Free: 3 UDFA Running Back Sleepers to Watch
Originally published May 7, Three UDFA Running Back Sleepers to Watch is part of our Memorial Day weekend free look at some of the best from RotoViz.
Before the combine, I presented 10 sleeper running backs to watch who were projected as either final-round selections or undrafted free agents. And while the projections were helpful, they weren’t completely accurate. So, now that the draft is complete, we can truly scour the super cheap players to try and find hidden gems.
As a reminder, Jon Moore found that UDFA RBs who received combine invites were significantly more successful than those without invites.
Following the initial wave of signings there are 11 RBs who failed to earn a draft selection, but did receive an invite to the combine.
|Demario Richard||Atlanta Falcons|
|Justin Crawford||Atlanta Falcons|
|Ryan Nall||Chicago Bears|
|Lavon Coleman||Houston Texans|
|Darrel Williams||Kansas City Chiefs|
|Kamryn Pettway||Minnesota Vikings|
|Roc Thomas||Minnesota Vikings|
|Dimitri Flowers||New York Jets|
|Josh Adams||Philadelphia Eagles|
|Jarvion Franklin||Pittsburgh Steelers|
|Akrum Wadley||Tennessee Titans|
Philadelphia was largely considered to be a team targeting the RB position in the draft and were tied to many of the early round RBs. But as the rounds passed, they never selected a RB. Despite resigning Darren Sproles after the draft, the Eagles still need to replace the 201 carries handled by LeGarrette Blount, which ranks as the seventh best opportunity for RBs in the NFL.
Although he did receive an invite to the combine, Adams only completed the bench press so we have to rely on his pro day numbers to determine his athleticism. Despite concerns about a potential foot injury which hurt his draft stock, he ran a 4.48-second 40 and a 6.75-second three-cone drill. If the concerns about his foot turn out to be a non-story, he could have an opportunity to climb the depth chart early.
Adams ranked 13th in the final pre-draft RSI rankings and 14th in Anthony Amico’s pre-draft model. Using his pro day numbers 1 in the prospect lab, Adams scored a 48 which is tied with Kerwynn Williams and Ahmad Bradshaw. Adams is likely a fourth-round selection in rookie drafts, but without a workhorse at the top of his depth chart, he could see playing time as early as year one if he impresses in camp.
Franklin was one of my favorite late-round prospects heading into the combine because of his heavy usage at Western Michigan and multiple seasons averaging more than a reception per game.
He was signed in the first wave of prospects and joined the Pittsburgh Steelers. Le’Veon Bell is the clear starter, but his backups have found fantasy success whenever Bell has missed time. Additionally, Bell is playing 2018 on a franchise tag and there doesn’t appear to be a long-term contract in the near future. Franklin will compete with James Conner, Jaylen Samuels, and Fitzgerald Toussaint for the primary backup role in the offense.
Franklin’s athleticism didn’t exactly stand out at the combine. His 6.93-second three cone drill was among the top five of participants. And at 239 pounds, his 4.63-second 40 gives him a speed score that ranked tenth in the class. However, with several RBs not running the 40, he’s likely to be a few spots lower in terms of actual speed. Franklin scored a 50 in the RB prospect lab which is tied with Roy Helu, Kadeem Carey, Alex Green, and Darrin Reaves.
Samuels is likely the favorite to become the backup RB because of his draft stock, but he never handled a workhorse load in college and primarily operated as a receiving option. Franklin may be a bit of a long shot to earn time, but he was a productive runner for four seasons in college. Behind a good line, he’d likely produce in the NFL if given time. Franklin is likely a player just to watch unless your league has deep rosters, but if reports come out that he’s taken over as the backup, he should be a primary pickup.
Nall going undrafted isn’t a major surprise. He was a versatile athlete, but was somewhat position-less in college which led to his production numbers appearing unimpressive. Nall was a player that I didn’t particularly like prior to the combine, but he’s slightly elevated because of his landing spot.
As a bigger back, Nall posted a decent combine. His 4.58-second 40 was the 14th-fastest at the combine and he finished in the top ten for broad jump. Nall’s biggest point in his favor is his receiving work in college. He had a 36.83 percent dominator rating in 2017 which included 52.77 percent market share of backfield receiving yards, which went a long way toward improving his prospect profile. Nall scored a 50 in the Prospect Lab.
Chicago ranks in the bottom 12 for RB opportunity so, at first glance, this appears to be a terrible landing spot, but Jordan Howard was frequently mentioned in trade talks throughout the off-season. If the new coaching staff isn’t sold on Howard as the lead, there could be opportunities to take some of his carries. Nall isn’t likely to be a contributor in year one barring injury, but he should have an opportunity to compete with Benny Cunningham for third RB responsibilities.
- Shawn Siegele adjusted Adams’ pro-day numbers slightly to account for hand-timing, but I’ve used the numbers presented with no adjustment, if for no other reason than to provide slightly different perspective. (back)