RB Breakouts: Preview + Predictions
Photo by Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire
Hello QB List readers. I would like to introduce you to an article segment that will be featured here weekly called “RB Breakouts”. Every week I will be scouring the NFL landscape looking for any hope in the deep end of the waiver wire. My attempt will not be to make this a most added article, as many of you already know those names. My goal will always be to inform you before those names become common knowledge. Of course, I will not succeed every time and many of the players that I mention may never be fantasy relevant. BUT if you have played fantasy football for any length of time, you would know that it only takes one great pick-up midseason to launch your team to stardom.
This entire framework is designed to find the next Alvin Kamara, a running back that looked buried behind two elite running backs. The main idea is not to simply speculate about playing time, but rather to observe actual on-field production that can be meaningful moving forward. With Kamara, even before Adrian Peterson was traded, there was plenty of evidence that a breakout was evident. In limited touches in Week 1, Kamara was not that productive. However, he was targeted in the passing game 6 times! For a 3rd round rookie in his first career game, that is plenty of action. The usage did not show any major increase in the following week, but Kamara began to show just how explosive he could be. In week 2 he caught 3 passes for a whopping 51 yards, and in week 3, with only 2 carries he amassed 37 yards on the ground. None of this is spectacular, but there are signs here of what Kamara would soon become. Week 4 was the week that we had been waiting for. Hopefully, by now I would have identified Kamara as a possible RB breakout. After seeing 10 catches for 71 yards, we all would be snatching him off the waiver wire. After week 4, Adrian Peterson was traded. The rest of the story you know well, as Kamara went on to dominate fantasy leagues across the nation.
There are two things to take away from this anecdote. One, I am not perfect. In a keeper league that I share with my friend, we both identified Kamara as a potential target in our draft…until the Saints drafted him, placing him squarely behind AP and Ingram. We never really checked in on Kamara, as we should have, which meant he never ended up on our team. The second, is that this is very hard. I will be wrong, and I might misidentify players. My goal is to ask the right questions and point out players that I find interesting in some way, while also providing evidence that will support my ideas. So use your own brain and judgment! This article can spark your interest in someone you may never have thought about. From there, it is your team and ultimately your decision when to pull the trigger. In the spirit of this weekly post, below I will provide you with a few players that to look out for this season.
Boston Scott (New Orleans Saints, RB)
Ironically enough my first player is a Saints running back. Similar to last years situation, the Saints have two solid players ahead of Scott on the depth chart. However, one of those players will be suspended for the first four games of the season. For most of the fantasy football world this means that the Saints backfield belongs entirely to Alvin Kamara, as it probably should. Rumors have been floating around that the Saints will continue to use a running back committee even in the absence of Mark Ingram II. But let’s not speculate! As of right now, Boston Scott seems to be the most talented runner behind the two studs, and this alone should get him playing time in the first few weeks. Coming in at an intimidating five-foot-six, the quick analysis would be that this clone of Darren Sproles will be primarily a pass catcher. I would say the opposite. At Louisiana Tech, Scott was mainly utilized on the ground and was extremely productive the past two years posting a combined total of 288 carries, 1,840 yards (6.4 YPC) and 14 touchdowns. Compared to his receiving stat line of 32 catches, 300 yards, and 1 touchdown. Clearly, he was drafted because of his skill on the ground, and that fits better with Kamara’s skill set, as he is a proven stud as a receiver. I cannot be sure how Sean Payton intends to use Scott, if at all, but based on his college production, it would make sense to use him as an early-down runner. Before I move on to another running back, lets hit some film to really get excited about Boston Scott.
Did he just run through 8 guys on the sideline without going out of bounds? I forgot to mention, Scott weighs 200 lbs. This man is a bowling ball.
This has to be my favorite clip. WHERE IN GODS NAME IS HE? Wait a few seconds and he will be bursting out of the hole right past the defender. This might be his biggest asset. If he can use his height (and surprisingly solid weight) as a weapon, he might be able to succeed at this level. Before the hype train runs away, we have to remember that Scott played at a smaller school and is acclimating to the NFL. His adjustment will be bigger than other players simply because of where he played in college. If the Saints do not give him many carries in week 1 or 2 this could certainly be the reason. Similar to Kamara, any playing time in week 1 shows a lot of confidence in a rookie. If Scott does get into the game, even if it is limited and not very productive, he could be an interesting add going into week 2 and beyond. His utility will probably run out after Ingram returns, but he might be a surprisingly solid play in weeks 3 and 4 if he gets on the field enough. Unless your league is deep, you probably don’t need to add him now, but be ready after week 1! Another positive for Scott has been his play in the preseason. He recently made Pro Football Focus’s “All-Rookie Team” for the preseason, posting the second highest grade for any rookie running back. Production in preseason can be huge for playing time during this four-game window.
Ito Smith (Atlanta Falcons, RB)
I have already written up this buried rookie, which you can find here. The short version is that he is similar to Boston Scott. Solid, all around player behind two elite players in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. I think he has some promising skills, highlighted by the ability to pass block. This can be huge for running back playing time. You are probably relying on an injury from either of these two guys, but keep his name in mind. If you want to be convinced more, go check out my other article.
Kalen Ballage (Miami Dolphins, RB)
I generally dislike preseason. Too many injuries to key players, but not enough playing time to actually prove anything. But sometimes preseason can show you a player you might never have thought of before. For me, that was Kalen Ballage in the Dolphins week 4 contest. While no singular play was spectacular, it was encouraging to see him put up some big numbers (4 carries, 25 yards, 1 TD and 3 catches/4 targets, 37 yards). The Arizona State grad is best known as an impressive athlete. At six-three 230 lbs, Ballage ran a 4.46 40 yard dash, tied for the third fastest time in the draft with Rashaad Penny. This power/speed combo is enticing, and gives Ballage some solid upside. He produced at Arizona State, but not at the elite level you would expect from a player at a smaller school. In his sophomore campaign, he rushed for a solid 653 yards on 125 carries (5.2 YPC). His junior season he rushed for only 530 yards on the same number of carries (4.3 YPC), but he caught 44 passed for 470 yards. This receiving game production in his junior year accounts for half of his entire receiving totals in his three years as a starter. His other seasons, he did not factor in the passing game much at all. That productive sophomore year on the ground, for example, was mirrored by only 12 catches all season. Ballage has never really put it all together in one season, but if you squint and smash those numbers together you can see a very good all-around running back. If you sense a theme with these three running backs, you are not wrong. All three of these backs went to non-power five schools and produced solid, yet unspectacular numbers throughout their careers. That is exactly why these guys are so underrated! Like the other two, Ballage is behind not one, but two running backs. Kenyan Drake should be the every down back, but Frank Gore is hanging around ready to pound the ball up the middle. The early outlook for Ballage is not great, but if he can harness that impressive athleticism, he might be the running back to own in Miami.
For all three of these guys, there are two players ahead of them. Tevin Coleman, Frank Gore, and Mark Ingram are all guys that are getting drafted in the middle to late rounds of drafts even though they are second running backs on their perspective teams. Ballage, Smith, and Scott are all hidden in their shadows for now, and that is the entire point of this weekly article. All three of these guys could possibly see no playing time the entire year, and that is okay! But anyone of them could be the sneaky addition to your team that changes your entire season. Boston Scott might get early playing time. Ito Smith is a solid player that does dirty work like pass blocking and could see the field even with the talent ahead of him. Kalen Ballage is a freak athlete that has the potential to be a three-down bell cow someday. Be ready for any of these guys to break out at some point this year.