The 2018 NFL offseason saw some big names in the fantasy football world change teams. From Allen Robinson to Sammy Watkins and Brandin Cooks to Jimmy Graham. But there’s another player who is generating just as much buzz with a much stronger hype train behind him: Jerick McKinnon. Formerly of the Minnesota Vikings, McKinnon made waves in the free agent market when he signed with the Kyle Shanahan-led San Francisco 49ers. Let’s take a look at what we can expect from the newest prospector.
See where Andy, Mike, and Jason have Jerick McKinnon’s full-season projections in the Ultimate Draft Kit.
In his 4 seasons as a pro, McKinnon has logged just 474 carries. Largely used as a change of pace back, his yards per carry was promising early in his career while playing the role of backup RB to Adrian Peterson. During this time, McKinnon’s ypc was a stout 4.9. However, once Peterson left and McKinnon was asked to shoulder a heavier workload his efficiency dropped significantly.
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In each of the last two seasons, McKinnon has received 150 or more carries. With this increased workload, his ypc dropped from the aforementioned 4.9 all the way down to just under 3.6. This is concerning because it shows McKinnon is less effective the more volume he is given. His lowest ypc came in 2016, which per Next Gen Stats, is also the year in which McKinnon saw the highest percentage of 8-man fronts on his carries (25.79%). If you’re going to succeed in the NFL as a team’s primary rusher, you need to be able to take on stacked front’s and succeed. To this point in his career, I’m not convinced that McKinnon is a good enough runner between the tackles to take this next step. To this point, McKinnon was out-touched by Latavius Murray in the red zone last season 48-17. Showing that the Vikings clearly preferred to use someone other than McKinnon in pressure situations.
It’s not all bad news for McKinnon though, he has proven himself to be a capable pass catcher in the league. He also tested in the 100th percentile for SPARQ score at the NFL Combine according to Player Profiler. When he is able to catch the ball in space he can use his elite athleticism to make plays. With 94 receptions over the last two seasons, owners in PPR formats will notice the scoring boost from this production.
Perhaps the biggest driver behind the McKinnon hype train is his role in his new offense. Kyle Shanahan is widely regarded as one of the best offensive minds in the league and McKinnon is currently projected to be the primary back in this system, a role vacated by Carlos Hyde. In 2017, Carlos Hyde logged 299 total touches. On paper that sounds like a golden opportunity, and it is if McKinnon can make the most of it. In order to shoulder this workload, McKinnon would have to best his career high in touches by nearly 100 as his previous career high came in 2016 with 202. It is also concerning that the Vikings reached the conclusion based on what they saw that McKinnon was not a feature back in the NFL. After Peterson’s departure, the Vikings could have handed the reigns to McKinnon. Instead, they signed Latavius Murray and used a high second-round draft pick on Dalvin Cook. Heavy investment by a franchise if they believed they already had an RB on the roster capable of being their starter.
That being said, San Francisco is taking a much different approach with McKinnon. He appears to be their guy without much in the way of competition, this featured role is McKinnon’s for the taking. However, should he struggle behind their 20th ranked offensive line (Pro Football Focus), the Niners could allocate more opportunities to Joe Williams and Matt Breida. Both of whom have enjoyed praise from Shanahan in the past.
Money talks in the NFL just as it does in any business. However, the 4-year, $30 million dollar contract signed by McKinnon this offseason doesn’t speak as loudly as you may think. On the face of it, the 49ers shelled out big money to lock up a big-time RB. However, a closer look at the contract reveals that the team has an opt-out option after just the first season in which McKinnon’s base salary is just $4.2 million dollars.
Of course in fantasy football, a player’s ADP is more important than his NFL contract and this, in my opinion, is the biggest mark against McKinnon’s viability in 2018. His current ADP in PPR formats is 2.09 as the 13th RB off the board. McKinnon is currently being drafted ahead of perennial RB1 candidates in Jordan Howard, LeSean McCoy and right after Devonta Freeman. I think fantasy owners would be much better served in selecting one of these other proven assets who has shown the ability to handle a featured workload and produce. Alternatively, depending on your roster construction you could pass on RB altogether with your second round pick and go with an elite WR like Mike Evans or AJ Green, or even a game-changing TE in Rob Gronkowski.
Perhaps the volume and Shanahan influence will be enough for McKinnon to produce in San Francisco in 2018, but at his current price, owners are paying too much and assuming too much risk by drafting Jerick McKinnon. Considering McKinnon’s prior inefficiencies when faced with any amount of volume, you would be better served by letting someone else reach for this fool’s gold.