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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Toby Gerhart's Fantasy Value For 2014

On March 12, 2014, former Minnesota Vikings running back signed a 3 year deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars. As of right now, Maurice Jones-Drew, the Jaguars starting RB for the past few years, is an unrestricted free agent, and has not signed anywhere. It's certainly possible Jones-Drew resigns with Jacksonville, but I think it's pretty unlikely. It's also possible that Jacksonville drafts a running back or signs another RB in free agency, but let's assume that Gerhart ends up being the starting running back for the 2014 Jacksonville Jaguars. How is he likely to fare?

Well, let's first look at Toby Gerhart himself. I think he comes with the pedigree. He's 6 foot, 234 lbs. He was a great running back in Stanford. He ultimately lost the Heisman vote back in 2009 to Alabama's Mark Ingram, even though he led the NCAA that year in rushing yards and rushing TDs. I remember thinking at the time that Gerhart should have won the Heisman, and I personally suspected racial bias against Gerhart (but that's just speculation). He was then drafted in the 2nd round of the 2010 draft to the Minnesota Vikings.

Gerhart spent 4 years as a Minnesota Viking, mostly playing back up to the greatest RB of this generation- Adrian Peterson. In his limited time, Gerhart has a career 4.7 YPC. He also has decent hands catching 77 passes in his career. Gerhart has started 6 games in his career, one in 2010, and 5 in 2011. In the five games Gerhart started in 2011, he got 83 carries for 401 yards. That's good for a 4.831 YPC- basically the same as his career YPC.

I think it's safe to assume that Gerhart is a 4.7 YPC guy.

Now let's look at Jacksonville. If Gerhart will be the starter, we have to look to see how Jacksonville uses their starting RB. There are 2 ways of looking at this. The easy way is to look at how many carries Maurice Jones-Drew had per game when he was the starter. But I think this is slightly unfair because MJD in his prime is just more talented that Toby Gerhart is. So of course MJD is going to get more carries than his replacement. I think the better sample is looking at how Jacksonville allocated their starter carries in games when MJD didn't start.

Between 2009 and 2013, MJD started a total of 66 games. In those games, he received 1,274 carries. That averages out to 19.3 carries per game. In the 14 games that MJD did not start during that time, Jacksonville's starting RB received an average of 15.9 carries per game. While I think Gerhart will average carries per game somewhere in the middle of this, 15.9 to 19.3 carries per game is probably the range of carries Gerhart will see. Over a 16 game time span, that means Gerhart will probably get between 255 to 309 carries.

If we assume Gerhart will maintain his 4.7 YPC in Jacksonville, that means Gerhart's range of yardage outcomes will be between 1,198 to 1,452 yards in 2014.

That would be incredible if Gerhart could get about 1,200 yards in a season. That would have put him as the 11th best yards getter in 2013. However, the list of running backs that got over 1,000 yards is not THAT impressive, considering the list consists of pretty good running backs who stayed relatively healthy all season long. And this is assuming Gerhart plays all 16 games for the Jags. It's probably not fair to assume that ANY running back will be healthy enough to start every single game for their team.

The 4.7 YPC is also a bit generous. While that's Gerhart's career average, players don't play their career average year after year consistently. The players who generally get 4.7 YPC or better are elite players like Jamaal Charles and LeSean McCoy, or part time players like Andre Ellington or Montee Ball.

However, it's not unreasonable to think that Gerhart could average 4.5 or 4.6 yards per carry given his talent. Last year, at least 16 players averages at least 4.5 YPC, and that list includes (former Jaguar) Rashad Jennings and Chris Ivory.

Lastly, there's the issue of Jacksonville's offensive line. According to Football Outsiders, Jacksonville's rushing O-line ranked 31 out of 32. That being said, offensive lines fluctuate from year to year. In 2012, Jacksonville was middle of the pack ranking 17th in rushing O-line. In 2011, Jacksonville had the 13th best rushing O-line. Frankly, I don't know if we can say that Jacksonville's offensive line was any better or worse than Minnesota's over the past 4 years. Minnesota's offensive line numbers are also bolstered by Adrian Peterson (the same way Peyton Manning's o-line numbers are bolstered by the fact he gets rid of the ball so quickly). I think Jacksonville will have a below average rushing O-line next year, but I don't know if that's really that much worse than what Gerhart saw while wearing the Purple and Gold.

So what do I ultimately predict for Toby Gerhart if he's Jacksonville's starter? Based upon the above data, how other RBs fared in the league recently, and assuming Gerhart plays all 16 games:

270 carries, 1,215 yards, 6 rushing TDs, 48 receptions, 384 yards, 3 receiving TDs

How Do You Think Toby Gerhart Will Perform As Jacksonville's Starter?

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