There is a term that floats around the fantasy industry across all sports: post-hype sleeper. I haven’t been able to find a clear-cut definition anywhere, but by combining several vague definitions I will define it here: A “post-hype sleeper” is a player who was highly regarded a year or two ago, and who for one reason or another, fell out of popularity over time, but may now be able to live up to the hype from the previous season(s). A perfect example of this in 2017 is Baltimore Ravens’ running back Kenneth Dixon. The 2nd year player out of Louisiana Tech was on everybody’s radar last year as a rookie, but following an injury last season, a 4-game suspension to start this season and the signing of Danny Woodhead and re-signing of Terrance West, it would appear that expectations have cooled a bit on the sophomore ball carrier. So what might the future hold for Dixon and his fantasy potential?
A year ago, according to MyFantasyLeague.com data, out of 1005 rookie drafts, Dixon was the 8th highest drafted player going off the board at an average of pick 12.47. So what happened to last year’s 1st round fantasy stars? Looking at last year’s average top 12 fantasy picks, only the Saints’ Michael Thomas and some guy named Ezekiel Elliot went on to contribute for fantasy teams. So, most of the 2016 class might be considered post-hype sleepers, but let’s specifically look at Dixon.
Dixon left college as the all-time FBS leader in touchdowns scored with 88 and also is 4th all-time in rushing touchdowns as well. So, there were obvious reasons for optimism coming into the league. He was eventually selected by Baltimore in the 4th round of the draft. He had little competition in his way with only journeyman Justin Forsett ahead of him and local product Terrance West (and I guess Buck Allen too, if you count USC offensive skill players as competition, which I do not). The path was set for his ascension to the throne in Charm City, but a preseason knee injury led to him missing the first four games of the year and slowed his progress. He performed decently the rest of the way, but not enough to supplant West, who (no pun intended) ran away with the job thanks to Dixon’s absence and Forsett’s ineffectiveness.
Entering 2017, what can we expect from Dixon – and more importantly – at what cost? The Ravens did not draft a rookie running back, which many had predicted they would. That speaks well for Dixon. They did bring in 32-year old Danny Woodhead on an $8.8-million, 3-year deal. Woodhead should be the featured man out of the backfield on passing downs, but I don’t think that will cut into Dixon’s touches. Recently departed fullback Kyle Juszczyk had 37 receptions on 49 targets for 266 yards, and West had a 34-45-236 stat line, I’d expect nearly all of those touches to go to Woodhead, and perhaps a hair more, maybe something in the 80-reception range. In only 12 games last year, Dixon managed 30 catches for 162 yards and those numbers should be right in line with what we might expect as his floor for this season. In addition to the Woodhead signing, the Ravens also re-signed West, a restricted free agent, to a 1-year, $1.8-million deal. Neither of these deals seems to pose a threat to Dixon. He is serving a 4-game PED suspension to open the year, so West will be given another chance to take the job, but the Ravens seem to like Dixon and his diverse skill set. One thing to keep an eye on here, and it’s complete speculation at this point, but the Baltimore Sun’s Jeff Zrebic (who covers the Ravens) was reporting that the Ravens are interested in signing Ryan Mathews if/when he gets released from the Eagles. If Dixon is someone you’re targeting, that’s a situation that might be worth monitoring as the off-season continues.
Last season, despite missing four games, Dixon managed to carry the ball 88 times and get 41 targets in the passing game. That’s over 10 plays coming his way per game as a rookie – and you’d have to assume that number is going to increase going forward. According to ADP data, thanks to DFF’s very own ADP master Michael Cipes, in December of last year, Dixon was being taken 68th overall – approximately a late 5th round pick. Currently, from ADP data collected in February, March, and April, we’ve seen his ADP drop to 75th, 98th, and 119th, respectively. 119! That’s the end of the 9th round/early 10th round in standard 12-team leagues. For a player with potential RB2 upside in PPR formats, that’s just too low in my opinion. Over the 12 games he played, he averaged 8+ points in PPR – that’s a decent RB3 floor for a player that late in drafts. He does, of course, have a 4-game suspension to start the year, so that undoubtedly is driving his price down, but it also means there’s never been a better time to buy low on him also. It’s not a stretch to think that his ceiling could be somewhere in the same neighborhood we saw from Justin Forsett in 2014. Forsett ran for over 1200 yards and added another 263 in the air to go along with 8-scores, of course missing the 4-games will impact those numbers, but that’s an average of 15+ fantasy points per week.
Dixon seems like a player who is poised to break out and has plenty of opportunity to do just that once he returns from suspension in week-5. His current price represents a nice value and he’s a prime buy-low candidate for trades. If anything, he might even keep falling as more attention gets paid to Danny Woodhead this off-season and this year’s crop of rookie running backs keeps gaining momentum. Anywhere between 8 and 15 fantasy points per game in PPR is realistic and that seems like a fine value for your 9th or 10th round pick, as few players in that range will present that kind of a safe floor with potential upside. Each year, a few running backs emerge that were a bit off the radar and make a big splash for fantasy, this year Kenneth Dixon just might be the player that can help you pull down a championship.
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