I enjoy cooking. I’m not a world-class chef or anything, but if my girlfriend—yes, she’s imaginary—goes to the store and picks up some fresh, quality ingredients then I can whip up some pretty darn good food. Of course, I’ll use every single dish in the house to get the job done and require some major assistance in the clean up department. But the cook shouldn’t have to clean up, right? My imaginary girlfriend begs to differ after the last time she cleaned mushroom risotto off the ceiling.
Anyway, in my demented mind, this is a great analogy for the NFL running back position. Most backs fall into this good but not great chef territory. If they’re surrounded by quality ingredients and opportunity, they’re all capable of delivering some delicious fantasy food. Just provide them with the right system on a good team, with a competent quarterback to set the table and an above average offensive line to clean up the mess.
I won’t go so far as to say all running backs are made equal, but there’s only a handful of Michelin star running backs in the world like Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffrey, and Ezekiel Elliott, who might be able to transform spoiled spam into a delicious honey baked ham. Oh and Kerryon Johnson, who I wrote a Kerryon Johnson Dynasty Due Diligence love letter for last week. He’s definitely Michelin! But what does all this have to do with Devin Singletary you ask?
Well, the 22 year old Singletary landed at #81 overall in my Top 200 Dynasty Rankings for 2020 Fantasy Football last week and several readers questioned why I would have the kid so low coming off a promising rookie campaign. This got me thinking, and thinking makes me hungry, so I started cooking. Then it came to me, Devin Singletary is just an average saucier, but maybe he has the ingredients and opportunity to produce better fantasy results than I baked into his dynasty ranking.
170 year old Frank Gore took 166 carries in the Bills backfield this season compared to Singletary’s 151 carries. The next most RB carries on the team was 17 for T.J. Yeldon. Gore is now a free-agent and I think there’s a pretty good chance Buffalo opts out of Yeldon’s 2021 contract. How the Bills choose to fill out their backfield this off-season should tell us a lot about Singletary’s opportunity and expected usage moving forward.
When he came into the NFL draft last year, I was among the skeptics regarding Singletary’s ability to be more than just a complementary back. The Bills gave him 20+ carries three times in his rookie season, so there’s a chance they’re looking at him as more than just a committee member. Filling out their backfield with low end free-agents and late round draft picks would signal a huge vote of confidence for the youngster.
As I sliced and diced the Singletary numbers, two impressive stats jumped out at me—yards after contact per rush (YAC/Att) and rush attempts per broken tackle (Att/Br). He finished his season with 20 broken tackles on only 151 carries which was good for 7.6 Att/Br, the 5th best mark in the league. He also finish 13th in the NFL with a tally of 2.4 YAC/Att. This kid’s small in stature at 5’7″ & 203 lbs, but he packs a big punch.
On the flip side it’s also worth noting Singletary faced 8+ defenders in the box only 5.3% of the time, the lowest mark in the entire league for 2019. For reference, David Johnson (5.32%) and Joe Mixon (7.91%) were the only two other backs to face 8 men in the box less than 8% of the the time.
As I’ve mentioned in the past, a major factor I consider when valuing dynasty RBs is their total career carries. Running back is the one undersized position repeatedly trounced by 300+ pound monsters 15-20 times each week. The career span of an NFL running back is shorter than any other position (2.57 years). If you can properly time the sale of your dynasty backs near peak value, you’ll find yourself consistently near the top of your league.
While Singletary only handled 151 carries this past season, he accumulated massive volume in his three year college career at Florida Atlantic, particularly the final two seasons—and we already know his bruiser running style will wear on the body. Take a look at how his college carries stack up against the other running backs from the past two draft classes:
|Player||Years in College||Total College Carries|
Carries in Final Two College Seasons
The final ingredient I’ll bring to the kitchen is Singletary’s hands. Coming into the NFL he wasn’t known for his pass catching ability with only 51 receptions in his three years at FAU and just 6 grabs in his final season. While he exceeded expectations in his rookie season with 29 receptions, he did finish with 4 drops on his 41 targets. It’s a small sample, but a 10% drop rate isn’t good and only reinforces his consensus scouting report coming into the league.
After stirring the pot a bit more, my Singletary interest has spiced up a little, especially short-term. His profile isn’t one I’d be buying aggressively, but if the Bills give him the keys to the cookhouse there’s no reason to think the young bully can’t barrel his way to a back-end RB1 or high-end RB2 season in 2020. Which by itself is worth way more than the #81 ranking I’ve given him. Be ready to entertain offers next off-season if this scenario plays out.
All statistics sourced from ProFootballReference.com & NextGenStats.NFL.com