Very Deep Sleepers: Corey Grant (Jaguars)
R.C. Fischer discusses deep sleeper candidate Corey Grant of the Jaguars.
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I’m going to veer way off the main road here this week. ‘Very Deep’ doesn’t begin to describe this sleeper for 2016.
There is one reason, one thought I cannot shake as to why Corey Grant is on my fantasy mind. Quite frankly, I believe Grant was one of the most jaw-dropping NFL players I witnessed last preseason. I watch tape on 200+ college prospects prepping for NFL Draft scouting each year, and I watch almost every play of every game from the preseason to the postseason, watching many events multiple times. Hundreds of players scouted, observed, and studied each year – and Grant’s abilities are stuck in my mind. I think Corey Grant may be the fastest player in the NFL, possibly the fastest player ‘on the field’ I’ve seen in a long time.
Grant’s not some track and field guy who is giving football ‘a go.’ He’s a legit player, a running back out of Auburn (who started his college career with Alabama, but then transferred out) who fought his way from undrafted in 2015 to forcing his way onto the Jaguars’ opening day roster, and then to actually seeing touches on opening day.
Let’s look at the journey of Grant from college to the pros…to ‘Very Deep Sleeper’:
Grant was a four-star recruit to Alabama for Nick Saban in 2010. He redshirted his first year, and then he decided to transfer to Auburn in 2011 as a walk-on, forcing him to sit out a season. Grant started to break out in 2013. He was behind Tre Mason on the depth chart, but he gained attention by posting 9.8 yards per carry on 66 carries that season. He also returned a kick for a touchdown. His superior speed was obvious and stunning. He was a third-team preseason All-SEC player going into 2014, and he was expected to split touches with Cameron Artis-Payne. But Artis-Payne became a very productive workhorse and Grant was left seeing on-and-off touches all year as a backup.
Grant was an NFL Combine snub in 2015, but he caught everyone’s attention with a 4.28 40-time at his Pro Day (some reported a 4.18). He’s not just a ‘burner’ as Grant also benched an offensive lineman-like 22 reps and sported an impressive 37.0″ vertical. In the end, Grant wasn’t drafted. He was given a tryout by the Jaguars.
Last preseason, the Jags had free agent bust Toby Gerhart and college QB-convert Denard Robinson as their ‘established’ running backs, and then they added T.J. Yeldon via the draft. They also signed former high draft pick and off-field-troubled Bernard Pierce. Grant was at the bottom of the barrel, starting out as No. 6 on the Jaguars’ summer depth chart.
Grant became the ‘buzz’ of the Jags’ 2015 OTAs and training camp, and it carried over into the preseason. Grant averaged 8.2 yards per carry in the 2015 preseason (10 carries for 82 yards), and led all NFL running backs in the 2015 preseason in 20+ yard runs (the only RB with two of them). It wasn’t just ‘the numbers.’ You could see ‘it’ – the guy has speed from another planet. It’s scary how fast Grant is.
Here’s how scary (from college)
It happened in the NFL preseason too – at the 1:01 mark, and again at the 1:28 mark.
Grant was so good in the preseason that the Jaguars were forced to keep him on the opening day roster…they kept FIVE running backs on the roster because they couldn’t risk losing Grant. If they had tried to stash him on the practice squad he’d have been grabbed for sure after his preseason showing.
On opening day, Grant saw a pass target and returned a kick for 40 yards. I watched as the Jags quietly slipped Grant into regular season games in 2015, trying to catch the defense unprepared for this speedster…including wheeling him out of the backfield for surprise-to-the-linebacker-covering pass plays. There were a couple ‘almosts’ in the regular season, but no big plays hit like in the preseason. Through six games, he had a quiet six carries and two catches. Sadly, in Week 6, Grant tore his hip flexor and was put on season-ending IR.
I don’t see where surgery was done in the offseason. It appears Grant just rested and rehabbed the past six months. Grant is back in OTAs for the Jags in 2016, and I’ve heard reports that he is moving fine.
So how does any of this mean Grant will be fantasy relevant ahead?
I know Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon are the starters, and I’d guess that Yeldon is going to be more of a ‘receiving back.’ Denard Robinson is kind of left floating in limbo behind the two big names. Grant’s not going to become any team’s workhorse running back, but he can be a special weapon/nightmare mismatch receiver out of the backfield with two or three carries and 3-to-4+ targets per game. He’s looking for a lightning strike big play on all of his touches like a running back version of Tavon Austin. In college, Grant had nine games where he had seven or more touches (rush + rec.) and he scored six TDs in those contests. That’s good for a touchdown every 12.5 times he touched the ball. The average distance of Grant’s 11 college TDs: 22.1 yards (not including a 90-yard kick return TD). His 2015 preseason touchdown run: 40-yards.
Grant could be a ‘freakish’ producer in the NFL on limited touches.
Grant could also be on the move to another team, a team that sees (or already saw last preseason) the possibilities. I wouldn’t put it past the Jags to try to sneak Grant onto the practice squad if he has a quiet preseason, and they may not push him into too many preseason touches coming off the injury. They already know what he can do. If released before opening day/before 53-man rosters are locked in, any team has a window of time to claim Grant, but only a team with eyes for him would do so.
If Grant is back to 100% with his hip, and he gets the chance with the Jags or somewhere else, he could come out of nowhere for surprising fantasy relevance. He is a talent and a weapon waiting to be properly deployed.
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