Youth and explosiveness. This is a terrific combination to have in an NFL running back. And it's certainly something fantasy football enthusiasts look for when targeting high-upside sleepers.
But, since it's Week 16, let's talk about guys that have a chance to be studs next year. And no, not good, rotational passing-down backs that you'd primarily use in PPR formats. Call me crazy but I'm of the mindset that to be a stud fantasy running back you have to be able to actually run the ball.
To help find the next big thing in the backfield, we focused in on a stat called yards gained after close or YGAC for short. Remember this is a stat that helps isolate individual elusiveness as it measures yards collected by a ball carrier after a defender closes to within one yard.
Why YGAC as opposed to your typical yards per carry? The idea here is if we isolate YGAC we can better find diamonds in the rough who need minimal improvements or changes to see a massive uptick in stats (i.e. additional opportunities, an upgrade to their offensive line or a scheme change).
I know it's a foreign stat for the vast majority of you, so as a point of reference, a YGAC around 3.75 is about average, anything above 4.25 is exceptional and anything below 3.25 is poor. It's basically an adjusted yards per carry average. You probably know a 4.0 ypc average is about right, anything about 4.5 is really good and anything below 3.5 is really bad.
So with that, here's an entirely too early look at 2018 running back sleepers who will be age 25 or younger by the time 2018 rolls around.
(note: I only looked at backs who had 50 or more carries this season.)
Here's the conundrum with Kenyan Drake: is he a future star or a flash-in-the-pan?
To close out 2016, Drake has been a flat-out supernova. He's exploded onto the scene the last three weeks, averaging 23.6 points per game in PPR formats as the unquestioned starter with Damien Williams sidelined.
Drake has all the measurables (6-foot-1, 210 pounds, 4.45 40-yard time), but to this point he's largely been viewed as a good rotational player and certainly not an every-down back. Basically, scouts had him filling the role he had at Alabama where he was a change-of-pace guy, giving Derrick Henry a breather or giving opposing defenses a different look.
Now? Well, he has shown that he is capable of being not only an every-down back but one that an offense can be built around. His 4.69 YGAC is exceptional and he profiles as a player that could be a big-time breakout player in 2018.
That being said, as we've seen with Todd Gurley last year, there are only so many times an explosive athlete can overcome bad run blocking. If the o-line woes continue in 2018, Drake could also come crashing back to earth.
That being said, the athleticism and game-breaking ability don't compare. Williams was far below average in terms of his YGAC numbers, ranking 55th out of 67 eligible rushers with a meager 3.30 YGAC average. Jones ranked second in this category with a 4.85 YGAC average.
Scouts pegged Williams as more of a short-yardage back, lacking the athleticism to generate yards for himself. I too saw him as an OK back, but too monotone of a runner to break big plays. That has largely played out over his 100 or so carries.
And let me jump in before you come at me with your Brett Hundley/stacked boxes narratives. Per Next Gen Stats, Williams saw eight-plus defenders on 25 percent of his runs, while Jones saw stacked boxes at a similar rate, 23 percent.
It's not like Jones is significantly smaller either, Williams checked in 212 pounds while Jones pushed the scales to 208.
All that being said, will Mike McCarthy hand the keys to Jones? Recent history would tell us it's at least possible. He treated Ty Montgomery as the Costco back to start 2017, giving him touches in bulk before injuries landed him on injured reserve.
Not only is workload a question but so too is health. Can Jones hold up to the rigors of being an every-down back? Well on that front, he's clearly not off to a great start after missing two games with a knee injury earlier this year.
Jones will be a favorite draft and stash next season that could pay huge dividends (hello Kareem Hunt!) or do absolutely nothing for you (#FreeDerrickHenry).
If you just look at Elijah McGuire's 3.82 ypc average and small-school pedigree, it's easy to dismiss him as a guy that made a couple splash plays here and there but was otherwise unworthy of your fantasy attention.
I am here to tell you that is a mistake. McGuire can play.
When healthy and when given the opportunity the Ragin' Cajun was out there wrecking ankles and popping off big plays.
It's not to say Powell is washed by any stretch but the thought that McGuire is competing against another younger player will be a common misconception by casual fantasy fans.
There's no question the team needs to make a lot of improvements but if the organization is smart they'll bring back Todd Bowles and make a few savvy selections in the draft to help bring a little stability to the roster. The defense is just a couple players away from being pretty good and the offense ... OK they overachieved this year. But with the development of Robby Anderson they're closer than you would think as well.
I bring this all up because if McGuire can find himself a stable role on a functional offense with decent defensive balance, his prospects for 2018 improve dramatically.
OTHER YOUNG RB SLEEPERS
Corey Clement is an interesting player to me in that he was highly productive in college (1,375 rushing yards, 4.4 ypc, 15 TDs his senior season at Wisconsin) but had a sub-par combine and went undrafted.
He ran a 4.68 40-time at the combine but at his pro day dramatically improved his time, running a 4.54. At 220 pounds, that is impressive.
It's entirely possible, probable really, that the team moves on from LeGarrette Blount this offseason, opening up some potential touches. Jay Ajayi will no doubt enter next year as the anticipated starter but as we've seen already, the offense is good enough to sustain two running backs. If Clement has a good camp, who the hell knows what can happen.
Clement will be one of my favorite sleepers next year if Blount is gone as he'll have standalone flex value in 12-team leagues while also being a high-ceiling handcuff.
For the second year in a row, Jalen Richard has quietly been a good running back in extremely small doses. His 4.21 YGAC this year is impressive and tracks with how he graded out last year when Pro Football Focus ranked him as one of their most elusive runners in 2016.
No one is sure what the hell Marshawn Lynch is going to do this offseason but it's entirely possible he opts to ride into retirement for good this time.
These are all good ingredients for a potential breakout campaign for Richard.
Of course, even if Marshawn hangs 'em up again, a lot of folks will think DeAndre Washington could compete for the starting gig. This is possible, but like in the Green Bay example above, to me there is no question who the better back is.
Washington posted a 3.3 YGAC average, ranking 57th out of possible 67 running backs. The numbers and the tape suggest Richard would be better suited as the lead back with Washington working in on passing downs.