2019 Dynasty Rookie Post-Combine Risers and Fallers: Running Backs
Now that the 2019 NFL combine is over, dynasty fantasy football players are busy reworking their initial dynasty rookie rankings.
Their initial rankings were based on college production and game tape. The physical measurements and athletic testing results from the Combine enable dynasty players to reconsider their initial rookie evaluations and reshape their rankings.
The boys of TCP, Jay and James, have already voiced their opinions about how the Combine affected their assessment of the 2019 dynasty rookie class in their podcast “Dynasty Football NFL Combine Risers and Fallers” (listen here.)
In a previous post, I considered how the Combine should affect the rookie rankings of certain wide receivers, offering some fresh takes in contrast to Jay and James. In this post, I’ll take a look at running backs who should be moving up or down in the rankings of the larger dynasty community, and I’ll try to explain why they should as well.
Running Back Risers
Miles Sanders (Pre-Combine DLF ADP:19, Post-Combine DLF ADP:11)
Pennsylvania’s Mr. Football in 2015, Sanders had the misfortune of getting stuck behind generational talent Saquon Barkley at Penn State. When Barkley left for the NFL, Sanders got his chance, and he performed well, rushing for 1,274 yards (with a 5.8 yard average) and 9 TDs. He also caught 24 passes, not just out of the backfield but also the slot. Despite his production in his first year as a starter, and his game tape that showed good vision and exceptional lateral agility, Sanders was only considered a 3rd-4th round NFL Draft pick by many draft analysts and a late 2 round rookie draft pick by many dynasty analysts. He didn’t excite most analysts because he seemed to lack the same burst and breakaway speed as Barkley, to whom he was inevitably compared. But his Combine performance should push both draft and dynasty analysts to take a second look at Sanders more on his own terms. It wasn’t so much that he excelled at any one drill but that he did well across the board. In his speed and explosion drills, he posted a 4.49 40 (70th percentile), a 36” vertical jump (70th), and a 10’4” broad jump (85th), results that demonstrated above average speed and explosiveness. In his agility drills, he put up a 6.89 3-cone (74th) and a 4.19 20 yard shuttle (65th), good for 1st and 3rd respectively in his own running back draft class. Given his decent talent as both a creative inside runner and versatile pass-catcher, Sanders’ athleticism gives draft and dynasty analysts more reason to raise his ceiling as both a NFL player and fantasy producer.
Alex Barnes (Pre-C ADP:N/A, Post-C ADP:N/A)
Barnes’ had almost no buzz going into the Combine. His game tape showed a running back who too closely followed his pulling blockers limiting his vision and ran too upright through the line of scrimmage. He took what was blocked, and he didn’t show much talent to create yards for himself. But he showed patience to let his holes develop, ran tough through the holes that were opened, and demonstrated receiving skills beyond simple checkdowns. It was these traits that enabled him to produce on the field. His last season as a redshirt junior, he ran for 1,355 yards and 12 TDs with a 5.3 yard average. His receiving stat line was 20/194/0. Given his production, it was somewhat of a surprise that he was at best a last day pick for draft analysts and undrafted in DLF mocks. You would think that his Combine performance, in which he destroyed his competition, would change all that. He finished 1st among his peers in the bench press (34 reps) and 20 yard shuttle (4.1 seconds.) He finished 2nd in the 3-cone (6.95 seconds), 3rd in the vertical jump (38.5”), and 5th in the broad jump (10’6”). His 4.59 40 was nothing to write home about, but his overall elite athleticism was undeniable. Following his Combine, some draft and dynasty analysts gave his tape more consideration, and some James Conner comps were floated. So it’s still somewhat of a shock that he hasn’t been drafted even in the post-Combine DLF mocks. Nevertheless, he’s a sleeper pick who should be on the radar of all dynasty players.
Justice Hill (Pre-C ADP:22, Post-C ADP:21)
When considering Hill’s game tape, draft and dynasty analysts were most impressed by his elusiveness and pass catching ability. He was a producer at Oklahoma State from his very first year, rushing for 1,142 yards/6 TDs his freshman year, 1,467/15 his sophomore year, and 930/9 his junior year (he got less carries and battled an injury his last year.) Every year he averaged over 5.5 yards/carry, and he caught 5, 31, and 13 passes in his 3 seasons. But he also presented analysts with concerns, particularly his apparent size and his overly frenetic running style that left yards on the field. Concerns about his size were validated when he weighed in under 200 lbs at the Combine, but the athleticism he displayed in his drills should reassure dynasty players that he’s capable of filling a role in the NFL at least as a change-of-pace, 3rd down back. He demonstrated great speed and explosiveness, putting up a 4.4 40 (93rd percentile), a 40” vertical (93rd percentile), and 10’10” broad (96th percentile). He didn’t do the agility drills, but his game tape showed enough to quell any concerns. His late 2nd round ADP might be a little high, but if he lands on the right team in the NFL Draft, he might be worth it.
Running Back Fallers
Devin Singletary (Pre-C ADP:15, Post-C ADP:18)
In contrast to Sanders and Barnes, Singletary had a lot of buzz in the draft and dynasty analyst community. Many were gushing over his elusiveness and creativity, consisting of an ability to string together cuts, stop and start on a dime, work angles, and gain yards that weren’t supposed to be there. Twitter was awash in videos of jaw-dropping Singletary runs. But some of the hype tamped down a bit on the Singletary hype train after his Combine. Listed at 5’9” in most pre-Combine profiles, and even 5’10” in a few, he measured in at the Combine at 5’7.5”! While there are plenty of short backs who have found success as change-of-pace, 3rd down backs, it’s rare for them to be 3-down backs, which the Singletary hype train was promoting. He was also hurt by his athletic testing. His speed and explosion drills were underwhelming, as he posted a 4.66 40 (19th percentile), a 35” vertical (57th), and a 9’9” broad (41st). His agility drills were shocking, given what he showed on tape, as he delivered a 7.32 3-cone (8th) and a 4.4 20 yard shuttle (20th). Singletary truthers might be able to brush off these physical and athletic results and keep believing in the tape, but other dynasty players should tamp down their expectations.
Benny Snell (Pre-C ADP:17, Post-C ADP:26)
Based on his college production and game tape, Snell was initially thought of as a very promising NFL and fantasy running back prospect. Playing in the toughest conference the SEC, he produced a stat line of 1,091 yards/13 TDs, 1,333/19, and 1,449/16 respectively in his three seasons at Kentucky, all the while averaging over 5 yards/carry. A physical runner between the tackles who drove piles with his strong, churning legs, he also showed a knack for squeezing through tight creases and falling forward to gain the yards other players might not have. On the down side, he didn’t show much elusiveness to create yards for himself or the speed and explosiveness to get to the edge or take it to the house. This down side became an even steeper slope after his lackluster Combine performance. He ran a 4.66 40 (19th percentile), and he jumped a 29.5” vertical (4th) and a 9’11” broad (57th). With regards to his speed and explosiveness, it was said on more than one podcast that it looked like Snell was running in mud. As for his agility drills, he ran a 7.07 3-cone (51st) and 4.33 20 yard shuttle (30th), which were uninspiring results. Neither fast nor shifty, Snell still has potential as a 1st and 2nd down bruiser and goal line back in the mold of Jordan Howard. He should be drafted at the point where dynasty players perceive that he returns value.
Elijah Holyfield (Pre-C ADP:18, Post-C ADP:30)
Holyfield, the son of heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield, had plenty of draft and dynasty analysts in his camp based on his college production and game tape. In his final season as a junior, he averaged an impressive 6.3 yards/carry in the SEC as he eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing in a RBBC. His game tape indicated that he was a powerful between the tackles runner who could run through contact. Running with a short stride and choppy steps allowed him to make sudden stops and sharp cuts. Though his long speed was suspect, he seemed to have enough juice to burst through holes and get to the edge. So it was a complete shock to most analysts how badly he did at the Combine. Most astonishing of all, he ran a 4.78 40! If Snell looked like he was running in mud, Holyfield looked like he was running in quicksand. His 40 time was in the 4th percentile, which he matched with his 29.5” vertical, also in the 4th. His broad jump was 9’10”, good for the 50th, but it wasn’t enough to salvage his day. Wisely, Holyfield threw in the towel on the agility drills, opting not to do them. Like Singletary truthers, Holyfield truthers may opt to trust the tape and ignore his Combine scores, but other dynasty players should draft him at their own risk.
Researching college production and watching game tape defines the first stage of dynasty rookie draft season. Digesting the concrete physical and athletic numbers from the NFL Combine defines the second. The third and final stage starts with the NFL Draft, as landing spots and opportunity are weighed against talent in determining the final rookie rankings with which dynasty players show up to their rookie drafts. The foregoing list should give a sense of which running backs should be moving up or down dynasty rookie rankings in the second stage.