Dynasty Rookie Sleepers (2019 Fantasy Football)
When looking for rookie sleepers I immediately look to the running back position. Due to the violent nature of football, and particularly so for running backs, there is a high occurrence of injury. Backup running backs have an easier path to fantasy relevance than wide receivers based on the fact that only one running back can start any given week versus three wide receivers. If the starting running back goes down someone has to step up in his place. If a starting wide receiver goes down those targets can just be distributed amongst the other two wide receivers. Even in a shallow class of running backs I still was able to find two that are being overlooked by too many in the dynasty community. Let’s take a look at these players.
Justice Hill (RB – BAL)
With Mark Ingram already on the roster, signed earlier in the offseason during free agency, the Ravens decided to pair him with a discount Alvin Kamara via the NFL Draft. In the fourth round, they selected Justice Hill. Just 5’10” and 198 pounds, Hill is not going to be able to carry a full three-down workload in the NFL, though he did average a workmanlike 18.5 carries per game during his final two seasons at Oklahoma State. Oklahoma State runs a spread offense that utilizes a lot of zone blocking which provided Hill with a lot of open space to navigate through without taking a ton of punishment. With the speed and size of defenders in the NFL, Hill would likely be stretchered off the field if forced to handle 18 carries a game. Kamara, with a 61st percentile and weighing 213 pounds, has the requisite size to absorb the 10 carries per game he’s averaged his first two seasons that Hill lacks. Hill should be able to handle between 5-7 carries a game. For reference purposes only, Justice Hill’s closest comparable player on PlayerProfiler is Reggie Bush, who averaged just over nine carries a game during his 11-year season.
Where Hill will provide most of his production is in the receiving game. While it’s unlikely that Hill could approach the 6.6 targets per game that Kamara has averaged, there is ample evidence to suggest that the Ravens do want to utilize the running back in the passing attack and Hill should easily be able to exceed the production provided by Kenneth Dixon and Buck Allen. Allen ranked 66th last year in Fantasy Points per Opportunity while Dixon ranked 68th. Raven running backs were targeted on just 17% of pass attempts last season, but they did attempt to utilize them to begin the season. Former Raven running back Buck Allen saw five or more targets in seven out of the first nine games. But for the second consecutive season, Allen underperformed based on his targets. Though Allen ranked 16th in running back targets in 2017 his 250 receiving yards ranked just 34th. Last season was more of the same as Allen ranked 27th in targets but only 40th in receiving yards. Once Gus Edwards took off, and Kenneth Dixon returned from injury, the Ravens phased Allen out of the offense, and he didn’t see the field again in the regular season after Week 12.
There is some concern that the Ravens will continue to be a run-first, second and third offense, but recent history and the moves they’ve made this offseason indicate that passing attempts will rise in 2019. With Lamar Jackson under center, the Ravens only attempted 24 passes a game which impacted the RB targets. Before last season, though, Raven running backs averaged a 25% target share the previous three seasons. Baltimore drafted wide receivers with two of their first three picks in the NFL Draft. Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin are both explosive, fast receivers who excel in stretching the field vertically. This should provide plenty of space vacated underneath for Hill to work with when he is targeted. Contrary to Allen’s ordinary speed and burst, Hill is elite in both categories with a 95th percentile 40-yard dash and a 97th percentile Burst Score. I fully expect the Ravens’ offense to be a much more explosive offense in the future compared to their 2018 version and Hill to be one of the catalysts for that explosion.
Darwin Thompson (RB – KC)
Thompson is one of my favorite sleeper running backs of this class. Drafted in the sixth round as the 214th player selected in the draft, you can typically land Thompson in the back end of the fourth round of your rookie drafts. Lightly recruited out of Jenks High School he played two seasons at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M (a junior college). He only played one season for a Division I school, Utah State, but what a season it was. He averaged 6.8 yards per carry, rushing for 1,044 yards with 14 touchdowns, adding 351 yards on 23 receptions with an impressive 15.3 yards per reception and added two receiving touchdowns. Not invited to the combine, Thompson’s impressive pro day and his prolific college production convinced the Chiefs to spend a sixth-round draft pick on him. Despite his diminutive stature (5’8″ and 198 lbs.), his 5.07 yards after contact led all running backs in the Mountain West Conference. Understanding that his size would be a detriment, Thompson spends a lot of time in the weight room building up his legs and core muscles. His Burst Score lands in the 91st percentile and scouts have noted how strong his contact balance is, which is another indicator of core strength. He clearly spent time working on his upper body too as he put up 23 reps on the bench press at his pro day which is in the 75th percentile for running backs.
The Chiefs starting running back role is one that almost guarantees a top-12 scoring season. Kareem Hunt was the RB8 and the RB5 in average points per game (PPR) in his nearly two seasons with the Chiefs. Damien Williams, at one time the third running back on the Dolphins’ roster, was able to average 22 points in the four games he started in 2018 when he replaced Hunt. Williams was superb to finish the 2018 season, his fifth year in the league. It also must be noted that his 256 rushing yards last year were a career high, so it’s not as if Williams is some sort of transcendent talent. His contract offers little protection since he’s only guaranteed $1.6 million and the Chiefs could release him after the 2019 season with just $533,000 in dead money. Behind Williams is Carlos Hyde whose yards per carry has dropped every season since his career-high 4.6 yards in 2016. Last season his yards per carry fell to a dreadfully bad 3.3 yards per attempt.
Even if it’s unlikely that Thompson ever takes over as the Chiefs’ starting running back, the risk associated with making a bet on it is minimal. If Thompson never ascends up the depth chart you’re out a fourth-round rookie pick. If he were to hit, the return on that fourth-round pick would be fantastic. The most significant factor for running back success is opportunity. Thompson is as skilled as either of the Chiefs’ top two running backs and is just waiting for the opportunity to show that on the field.