Paul Perkins: Must Pick or Bust Risk? (Fantasy Football)

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Anyone who’s taken Marketing 101 can tell you that branding is key. Whether it’s a startup meal delivery business or a blooming non-profit for the protection of grizzly bears, everyone needs an attractive brand to find success.

The same thing applies for fantasy football assets. In early June, Paul Perkins was getting very little love in ADP or analyst rankings, despite winning the starting job in New York and performing well towards the tail end of 2016. As this was clearly a side effect of Perkins’s less than exciting name, the Fantasy Footballers officially christened him “Smash Jackson” in the second week of June. Naturally, his ADP proceeded to skyrocket the moment he was relabeled.

After making it all the way up to the fifth round, then settling back into the mid-sixth, the question is whether Perkins is truly deserving of such a dynamite moniker. Let’s see what the facts have to say.

The Final Four in 2016

The only useful NFL game action we have to review on Perkins comes from the last four games of the 2016 season. For the majority of the year, he saw an average of five rush attempts per game and was heavily out-snapped and out-carried by Rashad Jennings. Then, starting in Week 14, Perkins ended the year with 15, 11, 15, and 21 carries per game. He posted 4.4 yards per attempt over that span but was not involved in the passing game at all, with a measly two catches on four targets. Perkins also did not score a single touchdown over the course of the season, mustering only nine red zone carries for 35 yards.

To be fair, expectations for the rookie upon suddenly assuming the lead back role at the end of the year should be somewhat tempered. Still, he is clearly no David Johnson, who experienced a similar shift in role and averaged 22.6 fantasy points per game from Week 13 on.

So where will he fall in 2017?

A “Giant” Opportunity

As far back as spring, Giants head coach Ben McAdoo vocally named Perkins as the starting running back. Considering New York’s complete lack of activity in the RB free agency market, this wasn’t much of a surprise. And of course, being the lead back is automatic cause for attention in the fantasy football realm. But it also doesn’t necessarily hold all that much weight where Perkins plays.

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The Giants have not placed in the top half of the league in rushing yards since 2012, which was also the last time they had a 1,000-yard rusher (Ahmad Bradshaw). They placed 19th and 22nd in rush attempts over the past two years. While Perkins may see the majority of the early down work, he likely won’t see bell-cow volume. Moreover, if Shane Vereen can stay off IR, he is easily one of the game’s best third-down backs. Despite running backs coach Craig Johnson lauding Perkins’s growth as a three-down back, it’s hard to imagine the second-year player — who caught only 15 balls last year — playing on passing downs with Vereen healthy.

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Perkins should have more opportunity running the ball than the Tevin Colemans or even Christian McCaffreys of the world, but he will likely be one of the lower-volume “lead backs” in the league. Still, as Michael Wenrich stated in his “All-Value” auction draft article, “a player projected to get the majority of the carries for a high-powered offense is always a solid roster addition.”

To that end, the roster around Perkins is also a mixed bag. The offensive line has struggled mightily, ranking 20th in last year’s Pro Football Focus grade and 28th coming into 2017. The quarterback, Eli Manning, is only consistent in his inconsistency but may have the best receiving corps of his career. The addition of Brandon Marshall and Evan Engram to the young duo of Odell Beckham Jr. and a healthy Sterling Shephard may bring out the Manning capable of winning multiple Super Bowls. If so, the Giants’ weaponry should facilitate a strong offense and provide running lanes and scoring chances to Perkins at a high clip.

What’s in a Name?

To earn a spot on your fantasy roster, Perkins will have to do enough with his role in New York to meet and exceed his RB28 value (current ADP, per Fantasy Football Calculator). Fortunately, that doesn’t take much. The typical RB28 scores between 110-120 non-PPR fantasy points, or around 800 total yards and five touchdowns. Given his starting role and the strength of the Giants team as a whole, those numbers should be right around the 22-year-old’s baseline.

But to earn a nickname like “Smash Jackson” — and to regularly start for your fantasy team — Perkins will need to break out as a starter and push towards his ceiling. That means proving he can indeed be a three-down back, carrying the strong yards per attempt from his last four games into a larger season-long workload, and finding the end zone despite the Giants’ wealth of receiving talent in that area.

Whether or not we know still know him as Paul Perkins by next August, his draft value is too good to pass up. He’s an excellent candidate for the zero-RB strategy and is also worth grabbing as a stable third or fourth back if you draft risky in the first few rounds.