3 RB Sleepers for Draft Season Insomnia

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A sleeper is not a handcuff. Handcuffs are players who, in the event of an injury, can be projected to inherit significant playing time. Sleepers are players that have an assumed role and stand-alone value but an increase in efficiency or volume will cause them to significantly out-perform their ADP. Handcuffs are largely not worth drafting because they require injury “luck” to be useful. However, sleepers are worth a late round selection because they can build momentum as roles are defined throughout the preseason. The goal of smart drafters should be to have this type of player rostered before the buzz escalates.

Selecting the Candidates

In order to qualify for this list, the running back must:

  • Be drafted after pick 120 (10th round, 12 team league)
  • Not be a handcuff that requires a significant injury to provide value
  • Have a case for immediate relevancy whether it be a muddled backfield or specialized role

A Bit on Success Rate

Rushing success rate was used heavily in this piece rather than traditional statistics such as yards per rush. It is a metric that can be found on Sharp Football Stats and adds additional context to some standard football stats. The success rate evaluates a play not just by yards gained but yards gained relative to the goal of the play, which is to achieve a first down. A successful play is defined as a play that gains 40% of yards-to-go on first down, 60% on second down and 100% on third down. Therefore, a draw play on 3rd and 26 that gains 10 yards my look great from a yards-per-play statistic but would be considered unsuccessful by this metric. In short, success rate can be used to better evaluate effectiveness of a player and may blunt some “cheap” production occurring in a soft game scenario.

Devin Singletary, BUF (ADP 167/ RB53)

Up late thinking… The Bills invested a 3rd round pick in Singletary and the rest of the RB room is uninspiring. After being truly elite for many years, Lesean McCoy was below average in 2017 with a 42.5% rushing success rate (RSR) and legitimately bad in his age 30 season, producing a 36.6% RSR. For reference, the 2018 NFL average was 47.5%. It is reasonable to assume that is showing significant signs of decline entering his age-31 season. A bonus factor is that Buffalo can save $6.4 million in cap space by releasing McCoy sometime this offseason. Other mates in this crowded backfield are impossibly old (but still effective) Frank Gore and complimentary piece T.J. Yeldon. Because of this, Singletary is one of the better late picks to at least draft and hold through the preseason.

Rude awakening? Singletary might have to be a unicorn for this to work out. Despite a small stature (5’7″, 203lb), he implemented a scorched earth policy in college, averaging 6 yards per carry and scoring 66 (!!!) touchdowns on the ground. However, his stock cooled significantly after showing a 13th percentile SPARQ score at the combine in addition to the fact his competition at FAU was not great, Bob.

Dream on: Bills cut McCoy, Singletary outplays Gore early and rewards drafters with 200+ touches


Justice Hill, BAL (168/55)

Up late thinking… Hill offers something unique in the Baltimore backfield. He has special explosiveness (95th percentile burst score) and good speed (81st percentile speed score) while also flashing quality hands in college with 31 receptions in 2017. The rookie lands in an almost ideal spot as the Ravens called the most running plays in the NFL in 2018 and will likely set the benchmark for running volume again. In addition to volume, they were effective as well finishing tied for 5th in team RSR over average (+5.6%) and 4th in the NFL in explosive runs.

Rude awakening? Baltimore signed Mark Ingram to a 3year/$15 million contract this offseason, meaning they probably view him as a central piece in their offense. This is likely to be a 3 headed committee (including quarterback Lamar Jackson), however last year 3 players had >100 attempts for Baltimore. The backfield is also under construction with Alex Collins and Javorius Allen departed while Kenneth Dixon is a candidate for release or trade. That could be 215 carries vacated. Last year’s leading RB Gus Edwards is still around, but pardon this author for not wanting to bet on a former UDFA with subpar athleticism. Even with Ingram and Jackson in the fold, Hill could see 120 rushes and 50 receptions. With his penchant for big plays, that would be enough to roster him in most leagues.

Dream on: Hill is very active in the passing game and has enough chunk gains to crack the top 24 RBs.

Mike Davis, CHI (176/57)

Up late thinking… After 3 years struggling with various injuries, Davis was quietly good for Seattle in 2018. He posted an above average success RSR of 50.9% while leading the Seahawks specifically in red zone success rate. Additionally, he showed useful hands catching 34 balls from Russell Wilson (this was also a skill flashed in college with 2 seasons catching over 30 passes). A 5th year player on his 3rd team, Davis is probably the least exciting back outlined here. Luckily he’s also uninspiring to drafters and is essentially free. It’s not a bad choice to take him and watch how the Chicago backfield shakes out over the next few months.

Rude awakening? David Montgomery was presumably drafted to be the lead back in Chicago, and his ADP reflects that at RB26. However, it’s a little strange so much is being assumed about Montgomery’s role, but as discussed above, not of Devin Singletary’s. They were drafted back to back in the 3rd round! This is not an indictment of Montgomery, but a very low-cost hedge in an uncertain situation.

Dream on: Montgomery fails to adjust to NFL speed while Davis the usurper earns 15 touches a game, making him a comfortable flex play.

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