What’s on Tape: Mike Gillislee (Fantasy Football)

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With the Buffalo Bills refusing to match, the New England Patriots have officially given up a fifth-round draft pick in order to sign unrestricted free agent RB Mike Gillislee to a two-year, $6.4 million contract. Earlier this offseason, Rex Burkhead became the highest paid Running Back in New England since Fred Taylor back in 2010. However, that didn’t last long as Gillislee’s new contract puts him at the top of the Running Back salary totem pole in New England, and that’s before taking into consideration the draft capital they invested in him as well. Per Ian Rapoport, Gillislee is set to make $4 million in 2017. Additionally, Mike Reiss, one of the best NFL beat reporters in the nation, wrote this after Gillislee officially became a Patriot: “The Patriots aren’t paying Gillislee more than $3 million per season to be a backup, so the expectation is that he will essentially fill LeGarrette Blount’s role.”

That’s exciting stuff right there. No longer under LeSean McCoy‘s shadow in Buffalo, Gillislee’s fantasy stock has drastically risen. Thus, let’s dig deeper into this situation, shall we? Yes? Okay cool. Let’s do it.

Opportunity

299 carries, 1,161 yards, and 18 Touchdowns.

That’s what LeGarrette Blount did last season in New England’s nuclear offense. Those carries were good enough for second in the league behind only Ezekiel Elliott and they helped Blount finish as the RB7 in standard and the RB9 in PPR. With Gillislee and Burkhead signed and Blount almost a guarantee to be playing elsewhere in 2017, all of that production is now up for grabs. That’s extremely exciting for fantasy football purposes. Thus, regardless of ADP, Mike Gillislee is absolutely someone that needs to be on our radar heading into the season. However, there’s no guarantee week to week predictability will be granted to his owners as the March 2017 offseason GOAT Rex Burkhead, the beginning of 2015 GOAT Dion Lewis, and the Super Bowl GOAT James White all still remain on the roster.

Situation

Despite Tom Brady missing the first four games of the season last year, the Patriots’ offense still finished fourth in yards, tied for fifth in yards per play, and third in points scored. Looking at those numbers it’s hard to believe the Patriots’ offense could be even better in 2017. However, there are multiple reasons why it absolutely could improve.

  1. With #DeflateGate FINALLY behind us, Tom Brady projects to play all sixteen games this season.
  2. The Patriots acquired Brandin Cooks this offseason.
  3. Rob Gronkowski only played in eight games last season.

Running backs playing in good offenses tend to get more valuable touches and scoring opportunities. This is vital since Touchdowns matter a significant amount in fantasy football. The Patriots just produced an 18-TD RB last season and now return a first ballot Hall of Fame QB, a first ballot Hall of Fame Head coach, and continuity at the Offensive Coordinator position. Despite the perceived logjam at RB in New England, this is not a situation that can be overlooked. Thus, it’s important for us to evaluate the player that Mike Gillislee is.

The Measurables

As Scott Barrett’s below tweet shows, Bill Belichick clearly has a type he favors at the Running Back position.

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As you can see, Gillislee clearly fits the description of a Belichick back. This helps put into perspective why he was targeted by New England. However, there’s much more to it than just that. The dude can play.

What’s On Tape

After watching every Mike Gillislee touch from last season, I came away very impressed. Per Mike Reiss, an aspect of Bill Belichick’s evaluation of Gillislee from last season was as follows: “A strong, downhill runner. One-cut guy that’s hard to tackle.” Does that description sound like anyone to you? Because it sounds a lot like LeGarrette Blount to me, the guy he’ll be replacing. I know it may come as a huge shock, but that Belichick guy kind of knows what he’s talking about. Gillislee’s one-cut, North-South running style showed up time and time again on film. Let’s take a look:

One-Cut, North and South Running

This first run doesn’t have an extremely impressive end result, yet it illustrates Gillislee’s no-nonsense, decisive one-cut and get upfield running mentality.

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Here’s a similar run where Gillislee receives a direct snap out of the backfield:

Let’s look at some bigger gains now:

Gillislee impressively finds a way to get North/South twice on this run and shows off some shiftiness in the process:

Another example of a one-cut get upfield quickly run but this time a broken tackle is thrown in:

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Yet another impressive example, this time against his new team:

That decisive running ability helps him take this one to the house:

Ability To Get To the Outside

However, Gillislee’s game is not just limited to inside runs. He also has the ability to get outside whether it’s on a toss play:

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Or just his vision that leads him there:

He shows good lateral movement ability here:

Another impressive run against his new team:

Combination of Outside Runs With Awareness To Get Back Upfield

What really impressed me though was Gillislee’s determination and awareness to get back upfield in the middle of outside runs. Take a look:

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Not all RBs would do that. Some would keep heading toward the sidelines. Here’s another example:

In yet another example against his new team, I love Gillislee’s leg drive and how he finishes this run:

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Gillislee showed similar determination near the goal line where he was much more interested in running over people than he was running around them. This was a major reason for his 8 rushing TDs last season despite being a backup to LeSean McCoy.

Projecting 2017

Mike Gillislee’s no-nonsense running style will fit in perfectly in New England. He should replace LeGarrette Blount rather seamlessly and even looks to be a more dynamic version. In limited action last season (101 carries) per Player Profiler, Gillislee finished with the 12th most 15+ yards runs in the league, the best Breakaway Run Rate (percentage of carries that went for 15+ yards), and the 9th best Production Premium, which measures a player’s productivity across league average situations. Gillislee made the most of his touches last season and it very easily could’ve been a sign of things to come. From a projection standpoint, we don’t have to drastically adjust for Gillislee’s change of scenery as Pro Football Focus ranked The Patriots’ Offensive Line 10th best and the Bills’ Offensive Line 11th best at the end of last season.

The RB position in fantasy football is largely driven by opportunity. With relevant RBs Rex Burkhead, Dion Lewis, and James White all competing for touches, Gillislee is no sure thing and a lot will have to play out between now and the start of the season. I’m not ready to dig Burkhead’s grave just yet and envision a legit competition for the “Blount role” in training camp. However, my best guess is Gillislee is the clear favorite for that role as of now. After this film session, I can confidently say that if Gillislee gets enough opportunity to match his talents, he could become an extremely valuable fantasy football asset in 2017.

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Be sure to check out the rest of our NFL Film Breakdowns.

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