The Case FOR and AGAINST drafting Jerick McKinnon
Just like the 1849 Gold Rush that the 49ers are named for, Jerick McKinnon carries the promise of glory and prosperity for San Francisco. But underneath the glitter and shine, the threat of coming away empty-handed lingers as well.
So, like the prospectors of old, you have to decide; Is the promise of riches and glory worth the risk? Do you stand to find your fortune or despair?
This is my dilemma. Not only myself but thousands of fantasy owners and 49ers fans want to know what they are getting in Jerick McKinnon. So I’m going to break down all the pros and cons and come down to one solution.
Is McKinnon worth his price of RB15 in both Standard and PPR? Or not?
The Case FOR Drafting Jerick McKinnon
Here’s a brief overview of why McKinnon is worth drafting at his ADP before I dive in a little deeper:
- His volume could be in the bellcow realm
- He’s got terrific receiving upside (5 or more receptions eight times in Reg. Season and playoffs as a timeshare RB)
- 1.53 Yards Per Route Run. 8th in Yard After Catch despite timeshare.
- Short-Throwing QB provides opportunities for receptions
- Gained 991 yards on 201 touches. Candidate for 1,500 APY with increased volume.
- Shanahan ‘s play calling will involve McKinnon in all facets of the game
- One of the most athletic RBs in the NFL today (SPARQ-X, Agility, speed, etc.)
It’s amazing to think that McKinnon was in a timeshare last year because he still saw 201 total touches (150 carries, 51 receptions). He converted that into 991 all-purpose yards and a fantasy performance of 180.1 in PPR. Considering he did this over 12 weeks (Cook dominated carries until his injury), it’s an impressive total.
If you were to take McKinnon’s efficiency and give him Carlos Hyde’s opportunities from last year (240 carries, 88 targets), McKinnon projects for 912 rushing yards, 545 yards receiving on 66 receptions and would find the end zone around eight times. This would put him at 259.7 Fantasy points in PPR, good enough for the RB8. That’s precisely where Hyde finished, but he had just 236 Fantasy Points.
As great as those numbers are, they are merely a starting point. McKinnon’s role in this offense could increase due to his production as a receiver. In 2017, McKinnon caught 75% of all his targets, and only had three dropped passes. This is going to be invaluable to Kyle Shanahan’s offense, where he’ll likely be moved around the field as both a runner and as a schemed receiver.
It’s true that McKinnon is a bit of an “unknown” as far as what his role will be. But as an athlete, it’s hard to argue his value to the 49ers. It’s easy to forget because McKinnon has been stuck behind quality starters his whole career, but McKinnon tests out as a next-level athlete. His performance at the 2014 NFL combine was unreal, and he ended up putting up some of the best scores of his draft class in the 40-yard dash, bench press, and vertical jump. He tested out higher than Saquon Barkley in SPARQ-X (an amalgamation of all the measurables of a drafted player).
McKinnon’s statistics seem to put him in a position to dominate in 2018.
Kyle Shanahan made it clear that he was targeting McKinnon while he aimed to rebuild the 49ers offense. The 49ers decided to make him the fourth-highest paid RB in the league (at the time), despite the fact that there were several RB options coming up in the 2018 draft.
It’s evident that Shanahan didn’t want a project back. He wanted a stud. His scouting and his analysis of McKinnon’s tools told him that the former Viking was the way to go.
With the departure of Carlos Hyde to make room for McKinnon, it’s hard to see him as anything but a bellcow. Matt Breida may have picked up 105 carries last season, and Joe Williams is healthy, but McKinnon’s versatility should give him the lions’ share of RB duties.
As you can see, Shanahan’s track record with RB1s is solid. His poor performance in 2014 is thanks to being handed the RB corps that was rookie Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West. He also turned Alfred Morris into a legit RB1 in 2012 and 2013, which is worth some praise.
As evidenced in the above chart, Shanahan also has amped up the number of targets that his RBs see over the last three seasons. You can chalk up the low totals in 2012-2014 to the use of Alfred Morris in Washington (who doesn’t do much work in the passing game), and the poor RB corps in 2014 in Cleveland (Crowell and Terrance West).
Shanahan’s arrival in San Fran in 2017 even moved Carlos Hyde to the RB18 in 2016 to the RB8 in PPR. So his presence was already felt by the 49ers run game.
Overall, McKinnon is also in a situation that is ripe for fantasy success.
Jerick McKinnon is in a position to dominate in 2018. He’s a guy that the 49ers plan on using a lot, and with less talented backs behind him and a talented new QB in town, he’s a great bet to make it come together this year.
Opportunity to perform, exciting results as a backup and an improved situation all make McKinnon worth drafting at his ADP.
Case AGAINST Drafting Jerick McKinnon
Before you head into your drafts, I’d recommend thinking twice about McKinnon. He might not just be an example of a bad value due to the inflated hype, but a full-blown bust. I’ll detail my thoughts against drafting McKinnon, but here’s a quick overview of my points against him.
- Poor YPC against all classes of front-7 defenses
- Ranked 56th in Fantasy Points Per Opportunity
- Brutal efficiency ratings and DVOA
- Breida and Williams likely to see a role
- The emergence of Kittle could hamper his ceiling
- Poor Red Zone stats
- The 49ers offense is not nearly as elite as it’s being perceived
- Picked up an injury in the preseason
The Not-So-Golden Statistics
McKinnon’s fantasy results last season are deceptive. Yes, if he had been a lead back for Minnesota, he almost certainly would have been a Top 10 RB. But that assumes that he would be utilized in a bell-cow role, and I don’t see that happening for McKinnon in 2018.
The reason is that he simply isn’t an effective enough runner to handle 3-down duties. McKinnon ranked 40th amongst running backs in both DYAR and DVOA, which are two stats that measure how effective a player is with the touches they receive. That puts him behind Abdullah, Blount and even Kerwynn Williams. Breida, on the other hand, ranked 15th in DYAR and 5th in DVOA. Suggesting that his relatively low YPC is likely due to constantly being forced to get touches in bad situations. These stats adjust for situational results and therefore expose McKinnon as a less efficient runner than Breida.
While playerprofiler.com does cover how dynamic McKinnon looked at entering the league, the stats for his actual NFL production in 2017 are concerning:
McKinnon’s efficiency problems are evident. Despite seeing a light front 63.3% of the time, he managed just a 4.2 YPC against those formations, which ranks him 35th in the league. He ranked 19th against a stacked front and 51st in the league at YPC vs. a Base Front. All three of these results were bested by teammate Latavius Murray.
You can chalk this up to a sub-par Vikings O-Line, but it’s not as if McKinnon is joining a top-flight O-Line in San Francisco. The 49ers graded out as the #20 O-Line unit in 2017, while the Vikings were #22. The 49ers made several moves to bolster their O-Line, and should see an improvement in 2018, but will it be enough to make McKinnon a stud?
On the surface, McKinnon’s situation looks great. I won’t argue his coaching situation is solid. Shanahan has been a boon for RBs over the past 7 years or so. Especially those who can have a role in the passing game.
But let’s set that aside for a moment and consider the entire situation the 49ers and McKinnon find themselves in.
First of all, they are facing a terrible schedule for RBs. The consensus is that they are going to have trouble finding success on the ground. The 49ers RB schedule was ranked 30th by fftoolbox.com, 27th by profootballfocus.com, 26th by fantasypros.com, 25th by eatdrinkandsleepfootball.com. No matter what experts you look at, the story is the same for the 49ers.
Secondly, neither Breida or sophomore Joe Williams should be viewed as a non-factor for the 49ers. Both are talented backs who will more than likely have a role in this offense. Breida might be nursing a shoulder injury, but while on the field, he is dynamic. He started out the 2017 slow, but eventually became a major part of the offense, carrying the ball at least 11 times in four of the last five games of the season. Breida also had back to back games of at least 80 yards to close out 2017.
Williams is a little more of a mystery thanks to missing his rookie season due to injury. But it’s well worth noting that Shanahan targeted him in the 2016 draft, and also has been quoted several times this offseason as being impressed with Williams thus far. The 49ers also signed Alfred Morris on Aug. 13th, and while it’s unlikely Morris threatens McKinnon’s value, he did also have an extremely efficient 2017 season, outpacing Jerick McKinnon in YPC across all rushing situations.
The 49ers also have an evolving short-passing specialist emerging in George Kittle. Kittle did suffer a scare during the preseason opener but is on track to start the season healthy. Kittle has been tapped for a potential breakout season this year after proving to be an effective big-bodied weapon for Jimmy Garoppolo. If Kittle does see an expanded role in the offense, it could come at the expense of McKinnon’s receiving upside.
Lastly, McKinnon is not likely going to jump into a 20 carry-per-game role right out of the gate. He’s specialized as a platoon back thus far in his career, and the 49ers have a platoon. He didn’t wrestle the starting job away from Latavius Murray in 2017, who was more efficient with his touches. Quite frankly, McKinnon’s production up to this point far from guarantees he runs away with the starting job.
McKinnon’s situation can’t be denied as a tempting one. But his quality as a running back is what makes him such a risky proposition at that ADP. McKinnon has never handled bellcow duties and is not a lock to become one just because of the move to a new system. Regardless of the money spent on McKinnon, he’ll be hard pressed to churn out constant high-end production all game long. His overall skill doesn’t demand he’s played on every down, and Breida and Williams will cap his ceiling, making him not worth his ADP.
So, Is McKinnon Worth Drafting at His ADP?
Yes, he is.
McKinnon is by no means a sleeper. He doesn’t represent an immediate waterfall of value. But his hype train has not yet overtaken his potential in my opinion. His current ADP of RB15 is just fine for me on both accounts, as I have him ranked as my RB14 in standard and RB13 in PPR.
The reason behind where I have him ranked is mostly due to volume. Even if he doesn’t excel on the ground, Shanahan might just split him out wide and get the ball in his hands as a receiver. He has the speed, agility, and hands to thrive at the position if he can be a great route runner. This is also why I don’t think Kittle’s presence is going to hamper him too much, nor will Garcon or Goodwin. McKinnon could play the outside rather than be utilized in a typical Screen Pass/End Around/Check and Release type of route package.
If you don’t think volume matters, just look at LeVeon Bell. From an efficiency standpoint, Bell is not the best RB in the league. But he leads all RBs in Snap Count, Opportunity Share, etc. He grades out worse than McKinnon against stacked fronts and light fronts and produces less Fantasy Points per Opportunity than McKinnon. So it stands to reason that if McKinnon’s volume is there, which I believe it will be, he’ll succeed.
McKinnon’s calf strain was a scare, and at the time of writing it looks like he’ll be ready to open the season. But it’s not yet enough to make me move him any further down my rankings. I will want to see him on the field in the 3rd or 4th week of preseason before I invest in him.
I will admit that due to the presence of Breida, Williams, and even Jeremy McNichols plus the lack of proven results as a primary back, I am ranking him closer to his ceiling than his floor. So naturally, I won’t be reaching too high up to draft him. But overall I like McKinnon’s upside, and I’d be willing to pay that RB15 price to get him.