Scout's 2016 Comeback Player of the Year

After a down year in 2015, this player will wow Fantasy Football owners with a big COMEBACK season! That's why he is Scout's 2016 Comeback Player of the Year!

Context is important. I want to know the full tapestry of a player’s history, so allow me to weave together this story.

A little over three years ago in the 2013 NFL Draft, the Green Bay Packers selected Alabama RB Eddie Lacy in the second round with the 61st overall pick. This is the same draft that featured studs like DeAndre Hopkins, Sheldon Richardson, Ezekiel Ansah, Tyler Eifert, Travis Kelce, Le’Veon Bell, Keenan Allen, Giovani Bernard, and Jordan Reed. Let’s assign them a letter grade: A. There were some duds too: Barkevious Mingo, E.J. Manuel, Cordarrelle Patterson, Justin Hunter, Geno Smith, Montee Ball, Christine Michael, Mike Glennon, and Matt Barkley. Let’s assign them a letter grade: F. Maybe giving them an F is harsh, but just go with it.

The point in handing out these letter grades is to highlight a substantial performance gap. There is an immeasurable distance between success and failure in the NFL, and this obviously isn’t limited to Fantasy Football conversations. Relevancy and irrelevancy can sometimes be only one season away.

For example, in the sixth round of this aforementioned 2013 NFL Draft, the Arizona Cardinals picked RB Andre Ellington. Again, even though this was just three years ago, diehard Fantasy Football players know all too well the absolute roller coaster of expectations that have plagued Ellington’s career. Sure, maybe you never bought into the hype, but it’d be disingenuous to say he never had a shot. There was a time when some thought he could be a Grade A player, but that never came to pass. He showed some flash throughout his first two seasons. And really, we’re only a year removed from the 2015 offseason, which was a time some still thought if Ellington could finally stay healthy for 16 games, he could produce at an elite level. Injuries and inconsistency have plagued Ellington's young career and as highly as many view his teammate David Johnson this year, the Cardinals began 2015 with Ellington as the presumed starter.

Now? Not so much. To call Ellington an afterthought would be an understatement.

With all this in mind, where is Lacy’s story after his not-disastrous, but notably-underwhelming 2015 season? Where does Lacy’s name belong on my make-believe letter grade scale?

Well, I hope it goes without saying that Lacy is worthy of an A, the grouping of top notch players and those who have already made an impact both in the league and on our Fantasy teams.

Unfortunately, Lacy flirted with the dark side. Fantasy Football owners are hyper-vigilant and oft-demanding, right? When we draft a “Grade A player,” we expect precisely that and I don't blame any of you if Lacy's overweight performance left a bad taste in your mouth. Last year, he was a little more Montee Ball than Le’Veon Bell. Know what I mean? When discussing Lacy with Bill Huber from PackersReport.com, the Green Bay publisher here at Scout.com, he had this to say when asked about he perceives Lacy entering this new season

This will be Lacy’s running game because he’s the best three-down back on the roster. Coach Mike McCarthy’s no-huddle approach demands that his running back stays on the field. That is Lacy’s hidden value. Yeah, he put up big rushing numbers in 2013 and 2014, but he also was an asset in the passing game as a blocker and receiver. Never mind the rushing for a minute. Lacy caught 42 passes for 427 yards and four touchdowns in 2014; he plunged to 20 receptions for 188 yards and two touchdowns in 2015.

And to put a finer point on this, Lacy is also far removed from a “C” Grade. Let me give you some more names. From this 2013 class, I would give a “C” to Latavius Murray, Zach Ertz, or Tavon Austin. Sure, those guys are decent but they don’t really belong in that great group, and they certainly don’t belong in the lesser group.

So, maybe it would be most accurate to say Eddie Lacy is a B+ player right now. Most people would be happy to earn a B+. We here at Scout Fantasy are certainly not satisfied with a B+. We dream of straight A’s. Despite the fact that Lacy needs to do some extra toe touches, Scout Fantasy’s top-ranked experts are in agreement that Lacy will bounce-back in 2016. That’s why Eddie Lacy is our 2016 Comeback Player of the Year.

Here’s what you need to know and should keep in mind about Lacy.

Average Draft Position

Lacy is the 11th RB off the board according to Scout’s ADP numbers. His ADP is 30.34. That’s roughly a mid-third round pick. So you could feasibly draft DeAndre Hopkins in Round 1, Mike Evans in Round 2 and Eddie Lacy in Round 3. If you don’t like those names, think of it as two ELITE WRs and Lacy. That’s nuts considering Lacy still has the potential to be Fantasy’s No. 1 back. Sure, he’s not the favorite to do so but it’s possible considering his history.

The news only gets better in Scout’s high-stakes leagues. There, Lacy’s ADP dips slightly to 32.6. This time last year, he was a late first round pick and often thought of as a safe pick given Green Bay’s offensive prowess and stellar QB play. Apparently, there isn’t such a thing as a safe pick but all the traits we liked about Lacy last year are still true now. While it makes sense to downgrade Lacy after his disappointing 2015 season (and that’s reflected in his ADP), it’s only a matter of time that Fantasy owners come to their senses and that ADP starts to climb closer to the second round, particularly in standard leagues.



Green Bay’s offense

First and foremost, his only competition for carries is James Starks. With all due respect, I’m not impressed. Starks has never wowed and is only there to keep the seat warm for Lacy.

OK, so let’s be real. It wasn’t just Lacy who fell off last year. The entire offense struggled. We all know WR Jordy Nelson was out for the year. QB Aaron Rodgers numbers dipped across the board. He had fewer passing yards and fewer TDs than what we have grown accustomed. Even with a larger role, WR Randall Cobb was not the same, going for 458 fewer receiving yards and his six receiving TDs was just half his 2014 TD total. The overhyped WR Davante Adams was a lukewarm dud. WRs Jeff Janis and Ty Montgomery had limited impact. TE Richard Rodgers performed admirably as a bye week caliber fill-in. I’ll give him credit for that.

So considering the full story of Green Bay’s 2015 offense, the Fantasy community is correct to be hesitant, but if we’re buying back in on Aaron Rodgers, why not Lacy? If Jordy Nelson is back as a second round pick, what about Lacy?

Do we really believe 2015 is the new normal for the Packers or just a bump in the road for this freight train of an offense? Remember, Lacy didn’t just have one good year. He put together a Rookie of the Year campaign in 2013 and improved upon that season in 2014. So what are we to believe? After all the scrutiny that plagued Lacy about his weight and conditioning, you’re just going to give up on the guy? Let him fall almost to the fourth round?

Does Lacy have any history of stepping up when responding to the haters?

Lacy has been here before

There was a time back in 2010 when some people thought Lacy was the third-best back at Alabama. He was firmly behind Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson on the depth chart. Ingram departed after winning the Heisman and entering 2011; Lacy was second fiddle to Richardson. The Crimson Tide gave 283 carries to Richardson and just 95 to Lacy. Richardson left for the 2012 NFL Draft, so this was Lacy’s time to step up, right? Wrong. Alabama opted to split touches between Lacy and then true freshman T.J. Yeldon. People have doubted Lacy all along. Ingram was the No. 28 pick in 2011. Richardson was the third overall pick in 2012. Yeldon went 36th in 2015. And as previously mentioned, Lacy was drafted 61st. Is there any doubt who has had the most productive career of all these backs? There shouldn’t be.

Detractors had their reservations before he even came into the league. Scouts were worried they hadn’t seen enough of Lacy leading up to the draft because he was dealing with a hamstring injury. All this despite the fact that he was pound-for-pound one of the most productive RBs Alabama had produced up to that point. Lacy also had limited wear and tear since he was always splitting time with his teammates.

They said he was too big to be fast and too small to be a power runner. They said he tried to make guys miss too often, instead of planting his foot down and attacking the hole. And sure, not many players enter the league with a perfect scouting report; yet this was a time when Alabama was putting guys in the league at every position. Backup Alabama players were getting UDFA contracts. They were (and they still are) unstoppable in the college game. Through it all, Lacy persevered.

Weight Problems

I’m going to assume that Lacy is in better shape right now. In a preseason game against the Oakland Raiders, Lacy had a few nice runs, including one decisive gallop for 20 yards. Evidence of improved conditioning is scant and a bit anecdotal at best. But again, in that Raiders preseason game, he rushed for 45 yards on nine carries and scored one TD. Maybe I’m reading into it, but it just makes sense to me that Lacy has something to prove. He is in a contract year too, for whatever that’s worth.

And honestly, I can’t blame these NFL players. If you gave me millions of dollars, fame, and fortune, it’d probably be easy enough to mail it in. Easy to take my foot off the gas and enjoy the good life. That’s probably why so many seemingly talented college players never quite make it. They get their big pay day, and they check out mentally and physically. Most of us can only dream to be so lucky. I digress...

So here we have Eddie Lacy, a running back from a perennial superpower college program where they never trusted him enough to be the No. 1 guy. He finally enters the NFL and dominates from Day 1. In his first two seasons, he is nothing short of excellent. He eats a few too many cheeseburgers leading into his third season and the rest of his offense also craps the bed. Lacy is then called fat and out of shape by the media all season long. After the season ends, the head coach criticizes his weight and conditioning. I suppose you could argue all this pressure could bury some players. I choose to believe Lacy will overcome it. Maybe that argument doesn't work in a Fantasy Football article, but my gut often makes choices in this game. I can only assume the same applies to you!



Advanced Stats

I’m not a big advanced stats guy, but let’s see what’s out there. A favorite of the stat heads when determining a running back’s worth is “Success Rate.” As defined by the Football Outsiders, “the number represents the player’s consistency, measured by successful running plays (the definition of success being different based on down and distance) divided by total running plays.” Lacy’s success rate last year was 49%. In 2014, it was 48% and in 2013, it was 46%. If you’re new to this stat, this effectively means that Lacy is right around average, flirting with slightly below average. Generally speaking, in a down and distance where a team is expected to get X yards, Lacy hits that threshold just under 50% of the time. This shouldn’t be a surprise since Lacy’s game is built upon the Packers playing from the lead. What you’re hoping for is Jordy Nelson catches a long one, gets tackled inside the 5-yard line and the Pack decide to use Lacy as a battering ram to score the go-ahead TD. Right? But that’s not entirely true. Your intuition would be wrong.

PlayerProfiler.com rated Lacy No. 3 in the NFL in 2014 in evaded tackles per game (6.4) and gave him a juke rate of 35.8%. What the heck is a 35.8% juke rate? According to their language, they isolate “a running back’s on-field elusiveness and tackle-breaking power by dividing the total number of evaded tackles by the total number of touches.” So what happened in 2015? His evaded tackles per game dropped to 3.9, still respectable at 15th in the NFL and his juke rate declined to 28.5%, good for 31st. Considering his statistical drop-off, those numbers aren’t that different. A decline sure, but it boils down to how much you feel the decline was based upon the offense or Lacy’s weight. It does seem like the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Conclusion

Look, if Fantasy drafters were still taking Lacy in the second round, it’d be easy to dismiss him after taking a big step in the fat, I mean the wrong direction. However, as previously explained, Lacy is falling well into the third round. If he’s there, and I go WR in the first two rounds, I’m happy to have Lacy as my RB1 in that scenario. In WR-heavy leagues, which is becoming the new normal, he may fall even further, especially if you don’t live in Wisconsin (because you know those Cheeseheads still love the guy).

If the Packers were as concerned about Lacy as the rest of the Fantasy community, they would have drafted a RB to challenge James Starks as the team’s No. 2 back and maybe even pressure Lacy for playing time. They didn’t even do that. They didn’t even draft a third-down back to spot Lacy here and there. And the undrafted free agents Green Bay brought in don’t seem to be putting up much of a fight for playing time.

When assessing Green Bay, my biggest concern is actually their defense. If they can’t stop teams, they’ll allow more points, and that’ll force Aaron Rodgers to throw the ball more. It’s possible Lacy improves his receiving totals in this scenario, but I’d prefer him rumbling in the red zone and saving his energy for the second half where he can clearly make guys miss and score at a high clip. I don’t want him pass protecting out of the backfield because the Pack have spotted their opponent a two-TD lead.

Imagine how excited you’d have been last year if you drafted Julio Jones, Mike Evans, and Eddie Lacy. It’s possible this year, and you’ll reap the rewards because Lacy is Scout’s 2016 Comeback Player of the Year.


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