NFL Blind Comparisons: Jerick McKinnon (Fantasy Football)
When looking at 49ers running back Jerick McKinnon, there are two types of people when considering his fantasy football value. You have type A who thinks he will be a breakout player and type B who thinks he will be a bust. If I had to guess, type A was the guy on April 1 to say Happy Easter, while type B said April Fools!
Something we can all agree on is McKinnon signing with the San Francisco 49ers is one of the most interesting signings of NFL free agency this offseason. The 49ers signed McKinnon to a four-year $30 million deal with $15.7 million guaranteed, which made him the fourth-highest paid running back in the NFL on a yearly basis behind only Le’Veon Bell, Devonta Freeman, and LeSean McCoy.
That’s some elite company for a running back who in his four-year career has carried the ball only 474 times for 1,918 yards (4.0 YPC) and seven touchdowns. McKinnon has never surpassed 160 carries in any season and his career high in rushing touchdowns in a season is three. McKinnon is more of a weapon out of the backfield, at least he has been to this point in his career.
He has 142 receptions on 192 targets (74% catch rate) for 984 yards and five touchdowns. Over the last three seasons, McKinnon’s receptions have risen from 21 to 43 to 51, which is a positive sign and a reason he has been more valuable in PPR leagues.
So what can we expect from the 96th overall player drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the 2014 NFL Draft from Georgia Southern in his first year in San Francisco? It’s a great question, and I’ve been asked multiple times on Twitter (@MitchellRenz365), which is why I finally wanted to do a Blind Comparison article on McKinnon.
For those of you that don’t know what a Blind Comparision article is, it’s when I compare players using qualitative and quantitative analysis, blindly. I’m an advocate of blind comparisons because it’s a useful method to ensure impartiality and avoid bias. Below is a tweet from my personal twitter account of McKinnon and another running back in the NFL.
— Mitchell Renz (@MitchellRenz365) April 2, 2018
Player A is McKinnon, and Player B is Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman. What you see above is McKinnon and Freeman’s season before playing in an offense led by now 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan. As you can see McKinnon and Freeman’s numbers aren’t too far off.
In 2014 Freeman carried the ball 65 times for 248 yards and one touchdown while also adding another 30 receptions on 38 targets for 225 yards and one touchdown. McKinnon last year had 150 carries for 570 yards and three touchdowns while also adding 51 receptions on 68 targets for 421 yards.
In 2015 Shanahan joined the Falcons, and it led to a breakout season from Freeman. He was the number one running back in fantasy football dominating on the ground and through the air. Shanahan fed Freeman 264 carries for 1,061 yards and 11 touchdowns, plus he saw 97 targets which he turned into 73 receptions for 578 yards and three touchdowns.
Despite Freeman’s lack of size and production, Shanahan saw a running back who fit into his scheme and ran with him. Perhaps Shanahan sees similar characteristics in McKinnon and knows what type of running back will fit perfectly in his system. I know it’s only one example, which is why I’m going to provide another.
Meet the other 5’9, 208-pound running back who excelled in his first season with Shanahan, Steve Slaton. Shanahan joined the Houston Texans in 2008 as their offensive coordinator, and it led to a terrific rookie season for the third round draft pick out of West Virginia. Slaton carried the ball 268 times for 1,282 yards and nine touchdowns, plus had 50 receptions for 377 yards and two touchdowns. After I saw the production of Slaton, is when I started to get excited about the possibility of McKinnon.
The similarities are striking all the way from when the three players were drafted overall – Slaton (89th), McKinnon (93rd), and Freeman (103rd) to their style of play and body type. If there is one true outlier, it’s how much more of an athletic freak McKinnon is compared to Freeman and Slaton. To showcase that, you guessed it another blind comparison.
— Mitchell Renz (@MitchellRenz365) April 2, 2018
As you can see, McKinnon (Player A) is an NFL Combine legend. You could make an argument that McKinnon had the single greatest NFL Combine among running backs.
So if Shanahan was able to turn Slaton and Freeman into fantasy studs, what could that mean for someone as gifted as McKinnon? Player B is Freeman while Player C is Slaton who finished had average NFL combines in case you were wondering.
So both Freeman and Slaton totaled over 1,600 scrimmage yards and 11 plus touchdowns in their first season with Shanahan, will McKinnon make it three? I’m saying there is a chance, but he would have to be a three-down running back. Shanahan appeared on Good Morning Football and spoke highly of McKinnon.
“We’re excited to have him. We think he’s going to be a very good running back for us,” Shanahan told GMFB. “People talk about him being a third-down back, which he is, he’s a very good third down back, and we plan on using him that way. I think he’s a good first and second down back too.”
McKinnon is shaping up to be the ultimate question mark heading into the 2018 season. Judging by the quote, his fantasy football value could either be pyrite or 28 Jerick gold.