2013 Fantasy Football: Is Drafting Robert Griffin III Worth the Risk?
Washington Redskins fans and dynasty fantasy leaguers alike breathed a small sigh of relief last Friday as Dr. James Andrews gave a positive early review of Robert Griffin III’s recovery from reconstructive knee surgery. “His recovery is way ahead of schedule,” Andrews told the NFL Network. “We don’t have to do much but try to hold him back, if you want to know the truth”.
However, Andrews was more cautious regarding Griffin’s long-term prognosis. “Our whole mode for him, though, is to do what is best for his career, not necessarily what is best for the first game next season. So all of that has to be put on hold and let him get well”.
So, while Skins fans can take some comfort that the near-term fate of their franchise is not in jeopardy, RG3′s 2013 fantasy football owners, both actual and prospective, are left in a bit of a bind, a bind that may very well not resolve itself by the beginning of next season. What exactly do I mean? Let’s paint an extraordinarily optimistic picture. Let’s say that RG3 rehabilitates his knee just as fast as Adrian Peterson. Additionally, let’s say that we know RG3 will be Washington’s starter for Week 1. But what if, as with Peterson, RG3 sees no preseason action? Can we assume Redskins coach Mike Shanahan will allow RG3 the same 7.5 carries per game that made the rookie QB so valuable to fantasy owners in 2012? Or, perhaps even worse, what if RG3 sees limited preseason action, but receives no – or almost no – carries? Think I’m overstating the uncertainty surrounding RG3′s usage next season? Think again, because the optimistic but not-so-rosy preseason scenario I’ve just presented could very well be what you’re going to get.
But how much does RG3′s fantasy value depend on his legs anyway? Actually, quite a bit. RG3 scored 323.6 fantasy points in 2012. Of those, 123.5, or 38%, came on the ground. This is precisely the reason why knowing how the Redskins will use RG3 is so important to determining when to draft him. Without a proper understanding of his usage, deriving a sufficiently accurate fantasy point projection for him is nearly impossible. And without said projection, it becomes much more difficult to properly rank RG3 among his peers. We can come up with a projection for him in which he scores 50%, or 75%, of the rushing fantasy points he scored in 2012, but the difference between those two projections is actually rather large. Last season, it would have been the difference between 292.73 fantasy points and 261.85 fantasy points, or the difference between being the 10th best QB, or the 14th. In other words, RG3′s expected usage in the run game determines, in part, whether we believe he should be drafted as a starter in 10 and 12 team fantasy leagues.
And how RG3 is used in Washington’s rushing attack bears on other aspects of his game, as well. If opposing defenses don’t have to respect the threat of RG3 taking off quite so much, could he have a bit of a harder time finding success in the passing game? Sure. Might we expect his interception totals to rise? Absolutely, though since he threw only five interceptions in 2012 (as a rookie, mind you), we’d expect that anyway. You see, if RG3 is to maintain his value, any drop in his rushing fantasy point totals must be offset by an equivalent statistical upsurge in his passing numbers, and this is not any easy thing to do. Most leagues award 4 fantasy points for passing touchdowns and 1 point for every 25 passing yards. In other words, passing touchdowns are worth 33% less to QBs than to the receivers that catch them, and passing yards are worth 60% less than their rushing and receiving counterparts. If we assume that RG3 scores 25% fewer rushing fantasy points in 2013, he will need to score approximately 30 more fantasy points through the air to make up for this deficit (30.875 to be precise). In other words, he will need to throw for an additional 750 yards, or 7.5 touchdowns, or some combination of the two. Certainly seems possible. But what if his rushing fantasy point total drops by 50%? Can we reasonably expect him to throw for an additional 1,525 yards or 15 touchdowns? You can see the problem. Even if we have complete information about his health, if we don’t know the extent to which the Redskins intend to protect him upon his return, when we rank RG3, we’re making even more of a guess than fantasy analysts usually do when they try to estimate player value.
With all this said, if someone is going to make a Peterson-like return, it’s this guy. He’s a class act and dedication personified. Additionally, though I expect RG3′s rushing fantasy point total to diminish, I certainly don’t think it will disappear entirely. Assuming health, the Redskins would be foolish to deny themselves the use of the very attributes that make RG3 so dangerous, his speed and mobility. Remember, football is a business, and Washington wants to win games. That’s part of the reason RG3 was injured in the first place.
But should you draft him to start for your fantasy team? Though it’s far too early to answer this question definitively, given the information I have right now, I’m leaning towards no, and it’s all about who else is available. The three QBs who draw the most frequent comparisons to RG3 are Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, and Colin Kaepernick. Last season, RG3 was pretty clearly the best fantasy option among this group…or was he?
RG3 averaged an astonishing 6.8 yards per carry in 2012. Would it surprise you to learn that Colin Kaepernick averaged 7.4 yards per carry from Week 11 – when he assumed the starting job in San Francisco – through the Super Bowl? Russell Wilson averaged an identical 7.4 yards per carry as well, if we begin the counting following Seattle’s Week 11 bye – when the Seahawks clearly began to employ Wilson differently – and end it with their loss to Atlanta in the playoffs. In fact, during that eight game run, Wilson’s 199.22 fantasy points bested any similar eight game stretch RG3 put together all season – 180.82 fantasy points in Weeks 1 through 8. And Cam? Well, Cam only managed to finish as the 4th highest scoring player overall for two straight seasons.
Am I suggesting that Kaepernick, Wilson, and Newton are better players or more explosive options than a healthy RG3? Of course not. But are they better options than a RG3 whose health and use will be in question at start of the 2013 season? It’s your team, and I’ll leave that up to you to decide. But as your fantasy football draft approaches, remember to ask yourself the following four questions. What evidence do I have that RG3 is healthy? Is there any evidence that suggests the Redskins will use RG3 differently, and if so, to what extent? What is RG3′s average draft position (ADP)? Can I acquire a safer option with a similar skill set at that point in the draft or later? Of course, you’ll be able to acquire all of that information here, but it’s nonetheless a good idea to keep these issues in mind.