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Monday, August 11, 2014

The Case for This Year's Surprise at RB

The (impressive) content below was written for all you Brainiacs by my man George Banko at  Check them out and give him a follow @gbanko4.


Famed musician Duke Ellington and Arizona Cardinals running back Andre Ellington have something in common. While Duke Ellington was pretty good at swing, the ADP (average draft position) of Arizona Cardinals running back Andre Ellington is also swinging — upward. But is the second-year running back worthy of RB1 value for 2014?

Ellington burst onto the scene last season in the absence of now-retired Rashard Mendenhall. In his first career start midway through 2013, Ellington rushed for 154 rushing yards on 15 carries and one touchdown against a bad Atlanta defense.
His 15 carries in that game were the most he ever registered in his young career, though he later matched that amount against a much tougher Seattle Seahawk defense in Week 16. Seattle held him in check during that affair, but Ellington still came away with a respectable 64 rushing yards on 4.3 yards per carry.
Even though he started just one game, Ellington’s 5.5 yard per carry was a league best in 2013 and he fell just 36 yards short of eclipsing Rashard Mendenhall for the team’s rushing title.

But the ground game wasn’t the only place Ellington was effective. He also caught 39 passes for 371 yards, showing good versatility in the receiving game with quarterback Carson Palmer. He was especially effective on the slip route over the middle of the field and on screen passes. The infamous missed wheel route, which would have won Arizona the game against St. Louis had Palmer connected with Ellington, is also in the RB’s repertoire.  

Ellington is primed to step into the No. 1 role for 2014 with Mendenhall gone, and  Stepfan Taylor and plodder Jonathan Dwyer are expected to back him up. With neither of the backups posing a substantial threat, Ellington will certainly see more carries this season, but with great power comes great responsibility. There are questions Ellington you should consider before you can pencil him in as an RB1 on your draft board.

What Type of a Player is He?

At 5’9, 203 lbs, Ellington isn’t a big running back that grinds out yards and runs people over. He’s an explosive back who does his best work out in space where he can elude defenders. His quick lateral cutting is one of his best assets, as shown in this video here.

His Role in the Passing Game

Ellington’s receiving ability meshes well with the Cardinals. In 2013, Arizona passed the ball 57 percent of the time, which ranked in the middle of the road but their 422 total rushing attempts ranked in the bottom 15. They aren’t the most pass-happy team in the league, but they do tend to chuck it a little more.

Also, wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd are among the best wide receiver tandems in the league and should draw plenty of double teams. The attention they create should clear the way for Ellington on underneath routes against slower linebackers.

Palmer targeted Ellington 57 times last season as part of a crowded group of receivers where Fitzgerald, Floyd, and slot-guy Andre Roberts accounted for 324 of the Cards’ 574 targets. With Roberts now on the Redskins and Ellington seeing more snaps, more opportunities for targets should arise for Ellington this season.

His Workload

Ellington is expected to see around 20-25 carries per game in 2014, which will be a huge undertaking for a guy his size. It’s not so much that Ellington can’t handle being a bell cow, it’s just his smaller frame may lend itself to big hits which lend themselves to injury.

Ellington’s receiving potential can’t be disputed though. He’s an RB1 in PPR (points per reception) leagues in 2014. Ellington averaged 3.8 targets per game last season playing in roughly 30-40 percent of the team’s total snaps. Those numbers could easily double in 2014. Also, with the kind of offense Arizona runs, coupled with a quarterback who always throws for a lot of yards in Palmer, and you have a good forecast for a 60-70 catch, 300-400 yard receiving season for Ellington.

Where are the Touchdowns, Man?

Ellington only found pay dirt three times on the ground in 2013. While some of his red zone ineffectiveness could be blamed on his lack of carries, most of it could be blamed on the Cardinals’ preference to pass the ball into the end zone.

On the ground, Ellington carried the ball 14 times in the red zone, which was good for 66.7 percent of the team’s total red zone carries. His three goal-line carries (from inside the five-yard line) accounted for 100 percent of the team’s goal line carries. Ellington was the only running back to accomplish that feat, and says more about the Cardinals’ passing game than it does about Ellington.

In the receiving game, the Cardinals just didn’t utilize Ellington that much in the red zone. He registered just .33 targets per game in the red zone in 2013, good for just 7.4 percent of total red zone targets. Fitzgerald was Palmer’s favorite in this category, as he accounted for 35 percent of the teams’ total red-zone targets.

The good part about this is that although Ellington didn’t have a lot of opportunities for goal line carries, he didn’t squander the few chances he had. He scored on 2-of-3 goal line touches in 2013, and you just have to hope Arizona finds themselves in more goal-line situations this year.

The Cardinals Philosophy

In offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin’s first year in 2013, the Cardinals turned themselves around dramatically from their disastrous 2012 performance where they trotted up several below average quarterbacks which zapped the fantasy value of nearly every offensive player on the field including Fitzgerald.  

Goodwin erased those bad memories quickly in 2013. The Cardinals found a more reliable quarterback in Carson Palmer, who played an entire season and threw for a respectable 4,274 passing yards despite 22 interceptions. Larry Fitzgerald returned to his pro-bowl form with 954 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns, while Michael Floyd broke out 1,041 yards and five touchdowns of his own.

There’s no doubt the Cardinals are a much-improved offense from over a year ago and they have young emerging stars in Ellington and Floyd to go along with a good mix of veterans in Fitzgerald and Palmer.

Final verdict

All the potential is there for Ellington to put together RB1-like numbers in 2013. You’ll just have to monitor his health and examine how much of a toll an increased workload will impact his undersized frame. He’s an high-end RB2, borderline RB1 in 2014. 

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