Let’s start with what classifies someone as a sleeper. Is it a player drafted in a particular round or overall pick? Is it a player that you just don’t see coming? Perhaps it is simply a player that far exceeds expectations regardless of draft capital?
For this article, I assessed a simple line of demarcation and classified a sleeper as someone drafted in the 5th Round or later of the 2017 NFL Draft. Overall there were 27 Running Backs selected in the 2017 NFL Draft with 12 (44%) taken in rounds 5 or later. From those 12 players, I used three separate Player Profiler metrics, which I am affectionately referring to as the RB Trifecta Metric, to identify the most likely Sleeper Running Backs for 2017.
The RB Trifecta Metric consists of player Age (<23.0), BMI (>30.0) and College Dominator Rating (>31%). The rationale behind the Player Age threshold was intended to allow a RB time to “hit” (23-25 is the Peak Performance window for the RB position). BMI and Dominator Rating thresholds ensure that the player was in the 60th percentile or greater of those specific metrics.
For this article and to build suspense we are going to begin with measuring the 2016 Draft Classes elite. The chart below shows the three highest graded running backs in the 2016 NFL Draft per NFL.com. As you can see they all rate quite high on my RB Trifecta Metric with only Jordan Howard’s Dominator Rating falling slightly outside of the established parameters. Each of these players had successful rookie seasons to varying degrees and have very optimistic outlooks for 2017 and beyond.
Next, we are going to look at the top 4 Running Backs selected in this year’s NFL Draft. No sleepers here as these players, in some order, are being drafted inside the top 6 picks in all rookie dynasty drafts.
As you can see only 2 players (Fournette and Cook) met all three of the criteria for my RB Trifecta Metric. Now does this mean that McCaffrey and Mixon aren’t solid dynasty assets? Absolutely not. In fact, I have Mixon as the RB1 of this year’s draft class. What this allows me to do is utilize comparable data to uncover potential dynasty gems later in the draft.
Waited long enough? On the edge of your seat? Want to know which player(s) to target in the middle to late rounds of your draft that could carry you to fantasy glory? Well, you’re going to have to read a little bit longer as we dive into the running backs drafted in Rounds 3-4 since two of them qualified under my RB Trifecta Metric as well. Both players are viewed as big bruising backs which is exactly why I included BMI as a metric since players with a Higher Body Mass Index profile as more productive and durable (BMI higher than 32.0 is considered extraordinary).
When I imagine who best epitomizes the definition of a durable NFL running back an image of Frank Gore appears in my mind. Gore happens to have a 32.0 (87th percentile) BMI. And when I think of a fragile running back CJ Spiller appears and he carries a 27.3 (4th percentile) BMI. Therefore, BMI provides a rationale behind a running back’s relative sturdiness.
In this case, D’Onta Foreman and James Conner both find themselves in situations behind established veterans (at least from a contract perspective) with little to no fantasy value in 2017 outside of injury. Foreman will likely be the breather back for Lamar Miller in Houston while Conner will assume the LeVeon Bell handcuff role in Pittsburgh. May ROOKIE ADP per Dynasty Football Factory for Foreman (16) and Conner (24) confirms that they are already viewed as early dynasty round picks and don’t qualify as sleepers.
Now to the twelve Running Backs selected after the 4th Round, where interestingly enough there were also two who qualified under my RB Trifecta Metric.
This couldn’t have worked out any better as Jeremy McNichols, and Aaron Jones were two of my favorite rookie RB targets before I even began to research this article.
Jeremy McNichols was an extremely productive dual threat Running Back at Boise State which is beginning to earn a reputation for turning out quality NFL Running Backs (Doug Martin and Jay Ajayi preceded McNichols). In his Sophomore and Junior seasons at Boise State, the Bronco RB averaged a healthy 6.2 yds/touch. McNichols added 53 total TDs during that period. This level of production coupled with the depth chart uncertainty in Tampa Bay has him all over the Dynasty radar. McNichols DFF May ROOKIE ADP of 21 (3 spots ahead of James Conner) alone disqualifies him as a RB Sleeper.
That leaves one man atop the Sleeper pile for 2017, and his name is Aaron Jones.
The former UTEP Miner made his presence felt as a Freshman once he stepped foot on the field in his hometown of El Paso. He carried that momentum into a highly productive Sophomore season and was well on his way in 2015 before suffering a torn ligament in his left ankle in practice. The redshirt Junior showed no ill effects of the ankle injury in 2016 ranking fourth in the FBS with 1,773 rushing yards and 17 rushing TD’s (28-233, three receiving TDs). This earned Jones a first-team All-Conference USA selection in his final year.
More quick than fast, Jones Player Profiler Burst 127.3 (87th percentile) and Agility 11.02 (85th percentile) Scores only serve to validate that the explosive player we saw at UTEP (Eight 40+ yd runs last year) possesses true game breaker ability.
Jones has Jamaal “8th percentile SPARQ” Williams as his primary competition for the RB2 role in Green Bay’s high-octane offense. Ty Montgomery, although extremely productive on a per-touch basis in 2016, is far from a sure thing atop that depth chart. Jones sleeper status is further cemented when considering his DFF May ADP (40) compared against Williams (22). We are talking 1.5 rounds in a 12-team league which presents some serious value for the savvy dynasty owner. Drafting an Aaron in Green Bay is never a bad thing. This one will also pay off in spades if/when given the chance.
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