Who’s the Next Phillip Lindsay? (Fantasy Football)
I will preface this article by stating that it is far from any certainty that this year’s Phillip Lindsay even exists. For a UDFA to not only perform as well as Lindsay did in 2018, but to leapfrog a more complete back with third-round draft capital is unheard of. The goal here is to analyze the running backs that are going undrafted in standard-sized leagues and try and determine which ones could potentially burst onto the scene if the opportunity arose. What we’re looking for are running backs with indicators of success at the next level such as strong athletic profiles and good college production combined with a plausible path to playing time. None of these names are likely to work out, but here are the guys with the best shot at surprising.
Justice Hill (BAL): ADP RB56
Mark Ingram is entrenched as the primary back for the Ravens and Gus Edwards is basically a much worse version of Ingram, but he does the same things. They fill a similar role. Justice Hill was a fourth-round pick and has quite an impressive profile. He has 82nd percentile speed and 95th percentile burst.
While he is viewed as a satellite back, Hill has proven capable of handling a heavy workload, touching the ball 299 times as sophomore in 2017. The Ravens were one of the most run-heavy teams in the league last season after Lamar Jackson took over and we know running quarterbacks help open things up for running backs. Ingram is 30 years old and Edwards is replacement level, at best. Hill is likely one Ingram injury away from significant playing time and his talent profile suggests he could produce if given the chance.
Darwin Thompson (KC): ADP RB63
I do not like Darwin Thompson. If he were on any other team, I wouldn’t even waste my time with him. This is a gamble purely based on his situation.
Thompson only has one year of production in college and he wasn’t even a full-time back at lowly Utah State. Despite being under 200 pounds, Thompson ran an embarrassing 4.6 40 time, putting his speed score in the 21st percentile. The good news is he posted excellent burst and agility scores and is a 74th percentile SPARQ-x athlete.
The reason Thompson is a name worth stashing is because he is on the Chiefs. Damien Williams sure looks entrenched as the feature back, but he’s still a UDFA with just 291 career touches. If he didn’t break out and become an elite fantasy RB at age 27, no one would be surprised.
His backup, Carlos Hyde, is an average pass catcher at best and has just one 16-game season on his resume. It would not be a shock at all if Hyde is just done at age 28. Thompson needs at least one injury to be relevant, but if he ever found himself with even a 50% opportunity share on the league’s best offense, he has RB1 upside because it doesn’t matter who plays running back for the Chiefs.
Qadree Ollison (ATL): ADP RB78
You will not have to draft Qadree Ollison in even the deepest of leagues. At 228 pounds, there are talks that Ollison is the favorite for goal-line work. That alone is enough to put him on the deep-league radar.
His athletic profile isn’t terrible, either. He has 76th percentile speed, which is more predictive than his putrid seventh percentile burst and 14th percentile agility. On a top offense like the Falcons, Ollison just has to run through open holes to be productive.
His 7.2% college target share is 48th percentile. It’s not ideal, but he’s at least proven to be capable. Devonta Freeman ranks amongst the running backs most likely to get injured, so he will probably miss games this season. There is a non-zero percent chance Freeman is out of the league in 2020 due to injury.
Behind Freeman, the Falcons’ depth chart is wide open. Ito Smith just isn’t very talented. He had his opportunity last year and showed very little. Brian Hill is a more intriguing option, but it looks like Ollison will get a chance first. It is very easy to paint a picture whereby Freeman is on the shelf and Smith fails to impress, opening the door for Ollison. An early-down back that handles goal-line work in a Matt Ryan offense is worth something.
Ty Johnson (DET): ADP RB105
We’re going really deep to find Ty Johnson. Here is what gives me a modicum of optimism. While not a prolific college producer, Johnson did average 7.0 YPC at Maryland and has elite straight-line speed with an 86th percentile speed score. His 59th percentile burst score is not too shabby either.
Despite having a medley of backs at their disposal, the Lions still spent a sixth-round pick on him after resigning Zach Zenner. The Lions have never given the keys to Zenner, so it is fair to expect Ty Johnson to pass Zenner rather quickly. It still seemed quite implausible that Ty could find a path to relevance behind Kerryon Johnson, C.J. Anderson, and Theo Riddick, but then something interesting happened — the Lions released Riddick.
Ty Johnson has a great chance to open the season third on the depth chart. I don’t think the Lions are particularly fond of Kerryon Johnson, at least not as much as fantasy owners, because their actions at the RB position suggest they do not believe he can be a three-down back. CJA was never more than a replacement-level back and his productivity with the Rams last season was purely a result of the Rams’ elite offense. He’s not good at football anymore, if he ever even was.
It is quite conceivable that Ty Johnson rotates in for a series here and there. What if he impresses? He’s certainly better than Anderson. Ty can work his way into some playing time even without an injury in front of him. If Kerryon or Anderson were to get hurt, it could be game on for Ty.
The biggest concern is that Matt Patricia is secretly (it won’t be secret after this season) one of the worst coaches in NFL history (yes, I already believe this). Last season, he thought it prudent to leave Kerryon Johnson on the sidelines while LeGarrette Blount ran into the backs of offensive lineman 154 times to the tune of 2.7 YPC. Regardless, we’re just looking for upside here and Ty Johnson has the talent along with a plausible path to opportunity.
Alex Barnes (TEN): ADP RB126
This would be a truly out of nowhere emergence given his ADP, but Alex Barnes has the clearest path to playing time out of any UDFA running back. I have no idea how this guy went undrafted. He posted an 87th percentile college dominator rating and has upper percentile measureables across the board. He’s a very good pass catcher with a 10.7% college target share and a 99th percentile SPARQ-x athlete.
It’s difficult to envision a better landing spot for a UDFA to break through. The Titans are completely devoid of RB talent behind Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis. It should be rather easy for Barnes to secure the third position on the RB depth chart by the end of the preseason. Jumping David Fluellen and Jeremy McNichols should not be challenging at all. At that point, Barnes would just need an injury to Lewis or Henry to become part of the weekly rotation and he has the talent to do something with it. Barnes is purely a name to watch, but don’t be surprised if he has a couple useful weeks at some point this season with the potential for more.