Alfred Morris is a stark example of an overall truism in fantasy football: you are drafting not only a player but a situation. “Alfred Morris”, the fantasy entity, dropped off significantly in 2013, going from the 5th most fantasy points in 2012 to 15th in 2013, a 72 point drop in non-PPR formats. Unlike many situations where running backs decline, it wasn’t really due to an injury.
What changed? Washington fell apart, trailed big in several games, and went 3-13 a year after making the playoffs. Morris’ numbers were the victim, but his rate stats largely stayed the same.
Morris was always going to be more susceptible to his team playing with the lead or chasing it, because he is little used as a receiver. Last year, I took a look at young running backs who got the least amount of their yards from receptions. While a decline in receiving usage can be a warning sign for older backs, it is not a cause for concern with a young back. They aren’t likely to become a receiving machine, but they showed no greater decline in production than other backs.
As a result of not being a factor in the passing game, Morris has shown some strong splits.
In the 13 wins over the last two years, 22.8 carries, 105 rushing yards, and 1 touchdown a game.
In the 19 losses, Morris averaged 16.6 carries, 80 rushing yards, and 0.4 touchdowns per game.
If you look at history, there really aren’t any similarly aged backs who were as productive at age 24 and saw a decline like Morris in fantasy points, without a significant injury. (Barry Foster, Jamal Lewis, and Domanick Williams all saw similar total point drop-offs but that was due to missed games).
How do we project Morris for 2014? Well, you can add the uncertainty of coaching changes, as Jay Gruden takes over as head coach in Washington. I see no reason to downgrade Morris more than normal, and he will turn 26 years old later this season. That’s prime running back age for a back who has no indication of overuse, and so I wouldn’t project anything other than normal regression for a back that has averaged 4.8 and 4.6 yards per carry over two seasons.
The over/under win total for Washington this year is around 7.5 wins. Because wins will affect Morris more, that means that you should be pricing him for a rebound. I’m going to add in some regression in the yards per carry to the 4.3 to 4.4 range, and project about 150 yards receiving. (For any concern you have about downside with a coaching change, there is upside in that, while he will never be Marshall Faulk as a receiver, he could see a bump from his non-existent receiving numbers).
Add it all up, and my projection for Morris is as follows: 14.5 games played, 283 rush attempts, 1230 rushing yards, 20 receptions, 150 receiving yards, 10 total touchdowns. That would put him at 198 fantasy points, non-PPR.
I just checked some average draft position listings, and he is at RB16. That seems low, unless you think last year’s numbers were an indicator of something about Morris, rather than the team situation. Or you think that going from Shanahan to Jay Gruden will make that big a difference. Or you think that Washington will be among the worst teams in the league again.
I don’t. He’s not a top end RB1 in fantasy because of the lack of receptions, but he should be in the mix with several others in a deep tier of backs who can be had after round one.