Discover more from VolumePigs
CFF Series - The Return of the King
VP takes a look at a player that might just be his 1.01 in CFF...
For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
For those of you who have experienced challenging times in your life (who hasn’t?), the quote above probably resonates with you. I particularly like it, though I’ve never read the accompanying books of the LOTR series. I imagine it would resonate with today’s player, too. As a refresher to the reader—Marshall’s wonder kid Rasheen Ali, was mysteriously missing for almost the entire 2022 season.
The Marshall staff—namely head coach Charles Huff, were particularly vague in the details they released to the public, leading many to believe that Ali was experiencing a sort of mental health crisis. As it turns out—it was a knee injury, the details of which came to light late last November. Be that as it may, I can only imagine the anguish one would have felt watching former Thundering Herd RB Khalan Laborn steal the show after the performance Ali put forth in 2021.
But the shadow was only a small and passing thing. Ali would return before season’s end on November 19th vs. Georgia Southern. He carried the rock 17 times for 79 yards (4.9 ypc) and caught one pass. In his next game vs. Georgia State, he obliterated the Panthers’ front seven rushing for 102 yards on 16 carries (6.4 ypc). Finally, in the bowl game, he rushed 15 times for 92 yards and a score (6.1 ypc) vs. a pesky UConn team. His output in those three games was: 9.4, 17.7, and 15.2 points. That’s not bad all things considered (returning from a major injury, splitting carries with Laborn). I included the ypc averages because I find those particularly illuminating in evaluating how effective a runner is on return to injury. In 2021, Ali averaged 5.6 ypc (granted that was on 250 carries), while in the limited sample in 2022, he averaged 5.8.
In a recent dynasty league I participated in, I drafted Ali in the first round with the 10th overall pick. I was ecstatic about that pick, mostly because if he was off the board I didn't know what I was going to do. I am a firm believer in drafting the best RBs in CFF in the first round. When I selected Ali, I couldn’t help but smirk to myself and say: “that’s a VP type of player if I’ve ever seen one”. Bonus points for the fact that he does actually have a multiple years of eligibility left to return next year (though I’m going to go out on a limb and say that’s probably not happening).
For some more context: over the last few years, the names I’ve spent first round picks on include: Deuce Vaughn (2022), Mo Ibrahim (2021), Breece Hall (2021), and Najee Harris (2020). Rasheen Ali fits right into that group; and, something that is especially important—I find that this year is a weak cycle for the top of the RB class. The previous two cycles have had (in my opinion) three very strong sure-fire first round tailbacks (based on the info we had at the time, don’t you come at me with your hindsight 20/20 insight). In 2022 it was Vaughn, Bijan Robinson and Trey Henderson. In 2021, it was Mo Ibrahim, Breece Hall and Robinson. This year? I see only two that match my criteria for first round value: Judkins and Ali. Raheem Sanders is on the borderline for me, and I fear I may end up having to reach for him in a few drafts should QJ and Ali be gone.
But what makes Ali so special? It’s a good question—one I plan to answer in (thorough) detail below. So make yourself comfortable, and come on a trip with me down the old country roads to Huntington, WV.
Coaching & System
Current Marshall head coach Charles Huff has been with the program since the 2021 season. In his first year, he used Ali extensively, feeding him 250 carries, of which he paid off for 1401 yards and 23 TDs. He also caught 45 passes (57 targets) for 334 yards and a score (28 FPG). In 2022, Ali was sidelined with what was at the time a mystery injury. In his absence, Huff’s RB1—former five-star Khalan Laborn (VP alumni) rushed 302 times for 1513 yards and 16 TDs. Laborn also caught 16 passes for 116 yards.
Prior to Marshall, Huff spent time as the associate head coach and RBs coach at Alabama (2019-2020). During that time, Najee Harris carried the rock 209 and 251 times; adding in receptions, Harris finished 2019 with 236 total touches, and 2020 with 294. He went over 1200 yards rushing in each season, and scored a total of 20 (2019) and 30 TDs (2020).
Huff also spent time at another SEC West program in Mississippi State during the 2018 season. The Bulldogs had a run-first QB at the helm that season, who rushed 221 times for 1121 yards. The RB1 behind him—Kylin Hill, rushed 117 times for 734 yards and 4 TDs and added 22 receptions for 176 yards and another 4 scores.
As if the list of names at RB under his tutelage wasn’t staggering enough, Huff had Saquon Barkley during his time at Penn State (2014-2017). Barkley rushed 217 times for 1271 yards and 18 TDs in 2017. He also added 54(!) catches for 632(!!) yards and 3 more scores. Oh, and Barkley also threw a TD pass. In 2016, Barkley rushed 272 times for 1496 yards and 18 TDs, and caught 28 passes for 402 yards and 4 TDs. The season prior, Barkley went over 1000 yards on 182 carries as a freshman. Huff’s first season with the Lions was a split backfield (RB1 rushed 147 times, RB2 125; neither went over 1000 yards).
The OC—Clint Trickett, who some may recognize from the hit Netflix show ‘Last Chance U’ (he was the QBs coach in season two at East Mississippi Community College). Tricket took over as OC of the Thundering Herd last season, which — as mentioned — was a campaign that produced a prolific production profile for Laborn. Prior to that he was the WRs coach in 2021. He co-OC’d and coached QBs at FAU in 2020, and oversaw the TEs from 2017. The 2015 and 2016 years were when he coached at EMCC.
I want you now to just take a moment to look into the eyes of the man who is the current OC.
I don’t know about you, but I’m left with one definitive impression: this is one crazy bastard. I don’t think coach Trick will have any reservations funnelling the type of volume we’re looking for into one player.
Overall, this is an incredibly strong system for RB usage, and combining that with the fact that a previously prolific runner is returning in Ali makes him a potential 1.01 candidate in re-drafts. Is that a hot take? You probably won’t find many (if any) others in the industry with Ali as their 1.01. I think all the ingredients are here to suggest that Ali has the best profile of any RB, the only problem — and likely why he isn’t talked about in this range more — is the injury history from 2022. That’s the one thing that is a question mark. How good is he post-injury, and will the staff be comfortable using him the way they did in 2021?
RB Rasheen Ali — 6’0, 210
Ali joined Marshall as part of the 2019 class. If you can believe it, he was actually listed as a two-star prospect. Looking back at his high school tape, you can kind of see why—he was quite slight to be a RB, looking more like a WR.
That probably explains why the Ohio native redshirted his first season, and played in only 5 games his second (not sure if this one counts against his eligibility or not). His third season was a monstrous one, though. He averaged 28 FPG in 1-ppr formats, rushing for 1401 yards and 23 TDs on a solid 250 carries. He also caught 45 passes for 334 yards and a score. All told, he averaged 22.7 touches per game in 2021. Excellent—that’s the type of volume we’re looking for in the first round of drafts.
His TD share in 2021 was pretty absurd. While we might expect some reversion to the mean on this front in 2023, considering the volume his predecessor got—300+ carries, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that Ali could match that mark again or surpass it. Add on the fact that he is also a potent pass-catcher, as evidenced by his usage in this regard. This is a differentiating factor between he and Laborn, Khalan wasn’t really used in this capacity. So maybe Ali doesn’t necessarily see 300+ carries, but I’m expecting him to clear 300+ touches fairly convincingly. If he’s as efficient as he was from a ypc standpoint as he was in 2021, this is a player who feels very safe in predicting he will average over 20 FPG—which is the criteria I am really operating on when selecting in the first round. I’m not so much focused on the raw capacity for production, but rather how safe I think their profile is to give me 20+ FPG from the RB position. Ali checks almost all boxes.
There is only one major one but it is somewhat glaring: what will the effects of the injury from last season be? My inclination is that he is fine now, and seeing him get 17 touches immediately upon return last year is a good sign. This is a player who has the potential to epitomize what it means to be a volume pig, and we need the staff to be comfortable giving that sort of workload to this player.
This one is minor. I had a lot of shares of Laborn last season and as such, watched a lot of Marshall football. There’s this pesky backup in Ethan Payne, who spelled Laborn whenever he was tired. Payne’s been in the program for a few years now so I wonder: will the staff make a concerted effort to involve him more in the offence? Tough to say.
As a corollary to the first concern, will Ali be durable enough in 2023 to withstand the workload even if the coaches funnel it to him?
Ali’s current ADP is 11.6, which is just at the end of the first round. That discount is likely due to question marks about his health and usage going forward—which is fair. For me, I have no problem selecting him as high as 1.01.
Overall, I love this profile. A big kid who has a history of elite production, in a system known for elite production, and at the RB position. Add in the cherry on top that he plays for a program that will need his contributions every game. This isn’t Alabama or Ohio State, Marshall’s not taking their guys out at halftime. This also isn’t a program with a plethora of options on offence. They lost their best receiver this offseason in Corey Gammage. They are going to need their best player to be a workhorse and then some for them to be successful. It really is a toss up for me between him and Judkins at the top of this year’s crop of players.
I will be candid in saying that coach Huff is a favourite of mine; I have acquired quite a few of his runners over the years. I also have an affinity for these types of programs. What exactly do I mean by ‘these types’? I don’t really have a well-defined explanation. Mo Ibrahim and the 2021 Gophers are another that come to mind. Teams that lean heavy run and are known for being physical, I guess is one way to put it. Internally in my head I refer to these programs as ‘dark energy’, but I don’t expect anybody else to really follow that. Programs that are gritty, dark, physical etc. Think the Baltimore Ravens in the NFL. The Philadelphia Eagles have an element of this too. For these reasons (among others), Ali is a personal favourite of mine headed into the 2023 season.
If you enjoy this content, I encourage you to join the Pig Pen (subscribing), and follow me on twitter.
Have questions? Find out what people are saying about VolumePigs here.
VolumePigs is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.