By Rob Grimwood (@FFBritballer)
I hope you enjoyed last weeks’ wide receiver article, this week I dive into the running backs that you should consider picking up late in drafts. These players are only an injury away or a couple of good performances from having some potentially serious fantasy values and becoming bargains for your fantasy rosters.
Darrynton Evans – RB, Tennessee Titans
NFL Draft:93rd (3.29)H: 5’10W: 203lbs ADP: 15.01 Std – 14.08Half – 14.02PPR
40-Yard Dash: 4.41s 3-Cone: N/A Vert: 37.5in Broad: 125in Bench: 20reps
As an Appalachian State fan, I loved seeing Darrynton Evans drafted to a team crying out for better quality skill players. Not only are fantasy relevant players few and far between out of App State (wide receiver Brian Quick being the one and only semi-fantasy friendly player), to have 2 exciting players with high NFL draft stock (linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither went 4.01 to the Bengals) is simply fantastic and a tip of the cap to former Mountaineers Head Coach Scott Satterfield and the incredible job he did in Boone before being head hunted by Louisville in 2018.
Evans was quite literally one of the most talented skill players the Sun Belt conference is FBS Div 1 has ever seen and he has the stats to prove it. Over the 2 years he served as the lead back he accumulated 2,667 rushing yards with 25 rushing touchdowns and 319 receiving yards with 6 touchdowns. Quite simply – he dominated that conference.
It’s worth noting that despite being a ‘smaller school’, App State did have a pretty tough schedules over the last couple of years so these stats are very well earned.
Now we all know Derrick Henry is cemented as the lead rusher in Tennessee this season. Especially off the back of his league leading 1,540 yard 18 total touchdown 2019 campaign.
But when you look deeper on the Titans roster, outside Henry and wide-out A.J Brown, there isn’t a lot of talent left to offer. Jonnu Smith has an opportunity to break out in the passing a game, but there’s certainly room for an exciting dual-threat out of the backfield.
Starting QB Ryan Tannehill has a current career pass yards per game average of 231.8 and has only thrown less than 3,900 yards when playing a full season once – in his rookie season with Miami.
So I think it’s a fair assumption to say Tannehill is good for at least 3,700 yards using this logic and it’s also fair to assume Derrick Henry won’t be hyper-targeted in the passing game as he’s never been that kind of a player.
This means there are air yards up for grabs, especially out of the back-field where Evans seems to be the obvious go-to man (especially when the competition for reps currently stands in the shape of Dalyn Dawkins, Cameron Scarlett, Senorise Perry and Khari Blasingame…yes, exactly!)
Corey Davis and Adam Humphries will, i’m sure, get some production out wide – but after those two, the wide-receiving corps is about as recognisable as the previously named running backs.
If we assume Evans will be the lead receiving option out of the backfield, he’ll probably see 2-3 catches per game. So providing he can produce in and around his 8.6 yards per reception average in college, he should be around the 360 receiving yard mark for the season.
As for rushing, last year’s backup to Henry, Dion Lewis, had 54 carries for 209 yards and wasn’t very very effective at 3.9 ypc with 0 tds. Personally, I think Evans’ offers more upside than Lewis did last season so I do think he will have a few more than 54 carries, as well as Henry’s carry number regressing slightly on an anomalous season (303 carries) last year too.
During the combine at Indy in March, Evans’ showcased his athleticism by being in the 96th percentile with the 40 yard dash with a blinding 4.41s time (that’s blazing speed for a RB), 86th percentile in speed score and 82nd percentile in burst score. Basically, he’s a running talent freak.
In summary, Darrynton Evans has buckets of upside as a highly talented rookie in this lacklustre offense. He’s also one Derrick Henry injury away from being a bell cow duel-threat option which as we see with the likes of Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara and Saquon is fantasy gold.
Stat Projection: RB38 (Standard), RB38 (Half PPR), RB32 (PPR)
Eno Benjamin – RB, Arizona Cardinals
NFL Draft:222nd (7.08)H: 5’9W: 207lbs ADP: UNDRAFTED – Std, Half & PPR
40-Yard Dash: 4.57s 3-Cone: 6.97S Vert: 39in Broad: 122in Bench: 12reps
Benjamin’s potential path the success is bit more complex than Evans’. To believe Eno could have a fantasy relevant role this season you have to a) marvel over his highlight reel from college and b) not be in love with Kenyan Drake.
If you’ve just watched the video in the link, I bet you said ‘wow’ in the first couple of clips at least. Eno is shifty, real shifty. He’s like a little pocket rocket that has the ability to pierce through defensive lines and evade oncoming linebackers.
I can’t believe a player with his level of talent fell to the 7th round of the draft. The Cards got an absolute steal here considering he had a 3rd round grade. That high grade was mainly down to his stats over the last couple of seasons. Between his sophomore year (2018) and junior year (2019) Benjamin clocked 2,725 rushing yard for 26 touchdowns with 610 receiving yards and 4 tds off 77 receptions.
Among rookie RB’s in this 2020 class, Benjamin measures as 9th best RB in adjusted SPARQ score which is an adjusted formula customised to suit the position which differs from the overall SPARQ scores. This puts him as a 62nd percentile athlete which is 33rd overall out of the entire class. (translation – he’s a borderline elite athlete!)
One of the biggest problem Eno has for his fantasy outlook is his position on the depth chart. After Kenyan Drake’s sensational second half to last year after he was traded to Arizona, he has all but cemented his position as lead rusher for the Cards for 2020.
Chase Edmonds enters his third year with the team having improved on his rookie numbers last year and will likely be the favourite to remain as the teams backup option.
But there is a path for Benjamin to force his way onto the team. Before Kenyan Drake became a Cardinal, his career numbers weren’t all that impressive. In his 3 1/2 year stint in Miami, Drake averaged only 28.5 rushing yards per game, 19.1 receiving yards per game with a 0.3 touchdown per game average. Even with the second half of last season padding these stats out, his career-to-date rush yards per game is still only at 35.1. To put that into context, that’s lower than Matt Breida, Tevin Coleman, Latavius Murray, Isaiah Crowell, T.J Yeldon and C.J Anderson to name just a few.
So, in other words, I am not a Kenyan Drake fan. I appreciate his circumstances have changed dramatically and I could be proved wrong, but 3 1/2 seasons of terrible rushing statistics vs. 1/2 season of decent production… i know which interests me the most.
Chase Edmonds too has never really wowed me either. His 4.2 yards per carry and 6.5 yards per reception career average are admirable for a backup running back, but that’s all he is. I question whether he’s the type of player that could handle a lead role
But Eno Benjamin could. I’m confident of that and believe that his talent’s are capable of handling a decent sized work load, especially after sustaining a 23 rush attempts per game average in college.
He needs things to break his way, but it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility that Benjamin progresses his way up the depth chart. Particularly if Drake get’s injured or stays true to his career averages, Eno Benjamin could well see a significant workload relevant to fantasy towards the second half of the season.
Stat Projection: RB53 (Standard), RB55 (Half PPR), RB57 (PPR)
Joshua Kelley – RB, Los Angeles Chargers
Kelley is another rookie RB being overlooked by the fantasy community despite being in a ‘poised to pounce’ situation. His opportunity to break out sits somewhere in between the aforementioned Evans and Benjamin.
What does a team do when it parts company with it’s longest serving player of all time that just so happened to be the most important player on the field? No one really knows yet as we’ve not had a training camp to give us any signs! But naturally in a season of such diversity within the team, it usually means the run game will be relied on some more.
However, with their lead rusher from the last 4 years in Melvin Gordon also leaving this off-season, means there could be plenty of work available for the Chargers running back corps.
I think we all expect last seasons’ PPR machine Austin Ekeler to be classed as the Chargers’ RB1 in 2020, but with only 11%, 27% and 36% of the running share since being picked up as an undrafted free agent in 2017, there’s likely going to be a fair share available for the rest of the RB room, even if he does likely take the bigger percentage with Gordons’ departure.
Justin Jackson would be the assumption to be the next in consideration for the next highest rushing share in 2020. Thanks to an impressive 6.9 yards per carry average last season, this seems the most likely scenario. However, with only 79 carries under his belt in 2 seasons, it remains to be seen whether Jackson would be able to sustain that level of production with a larger role.
Kelley has an impressive rushing resume in college. In the 2 years he spent at UCLA he gained 2,303 rush yards from 454 carries (5.1 ypc), with 264 receiving yards over that span from 24 receptions, scoring once.
Seeing as Ekeler will be claiming most of the air yards out of the backfield, Kelley could prove to be a nice complimentary piece in the run game. I expect for this season, Kelley and Jackson will be splitting the carries along the area of 25/30% each with a ‘hot-hand’ approach game by game.
In other words, the situation could be a fantasy nightmare, however, should an injury to Jackson or Ekeler occur, or even if Joshua Kelley turns out to be as productive as he was for UCLA, there could be a serious amount of fantasy points available from a team that should run the ball a ton this year.
Stat Projection: RB52 (Standard), RB53 (Half PPR), RB54 (PPR)