2014 Fantasy Football: Offseason Movers — Maurice Jones-Drew
The Raiders brought in Oakland born and former U.C.L.A. running back Maurice Jones-Drew in the offseason, and they’ll be hoping he has a bounce back in him. He’ll join Darren McFadden in the Raiders backfield and look to fill the void created by Rashard Jennings leaving via free agency signing with the Giants. Excluding his injury shortened 2012 season, Jones-Drew had his worst season as a pro last year totaling 803 yards rushing at 3.4 yards-per-carry while hauling in 43 receptions for 314 yards receiving. Will a change of scenery be enough to right the ship for the 29-year old running back?
He’ll certainly be running behind a better offensive line this year, as Football Outsiders ranked the 2013 Jaguars offensive line as the second worst in the league. The Raiders had their own offensive line woes, and they revamped it in the offseason, but it’s debatable as to how much better (if at all) it got. The club lost Jared Veldheer in free agency, who Dan Schneier of Pro Football Focus declared to be the free agent offensive lineman with the most upside, and basically swapped in former Jet, Austin Howard. In the same linked article, Schneier mentions that Howard’s 2013 was not as good as his 2012 season. Chris Wessling of NFL.com referred to Howard as a league average tackle. It’s hard to view this swap of offensive lineman as a gain for the Raiders.
It wasn’t the only offensive line move they made, though, the club also signed left tackle Donald Penn, guard/center Kevin Boothe, and drafted guard Gabe Jackson.That’s a lot of moving parts, and such an overhaul will necessitate patience while these guys attempt to gel while working with one another for the first time. Pro Football Focus grades two of the club’s projected starters as above average, one as average, one as below average, and the fifth hasn’t played enough for them to offer an informed assessment. All-in-all, it is a questionable group, and it’s hard to envision their ceiling as being anything better than average, which again, would be an upgrade for Jones-Drew from the group he ran behind in 2013.
In that respect, things are looking up for Jones-Drew. That said, he does have a more talented running back to battle for touches in McFadden. The Raiders brought McFadden back on a one year deal, and while Jones-Drew figures to be the lead back in a run heavy offense led by either trade acquisition Matt Schaub or rookie Derek Carr, the split could be a headache for fantasy owners of both backs. The former Jaguar is almost certainly a lock to be the back that gets goal-line touches, so he does have that going for him. Furthermore, Jones-Drew is a very good receiving back that has reached or bested 40 receptions in six of seven healthy seasons, and he’s fallen short of 300 yards receiving just one time, an unhealthy 2012 campaign. Raiders backs McFadden, Jennings, and fullback Marcel Reece totaled 85 receptions for 731 yards receiving, so the 2013 offense did demonstrate a willingness to utilize running backs in the passing game.
Jones-Drew is still on the right side of thirty, and he joins a team that will likely run it more than the bulk of the league. Even in a backfield split, assuming McFadden stays healthy (which isn’t even close to a given), Jones-Drew should have a heavy workload. The Raiders offense is unlikely to be in the top half of the league in scoring, which hurts Jones-Drew’s touchdown upside. He gets a bump in PPR leagues thanks to his pass catching prowess, but he should be drafted as a running back three in either format. Fantasy Football Calculator has Jones-Drew being selected as the 32nd running back in standard leagues drafted from June 22-26 with an average draft position of 75.6 (top of the 7th round in 12-team leagues), and in PPR leagues he’s the 34th back being selected with an ADP of 83.0.
I’m surprised by the drop in PPR ranks, but where he’s being drafted is fair. There is upside of him playing at the level of a running back two, but there is also the downside that last year was a cliff season and he won’t bounce back. Ultimately his draft position accounts for both possibilities. At the end of the day I think he’ll eclipse 1,000 yards rushing, barely, with 5-7 touchdowns rushing, and a tick over 300 yards receiving.