I’m a Raiders fan so when I used to load up the fantasy draft on Madden I’d channel my inner Al Davis and sort by SPD. Awareness be damned. Give me speed or give me death. When I entered the fantasy football streets, I realized very quickly that wasn’t going to be sufficient. Now we have Matt Harmon’s Reception Perception, breakout ages, and dominator/market share scores. We still have PlayerProfiler to look at the physical measurables but draft capital has gained importance over the years. And for good reason. NFL teams spend a tremendous amount of resources to break down players so the higher draft capital they spend on a player shows their confidence in a player and allows for more opportunities and leeway for said player to develop. Here’s the thing, though. The NFL draft complex is not truly efficient. JaMarcus Russell. As a Raiders fan, [email protected]$^*^%AS;KGDB;[email protected]#$! Vince Young. Trent Richardson. Josh Rosen. Justin Blackmon. Kevin White. Jake Locker. There have been so many first-round busts. On the flip side, Warren Moon, Kurt Warner, James Harrison, Tony Romo, Rod Smith, and Priest Holmes all went undrafted. So, while draft capital is a useful tool, it is not the end all be all. Which brings me to running backs Javian Hawkins of the Atlanta Falcons and Xavier Jones of the Los Angeles Rams. Both were UDFAs and both have NFFC ADPs past the 200s. That said, both have upside and could be viable fantasy pieces this season. 

Let’s start with Javian Hawkins.

Hawkins is 5-foot-9 and in the 190-pound range. That’s probably the reason he went undrafted.  Heightism and weightism at their finest. If you care, Mel Kiper had Hawkins as a top-six back in pre-draft rankings. He played his college ball at Louisville where he only broke the school record for rushing yards as a redshirt freshman with 1,525 yards and nine touchdowns. The following season, he played in eight games before opting out and declaring for the draft. 

PlayerProfiler has him down for a 4.51 40-yard dash but he ran a 4.46 at his pro day. The agility score is 11.2, which puts him in the 74th percentile. 

His dad called him “Playstation” because he played it too much as a child but the nickname gained traction amongst his peers because of the moves he made on the field. 

 

He is not strictly a gadget, in-space player as he has the ability to run between the tackles. While the reception number was low in college, that had more to do with the offensive scheme than the ability to catch. 

Now, Mike Davis is the number one back in Atlanta. But after that? Qadree Ollison and Cordarrelle Patterson. There’s a chance that Hawkins could become the second guy on the depth chart and the early word from training camp has been positive. He’s shown off his breakaway speed and scored a long touchdown already. 

Playing all home games in a dome on turf will accentuate his speed and the Falcons also play two other games indoors at New Orleans and Dallas. With Julio Jones in Tennessee, the Falcons will want to get as many of their playmakers on the field and Hawkins could be one of those guys. Time will tell.

What if Mike Davis goes down? It wouldn’t be the first time a running back succumbed to injury. Would Hawkins become the guy? I have no idea but I wouldn’t automatically dismiss the idea. While there haven’t been many examples of 190-pound running backs carrying the load, there have been 29 instances throughout NFL history in which one has rushed for at least 1,000 yards in a season. Warrick Dunn did it five times, Charlie Garner did it twice, and Phillip Lindsay did it two times. Hey, what do you know? Lindsay was also a UDFA in 2018. 

In NFFC drafts from July 1 to August 1, Hawkins is being drafted on average with the 224th overall pick. He’s essentially free. The risk/reward ratio is too juicy for me to ignore. Talent. Check. Opportunity. Looks likely. Upside. A good possibility. If things don’t break right for him? He’s an easy cut and you move on.

Now let’s take a look at Xavier Jones. X gon’ give it to us?

Jones is 5-for-11 and 208 pounds. He played for four years at SMU. In his senior season, he racked up 1,276 yards and scored a whopping 23 touchdowns on the ground in 244 carries. He also added 20 catches for 90 yards and two touchdowns. Like Hawkins, Jones went undrafted in the 2020 NFL draft. The Rams scooped him up as a free agent. 

Unless you’ve been underwater swimming with the fishes or maintaining intergalactic relations on planets far, far away, you know that Cam Akers is done for the season with Darrell Henderson set to be the lead back for the Rams. Jones will likely be the number two back, though. 

The 40-yard dash time is only 4.59 on PlayerProfiler and there was no agility data but he’s got moves…

….and he did make the 53-man roster last season and the Rams red-shirted him so they do value him. 

Last season, the Rams essentially had a three-headed committee. There were times when it was a two-man crew and it was usually a 60/40 split in those instances. Malcolm Brown was a key cog in the machine but he is no longer with the team. Jake Funk was just drafted in the seventh round while Otis Anderson Jr. was a UDFA. Raymond Calais was drafted in the seventh round by the Buccaneers and the Rams signed him to the practice squad. He is 5-foot-8 and 188 pounds so likely won’t be used between the tackles much. So, Jones has size over Calais and Anderson and experience over Funk. His place on the depth chart looks secure for now.

The Rams were 26th in passing play percentage last season. That number could tick up with Matthew Stafford at the helm now but McVay is still going to run the ball. In addition, there should be more red zone opportunities with an improved aerial attack. The Rams were 15th in red-zone scoring attempts per game last season. Last season, Josh Jacobs of the Raiders led the league in red-zone rushing attempts with 64. Derrick Henry was second with 59. Both Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson had 31 attempts each. 

Jones will have stand-alone value if he can hold down that number two role. 

Now, what if Henderson goes down? That’s where the upside comes in. Will he get all the opportunities? Probably not but he would likely be on the 60% end of the pendulum, which would be crazy valuable in a Rams offense that should be one of the more potent in the league.

Jones is being drafted as the 242nd overall player in NFFC drafts from July 1 to August 1. As with Hawkins, the risk/reward ratio is just too juicy to ignore.