Each year at least one player becomes a magnet for heated debate in the tank. Most recently the needle has pointed to Maurice Jones-Drew, last year’s runner-up for NFL Rookie of the year, won by Vince Young. Numerous scouts felt that he deserved to win the award, but his contributions then, just as the expectations for him this year, were not enough to sway the doubters.
What is it that conjures up such wild swings of expectations? Simply put, his detractors believe his stats last year were an outlier – a fluke that can’t be repeated. There is certainly ample precedence for doubt, and as fantasy owners our task is to draft a solid, dependable stable of players to take us to the Promised Land… a fantasy league championship and unbridled smack supremacy.
The biggest debate is where he deserves to be drafted, and of course the inherent problem is his tantalizing promise that is likely to find him selected earlier than most of us would be willing to risk. (On a personal note, this is another reason why I favor auction drafts. I can bid with anyone to determine his true value, without concern that he will be selected earlier than he deserves to be selected.)
Each year I select a player I believe will be over or undervalued and wrap much of the season’s commentary around that player. In 2004 it was Priest Holmes (overvalued). In 2005, Peyton Manning (again overvalued, mainly because he was targeted as a top 3 overall pick after a statistical outlier year). This year I’m going against the grain and saying that Maurice Jones-Drew is and will be undervalued by the majority of fantasy owners, at least to the point where he will be selected before they could reasonably assume to draft him.
MJD was drafted as the 60th overall player in the 2006 NFL draft. Immediately pigeonholed as a kick-returner due to his diminutive size (5’7, 212) MJD didn’t take long to burst onto the scene, carrying 13 times for 103 yards, adding 4 receptions for 32 yards and his first NFL touchdown in a losing effort against eventual Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts. The day was September 24th.
Since we all know how he finished the season, I won’t belabor his gaudy stats. Instead I decided to take a peek at his history, with the idea of gaining a better insight on a player many consider an enigma.
MJD has been a special talent since his high school days at De La Salle, a
His college career was equally spectacular. He led the UCLA Bruins in rushing each of the three years he played before opting for the NFL after his junior season. He set the NCAA single season record for punt returns, averaging a gaudy 28.5 yards. For his career his 23.2 yard punt return average was the 2nd highest in NCAA history. During his college career, as in high school, MJD was a game breaker, evidenced early in his freshman year when he broke to the sideline against the Arizona Wildcats and ran 83 yards untouched to the end zone. He finished his collegiate career with 16 touchdown runs of 40 yards or more.
In his first year as a pro, MJD continued to dazzle and establish himself as an elite talent. He was third in the NFL in kickoff returns (27.7 yard average) and touchdowns (16). He was also one of only two NFL players to score a touchdown rushing, receiving and returning. The other was Reggie Bush.
If you still aren’t impressed, consider these stats. MJD led all AFC backs in scrimmage yards per touch, and his 5.7 yards per carry was the highest for any NFL back with at least 100 carries since Barry Sanders averaged 6.1 ten years earlier. At 5’7 and 212 pounds, MJD is build like Sanders, and yes I am making that comparison.
Finally, MJD carries his chip on his chest. He wears the number 32 to remind him every game of the number of NFL teams that passed over him in the first round, which of course was all of them.
It is easy to look at the surface and call what Maurice Jones-Drew did last year an outlier, a fluke, or an outright mirage. Looking deeper however, I see a player who has yet to see his best years, both professionally and as a fantasy stud. In