect – they like running backs who can block and catch passes properly out of the backfield. Chuck Pagano/Andrew Luck love sending receivers deep and then dumping off screens to the running back. Frank Gore had 4 receiving TDs last season. Remember way back in 2015 when Ahmad Bradshaw was white hot for fantasy to start the season and caught 3 TDs passes in 6 games of play (before getting lost to injury)? The year prior, Bradshaw caught 6 TD passes working with Luck. The running back and their relationship with Luck in the passing game is crucial.

What if Turbin is the goal line back and better receiver right now over Frank Gore…even when Gore’s playing/starting? Turbin was just that late last season. In a must-win 2017 season, I cannot imagine Chuck Pagano would start off going all-in on a limited talent Marlon Mack…the guy just isn’t that special of an RB talent. At a minimum, rookie RBs usually need some time to get acclimated. Given the desperate times in Indy, Robert Turbin would be the safer, smarter play for Pagano early in the season…whether Gore breaks down quickly or not.

You want to bet on a Frank Gore fantasy demise this season? Then you should be taking stock in Robert Turbin, and not having Rookie Derangement Syndrome™ by chasing shiny new toy, Marlon Mack.

Like every year that I speculate the end of Gore…he’ll probably run for 2,000 yards and win the league MVP this season. 

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