Very Deep Sleeper: Chris Warren (2019 Fantasy Football)
R.C. Fischer discusses deep sleeper candidate, Raiders running back Chris Warren, in Season 4 of his Very Deep Sleeper series for FantasyPros.
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Do you know who led all NFL running backs in carries and rushing yards last preseason? Yep, undrafted rookie Chris Warren. Why is that important and not more of a trivial note to take lightly? Because Warren emerging as an NFL starter — or even making a 53-man roster — was never supposed to happen.
Originally planned to play tight end at Texas, Warren’s speed and athleticism got him moved to running back. He played sparingly as a freshman in 2015, and then this happened late in the season when given a chance.
A late-season run made him a hyped starter in 2016. He came out of the gates strong, but then suffered a season-ending knee injury four games into the year. A new coach, new style, new everything came in 2017, and Warren was used more as a split-role, short-yardage back and receiving threat. His college career started with a bang and ended with a confusing whimper.
While good enough to get an NFL Combine invite, running a 4.69 40-yard dash got Warren lost in the shuffle. This overlooked the fact that he posted a solid time for a 247-pound back with a 6.98 three cone.
Three RB prospects who weighed 240+ pounds and stood 6’0″ or taller ran a 4.70 or faster 40 along with a sub-7.0 three-cone time at the NFL Combine. Those three RB prospects:
There’s a fourth prospect to consider, but Leonard Fournette didn’t have an official three-cone time to qualify.
This is pretty good company to keep if you’re Warren. The comp that has always interested me is Bell. He was big, agile, and productive in college, but it wasn’t until he lost weight and transformed his body that he found the Bell we know today.
What if Warren undergoes the same transformation?
Warren is reportedly up to 260 pounds — on purpose — while rehabbing from a knee injury that was a semi-convenient excuse to protect him on the I.R. for 2018. He may play around 250 pounds and be like Blount, operating as an H-back of sorts. Or the Raiders may cut him back down to last preseason’s weight in the 240s. I’d love to see him operate in the mid-230s.
Warren entered the 2018 NFL preseason as an undrafted free-agent running back destined to be cut or put on the practice squad. He ended up dominating. See some of his work here.
Warren was so good that there was buzz of him making the 53-man roster because if he was cut, another team would scoop him up quickly. He was instead smartly stowed away on the I.R.
The early part of 2019 was filled with talk of Warren as a possible starter in 2019. Even when Oakland signed Isaiah Crowell earlier this offseason, that only fueled excitement that Jon Gruden was getting ready to push Warren
And then Josh Jacobs happened.
I know, you’ve been painting, “What about Jacobs?” the whole time, and I’m just now mentioning it. Remember, these are Very Deep sleepers, not “players who are going to take over the recent first-round pick’s job in a shocking turn of events this season.” That title is too wordy anyway.
We do, however, have to talk about Jacobs’ impact on this story. There are three phases of this discussion:
Everyone loves Jacobs as Oakland’s definite lead back, and the perceived fantasy goodness that comes with that distinction, right? If you love handcuffs, the heir to that throne is Warren.
Warren is really talented and runs a lot like Jacobs: powerful and shifty. What do you think is going to happen at the goal line with these two backs at Gruden’s disposal? Here are his options from one-three yards out:
6”2″/247 (or 250+), 4.69 40-time, 6.98 three-cone with 25 bench-press rep strength (Warren)
5’10″/220, 4.64 40-time, DNP three-cone with 18 bench-press strength (Jacobs)
Considering Jacobs clocked his 40-time at his Pro Day, it’s likely about the same or worse than Warren’s time, but Warren ran his 27 pounds heavier. Warren is arguably faster, more agile, and stronger. When put in against NFL competition last preseason, he was a Sherman Tank.
Jacobs could lose some fantasy value to Warren on goal-line work.
What if the third-best running back on the Alabama Crimson Tide in 2018 (Jacobs) isn’t as good as the NFL Draft media’s hype?
What if the guy who has never been a feature back in college isn’t a very good NFL feature back?
What if Gruden wants to live out his Tampa Bay glory days with a Cadillac Williams and Mike Alstott (big, bruising FB) type backfield?
I don’t mean to scare Jacobs acolytes, but here are Gruden’s rushing TD leaders from his seven seasons at Tampa Bay:
2002: Alstott (5 TDs), Michael Pittman (1 TD … yes, 1 rushing TD was second-best on the team)
2003: Thomas Jones (3), Alstott (2)
2004: Pittman (7), Alstott (2)
2005: Alstott (6), Williams (6)
2006: Alstott (2), Williams (1 TD in 14 games with 225 carries)
2007: Earnest Graham (10), Williams (3)
Some of those TD tallies are pretty pathetic for team leaders. Also, note that fullback Alstott led or tied the team lead in rushing TDs in three of those seven Gruden seasons.
As for last season in Oakland, Doug Martin led the way with four touchdowns while Marshawn Lynch scored three.
Gruden has been an NFL head coach for 12 seasons. Only twice (2000, 2007) has a running back on his team scored nine or more rushing TDs in a season.
Jacobs might not muster as many touchdowns as expected in Gruden’s offense? Warren might also steal some as a 250-pound mauler, or as a sleeker 240-pounder with superior talent to Jacobs.
I know how this works. Warren will get no real chance to be Oakland’s lead back this summer. Does anyone think Gruden or Mike Mayock are going to admit a mistake (over-drafting a decent RB) by even allowing a Jacobs-Warren split if they can help it? Do you believe the “best man wins the job” and “there’s competition at every spot” nonsense coaches spin?
This is Jacobs’ job no matter what, I know, but my purpose here is to propose that Chris Warren is lying in the weeds, waiting for his chance. He’s really talented and could be really interesting if he drops into the 230s weight class. Any open door Jacobs gives (injury, general struggles) could force Gruden’s hand, and Warren is the type of big running back that Gruden dreams about at night. Warren won’t matter for fantasy … until he does. And in his career, going back to college and last preseason, he tends to impress when given the chance.
Gruden, to his detriment, loves smash-mouth football. He wants to pound the ball with a bruising running back at all times. What if he discovers — or is forced into realizing by total chance — that Warren is the best guy for that role?
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