by Ray Kuhn
To say that Alfred Morris burst onto the scene two years ago would be an understatement. He was a forgotten sixth round pick taken in the same draft as franchise quarterback Robert Griffin III, and no one really paid any attention to the running back as he had to battle even to make the Redskins out of training camp. Once he did make the team, however, Morris was overlooked no more.
Along with Griffin, Morris took the league by storm and the future looked bright for Washington’s offense. He ran for 1,610 yards, averaging 4.8 yards per carry, and scored 13 touchdowns. Fantasy owners who took a late round flier on the rookie or made an early trip to the waiver wire were rewarded and likely had Morris to thank for their success.
Last season that was not the case. While Morris had a very respectable sophomore campaign, his productivity was not that of a first or early second round draft selection. His touchdown total dropped to seven while he only gained 1,275 yards on the ground. Again not terrible production, and still worthy of a lower end RB1 or very high end RB2, but Morris still underperformed based on his draft position.
That leads to two very important questions; why did this happen and what does it mean for his 2014 outlook?
Fantasy football is a game about numbers. It is all about compiling the most stats. So of course, seeing Morris gain 335 less yards last season had to be concerning. If you factor in his reduction in carries of 59, then there is a little more context. Had Morris carried the ball 335 times last season, the same as 2012, averaging the 4.6 yards per carry he did last season, he would have gained 1,541 yards which looks a lot better.
However, that answer should not make fantasy owners feel much better. Morris’ usage, or lack thereof, must be addressed. Mike Shanahan used Morris sporadically and inconsistently last season as evidenced in his reduced carries, but more importantly is the fact that his touchdown total decreased. Roy Helu got far more goal line opportunities than was expected, and that had a direct impact on Morris’ value.
The other variable that changed last season was that Washington was often trailing. That also led to Helu being on the field more often as Morris is a non factor in the passing game, and less run plays being called in general.
There was a coaching change in the off-season, and now Jay Gruden is in charge. Gruden’s offense is geared towards the passing game, so his hire does have a sight negative impact on Morris. He has already made it known that he will be passing the ball often and the return to health of Griffin is certainly a factor in that. What has also been made clear is that Morris is not going to be a factor as a receiver out of the backfield. He has 20 catches total in his career, and I wouldn’t look for him to have a true impact in the passing game this year either.
As far as carries go, I can’t see Morris coming close to the 335 he had as a rookie. It is possible Morris becomes more of a two down and short yardage back which will limit his production. However the improvements of Washington’s offense will also benefit the running back.
My early prediction for Morris is 270 carries, 1300 yards and 10 touchdowns. That makes him a lower end RB1 as he does lose some value in PPR formats as 15 catches will be high for Morris in 2014.
What are your thoughts of Morris? Where are you slotting him?