Everyone has their own definition of what makes someone a sleeper, breakout, bust, etc., and to each their own. I decided to use Fantasy Football Calculator ADP to identify three players currently being drafted in the 8th round or later who present with immediate and/or long-term value at the running back position. I want players with upside and a reasonable path to opportunity in 2018. The Not For Long (NFL) acronym could not be more fitting for a specific position group.
Aaron Jones, RB Green Bay (RB35, pick 8.02)
His @Showtyme_33 twitter handle alone says it all. This kid is must see tv on the football field. Unfortunately, off-field indiscretions have him suspended for the first two weeks of the 2018 season. This has likely led to his full round decline (from 6.11 to 8.02) over the last two months. It presents itself as a buying opportunity for a player who averaged 5.5 ypc across 81 carries in his rookie season. By comparison, fellow backfield mates Jamaal Williams (153 carries – 3.6 ypc) and Ty Montgomery (71 carries – 3.8 ypc) were far less successful on a per carry basis. What did surprise me was Jones paltry 9-22 (2.4 ypr) receiving line on 18 targets. Jones wasn’t a prolific pass catcher at UTEP but did compile a respectable 71-646-7 (9.1 ypr) career receiving stat-line.
Optimism and Opportunity
Jones possesses the three-down skill set that the other two running backs in Green Bay do not. However, they each do maintain some of the necessary traits needed at the running back position. Williams thrives in short yardage, Montgomery is the ideal third-down back due to his dual-threat skill set, and Jones is an electric playmaker who can excel on first and second down in an Aaron Rodgers led offense. Green Bay’s schedule does them no favors early on with the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings, however, both games are at Lambeau Field. The Bears and Vikings were 11th and 2nd respectively in run defense in 2017 and neither defense profiles to take a step back in 2018. I reference these games because they represent the window for one of Williams or Montgomery to take hold of the lead back role during Jones’ suspension, and let’s just say that I expect Jones to get a crack as early as Week 3 in Washington versus the lowly Redskins run defense.
Matt Breida, RB San Francisco (RB49, pick 13.07)
Full Disclosure: I am a proud card-carrying member of the Jerick McKinnon RB1 fan club, but what if four years and over 600 touches in Minnesota is an accurate depiction of who McKinnon is as a running back? No one would be getting excited over his 4.0 ypc and 6.9 ypr career averages. I see a Michael Turner 2.0 situation brewing here and Shanahan handpicked McKinnon to replace Carlos Hyde, who finished last season as the RB8 in PPR scoring. Even with Hyde’s success, Breida flashed in limited action, and we all know about the glorious Freeman-Coleman 2016 season that happened under Shanahan’s watch in Atlanta. This offense can support two fantasy relevant backs especially given the lack of upper echelon receiving talent currently on this roster.
Let’s pretend I’m hedging my bets or shallowly planting my flag on JET island, but if I own McKinnon, I am aggressively seeking out Breida. In a dynasty startup, you can easily land McKinnon (3.03) and Breida (13.07) without committing excessive draft capital. In an active league, Breida can likely be had for a 3rd round pick without much resistance. Fun fact: Breida and McKinnon played in college together at Georgia Southern, a hotbed for running back talent.
(editor’s note: Breida was injured during the 49ers first preseason game, but is expected to be back on the field by week one of the regular season)
Jordan Wilkins, RB Indianapolis (RB57, pick 14.08)
I was on Wilkins pre-NFL draft as someone that would rocket up rookie draft boards should he land in the right situation. He certainly landed in a good situation with the Colts, but things are a bit muddy right now which has caused his ADP to remain stagnant. Use that to your advantage. Yes, Frank Reich comes from Philadelphia where they just deployed a full RBBC en route to a Super Bowl victory. Yes, the Colts drafted Marlon Mack in the fourth round in 2017. Yes, they drafted Nyheim Hines in the fourth round in 2018. And yes, Wilkins was merely a fifth-round pick in 2018. What separates Wilkins from both Mack and Hines, however, is his size and style of play. According to NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein “Wilkins 12 carries against Alabama could be hard for teams to ignore as they look to project his NFL potential. He should find work as a solid backup with a shot at finding starters carries at some point.”
Nyheim Hines – 5’9”, 198
Marlon Mack – 5’11”, 210
Jordan Wilkins – 6’1”, 216
Now don’t get me wrong, Wilkins isn’t a between the tackles pounder. But, he does possess adequate agility to sift through trash inside and has the frame to handle an NFL workload. Mack is a dancer who can break off a long run at any moment. However, too many negative runs could find him on the pine before long. Hines is an interesting slot back who I see excelling in a Darren Sproles-esque role (i.e., he’s unlikely to ever see 100 carries in any given season). There’s nothing wrong with a two-down back, especially one in an Andrew Luck led offense. Factor in that can be had for pennies on the dollar right now, and I will gladly take Wilkins at his current late 14th Round draft value. This is amplified given the new regime in Indianapolis which brings with it depth chart uncertainty.
Marlon Mack (RB31, pick 6.12)
Nyheim Hines (RB48, pick 11.08)
Jordan Wilkins (RB57, pick 14.08)
Two of the three Running Backs discussed are from unsettled NFL backfields. That lack of clarity is largely responsible for their depressed ADP. Things could change at any moment given an injury, preseason game or Rotoworld blurb. I strongly suggest making a play for each of these Running Backs ASAP before reality catches up with fantasy.
What I would trade 2019 pick wise for each player:
Aaron Jones: 2nd
Matt Breida: 3rd
Jordan Wilkins: late 3rd
Others in consideration: Elijah McGuire (if not for his broken foot), Kenneth Dixon (if not for all the injuries), Jalen Richard (he’s way too young for Jon Gruden), De’Angelo Henderson (no excuse, I should’ve pleaded his case)