Buy Next Year’s Jerick McKinnon, Not This Year’s

Count me as one person who is excited to see how Jerick McKinnon will perform as the lead back in San Francisco next season. My colleague, Meng Song, wrote a love ballad about McKinnon & Kyle Shanahan last week, which you can read here. Having a player on your fantasy team that is at the top of his team’s depth chart is highly valued, especially at the running back position. Now, I have no doubts that McKinnon, as the lead running back in a Kyle Shanahan-led offense, could be a favorable fantasy starter; I just think there’s a better option than him out there for next season. Let me explain.

As a projected starting running back in a seemingly dynamic offense heading into 2018, McKinnon’s value has skyrocketed, as it rightfully should have. If paying the current market price for a running back whose upside consists of finally taking over as a lead back after four years of being a backup isn’t your style, yet you still desire a running back with similar upside, what do you do?

Answer: Don’t buy McKinnon this year. Instead, buy next year’s version of him: Tevin Coleman.

Photo Credit: Brett Davis / USA TODAY Sports

Not to suggest that Coleman can be acquired cheaply, but people tend to sell a running back in a trade for less when they are not a bellcow, or at least at the head of a committee. Buying Coleman should come as no revelation considering both him and McKinnon have been compared ad nauseam regarding their similarities in size, strength, and quickness. Had Coleman been a free agent this summer, I’m sure there would have been a good chance that he would have reunited with his former offensive coordinator. But he wasn’t, so he couldn’t, and this bodes well for you and me.

One year from now, Coleman will be in the same position that McKinnon is in today. Buying Coleman now, a year before he hits free agency, could save you some draft capital.

As you can see from our totally scientific, DTC-sanctioned Twitter polls, the asking price for McKinnon is slightly higher than that of Coleman. While fair, 75% of participants believe McKinnon is worth some type of 1st-round pick while 71% believe Coleman is not worth a 1st-round pick at all. Many of you out there are savvy enough to accumulate picks in your upcoming draft. If you could get Coleman for a second-rounder instead of McKinnon for a first, I would jump on it. For the final verdict on how much it will cost to acquire him, consult your league’s Coleman owner to determine his true value.

To support my stance on why I believe Coleman will be the next McKinnon be better than McKinnon, all we must do is look at our favorite thing: stats! We’re going to look at two things: each player’s numbers from the last two years to see what they’ve done for us lately, and their career numbers for a broader context. Remember, McKinnon has been in the league one year longer than Coleman has, but we see that Coleman has the statistical edge in almost every category. In his 58 career games, McKinnon has rushed 474 times for 1,918 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s also logged 142 catches for 984 yards and five touchdowns. All that amounts to a career average of 4.0 yards per carry, 33.1 rushing yards per game, 17.0 receiving yards per game, and one touchdown roughly every five games.

Coleman, in only 40 career games, has carried the ball 361 times for 1,540 yards and 14 touchdowns. Add to that his 60 catches for 734 yards and six touchdowns, and what you get is a player who averages 4.3 yards per carry, 38.5 rushing yards per game, 18.4 receiving yards per game, and a touchdown every other game.

Looking at just their production in 2016 and 2017, McKinnon may have rushed the ball 309 times to Coleman’s 274, but McKinnon has produced just 1,109 yards to Coleman’s 1,148. That’s a difference of a whopping 0.6 yards per carry; McKinnon’s 3.59 to Coleman’s 4.19. Volume in the passing game, and the fantasy value that comes as a result of high volume, is what keeps PPR owners up at night, and that’s where McKinnon has the one edge over Coleman. McKinnon has a 94-58 edge over Coleman in receptions over the last two years. However, Coleman has gained more receiving yards by turning his 58 receptions into 720 yards as opposed to McKinnon, who amassed just 676 yards, even after reeling in 36 more receptions. McKinnon may have gotten more volume so far, but Coleman has been much more efficient with his opportunities. That efficiency will lead to volume as NFL coaches tend to put their most productive players on the field as much as they can.

I know that the crop of running backs in this year’s draft is deep, and that could make you think that Coleman won’t find a situation like McKinnon did this year. Don’t fret my friends! The Lions top three running backs, LeGarrette Blount, Theo Riddick, and Ameer Abdullah, are all free agents after this season. Unless Isaiah Crowell or Thomas Rawls turn back their clocks a few years, the New York Jets will be looking for another running back next spring. The Seahawks, Buccaneers, Colts, Raiders, and Broncos all have backfields that leave you wanting more. My sleeper pick for possible landing spot includes the Steelers considering their situation with Le’Veon Bell gets more contentious by the day. And that’s just what we know right now! Who knows how injuries and aging contracts will affect other teams’ backfields this upcoming season?

By all means, all of this is not to say that you shouldn’t buy McKinnon. He has been a serviceable back in all formats, and I believe he will only grow in his move to San Francisco. His first-round price tag doesn’t bother me at all. Plus, I’m a firm believer in “getting your guy.” Some players might be a reached for in the draft, or you might overpay for a player in a trade, but if that player is your guy, then the price that you’re paying is right for you. However, if we value McKinnon this much this year, then what will be the cost of doing business with a Coleman owner this time next year? Answer: a lot. Most likely, the acquisition cost for Coleman will be higher next year than it is now with McKinnon and this is a strong reason why I’m already targeting Coleman. Not only would I gain the satisfaction of having Coleman on my team, but I would also have the satisfaction of knowing that I paid much less for a productive running back with upside that is seemingly greater than McKinnon’s considering their respective career production up to this point.

Finally, come in closer, [whispers] if you really want to be savvy, you could probably flip Coleman this time next season for a first round pick considering the price of a McKinnon today. The potential for a one-year rental of Coleman and a 2019 1st round pick for the price of a 2018 2nd round pick? Yes, please, and thank you.

I can’t wait to get Coleman on my team this season. Can you?

By | 2018-04-16T21:21:05+00:00 April 5th, 2018|
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