Is David Wilson a sure fantasy starter, despite just 75 career touches?
His ADP seems to say he is. Our rankings seem to say he is.
What gets lost in those valuations, however, is the meaning of the label "No. 17 running back by either ADP or our rankings," precisely where David Wilson stands in both to date. There was a time, not long ago, that a No. 17 running back was a surefire every-week fantasy starter.
Last season, however, the No. 17 running back, Michael Turner, scored 146 fantasy points. In the 10 previous seasons, No. 17 running backs averaged 159.1 fantasy points. It's fair to say, therefore, that the bottom half of today's draft-day RB2 class offers less production and demands greater week-to-week matchup management than those of the past.
Wilson might look the part of the every-week RB2, but in truth he resides in a nebulous range of draft-day running backs who either possess overwhelming upside but lack a promise of opportunity, carry significant injury or other risk factors, or both. Merely judging him by raw ranking/ADP does him a disservice.
To illustrate, let's break down his ADP. I've participated in 20 mock drafts during the past month; Wilson was selected as the 17th or 18th running back 13 times, and never earlier than 15th (once) or later than 21st (once). Overall, however, his selection spot has varied, from as early as 23rd (twice) to as late as 39th (once), and Mike Polikoff, who oversees our League Manager product, tells us that Wilson's low draft point in any ESPN draft overall is 106th. Wilson's overall ADP of 38.7 ranks 37th, which resides on a lower end of the scale. His value, therefore, is closely tied to your draft-day position strategy, as well as how well you regard his upside.
And what of that "upside"?
Wilson's final four games of 2012 best illustrate his upside. His 55 fantasy points ranked eighth among running backs -- despite his logging only 45 touches during that time -- and his 5.74 yards per carry and 2.16 yards after contact per carry both ranked fourth at the position. They exemplified the kind of speed and elusiveness that made him the New York Giants' first-round pick in 2012, and earned him a No. 3 ranking among running back prospects in that draft class.
At the same time, the earlier you select Wilson, the more trust you're putting in things like scouting reports and small sample sizes; these are some of the risk factors referred to above. There's another obstacle standing in Wilson's way: a big, bruising goal-line back named Andre Brown.
Wilson might be quick, but Brown had better yards-per-carry (5.27-5.04) and yards after contact-per-carry (2.45-1.89) marks last season. Brown is the better blocker; Pro Football Focus gave him a 1.2 rating as a blocker, compared with Wilson's minus-0.6. And Brown has the far superior reputation at the goal line, having converted eight of his 10 opportunities inside the opponent's 3-yard line. Wilson, comparatively, was 0-for-1.
It's true that Brown, with only 87 career touches to his credit, hardly boasts a more extensive track record than Wilson. But perhaps the only significant advantage Wilson possesses over Brown is health. Brown was limited to 10 games last season and has played just 14 of 64 career NFL games, mostly due to Achilles, concussion and fibula injuries. As the goal-line and short-yardage back, he's also at greater risk for future injuries.
That said, one ill-suited criticism of Wilson is his "track record of fumble-itis." It's a farce: Wilson fumbled his first NFL carry, resulting in a well-publicized trip to coach Tom Coughlin's doghouse, but he then tallied 70 consecutive carries without a fumble to conclude the season. To put that into historical perspective, in the past five seasons, Wilson's 71 carries per fumble ranked him 22nd out of the 36 rookies with at least 50 attempts.
Ex-Giant Tiki Barber, once known for ball-control issues, also serves as evidence that a player can improve in that department. After averaging 56.5 carries per fumble from 2002-04, he tallied 171.0 carries per fumble from 2005-06. Plus, among current surefire NFL starters, Reggie Bush (48.4), Ahmad Bradshaw (61.4), Darren McFadden (69.9) and Ryan Mathews (51.3) all have worse carry-per-fumble averages than Wilson's career rate.
Wilson and Brown might be an ideal partnership, Wilson getting the bulk of the first- and second-down work with Brown doing the dirty work up close, but that leaves fantasy owners banking on one of two things: (A) a long-term injury to Brown, opening up scoring opportunities for Wilson; or (B) Wilson vastly outplaying Brown in the season's early weeks and minimizing the latter's role.
Unfortunately, unless either of those scenarios occurs, anyone drafting Wilson earlier than his ADP -- or locking him in as a firm weekly RB2 -- is putting themself at risk of paying for the player's statistical-ceiling price, while ignoring a potentially greater value at, say, wide receiver. After all, only 11 running backs since 2001 managed a 200-fantasy-point season without the advantage of a double-digit touchdown total. Only three of them did so with fewer than eight scores. Without touchdowns, Wilson might have an exceedingly difficult time reaching the top 10 in fantasy scoring at his position.
Wilson is a tantalizing RB2 candidate -- and can be drafted as one -- but as the ADP data above shows, he's one of the most compelling examples of a player who could be selected too soon due to a running back position run. Some owners might -- and have -- been forced to do that, but it's hardly wise.
He is not the lock for consistent weekly production that you might think.