Spotlight - RB Ronnie Brown, Miami Dolphins
Posted 8/25 by Jason Wood and Marc Levin,
Exclusive to Footballguys.com
Jason Wood's Thoughts
Ronnie Brown was the 2nd overall pick in this year's draft, a rare feat for a running back. In fact, the last time a RB was taken 2nd overall was back in 1994 when a ultra-productive runner from San Diego State became the Colts top choice. His name was Marshall Faulk. All too often of late, I've seen people refer to Curtis Enis and Ki-jana Carter as reasons to be wary of high RB draftees. Yet, that's selective memory. Excluding this year's draft class (Brown, Williams and Benson were all top 5 picks), seven (7) RBs have been selected in the top 5 over the last 10 years.
- Marshall Faulk, 2nd overall, 1994 -- One of the best running backs of his generation. 7-time Pro Bowler, League MVP and 4th all time in yards and touchdowns
- Ki-Jana Carter, 1st overall, 1995 -- Ki-Jana suffered a major knee injury at the start of his career thus making a proper evaluation impossible.
- Curtis Enis, 5th overall, 1998 -- Injuries derailed Enis from the start, he only played in nine games as a rookie and was out of the league three years later
- Edgerrin James, 4th overall, 1999 -- Led the league in rushing his first two seasons, bounced back from a knee injury with two more spectacular seasons (and counting)
- Ricky Williams, 5th overall, 1999 -- Three consecutive top 10 fantasy seasons, four 1,000 yard seasons, led the league in rushing in 2002. Only his penchant for weed has kept him from remaining among the league's elite
- Jamal Lewis, 5th overall, 2000 -- Four 1,000 yard seasons (including two 1,300 yard seasons and the vaunted 2,000 yard campaign in 2003) and one of the league's premier power backs
- LaDainian Tomlinson, 5th overall, 2001 -- The best offensive player in the league, the consensus top fantasy option this year. Tomlinson has more rushing yards and TDs than any back in NFL history through four seasons
So let's tally the roster:
...two injury "busts"
...Faulk, James, Tomlinson, Lewis & Williams
I like those odds.
Now, to be fair, Ronnie Brown's situation is a bit different than the five great backs listed above. He split time at Auburn (with Carnell Williams, the 5th overall pick this year) and so we can't assume that he's equipped to carry the load over a 16-game NFL season. However, his size and strength suggest he will be able to handle the load.
Furthermore, HC Nick Saban knows Brown. Saban coached against Auburn and it's fair to say no one in the NFL knows what Brown can and can't do better than Saban. And despite some pundits believing Carnell Williams was the better choice, Saban (knowing them both inside and out) chose Brown, not Williams, with the 2nd pick. Brown is bigger, faster and a far more polished receiver and blocker than Williams at this point in their respective careers. And those are the kinds of things that allow a rookie RB to get on the field (if you can't pick up a blitz or be a safety valve out of the backfield, you're not getting PT).
But what about Ricky Williams? Admittedly when Brown was selected 2nd in April, neither Saban nor the league had any reason to expect Ricky Williams to come back into the league. Yet, he's done just that. Whether Ricky's heart is into it or not remains a HUGE question mark, but he's looked good in practice and has benefited from Brown's protracted holdout. Remember though, Ricky has to sit out the first four games of the season, meaning Brown has 1/4th of the year to cement himself as the Dolphins franchise runner.
OK, so Ricky may not be a big risk per se, but what about that offensive line and the QB situation?
Legitimate risks indeed. The offensive line should get better in a hurry thanks to the hiring of Hudson Houck; who did wonders in San Diego and was the architect of the dominant Cowboys O-Line of the early 90s. BUT, if training camp was any indication, the line isn't up to snuff yet. And the QB situation probably isn't an asset either. Gus Frerotte looks to have the edge, but that's more a function of A.J. Feeley's woefulness than Frerotte's accomplishments. But, great backs find ways to make plays.
...In 2001, Tomlinson ran for 1,236 yards, caught 59 balls for 367 yards and scored 10 TDs on a team that threw for only 16 TDs, had more INTs than TD passes, and had one of the league's worst offensive lines
...In 1994, Faulk ran for 1,282 yards, caught 52 balls for 522 yards and scored 12 TDs on a team that threw for 2,519 yards (28th in the league), 15 TDs, 14 INTs, and had a woeful offensive line
Of all positions, running back is the one offensive slot where greatness can shine through even in less-than-ideal conditions. I'm not saying Ronnie Brown will be great, it's too early to tell, but there is certainly precedent.
- In the last 10 years, every top 5 RB selected has been stellar barring injury
- Brown was considered the best back in a historically strong RB class...he's fast, has great size, is a polished receiver and an able blocker
- Hudson Houck will turn that offensive line around (whether that happens in 2005 remains to be seen)
- Opposing defenses are going to key on the run unless/until Frerotte/Feeley can capitalize on the situation
- Brown's extended holdout and presence of Ricky Williams cast additional uncertainty as to his upside this year
- The offensive line is far from a finished product, and that could mean inconsistency in the running game
It seems the football fans, and fantasy leaguers in particular, always want to pimp the "other" guy. I guess we're always looking for the "sleeper" or trying to show that we're smarter than guys who make these decisions for a living. But frankly, I think this is one decision the Dolphins and HC Nick Saban got exactly right. Brown has everything you could want in a feature tailback, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him end the year solidly among the top 25 at his position. Don't overpay for him but if he's available as your 3rd RB, you could do far worse.
Marc Levin's Thoughts
The Miami Dolphins and new HC Nick Saban made Ronnie Brown the highest drafted RB in 10 years when they took him as the second overall player in the 2005 draft. The 6 foot, 233 lb. back from Auburn has the prototypical build for an NFL back. In college, he demonstrated excellent speed and power as a runner and he attacked the holes between the tackles well. He also has a burst of speed that allows him to turn the corner outside the tackles. Moreover, he is a very good blocker and an excellent receiver. He is the complete package.
Unfortunately, he was a late signing and missed all of training camp and the Dolphins’ first two preseason games. Saban did not play Brown at all in the third preseason game. So, he has very little time to prove that he deserves to be the team’s starting tailback and to become comfortable in the Dolphins’ offense. To complicate matters, Ricky Williams returned to the team and has been running well, though he will miss the first four regular season games due to a league suspension.
Still, it is hard to imagine Saban deciding to open the season with either Lamar Gordon or Sammy Morris as the starter. Now that he is with the team, Brown needs to show he deserves his five-year, $34 million contract – $19.4 million of which is guaranteed. Even if he earns the start, a slow start or a few fumbles may encourage Saban to re-install Williams as the starter after the suspension – or, even worse, place Brown in a committee with the other backs while waiting for Williams to man the job. Moreover, Brown faces some tough run defenses those first four games. The Dolphins open the season against the Broncos, Jets, Panthers, and Bills.
The offensive line is an improved unit and is now under the direction of a very good offensive line coach in Hudson Houck. That said, the Miami run game has a long way to go to respectability. In 2004, the team put up a paltry 384 rush attempts at 3.49 YPC and was near the bottom of the league in all major rushing categories. In their first three preseason games, only Ricky Williams has had any success behind the line. But much of that success was due to Williams’ ability to turn broken plays into positive yardage, and not because the line was opening holes for him. The line also looked bad in short yardage situations.
It is not an encouraging scenario for any back when the offensive line is struggling. The unit may develop cohesion as the season progresses, but those first four games look even tougher for Brown if the line is not playing well. Also, the Miami offense overall has not looked good – neither QB is playing particularly well and the OL has looked as bad at pass protection as run blocking. Without an effective passing game, any Miami RB will face a lot of defenses with 8 men in the box – that is another negative factor for this rookie running back.
Finally, unless you are in a dynasty draft, Brown is likely a bit overvalued. The latest ADP information has Brown as a 4th round selection, or possibly an early 5th round selection, in 12-team leagues. He will likely climb a bit higher as the season draws near and his position on the team becomes solidified. At least Brown has fallen out of the top-24 fantasy RBs, so you can likely add him as your RB3 and then hope for the best. But, that does not exactly make for a player you should target in a fantasy redraft. Especially when the 4th and 5th rounds contain some excellent values for consistent players at other positions. A great way to acquire Brown may be to trade for him on the cheap after a few weeks of the season on the assumption that he has a slow start and that he becomes trade bait just before Williams returns.
In a line, Ronnie Brown appears to have all the talent to be a star back for the Dolphins, but it is not clear that he will be given enough opportunity in 2005 to make a fantasy splash.
- He has all the physical tools to be a superstar running back in the NFL.
- With such a huge contract, there is a lot of incentive to play Brown early and see what he’s got.
- The offensive line is improved over the pitiful running attack from last year and they are coached by an excellent offensive line coach.
- He has tough competition for the starting spot, even with Ricky Williams missing the first four games
- Once Ricky returns, will it be him or Brown as the starter – regardless, it is likely Ricky eats into Brown’s production since it is hard to imagine Saban keeping Ricky on the bench.
- Though improved, the offensive line will need time to develop cohesion – and they will have to do so against some very tough run defenses early in the year.
- The Miami pass offense is not likely to prevent defenses from running 8-in-the-box for much of the game.
It is hard not to think of the second overall pick as a worthy addition to a fantasy team, but most of the objective factors for Brown in 2005 do not look good. Brown might not even earn the opening day start and, even if he does, it is foreseeable that Brown splits his time with the other backs, or simply fails to put up good fantasy numbers, early in the season. Also, after game five, it is hard to imagine Ricky Williams not significantly cutting into Brown’s numbers. While Brown might be a good outlet receiver, Ricky is also a good receiver. He is simply too much risk for where he is likely to be selected in most fantasy drafts.
Quotations from the Message Board Thread
To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there),
I can see the Dolphins using a RBBC approach much like Minnesota did. They are going to pound opposing defenses with Ricky & Ronnie. Unless we have some injuries, this has RBBC written all over it which equals fantasy death.
Personally, I am not worried about Ricky Williams reclaiming the number one job in Miami. But I do suspect that he will see playing time and may even see the goal line carries because he has always been a short yardage runner. RW is at 215 right now and still a little undersized from the way he was and that may hinder his comeback.
This whole situation is way too out of whack to call with any kind of decent projection. Brown could blow everyone away and be the ****, or he could end up sharing a piece of a very weird pie. In any case, with the MIA passing game in such dire straights, I do think opposing teams will run 8 in the box relentlessly, limiting the MIA O much the way SF was limited last year, which resulted in a terrible bust for Barlow.
Ronnie Brown Projections
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