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Mike Gillislee Fantasy Football Stock Profile: Immense TD Upside with the Patriots

Mike Gillislee

Position: Running Back

Former Team: Buffalo Bills

New Team: New England Patriots

Movement Summary

A year after robbing the Bills of Chris Hogan via restricted free agency, the Patriots pick their pockets again:

In the process, New England surrenders a fifth round draft pick, but gains a new early-down back to fill LeGarrette Blount‘s massive shoes. Gillislee goes from a mere high-end handcuff to a potential RB2 with mammoth TD upside, as we’ll explore deeper with his Fantasy Football Stock Profile.

Talent: 8 / 10

Gillislee doesn’t immediately jump off the page as truly “special” in any one facet.  Sure, at 5’11” and 210 lbs, he’s sizable, but he still isn’t a true “big back.”  His hands are solid, but he’s not anyone’s definition of a third-down specialist.  Though both strong and fairly fast, he’s neither a clear power nor speed back.

Yet, Gillislee does everything well, which is the exact versatility the Patriots crave. Besides being a well-rounded ball of size, strength, and speed, what jumps off the page most is Gillslee’s burst. Consistently avoiding tackles for losses, Gillislee reads blocks and finds the hole well, before sticking his foot in the ground and hitting it decisively . Often, this leads to broken tackles and allows Gillislee to reach the second level, where he displays strong open-field vision, frequently cutting back and gaining extra yards when available.

This hard-nosed, zero-hesitation style made Gillislee one of 2016’s most efficient backs, averaging a robust 5.71 yards per carry and scoring nine total TDs on just 110 touches.  Crucial on a Bill Belichick team, Gillislee has historically taken great care of the ball. Additionally, I always trust Belichick’s scouting eye, especially with divisional rivals who he sees twice a year (re: Wes Welker and Chris Hogan).  If the smartest man alive spies something, who are we to ever disagree?

In short, though he doesn’t truly “wow” anywhere, Gillislee absolutely churns with his powerful burst and strong all-around vision, making him a perfect fit for his upcoming role…

Opportunity + Usage: 8.5/ 10

 

Here’s where Gillislee’s fantasy value explodes.  Historically reliable ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss noted: “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.”

What exactly does this role come with? In 2016, Blount’s heavy first and second down usage yielded the second most rushing attempts in the league (299). More importantly is the red zone usage: Blount’s 68 carries inside the 20 topped the league and were 15 more than next-closest David Johnson (53); Blount also led the league in carries inside the 10 (42) and inside 5 (24), all ultimately yielding a league-leading 18 TDs.

We already referenced Gillislee’s nose for the end zone. If he receives even close to this type of red zone work, 12+ TDs are a lock, and 15+ is a genuine possibility.

Despite the mammoth red zone role he inherits, Gillislee doesn’t receive a 10 in the usage department given this backfield’s serious depth (explored more in-depth later). He’ll be used minimally in the receiving game, and Belichick is sure to slip Rex BurkheadJames White, and Dion Lewis into certain red-zone packages.

Still, with early-down and red zone carries mainly his (and meshing perfectly with his get-upfield style), Gillislee carries one of the juiciest roles for fantasy backs; the lesser talented Blount rode this usage to a RB7 standard and RB9 PPR finish.

Lots of goal line plunges await Gillislee in this offense

Coaching Scheme: 7/ 10

As a reminder preface, this “scheme” grade strictly applies to Gillislee and keeps in the historic success (or lack thereof) of the “big back” in New England. Obviously, offensive wizard Josh McDaniels coaches a 10/10 scoring bonanza that maximizes everyone’s role and talent.

But it’s McDaniels “spread-the-wealth and “maximize the matchup” mentality causes game plans to be entirely revamped on a week-by-week basis, and this creates unpredictability. In fact, many owners simply put Patriots RBs right on their Do Not Draft list given this perceived inconsistency. Doing so, however, has caused owners to both dodge some bullets but also miss massive campaigns in equal measures.

In 14 seasons with Tom Brady as his QB, Belichick has coached 7 highly useful, often times monstrous, RBs that have gone for ~1,000 yards and over 10 TDs.  Yes, that means 7 other times he’s coached migraine-inducing committees, but these were often the results of injuries or fumbles (cough, Stevan Ridley, cough).  When Belichick has a talent he trusts and hand selects, the results have usually been fantastic.

In this light, Belichick didn’t surrender a 5th round pick and over $4 million this season for a running back he plans to sit.  Of course, with receiving backs Dion Lewis, James White, and Rex Burkhead all aboard, the catches will be light, but Gillislee should be a solid bet for between 200 – 250 carries, with around 40+ coming in the red area.  He falls forward, doesn’t fumble, and will set the team up well on second and third downs — think a juiced up Benjarvus Green Ellis, who feasted in Belichick’s scheme for 229 carries for 1,008 yards and 13 TDs in 2010.

Yes, the weapons cabinet is stacked and McDaniels is going to ride Jesus aka Tom Brady.  Yes, predictability has not been the exact word to describe the Patriots backfields historically. But New England has produced monsters, loves running in near the goal line, and will frequently be in the red zone, setting Gillislee up well for double digit scores and a real shot at 900-1,000 yards.

Surrounding Talent: 8.5 / 10

This one is a bit redundant, as Gillislee both benefits and is cursed from the wealth of talent surrounding him. On the positive, with Tom Brady slinging the rock to his most dangerous cast yet (Rob Gronkowski, Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman… Chris Hogan…Malcolm Mitchell?!?) defenses cannot come close to keying in on Gillislee; boxes will be light and scoring chances plentiful.  Additionally, the Patriots fielded the 6th best run blocking line in the league according to Pro Football Focus, much in part to the (again) returning Dante Scarnecchia and his brilliant tutelage.

On the negative, such a stacked cast limits just how many scores Gillislee can net. Of course, the scoring pie is massive, but the mouths to feed are equally plentiful.  Especially in the backfield (again – James White, Rex Burkhead, Dion Lewis), Gillislee faces tons of competition for carries. Truth, he’s a different mold than the other three and appears set for a more differentiated role, which should help keep him easily the most consistent and trustworthy of the bunch; still, Belichick will keep defenses guessing with a variety of packages and looks.

Overall, with the seemingly clearest role (re: early downs and scoring chances) amidst such an explosive cast, Gillislee is definitely more helped than harmed by his teammates.

Touchdowns will always be plentiful when this stud is leading the charge

Risk: 6.5 / 10

As a reminder, risk boils down to injury history and/or susceptibility, as well as expected consistency. Unfortunately, Gillislee’s injury history is tough to assess; though he has never suffered any major ailment, Gillislee has never been fed overly significant work even dating back to college.  This shouldn’t be a major issue, however, as Gillislee isn’t expected to shoulder an enormous workload in New England (just a valuable one). He did suffer some hamstring ailments last season,  and Gillislee does run with physicality, which makes him susceptible to dings.  Still, he remains a major unknown in terms of durability and conclusions are still tough to draw.

Thus, we turn to consistency.  As explored in depth, the Patriots backfield has been far from predictable. But if Gillislee is truly pegged for Blount’s role, the stability was unparalleled: double digit half-PPR FPs in 12 of 16 games, below 9 FPs only twice, never below six.  If Gillislee receives even somewhat similar work, he’s going to feast at a near identical pace. Just like his health, however, this remains a bit shrouded in mystery for now.

Overall Stock Score: 38.5 / 50 = 77, C+

Ceiling Projection / Scenario: Just like Corey Dillon, LeGarrette BlountStevan Ridley, and BenJarvus Green Ellis, Gillislee is treated as the sole early down back, feasting on a healthy workload that’s most fruitful near the stripe. Though a lack of receptions keeps him from truly elite territory, Gillislee’s dependable 10-12 FPs make him a title-swinging RB2.

260 carries – 1,200 yards – 14 TDs; 20 catches – 150 yards

Floor Projection / Scenario (excluding injury):  Belichick rotates his backs in a game-to-game nightmare carousel, and weekly usage is near impossible to predict. Gillislee mixes 20 carry, 120 yard, 2 TD days with 3 carry, 20 yard efforts, and becomes a tough-to-trust flex play in the process.

135 carries – 650 yards – 7 TDs

Bottom Line:  Projected to fill the “early down, goal line back” role in New England’s prolific offense, Gillislee drips with serious upside, especially in the scoring department.  Still, barriers exist: what will Gillislee’s exact usage be amidst so many talented backfield mates and surrounding weapons? Is he capable of handling a featured back pounding? Will he be involved on a weekly basis, or only against certain opponents?

Generally, the Patriots don’t forfeit valuable cash or draft assets without a clear, prominent role for the player in mind. Thus, Gillislee seems more likely to fall much closer to his ceiling projection than his floor, which makes for a valuable RB2 or better. Just draft extra depth in case he misses, as the floor is low and largely unusable.

2017 Predicted Stat Line:  210 carries, 937 yards, 11 TDs; 15 catches, 80 yards

We used this formula to nail David Johnson and Ezekiel Elliott in 2016. Check back for more Fantasy Stock Profiles throughout the off-season to stay ahead of your fantasy football league.

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