Way Too Early 2019 RB Sleepers
Welcome to the first ever Football Absurdity American Alliance of Football article! Nah, just kidding, but could you imagine? It’s all NFL, all the time here, and as we turn our attention to 2019, we keep it rolling with Way Too Early editions of sleepers and busts at each position. We continue our look with the position we all hate to love: the running back. These three guys are not the deepest of sleepers, but they are all currently going outside the top-24, and are not being ranked by the industry as starting running backs in standard fantasy football leagues. Snatching these guys up could be the key to your draft… in six months. Call them RB sleepers, or RB breakouts or RB bounce backs, or whatever you want to call them. Just call their name when it’s your turn to draft. ECR is “expert consensus ranking” from FantasyPros.com
Kenyan Drake, Miami (ECR: RB31)
For whatever reason, Adam Gase refused to give Kenyan Drake the keys to the Miami offense. He gave 700-year-old Frank Gore as many or more carries than Kenyan Drake in every single game after week two last season. Obviously, this doesn’t count after Gore went down, but that is still a baffling statistic for the Dolphins, and is a likely reason why Adam Gase stunk up the joint and is now going to stink up the joint in New York. While we don’t know much about Chad O’Shea, who is the new offensive coordinator under defensive head coach Brian Flores, it is clear that they cannot do worse for Kenyan Drake than Gase did. Let’s do a little thought experiment for a potential Drake 2019 breakout. If he just received 50% of the touches that Frank Gore received in 2018, and he completed them at his average pace for yards per carry and yards per target, Kenyan Drake would end up with an additional 28.5 yards per game, which brings him up to an average of 92 yards per game, which is a 1472 total yard pace for the season. Touchdowns are fluky, but more touches means more touchdowns. If basic back-of-napkin math gets you to 1400+ yards, imagine what could happen with a good OC there… or a bad OC. He’ll likely go in the late 20s or early 30s at RB, but he has a great shot at ending up in the top-fifteen at season’s end.
Ito Smith, Atlanta (ECR: RB55)
Ito Smith didn’t do too great as the de facto Devonta Freeman back up, but he wasn’t drafted to be that. The Falcons drafted him to replace Tevin Coleman, who was disastrous in 2018 without Devonta Freeman. Ito Smith wasn’t much better, but he managed to turn a handful of red zone carries into some pretty impressive scores. He was miscast as the Devonta Freeman replacement, as his skillset better matches Tevin Coleman’s. Now, Coleman is (likely) out the door, Ito Smith is on the menu for those home run carries and targets currently apportioned for Tevin Coleman. Basically, he’s a good player to have on a team in a certain role. He’s set to play that role in 2019. He’ll be underestimated going into 2019 because he was miscast in 2018. He’ll be a late-round flier that has a good shot of cashing in for you as one of your RB sleepers.
Jerick McKinnon, San Francisco (ECR: RB25)
Remember Jerick McKinnon? He was a borderline top-ten running back headed into the 2018 season before a torn ACL on the last play of the last practice on the last day of training camp stole his 2018 season from his fantasy football owners. Matt Breida had himself a dang season, and suddenly everybody forgot about McKinnon. Here’s the thing about Breida and McKinnon… it’s all Kyle Shanahan’s running game. The Niners were one of the worst teams in the league but boasted one of the best ground attacks, and that was true of everybody they stuck back there. Even Raheem Mostert looked good, and something called “Jeff Wilson Jr” went for over 100 yards as the lead back. It’s also an absolute miracle that Matt Breida only missed two games. The 5’10”, 190 pound back left basically every single game with an injury, but he’d come back and grit it out, then be back out there the next week. Also, don’t forget the Tevin Coleman-Devonta Freeman one-two punch in Atlanta that happened on Kyle Shanahan’s watch. Even if Breida doesn’t fall apart, as long as the Niners offense takes a huge step forward, Jerick McKinnon will return value as one of your RB sleepers targets.