The Player Profile series breaks down the 2012 performances of key players at each position in order to project where they should be drafted in 2013. Dig in, read up, and look ahead.
Vick Ballard, RB, Indianapolis Colts
There’s nothing special about Vick Ballard. He’s a plodder; he’ll get you expected numbers. But sometimes in fantasy football, that’s enough.
Ballard currently rests as the 25th runner in terms of ADP on MyFantasyLeague.com, and to me, that’s solid value for a back with little competition. In the end, Ballard’s fantasy prospects lie in the fact that he’s got some weak runners behind him on the Colts’ depth chart. Sometimes – actually, more often than not – a fantasy player’s value isn’t just about said player’s talent. It’s about opportunity and volume.
Last season’s BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Shonn Greene are perfect examples of this. Neither are uber-talented backs, but both finished as reasonable RB2 options in 12-team leagues. Green-Ellis ended the season with 278 touches in the balanced Bengals offense, rushing for almost 1,100 yards and six scores. Greene, though his week-to-week numbers were a little inconsistent, finished his last campaign with the Jets rushing 276 times for 1,063 yards and eight scores.
Last season, the Colts’ rookie rusher carried the ball 211 times for 814 yards and just two scores. His averages netted out to be a typical “plodder-type” fantasy running back. He caught 17 passes out of the backfield for 152 yards and another score, too.
Ballard’s touchdown rate was low considering the number of touches he received, which should be alluring for any fantasy footballer. In fact, in terms of touchdown reliance, he ranked second to last amongst top-30 fantasy backs just a season ago. In other words, the rather unpredictable statistic – touchdowns – ended up being the reason Vick Ballard didn’t rank as a startable fantasy running back in 2012.
I doubt Ballard’s ADP rises or falls much over the next few months. And if it does indeed remain the same, I’d feel great snatching him up as the first flex back in a 12-team standard league. He’s certainly not a sexy pick, but he should have fairly predictable usage throughout the season. Pep Hamilton’s offensive scheme should pave a path for a more balanced Colts’ offense, too.
Chris Ivory, RB, New York Jets
We all wanted it to happen. We’ve seen Chris Ivory show Marshawn Lynch-like signs during his time in New Orleans, and to see him do it on a regular basis would be nothing short of a fantasy football dream.
Now, that dream is coming true.
After a trade to the Jets, Chris Ivory looks to be the favorite in New York’s backfield in 2013. Though the team’s offense isn’t anything to get excited about, their offensive line was underrated last year, ranking 3rd in the league according to Pro Football Focus. Shonn Greene, as I mentioned above, still was able to rush for over 1,000 yards in the awful offense, posting RB2 numbers. And we all know Chris Ivory is a better runner than Shonn Greene.
Really, the reason you should be skeptical about Ivory is his injury history. Per Sal Stefanile’s article on Chris Ivory:
In his rookie season (2010), Ivory was ruled out for two games due to a knee injury. And he also suffered a concussion that season, to go along with shoulder, hamstring and foot issues. Ivory was eventually put on the IR with a left foot injury at the end of the season. He then started the 2011 season on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, and in 2012, he missed the Saints’ 2012 Week 15 contest because of hamstring issues.
It’s not attractive, especially considering he’s never had more than 137 attempts in a single season. In fact, Ivory’s had 20 fewer attempts over his three-year career than Shonn Greene had last season alone.
But part of the appeal with Ivory is the unknown. We’re not sure what he can do with true lead back duties. If you watch his highlights, you know he appears capable. He’s powerful. He runs like the stud up in Seattle does. And those snippets of brilliance should make us at least think about drafting Ivory as early as Round 5 in standard leagues.
We’ve seen Michael Turner go from backup duties to a full blown fantasy stud. Maybe it’s Chris Ivory’s turn. I’m sure his RB42 status will shoot up – potentially to the 20’s – which is still good value. If you go with three runners in the first four or five rounds of your draft, having Ivory as an RB3 on your team may end up being the move that wins your fantasy football season. You’re mitigating risk by selecting him as a flex player, but can reap the benefits if he pans out.
Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Arizona Cardinals
Ex-Steelers back Rashard Mendenhall has spent three seasons as a lead NFL back. During those years, Shard averaged a little over 1,100 rushing yards per season and scored 30 times. But after shredding his knee at the tail-end of the 2011 season, it’s clear Mendenhall isn’t the same runner he was even just two seasons ago.
But the Illinois product has brand new opportunity in 2013. After reuniting with old offensive coordinator Bruce Arians in Arizona over the offseason, Mendenhall is looking to turn his career around in the desert. And he can; he’ll be just 26 years of age when the season begins in September.
Arians was Mendenhall’s offensive coordinator during Rashard’s first four seasons in the NFL, and is not afraid of using a lead back in his offensive system:
Arians served as the offensive coordinator in Cleveland for three seasons, giving the rock to James Jackson and William Green a fair amount of times. And, to note, Green missed a lot of the 2003 season. While in Pittsburgh, Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall were both featured backs under Arians’ direction, getting plenty of touches. And last season, Arians slowly gave lead back duties to rookie Vick Ballard.
Given Ryan Williams’ inability to stay on the field and that the other runners in Arizona are inexperienced, Mendenhall could catch the break he needs to become fantasy relevant again. Bruce Arians’ offensive system is vertical enough to keep defenses honest, and with Carson Palmer in town, the Cardinals should have a much more balanced offense – or offense in general – than they did a year ago.
I’m a fan of Mendenhall if I can get him as late as the seventh or eighth round. He’s got the upside you should be looking for later in drafts, and because the position recently became deeper, the athletic runner could slip to the true middle rounds.