With an ADP near the bottom of the first round and a late-June Standard Deviation above 5.0, Willis McGahee represents one of the first big variables in most 2007 drafts. He's clearly a strong No. 2 RB prospect with No. 1 RB potential, but he enters the year as the highest rated enigma among running backs.
The basics: McGahee enters his fifth NFL season (he spent his rookie season rehabbing a horrific knee injury) as a talented but disappointing fantasy player in what most analysts consider to be a vastly improved team situation. McGahee has size (6 feet, 230 pounds) to go with good (but not great) speed. He has averaged just over 1,100 yard for the past three years, but has a ypc average below 4.0. McGahee has scored more than six touchdowns in a season only once (13 in 2004).
The bright side: The guy was a college stud at Miami until he blew up his ACL in his final game, ruining his chances at being a Top 5 pick. He flashed brilliance in his first NFL season, running for 1,128 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2004. McGahee is a physically talented player who has spent his career on mediocre-to-bad teams, and in 2007 we'll get our first look at him in a balanced offense on a team that should be running the ball late in games. McGahee is a three-down back who isn't in an RBBC, which makes him one of this year's top candidates for a breakout season.
The dark side: Despite a weak supporting cast in Buffalo, McGahee played in an offense that was based around his strengths. He became a sulker and a locker room problem, basically forcing the Bills to trade him. While the veteran cast in Baltimore should put him in his place, it's easy to imagine that the performance of this rapidly aging team could erode quickly. The Ravens offensive line isn't what it used to be, and Steve McNair has struggled to stay healthy. Baltimore's strength -- its defense -- is also aging, and suffered some offseason losses to free agency.
Keeper factors: He's young enough (turns 26 in October) and has had relatively few NFL carries. But he's playing on reconstructed knees for an aging team with a rapidly closing window of opportunity.
Other RB choices: Lawrence Maroney, New England; Travis Henry, Denver; Ronnie Brown, Miami; Reggie Bush, New Orleans. QB choices: Peyton Manning, Indianapolis; Carson Palmer, Cincinnati. WR choices: Chad Johnson, Cincinnati.
Dan's take: McGahee faces a relatively soft early schedule, and with all the buzz around him this offseason, he's a great candidate for a big-time September hype-boost. Just don't expect him to maintain a high level of performance throughout the season. McGahee shows serious signs of a punk-ass attitude and the Ravens are a higher-risk unit than they've been in years. I don't see the Ravens repeating as AFC North champions, and I'd expect them to slide in terms of wins and fantasy performance as the season winds down. I wouldn't take him ahead of Maroney, Henry or Peyton Manning, and if he's playing well in late September -- TRADE HIM to any sucker who thinks McGahee is the missing piece to his fantasy juggernaut. Based on the tape I've watched, McGahee is only a slightly above-average talent, lacking the wiggle, burst and vision that marks a truly memorable runner.
July 7 UPDATE: Volatility is itself volatile. Since I wrote this analysis, McGahee's stock has dropped a couple of positions to No. 13, and his Standard Deviation has firmed up to 2.84 in my benchmark comparison (standard fantasy scoring, normal lineup, TE required, 12 teams).