The Fantasy Football Impact of Samaje Perine to the Denver Broncos
The Denver Broncos signed Samaje Perine to a two-year, $7.5 million contract including $3 million guaranteed, the fifth-most of any running back available in this year's market. A presumed backup runner wouldn't usually catch our eye as an outright steal in the double-digit rounds. Still, Javonte Williams' ongoing recovery from October's torn ACL, not to mention the negligent addition of former Saints RB Tony Jones Jr. to a one-year contract, suggests Perine is in line for far more touches and starts than perceived. Denver's five allotted selections in the 2023 draft — none occurring before No. 67 overall in the third round — only adds to that notion.
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Samaje Perine's Career
Drafted a full two rounds behind Joe Mixon (No. 48 overall) in the 2017 NFL Draft, Perine (No. 114 overall) initially landed in Washington only to lead the team in carries (175) for a repulsive 3.4 YPC and a single rushing score in his rookie season. Claimed on waivers by Cincinnati the following year, Perine not only linked back up with his former Oklahoma teammate Mixon in the very same backfield, but obviously had an uphill battle to climb as the team's No. 2 runner given that Perine came with ignorable draft capital in comparison to his classmate. Giovani Bernard's receiving chops also proved to be a nuisance, limiting Perine to less than half of the team's snaps in every game in 2020.
Fast forward to last season when Perine was (finally) gifted multiple opportunities to start in place of Mixon, finishing with 21-93-1 and 27-155-0 with a 20.9% target share and robust 5.1 yards per touch as Cincinnati's de facto bell cow. In fact, the coaching staff had enough confidence in him to deploy the veteran over Mixon in a push-comes-to-shove situation against the Chiefs in the AFC Championship, calling on Perine for more snaps (43-23) and targets (4-3) with both healthy.
How Samaje Perine Fits with The Broncos
Perine's budding opportunity with the Broncos is transparent given the tea leaves this regime continues to leave behind. Not only did coach Sean Payton reportedly call Perine on the first day of free agency to recruit him personally, but general manager George Paton also backtracked from February's statement, believing Javonte is "on track" for the season opener to confirming the team "won't know that for a while."
To that point, performances following a torn ACL — all of which are not injured or recovered from equally — over the last decade suggest more touches for Williams' backup, Perine, in 2023:
That is obviously a small sample with some caveats — 2016 was the second torn ACL of Jamaal Charles' career, for example. Per the extensive work of Adam Hutchison, though, we know that all running backs have historically averaged -6.1 fewer carries per game and -2.5 fewer yards per attempt following an ACL tear compared to their weekly usage pre-injury.
(For what it's worth, runners post-injury have averaged 3.2 more targets per game than what they earned prior, though it's unclear why.)
Note that the organization also hit reset in building from the inside out this offseason, prioritizing OT Mike McGlinchey (5th at his position in ESPN's Run Block Win Rate), iOL Ben Powers (2nd), and TE Chris Manhertz (19th) in free agency.
The Bottom Line
- Javonte Williams' ongoing recovery from October's torn ACL not only pits Samaje Perine in the driver's seat of Denver's backfield in Week 1 but arguably makes him a steal for numerous (if not the most) spot-starts at his 134.5 ADP.
- On Javonte, note that all running backs have historically averaged -6.1 fewer carries per game and -2.5 fewer yards per attempt following an ACL tear compared to their weekly usage pre-injury.
- Coach Sean Payton's blueprint to build from the trenches out was made clear in prioritizing OT Mike McGlinchey (5th at his position in ESPN's Run Block Win Rate), iOL Ben Powers (2nd), and TE Chris Manhertz (19th) in free agency, cementing a formidable o-line in front of Perine.
- Not only did Perine spike 21-93-1 and 27-155-0 with a 20.9% target share and 5.1 yards per touch in two spot-starts for Joe Mixon last year, but the Bengals' coaching staff also had enough confidence in Perine to deploy him over Mixon in their must-win AFC Championship game against the Chiefs, calling on Perine for more snaps (43-23) and targets (4-3) with both healthy.