Dynasty Draft Profile: T.J. Yeldon
March 30, 2015 | Rich Hribar
There really isn’t a player I’ve oscillated on more in this draft class than T.J. Yeldon. On one hand, he has traits I look for such as early production in an elite conference, requisite workhorse size and is good in the passing game. On the other side, he has red flags that I normally want to steer clear of, such as steep declination in his final season and a pedestrian physical profile. His combine was largely a disappointment for a back of his size and pedigree, registering right on the average line for backs 225 pounds or heavier (4.57 40-yard dash, 152” explosion score and 11.3 agility score). As with his production, his measured athleticism is not quite where you want it to be, but his two closest comps in terms of physical profile and final season production are quite interesting.
|Isaiah Crowell||Alabama St||UFA||20.9||71||224||4.57||38||117||4.56||7.28||14.2||93.4||1.3||0.6|
I’ve heard Terrance West thrown around in subjective comps for Yeldon, but it’s intriguing the two closest hits are his teammate, Crowell, and undrafted megastar, Foster. Not only are Foster and Crowell interesting names that pop up in terms of talent level, but they also both were undrafted for varying reasons not entirely football related. Yeldon projects by most to be selected within the first three rounds this spring, but it’s interesting to note that the league hasn’t valued this raw profile previously.
Again, these aren’t stylistic comps, just objective ones. Yeldon does in fact have some overlapping traits with both of these guys, but on the field, his stop/stop ability is his bread and butter and his subtle jump cuts and change of direction is so good that I was blown away by his lack of measured agility. He is a one speed runner, but a decisive one with great feet and sheds arm tackles like you’d anticipate a back of his size to do.
He has so much success with those types of movements that it can be problematic for him in making unnecessary steps behind the line of scrimmage and altering his balance because he remains upright due to his overall size, as he doesn’t have that great flexibility that a big, patient back such as Le’Veon Bell has. In a kind of bizarre fashion, he profiles physically as what should be a great gap runner, but is better suited for a zone scheme in which he can choose his point of attack. He has wishy-washy power for his size, but has great spacial awareness on the interior and exterior of the defense.
Not only is Yeldon a very good receiver in his own right, but he’s a willing blocker in pass protection. Although sometimes his technique is just lunging his size into the opponent, he played a lot of passing downs in college and he’s one of the few backs in this class that should be able to carve his way onto the field in passing situations in both a receiving and blocking capacity upon entering the league.
Yeldon’s production is interesting as not only did he end on a down note in his final college season as he dealt with injuries and the emergence of teammate Derrick Henry, but it also matches the cumbersome profile he’s been labeled with. For many, he’s treated as a good but boring back and his numbers back that claim to a tee. 70.3 percent (26 of 37) of his rushing scores came from four yards and in, highest percentage of the backs in this class with 20 or more scores. Just four came from 20 yards or longer, the lowest of the same group.
Out of the backs in this draft class, Yeldon has the highest percentage of carries that went for five or more yards, but then ranks dead last of the same group in percentage of highlight yards, which are the explosive yards credited to the running back only as done by Football Study Hall.
|Player||Team||Rushes||Yards||Hlt Yds||5+YD Atts.||5+ %||Hlt%|
|Josh Robinson||Mississippi State||190||1203||534.0||85||44.7%||44.4%|
|Dee Hart||Colorado State||194||1275||594.4||85||43.8%||46.6%|
|Thomas Rawls||Central Michigan||210||1103||398.5||89||42.4%||36.1%|
|Jeremy Langford||Michigan State||276||1522||585.1||109||39.5%||38.4%|
|Mike Davis||South Carolina||199||982||322.8||78||39.2%||32.9%|
|Jay Ajayi||Boise State||347||1823||731.4||126||36.3%||40.1%|
|Jahwan Edwards||Ball State||262||1252||443.1||95||36.3%||35.4%|
|Karlos Williams||Florida State||151||689||227.3||53||35.1%||33.0%|
He’s consistently good at getting yardage, but also just as consistent in lacking to create explosive plays on his own. As a measurement of him versus the Alabama system, Henry himself was better than Yeldon in every category as well.
That committee approach is the other side of Yeldon’s production. Alabama has been a running back factory over the past three seasons, having three backs selected in the first two rounds since 2011. I did a further break down on Yeldon’s production in comparison to not only those backs, but also how backs involved in college rotations fared entering the league.
Not to rehash that entire article, but I will share the table that goes along with it. Yeldon produced just 36 percent of the Alabama rushing game in 2014 and although the Crimson Tide posted the 26th most rushing yards in the country last season, that’s a red flag for a back entering the league in terms of not only future fantasy production, but also his ability to lose the stigma of being a committee back in the NFL. Here’s a list of all drafted backs under 50 percent of their team rushing total in their final season and their top 12 and top 24 PPR fantasy seasons in the NFL since 2001.
|Player||College||Year||Pick||FY Yards||FY MSYDS||Top24Yrs||Top12yrs|
|Joseph Addai||Lousiana State||2005||30||911||0.47||3||3|
|Ryan Williams||Virginia Tech||2010||38||1655||0.31||0||0|
|Christine Michael||Texas A&M||2012||62||899||0.28||0||0|
|Steve Slaton||West Virginia||2007||89||1051||0.47||1||1|
|Justin Fargas||Southern California||2002||96||1322||0.39||1||0|
|Devonta Freeman||Florida State||2013||103||1016||0.38||0||0|
|Robert Turbin||Utah St.||2011||106||1517||0.48||0||0|
|Mike Goodson||Texas A&M||2008||111||406||0.49||0||0|
|Joe McKnight||Southern California||2009||112||1014||0.49||0||0|
|Leon Washington||Florida State||2005||117||430||0.40||0||0|
|Tashard Choice||Georgia Tech||2007||122||1379||0.06||0||0|
|LaBrandon Toefield||Louisiana St.||2002||132||475||0.34||0||0|
|Chris Thompson||Florida State||2012||154||687||0.33||0||0|
|Evan Royster||Penn State||2010||177||1014||0.49||0||0|
|Thomas Clayton||Kansas St.||2006||186||1177||0.46||0||0|
|Allen Bradford||Southern California||2010||187||767||0.35||0||0|
|Jonathan Dwyer||Georgia Tech||2009||188||1395||0.37||0||0|
|Mike James||Miami (FL)||2012||189||621||0.37||0||0|
|Theo Riddick||Notre Dame||2012||199||917||0.41||0||0|
|Michael Smith||Utah St.||2011||212||870||0.27||0||0|
|Anthony Allen||Georgia Tech||2010||225||1316||0.39||0||0|
|Edwin Baker||Michigan St.||2011||250||665||0.33||0||0|
Just 12 of the 49 backs here produced a top 24 season with just five of those 12 doing it multiple times. Just six went on to produce a top 12 scoring season with just four doing it more than once. When you see other Bama backs Eddie Lacy and Mark Ingram appear on the list, some concerns are alleviated, but it’s another area of pause that crops up when looking at Yeldon’s future outlook.
While I am underwhelmed by Yeldon’s flair at the position, I also believe the things he does have in his pocket – gaining consistent yardage, size and pass game functionality – are valued by coaching staffs and lead to opportunities, which is the true name of the game at the running back position for fantasy purposes. It’s very much in the cards that he’s a better pro back than he was as he closed his college career.
As always, it’s all going to come down price point. In early rookie ADP collected by Scott Fish, Yeldon is on average pick 10.7 predestination and the fourth running back off the board on average behind Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon and Jay Ajayi. I believe that average draft position is lofty and mostly only counting his upside in a good situation. If that’s the price point that holds after the draft, it’s too rich for me. While there are things that make me want to take a shot on him, in all likelihood there’s going to be someone in my leagues who values him higher.
Yeldon was always a guy I thought the NFL would think highly of and that came to fruition when the Jaguars selected him with the 36th overall pick this past weekend. That kind of initial investment is promising for Yeldon’s future outlook in terms of workload and overall opportunity over his first few seasons even if he fails to play up to the level investment. He doesn’t have much to hurdle on the depth chart, either as the Jaguars could release Toby Gerhart still this summer (saving $2.5M) or even next season ($3.5M) and Denard Robinson proved to be a boom or bust runner, better suited as a change of pace option than anchoring chain mover.
While that opportunity is a great starting point to landing fantasy points, Yeldon still needs the Jaguars as a complete offense to take strides to move into yearly top 12-15 territory. Jacksonville has made improving their offense a top priority this offseason and in adding Yeldon, they also signed tackle Jermey Parnell from Dallas and drafted guard A.J. Cann to help solidify their running game. Offensive improvement is critical for Yeldon still despite being in a position to receive immense opportunity.
Namely, that starts with the play of Blake Bortles. Looking back at 2014, eight of the top 12 scoring PPR running backs came from teams that ranked in the top half of team fantasy points that stemmed from passing alone. Of teams in the bottom 10 (Jacksonville was 32nd), just Jamaal Charles, Jeremy Hill and Matt Asiata were able to produce top 20 scoring seasons. When you look at backs who frequently overcome poor fantasy passing attacks they are generally transcendent talents on their own (Charles, Foster, Lynch) and don’t thrive off of opportunity alone. If you don’t believe Bortles himself is going to progress enough, there’s a reason to dampen expectations in relation to Yeldon’s fantasy stock. If Bortles does take off in year two, then Yeldon is an ideal situation to reel off strong production.
It’s arguable that no back was aided by the draft more than Yeldon. Not just in terms of his landing spot, but also in conjunction with the other backs surrounding him. He is a solid back and is good enough in pass protection and as a pass catcher to be a full time back immediately. That alone was enough for him to leap frog a number of backs I had over him pre-draft who have to fight for more initial opportunity. Even with offensive concerns possibly limiting his overall ceiling, landing a perennial RB2 would more than meet the investment of taking Yeldon with a pick in the latter third portion of the first round.
Early 2015 Projection: 209.3 ATT/879.1 YDS/5.2 TD 44.0 TGT/31.3 REC/240.8 YDS/.6 TD