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Running back is the most volatile position in fantasy. Every year, there are running backs that seemingly come out of nowhere – James Robinson from a couple of seasons ago and Elijah Mitchell from last season come to mind.
There are always those running backs who leap from an RB3 to an RB1. It’s those running backs I will look at today. Using the current FantasyPros ECR, here are three players I think can make that leap:
AJ Dillon had 224 opportunities in 2021 compared to Aaron Jones‘ 236, with Jones playing 60-to-70 percent of the snaps while Dillon rarely broke 50-percent. With Dillon having more carries than Jones on the season, and now with Davante Adams in Vegas, I’d expect the Packers to run the ball more – especially down near the goal-line where Adams was often called upon.
Dillon is thought of as a big back without a lot of big-play ability, but what Dillon lacks in big-play ability, he makes up for in red-zone touches. Dillon had more “inside the 10” carries (21) and more “inside the 5” carries (11) last year than did Jones (15 and 8, respectively). Dillon also had more red-zone touchdowns too. It stands to reason that if the Packers, who ran the ball the 17th-most in 2021, lean more on the run game and everything else stays the same, Dillon would be the bigger benefactor over Jones. This is because Jones does more of his damage in the passing game.
There’s also the narrative that Dillon can’t catch and isn’t involved in the passing game – but that’s not true. Dillon’s 37 targets is a respectable number when you consider he was competing for targets and playing time with Jones, who was the second-leading receiver on the team in 2021. Dillon may never be a 60-plus target player, but he still gives you a decent PPR floor if he can earn 35-45 targets.
The contract Jones signed is one last narrative to debunk, even though it doesn’t affect his 2022 outlook. Yes, it was a 4-year $48m deal, which sounds like they’ve locked up Jones for the rest of his prime. However, looking closer, it’s only a one-year deal. In 2023, Jones’ cap number jumps from just under $6m in 2022 to $20m in 2023, with a dead cap of under $10m. Jones will either have to restructure or he won’t be a Packer in 2023. I’m willing to bet it’s the latter.
Miles Sanders is the low-hanging fruit of these three running backs, but I would be remiss if I didn’t include him. Sanders is the only player in the last 40 years to rush for over 750 yards in a single season, averaging over five yards per carry, and not score a touchdown. That stat becomes even more unbelievable when considering the Eagles led the NFL in rushing touchdowns.
Based on that stat alone, I have Miles Sanders as a potential RB1 sleeper. When you also consider the Eagles did nothing to add to their running back room this offseason, opting instead to roll with last year’s rookie Kenneth Gainwell and 27-year-old 5-foot-6 Boston Scott behind Sanders, you can’t help but be excited about Sanders.
Sanders’ most significant hurdle in the NFL has been his injuries, and it’s a major concern. However, you’re only injured until you’re not. Ask Joe Mixon managers last season how they felt about their “injury-prone” running back, who finished the season as the RB4. If Sanders can somehow find a way to stay on the field and the Eagles give him the most significant piece of their three-back committee, he could sneak into the low-end RB1 territory with the ADP of an RB3.
I’m sure you’ve heard the stat: “Devin Singletary was the RB2 overall from weeks 14-thru-18 in 2021.” And, I’m sure you’ve heard the narrative that rookie running back James Cooks will cut into Singletary’s workload. That narrative has dropped Singletary into low-end RB3 territory. I’m buying him in that range everywhere, and here’s why.
First off, there are very few teams in the NFL that don’t have a timeshare in the backfield. Timeshares and situational football are here to stay, and we must embrace that. James Conner was RB5 in PPR last season and only had five games over 55 percent of snaps. Leonard Fournette was RB6 and only had four games over 65 percent of the snaps. Nick Chubb has made a career out of 55-to-65 percent of the snaps. Don’t be afraid of a committee.
The Bills’ offense will also score a ton of points. The Bills were third in points per game last season and second in 2020. Singletary’s 40 red zone attempts in 2021 were more than Ezekiel Elliott (38), Josh Jacobs (38), Jones (33), and even more than Josh Allen (32). The Bills will be a high-scoring offense again in 2022, and Singletary will benefit.
Singletary is also one of the better pass-blocking running backs in this league. In 2019, PFF graded Singletary as the best pass-blocking running back in the NFL. That’s not to say James Cook is bad in pass protection, but rookies tend to struggle in this area their first year. So, while Cook may get more targets, Singletary will still get his fair share of opportunities in the passing game by just being on the field in crunch time.
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