Jerick McKinnon Will Be A Bust (Fantasy Football)
There are some great football players who are not great athletes. Antonio Brown is an example of this. He has been the best wide receiver for the past four years and has a very unflattering athletic profile, with a speed score in the 15th-percentile, a burst score in the fourth-percentile and a catch radius in the 20th-percentile.
And finally, some incredibly athletic players are not great football players. This is Jerick McKinnon. He is perhaps the most athletic running back of all time, with workout metrics all falling in the 91st-percentile or above.
The problem with McKinnon is he has not translated his physical gifts to the NFL. Therefore, don’t expect him to ascend just because he is now on the San Francisco 49ers. Many fantasy experts are drooling at his potential in 2018, however, his lack of career production and inefficiency paint a different picture.
Let’s look at McKinnon’s 2018 rankings on ESPN. Mike Clay has McKinnon as his #16 running back, a couple of spots ahead of Jordan Howard. Matthew Berry has him as his #15, one ahead of Joe Mixon. And finally, in a standard league, Mike Bowen has him as his #20, two spots ahead of Jay Ajayi. Although a lot could happen in the upcoming months before the first kickoff, McKinnon is being overvalued and here’s why.
Inefficiency Goes A Short Way
When Dalvin Cook went down in the fourth game of the season, he was averaging 4.8 yards per carry and 8.2 yards per reception. After his injury, Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon shared the backfield behind an o-line believed to be one of the poorest in the league. However, according to Matt Harmon of NFL.com, the Vikings had the sixth best offensive line.
Murray averaged a dismal 3.9 yards per carry while McKinnon was even worse, averaging 3.8 yards per attempt. Cook averaged a full yard more than McKinnon at the beginning of the season when the blocking unit was still solidifying. This either makes Cook look very good or points to McKinnon’s weakness in the running game.
Although McKinnon was not very efficient in 2017, it was his most productive year. He amassed a total of 971 yards. The year before, McKinnon was projected to be the main back after Adrian Peterson went down due to injury. However, he did not take advantage of the situation.
That year he was even more inefficient. He rushed for 539 yards, averaging an abysmal 3.4 yards per carry. He was so poor that Matt Asiata had more fantasy value than McKinnon. The only time McKinnon has shown efficiency was when he was a backup in 2014 and 2015, averaging 4.8 and 5.2 yards per carry respectively.
It seems the less McKinnon is used, the more successful he is. Therefore, it would be in the best interest of San Francisco to use him in a timeshare with other backs. As a pass catcher, McKinnon was much better but still did not have stellar numbers. Compare him to other running backs who caught a significant number of passes:
|Alvin Kamara||New Orleans Saints||81||825||10.2||5|
|Todd Gurley||Los Angeles Rams||64||788||12.3||6|
|Duke Johnson Jr.||Cleveland Browns||74||693||9.4||3|
|Le’Veon Bel||Pittsburgh Steelers||85||655||7.7||2|
|C. McCaffrey||Carolina Panthers||80||651||8.1||5|
|Chris Thompson||Washington Redskins||39||510||13.1||4|
|Melvin Gordon||Los Angeles Chargers||58||476||8.2||4|
|K. Hunt||Kansas City Chiefs||53||455||8.6||3|
|LeSean McCoy||Buffalo Bills||59||448||7.6||2|
|Theo Riddick||Detroit Lions||53||444||8.4||2|
|James White||New England Patriots||56||429||7.7||2|
|Jerick McKinnon||Minnesota Vikings||51||421||8.3||2|
McKinnon had the 12th most yards as a receiver out of the backfield in 2017. Among those on the list, he was seventh in average yards per reception. Although McKinnon will most likely be a solid third-down back for San Francisco, his inefficiency as a runner should limit his usage. Look at him as more of a Chris Thompson, Duke Johnson Jr., or Theo Riddick type of back, rather than a LeSean McCoy or Alvin Kamara.
A Game Of Inches (And Pounds)
McKinnon’s size also fits the satellite back mold. He is only 5’9″ and weighs in at around 210 pounds. There aren’t any bell cow backs that fit McKinnon’s frame. Here’s a list of the more prolific three-down backs in the league:
|David Johnson||Arizona Cardinals||6’1″||224|
|Todd Gurley||Los Angeles Rams||6’1″||222|
|Ezekiel Elliot||Dallas Cowboys||6’0″||225|
|Le’Veon Bel||Pittsburgh Steelers||6’1″||230|
|Leonard Fournette||Jacksonville Jaguars||6’0″||240|
|Joe Mixon||Cincinnati Bengals||6’1″||228|
|Melvin Gordon||Los Angeles Chargers||6’1″||214|
|Kareem Hunt||Kansas City Chiefs||5’10”||216|
|Saquon Barkley||New York Giants||6’0″||233|
|Royce Freeman||Denver Broncos||6’0″||229|
|Jerrick McKinnon||San Francisco 49ers||5’9″||209|
|LeSean McCoy||Buffalo Bills||5’10”||208|
Although McKinnon is closest in size to LeSean McCoy, most bell cow running backs tend to be about three or four inches taller than McKinnon, and about 15-20 pounds heavier. He just isn’t built like a running back ready to absorb all the team’s touches. He demonstrated this in Minnesota, so how would San Francisco be any different?
Less Is More
McKinnon has never been heavily used during his four-year career. Even when he had the chance to take over as the lead back, he showed his coaches that that was not in his range of outcomes. He’s never had more than 202 touches in a season.
To put this into perspective, Le’Veon Bell’s 406 touches were more than twice as many touches as McKinnon had last year. LeSean McCoy had 436 touches, Todd Gurley had 343, Melvin Gordon had 342, and Kareem Hunt had 325. One can’t even look back to his college resume as a predictive tool of heavy volume because McKinnon was a quarterback at Georgia Southern.
As for fantasy, McKinnon had his best year in 2017, averaging 11.1 points in PPR. For a player aspiring to be a lead back, he has a long way to go if he wants to be up there with the big boys. Instead of giving McKinnon more touches like the fantasy world is predicting, he should get fewer because he has shown that he has done more with less.
Goal Line Absconder
The good news for McKinnon is San Francisco did not pick a running back in this year’s NFL Draft. However, that does not mean there are other backs on the team that are hungry for touches.
The 49ers also have sophomore backs Matt Breida, Joe Williams, and Jeremy McNichols. It seems that Jerick McKinnon will get the lion’s share of the touches, but don’t expect him to be the only one used like in the cases of Le’Veon Bell, Todd Gurley, David Johnson, or Ezekiel Elliott.
The biggest threat to McKinnon is fullback Kyle Juszczyk. It appears that Kyle Shanahan likes Juszczyk, who most likely will be the goal line back, vulturing many of McKinnon’s touchdowns, like Latavius Murray and Matt Asiata did in Minnesota. In four years, McKinnon has only scored seven touchdowns on the ground. Not the most inspiring statistics geared towards propelling him into a 2018 fantasy superstar.
A Sheep In Wolf’s Clothing
It’s not that Jerick McKinnon is a bad running back. In fact, he has shown glimpses of speed, burst, and elusiveness congruent to his athletic profile throughout his career. However, those instances have been far and few between.
Simply put, McKinnon is a great compliment back, nothing more. He is a rare example of profound athleticism churning out an average player. There is a good chance he will be a better fantasy option than last year based on more volume in San Francisco.
However, to think he will finish ahead of Jordan Howard, Jay Ajayi, or Joe Mixon in fantasy points by the end of the season is just egregious prognostication. If you temper your expectations and view McKinnon as an RB3 at best, then you will not be disappointed.