By The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson
I came across something on Twitter that really made me think. As a result, I started digging. First, shout out to WOFF guest Michelle Magdziuk for the inspiration:
Why are people so willing to forgive Dalvin Cook’s injury history but not James Conner?
Fantasy pts/game (PPR):
Cook: 13.8 (dealt with lingering injuries)
Conner: 14.6 (dealt with lingering injuries)
Career Missed Games:
Cook = 19
Conner = 11
— Michelle Magdziuk (@BallBlastEm) August 11, 2020
One (James Conner) exploded in 2018 when Le’Veon Bell decided to hold out in search of a new contract. The other (Dalvin Cook) finally showcased his talent over a (mostly) full season. Both have put up great production in the past, have shown an ability to consistently get hurt, yet are currently being drafted 35 spots apart, according to FantasyPros ADP. What gives?
This isn’t a study as to who is more talented or who you’d prefer in Dynasty, as talent typically wins out in the long run in that format and I, like many, believe Cook is the superior talent. In redraft leagues, we look at a lot of different factors that help us determine who to target during our drafts, who to trade for as the season goes on, etc. Scoring fantasy points is a big part of that, but so is consistency. Let’s look at Conner’s and Cook’s careers to date to see if we can understand the discrepancy between the two.
Tale of the Tape
James Conner is a 233 pound bruiser who has never averaged more than 4.5 yards per carry per season. Cook, a smaller back at 210 pounds, has never had a season where he averaged less than 4.5 yards per carry. Cook has been the starter since being drafted, but injuries have limited him to just 29 games over the last three seasons. Conner became the starter when Le’Veon Bell held out and has missed nine games over those two seasons.
Since total fantasy points are important, let’s look at what each player has put up over their respective time as starters:
In terms of points per game and points per touch, it’s clear that Conner is the preferred option. Both excel as pass catchers, as Cook averages 3.6 receptions per game and Conner averages 3.9 (as a starter the last two years); both average over eight yards per reception; and both average more than five yards per touch.
But for all this talk about fantasy points, let’s break the two down by how many points they’re scoring each week:
|Player||Games||Games<10||Games 10+||Games 15+||Games 20+||Games 30+|
This helps to better explain Conner’s superiority in fantasy points per touch. Cook scores plenty of fantasy points, no one is denying that. But when Conner hits, man, does he hit. Four 30+ point games? 39% of his games started have resulted in 20+ fantasy points. That’s great. Cook isn’t bad in this regard, mind you. All but one of his 20+ point games came in 2019 though. Still, solid production, just not on Conner’s level.
But as we’ve learned with guys like Amari Cooper and Tyreek Hill, there’s a certain level of consistency that is needed to earn trust. Do either Conner or Cook, both with injury concerns over their careers, have yours?
It’s difficult to look at either of these running backs and label them “consistent” given the amount of time they’ve both missed due to injury. But what we’re looking at is how consistent they are when they play. And there’s a chart for that:
|Player||Top 5 (%)||Top 12 (%)||Top 24 (%)||Top 36 (%)|
Based on these numbers, you could argue that Cook has been more consistent, with a higher percentage of RB2 weeks (top 24) at his disposal. And when you’re drafting an RB1, that’s what you’re envisioning — how few times do I need to remove him from my lineup? When Cook plays, he’s an RB2 almost 80% of the time. Looking at the top 12 running backs from last year, only four were an RB2 at minimum 80% of the time — Ezekiel Elliott (100%), Christian McCaffrey (93%), Cook (92.8%), and Chris Carson (80%).
When looking at a player’s ADP, you’re looking at more than just who is going to score more fantasy points. You want to know who is going to put you in the best position to win each and every week you start them. Yes, Cook and Conner have drastically different ADPs at the moment — one is a first round pick (Cook) while the other is a fourth round pick (Conner) — and both have a history of injuries. Yes, one was “better” more recently than the other and people always have “what have you done for me lately?” at the forefront of their collective consciousness. One has more “boom” weeks while they both have roughly the same “bust” weeks.
Those “boom” weeks are what make Conner a high-upside 4th round pick. Historically speaking, he’ll provide plenty of fantasy points and win you a good amount of weeks. But Cook puts your team in a position to win every week based on his ability to score points consistently. That’s what you want from your first round pick, and Conner isn’t that, unfortunately. He’s a high-upside RB2. Cook has the look of a 1st round pick in terms of consistency, but the injuries make you do a double take.
If you want consistent production, Cook is your guy. But right now, in terms of draft price, I would prefer to wait and snag Conner to pair with a back with less injury risk and reap the benefits of his “boom” weeks because they’re fun to watch in an offense that feeds their RB1 like an all-you-can-eat-buffet in Vegas.