The Legitmus Test: Elijah Mitchell-Mania, Ja’Marr Chase and Christian Kirk

Calculated conviction in a sea of overreactions

Jameis Winston is the MVP, Aaron Rodgers is cooked and rookie 6th round pick Elijah Mitchell is the greatest pickup in the history of fantasy football…….sike.

Overreaction week is in full effect. If only there was somebody who could chill our instincts to jump to conclusions.

 

 

Ok, a little harsh Peyton but with that said, there are certainly some developments that are worth moving on, for example –

  1. With one game in the books — we now have a metric to determine rest of season relevancy for the myriad of RBBC timeshare backfields.
    1. The Broncos split about even which may lower both of Melvin Gordon/Javonte Williams floors.
    2. The Raiders have a surprisingly similar split though this could have been due to them trailing needing to work in pass-catching Kenyan Drake more.
    3. The Jets are an avoid at all costs mess.
    4. The Cardinals split evenly suggesting both may have value but guessing which will dominate a given week may be a coinflip.
    5. The Falcons gave more work to Cordarrelle Patterson than was assumed which lessens some of the preseason shine on Mike Davis’ assumed bell-cow role. Though this could all change fast, we at least have a better idea of what to expect going forward.
  2. Long-term injuries to guys like Raheem Mostert and Jerry Jeudy opens up significant opportunities for Elijah Mitchell/Trey Sermon and KJ Hamler/Tim Patrick, respectively. Whether they capitalize on that is up for debate.
  3. Ja’Marr Chase may actually be capable of catching a football and possibly already leapfrogging Tyler Boyd in the Bengals WR pecking order.

Predicting future value on one week’s worth of data is objectively a foolhardy task. But, given the necessity of roster management in the early season, this is an imperative task that doesn’t offer the luxury of patience. So here I am, ready to drop some profiles onto my litmus test of prognostication to recklessly, yet judiciously, reach a binary conclusion on a limited sample size of data.

So forget about your draft day regrets, dispel your preconceived notions of player value, and dive in with me as we swim the sees of uncertainty to ascertain legitimacy on the Legitmus Test.

 

Ja’Marr Chase

 

 

Oh how quickly the narrative can change. From preseason bust to regular season breakout Ja’Marr Chase’s reputation has run the gambit of impulsive reactions already at week 1 of his rookie season. There is a lot to get excited about in this profile:

 

 

This was the fireworks moment for Chase in week 1 – a straight fly 50 yard TD bomb from his college teammate Joe Burrow. This also marked the longest TD pass of Burrow’s career exemplifying why the Bengals were so excited to add a dynamic weapon like Chase to their already solid WR core. Chase burned Bashaud Breeland with such ease on this play, making some question if Breeland thought he had safety help over top. Though some may blame the DB more than praising Chase for his easy release on this play – Chase further demonstrated his quick-twitch route running ability later in the game against former all-pro Patrick Peterson:

 

 

Spectacular.

Entering the season as the assumed 3rd WR in an offense already boasting last year’s 2nd round pick breakout Tee Higgins and established veteran Tyler Boyd who had 1000+ yard season in 2 of the last 3 years – there was a narrative suggesting Chase would be eased into the mix at WR. Yet, in week 1, Chase led the Bengals in targets, air yards, average depth of target, and third down targets, suggesting that he may have already leaped Tyler Boyd in the pecking order.

With that said, Boyd only receiving 4 targets on the day could be anomalous and matchup dependent. Owners would be smart to resist the urge to assume Chase will out-target Boyd on a weekly basis. But, given the first returns, we got that potential narrative is substantiated a lot earlier than many anticipated.

If you were lucky enough to draft Chase at his draft-day discount you should be greatly encouraged that you may have struck gold. Given his draft pedigree and week 1 role leading the team in targets as both a deep threat and 3rd down priority target, there is room to believe Chase can finish as a top 10-20 WR this year in fantasy. Keep in mind the Bengals gave Joe Mixon 29 rushes in week 1 and seem to be a run-first team this year so there may be some low-scoring games for the pass offense as a whole but Chase has the talent and increasing role to provide fantasy owners season-long value. Thus I dub him:

LEGIT

 

Christian Kirk

 

In week 1 Christian Kirk put up the following stat line:

 

 

Further, he made the following play:

 

 

As the tweet says this takes a special talent to both get enough release off the line to allow his QB to lob it up off his back foot as Kyler Murray did here and to track the ball with his back turned to it. With Kirk, talent isn’t really the major question here. First, he was limited by bad QB play with Josh Rosen in 2018, then Deandre Hopkins came to town but is this the year Kirk is ready to break out into a true every-week fantasy starter? Let us dig.

The 24-year-old former 2nd round pick in an elite high-scoring offense is now making fantasy owners question if Kirk is finally ready to break out. His week 1 production seemed as loud a proclamation he could make, given his opportunity, that he is ready to make some noise on the fantasy landscape this year. However, there are reasons to be concerned this may be premature at best and incorrect at worst.

Kirk is a burner who has stretched defenses ever since he was drafted to the Cardinals to catch bombs from Rosen in 2018. In week 1, Kirk finished 3rd in routes run behind both Hopkins and Green. Kirk devotees may point to Green’s inauspicious line catching only 2 of his 6 targets for a measly 25 yards to proclaim Kirk will supplant Green’s role in this offense and they may be right. But, there is more to this story.

Enter rookie 2nd round pick Rondale Moore who is a bit of a gadget player standing only 5’7 181 pounds. The Cardinals have a very deep WR core headlined by all world Deandre Hopkins, ex all world AJ Green and Moore. In Week 1, Kirk saw the same amount of targets (5) as Rondale Moore despite running almost two times as many routes.

 

 

Obviously, Moore has some juice. Of Moore’s 4 catches, 3 of them were designed specifically for him (2 screens, and 1 pop pass jet sweep). It is clear both through preseason usage which saw them design plays specifically for Moore and now in Week 1 that the Cardinals will be finding creative ways to get the ball in the hands of Rondale Moore. I am not using this to tout the excellence of Moore (though I do believe in him long-term) or recommend him as a must pickup (though he is a solid stash) but it stands to reason that Moore’s emerging role will likely lessen Kirk’s ceiling.

These are concerning constraints for someone people are ready to slot into their fantasy lineups. Kirk will certainly get his fair share of deep throws this year and will likely have blow-up weeks similar to his Week 1. But, I think Kirk is more likely to remain a boom/bust depth WR for fantasy purposes than a full-blown every-week starter. Though you may want to hold him on your bench for bye weeks and try to find the matchups where he may be able to break one deep – this is more of a dice roll than a starter to trust. Accordingly, I am labeling Christian Kirk’s breakout as

NOT LEGIT

 

Elijah Mitchell

 

If you ever feel like your life is in a lull — remember this story. Elijah Mitchell, a relatively unheralded 6th round pick assumed to be fighting for a roster spot now finds himself as the most discussed name in the fantasy community after just one week. Mitchell’s meteoric rise exemplifies the old adage that anything is possible.

Prior to noon this Sunday when inactives were announced, Mitchell was an afterthought for everyone not in the 49ers locker room. A 6th round pick drafted behind assumed rookie stud Trey Sermon, Mitchell was assumed to be nothing more than a depth rotational piece who could give the team some potential contractual leverage if starter Raheem Mostert were to walk after 2021. But, once news broke that Sermon was a surprise inactive the spotlight landed squarely on Mitchell to backup starter Mostert.

As we all know, Mostert is an extremely talented runner who has struggled to stay healthy. After just two carries this season, Mostert left the game with what we now know is a season-ending knee injury. The rookie Mitchell was then vaunted into the starting lineup. He did not disappoint. In the rookie’s debut he posted the following stat line:

 

 

Thus, Mitchell Mania was born.

This week’s waiver period was solely defined by the outrageous bids (including some spending 100% of their waiver budget) owners made to secure the services of Mitchell. Billed as potentially the most impactful week 1 fantasy pickup in recent memory, owners salivated at the prospect of owning the potential bellcow.

For at least one week, Mitchell showed out. But, as we know with all running backs they are only as good as their offensive line will allow them to be. Thankfully for Mitchell, this 49ers line is a great one. As a team, they had the 5th highest PFF run-blocking grade of the week. Led by All-Pro tackle Trent Williams, this line will raise the floor of whoever takes the majority of carries in this backfield. Candidly speaking Mitchell looked solid but unspectacular.

Mitchell is a downhill runner stronger than his 5’10 size would indicate. Although he clocked a 4.32 40 time at his pro day he doesn’t seem to play up to that speed. He demonstrated good vision, hit holes with conviction and proved capable of shedding arm tackles as he did on the below TD run.

 

 

Candidly despite his stalwart statline Mitchell looked solid but unspectacular lacking the elusiveness or burst that makes backs like Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, or Alvin Kamara standout. But, Mitchell likely doesn’t have to be Barry Sanders to remain productive with this offense. His skillset is eerily reminiscent of last year’s waiver darling James Robinson though he has yet to get the passing game work Robinson did.

Just as some owners were ready to anoint Mitchell the second coming, the skeptical contrarians were ready to quote Peyton Manning [quoting Jon Gruden] “have you lost your skull.” The skeptics have some key valid points in their favor. Primarily, head coach Kyle Shanahan’s annual RB carousel has a solid portion of fantasy owners with some form of PTSD due to false promises from 2018-2020 on a series of RB’s including Tevin Coleman, Jerick McKinnon, Matt Breida, Alfred Morris, Raheem Mostert. Is the shadow of this carousel enough to dull the shine on Mitchell Mania? Let us dig.

During the aforementioned three-year run — no 49ers RB got more than 153 carries (Matt Breida 2018) and in the last 2 years, the 9ers had 3 split over 80 carries each on the season (topping out at 137 carries each for both Coleman and Mostert in 2019). Naturally, this sort of rotation is the antithesis of the kind of running back by committee that you want to avoid overinvesting in for a given season. So, lower your expectations because Shanahan just does not believe in a one-back system, right?

 

 

In Shanahan’s debut, 2017 season the 49ers had a different kind of back they trusted as a true 3 down workhouse in Carlos Hyde. Hyde that season was given 240 carries and 88 targets, the kind of touches you can only find in the first couple rounds of a fantasy draft. But, that was 4 years ago. Did Shanahan have an epiphany that offseason swearing off a workhorse RB in favor of a three-headed monster? Or was this solely dependent on their personnel and their not trusting any of the 2018-2020 backs to hold up to the rigors of the season like they did Hyde? Time will tell.

With Mostert now out for the season, the main threat to Mitchell running away with the starting role is his fellow rookie Trey Sermon. His absence from Sunday’s actives has led some to assume he may be in Shanahan’s famed doghouse. A doghouse infamous for its unpredictability. As we learned this week, you won’t know until game day if a given player will be active or if they will be phased out of the game plan for Trent Sherfield, looking at you Brandon Aiyuk. Anyone concluding they know how Shanahan will manage this backfield through the year has “lost their skull,” Shanahan is and will remain unpredictable.

If Mitchell were to run with the role and be given the 19 carries/game he received in week 1 – the potential is undoubtedly tantalizing. He has the potential to be this year’s James Robinson, a potential RB1. But this is far from a guarantee.

So Mitchell’s current value lies somewhere between two poles – one of him as a rookie bellcow in a high volume, well-blocked rushing attack and the other as one of the rotating members of a committee backfield that will hamper his ceiling throughout the season.

Plant your flag and pray. Due to the upside of Mitchell you have to pay up for him so although I am not committing to this for the rest of the season for this week in fantasy sports, you have to buy. Mitchell’s profile is thus

LEGIT

 

Featured image by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)

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