Which Rookie Running Back Should I Be Drafting? Josh Jacobs vs Miles Sanders

Miles Sanders

2019 Rookie Buy or Bye

By: Will Harris @itsharristime

Often as fantasy football fans, we get excited about the prospect of discovering the next big thing. Being able to spot, analyze, and draft rookie talent accordingly in fantasy football can lead you to a league championship. It can also be an astute way to line your team up with potential trade bait for later on in the season to address an area of need. Think about Alvin Kamara’s rookie season where he was drafted on average at the 12.08 spot as the 52nd RB off the board in 2017. Kamara at his draft position was by far the biggest steal in fantasy football, and many owners rode him to a championship. How can we find the next Kamara? 

With the excitement of a breakout rookie, there are potential warning signs that we must keep in mind. Don’t be blinded by draft capital, mini camp hype, and coach speak. It’s easy to get sucked into this during the NFL off-season. Draft smart and look for value. Running back success in year one is much easier to predict vs WR and TE. Situation plays a large role, and, running back has historically been an easier position for rookies to ascend in. For example, in the rich RB draft class of 2017, of the top ten RBs in fantasy points per game (FPPG), rookie RBs made up 40% of the top ten running backs with Kamara leading the way with 19.6 FPPG. In 2018, undrafted rookie Philip Lindsay was RB12 in FPPG.

Now, let’s look at two potential breakout RBs for 2019 that are contrasting backs in style: Oakland’s Josh Jacobs and Philadelphia’s Miles Sanders.

Jacobs and Sanders had similar college careers when looking at their stat sheets. Jacobs and Sanders saw limited usage in their freshman and sophomore years, with Jacobs playing behind Bo Scarborough and Damien Harris at Alabama, and Miles Sanders was used sparingly at Penn State behind Saquon Barkley.

Will first rounder Josh Jacobs lead your fantasy team to greatness and the Raiders back to relevance?

One thing both backs shared in their college careers was an extreme efficiency when given touches. Given opportunity, each made the best of it, and were leaned on in their final college season.

  Josh Jacobs Miles Sanders
2019 Drafted by the Oakland Raiders, 1.24 Drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles, 2.21
2018 120 Rushes, 11 TDS, 640 Yds, 5.3 YPC,  Longest Run:59 220 Rushes, 9 TDS, 1274 Yds, 5.8 YPC, Longest Run: 78   
2017 46 Rushes, 1 TD, 284 Yds 6.2 YPC, Longest Run: 45 31 Rushes, 2 TDs, 191 Yds, 6.2 YPC, Longest Run: 31
2016 85 Rushes, 4 TDs, 567 Yds, 6.7 YPC, Longest Run: 56 25 Rushes, 1 TD, 184 Yds, 7.4 YPC, Longest Run: 57
Total: 251 Rushes, 16 TDs, 1491 Yds, 5.9 YPC, Target Share: 4.3% 276 Rushes, 12 TDs, 1649 Yds, 6.0 YPC, Target Share: 8.4%
Combine: 40: 4.60 (Pro Day Results) 40: 4.49s 3-Cone: 6.89 Bench Press: 20

Jacobs was used more in the red zone and in short yardage situations for Alabama, resulting in a higher amount of TD’s (11) vs Sanders (9) who nearly doubled Jacobs total rushing yards. Sanders was utilized similarly to how Penn State used Saquon Barkley as a 3 down back, and he was more involved in the passing game commanding 8.4% of Penn State’s targets. Jacobs was often utilized as a chip blocker in Alabama’s scheme to give more time for Bama’s talented WR corps. Jacobs made the most of his targets and was extremely effective with the pass catching opportunities he was given.

Looking at athletic profiles, Sanders was a combine darling. Sanders posted the 6th fastest RB 40 time (4.49s), the fastest 3-cone drill, and tested in the top 5 for both vertical and broad jump. Jacobs opted not to participate in physical drills at the combine, saving it for his pro day due to a groin injury. The results there were lackluster: Jacobs ran a 4.60, which, is a similar 40 time to Kareem Hunt (4.62s). Jacobs athletic profile does not compare to Sanders, and something I’m keeping in mind for fantasy purposes.

Alvin Kamara was a fantasy star in his rookie year. Were you able to spot his off the charts athleticism and draft him in the 12th round in 2017?

When looking at potential success indicators in RB, these physical measurables have some legs. Looking at the examples of Kamara and Lindsay, both tested well at their combine and pro day. Lindsay posted a blazing 4.40s 40 time, ranking second in times vs those at the combine. Kamara led the combine invites in both broad and vertical jumps. Physical testing isn’t everything, however, with these two prospects, their stand out metrics proved to be a strong indicator of potential future success. I’m using this metric first methodology to help unearth value later in drafts on unproven commodities across all positions.

“The drills — to me in my personal opinion — is more for y’all so y’all can have an understanding of what you’re getting, fans and things like that. But teams know everything I put on film speaks for itself.” –Josh Jacobs when asked about not participating in NFL combine testing

Josh Jacobs, www.AL.com

Having only one full season of data to compare these two prospects, it makes it difficult to justify a full 4 rounds of difference between Jacobs (4.01 ADP) and Sanders (7.11).

Let’s take a look at the situations each are going into in Oakland and Philadelphia respectively:

  Josh Jacobs Miles Sanders
Division AFC West: The Raiders face one of the toughest run defense schedules in 2019. They face Denver twice who are one of the staunchest run defenses in the NFL and a Chargers defense that should improve vs the run with a healthy Denzel Perryman, Bosa, and Ingram. Leading up to their bye week in week 6, it’ll be tough slugging for Jacobs with games vs: Denver, Vikings, Colts and the Bears. Ouch. NFC East: With two games each against the woeful run D of the Redskins and the now teethless run defense of the Giants sans Snacks Harrison, Sanders has one of the easiest run defense schedules in the NFL. Dallas is a good, not great run defense. The schedule should allow Sanders to ease into his bell cow role with early games vs Redskins and the already injury ravaged Falcons in Weeks 1+2. 
Coaches Jon Gruden and the Hard Knocks Crew. Jacobs along with the entire 2019 Raiders draft class were handpicked to be a culture change and a lead by example group for the Raiders. These are Gruden’s guys. Gruden is no stranger to using his lead RB as a bell-cow. We saw this in weeks last year with Marshawn Lynch, and Gruden RBs have averaged 1200 yds/season. Don’t be surprised for Jacobs soft hands to be very active with check-down master Derek Carr. Let’s set this straight: Doug Pedersen is a coach that values skill and talent vs arbitrarily having a running back by committee system. Not to knock Jay Ajayi (pronounced Just-a-Guy-ai), but Pedersen has never had an elite talent to work with at RB, and is on record as saying so. Look for Pedersen to utilize Howard in short yardage situations and Sanders to be used up and down the field.
Supporting Cast The offense in Oakland has been remolded through the drafting of Jacobs as their feature back, and an aggressive trade for Antonio Brown+free agency acquisition of field stretcher Tyrell Williams. Question marks arise around the offensive line which looks to be improved with the addition of high priced OT Trent Brown, and troubled guard Richie Incognito (starts season with two game suspension). Some are saying that Philadelphia with a healthy Carson Wentz has the best offense in the NFL. It’s hard to argue with an offensive line that only added to its status with first round OT Andre Dillard, another step forward from TE Dallas Goedert, and the re-addition of deep threat burner DeSean Jackson.
Depth Chart/Expected Usage Jacobs path to success is clear. Jalen Richard has shown skills as a pass catcher, and could see usage in 3rd down situations. Jacobs wasn’t utilized in this regard at Alabama, but shows the skills to be relevant on every down. Isiah Crowell is on the IR with a torn Achilles and won’t be recovered for the 2019 season. The Muscle Hamster, Doug Martin, was re-signed in May to provide backup and mentorship to Jacobs. This is clearly Jacobs job to lose. Many are scared off with what on the surface appears to be a confusing RB depth chart: Trading for Jordan Howard, Re-signing of Darren Sproles, and the names of Adams, Scott, Smallwood and Clement still on the roster. Howard will get looks at the goal line, and Sproles situationally. This will go away once Sanders proves himself as an every down back. It’ll happen after one of his 60 yd break-away runs. By week 5 Sanders will be the undisputed RB1 in Philadelphia.
Question Marks Isn’t the entire Raiders organization full of question marks? What kind of drama will ensue during Hard Knocks? Is Chucky totally mad? Will a revamped offense bring results? Does Derek Carr return to above the Andy Dalton line? Does AB keep his blond moustache? So many questions, it will be fun to watch this one unfold. The RBBC situation in Philadelphia looms over Sanders, but I believe performance will trump depth chart. There is some concern over a reported hamstring injury to Sanders this off-season causing him to miss mini-camp. On Thursday, Sanders participated and went through portions of practice which speaks to him being ready to compete
. Barring Jordan Howard figuring out how to catch passes, the question marks are less serious in Philly than in the Bay Area.
Are you all aboard the Antonio Brown and Gruden led Crazy Train? If you draft this rookie at his current ADP you are.

I’ve taken you through a brief overview of each prospect, how they contributed in college, their physical measurables, and the current situations they are going into for their rookie season. Now, let’s talk value. As prospects, both Jacobs and Sanders have immense upside and project to have similar results in 2019. It will boil down to where you can get them in drafts that will dictate if/when to draft them.

The price to pay on Jacobs for his potential outcome as a rookie is too rich. Going on average at his 4.01 ADP, let’s talk about who else is available at RB in the late 3rd and early 4th rounds.Starting with Marlon Mack at 3.07 who has clearly defined role in Indy with week winning upside. At 3.09 is Devonta Freeman who when healthy, has been a clear cut RB1 in Atlanta. At 3.11 is Derrick Henry whose Titans coaching staff say will finally unleash him like how we saw him used at the end of last season. Coming into the 4th we have the undeniably talented Kerryon Johnson at 4.02 in the Patriots North scheme and steady Mark Ingram in a run heavy offense in Baltimore at 4.09. I like Henry and Johnson in this range over Jacobs, as both have proven when used they are effective and have plus upside.

Now let’s take a look where Miles Sanders is slotting in currently at his 7.11 ADP. Sanders comes in almost 4 rounds later than Jacobs, and is surrounded by floor play RBs with minimal upside. In the late 7th we have Latavius Murray in New Orleans playing the Mark Ingram role which I like at this value, and is a good pick here. Going into the 8th the RB choices are barren: suspended Kareem Hunt at 8.02, Sanders teammate and limited in the pass game Jordan Howard at 8.04, and unproven Tampa back Ronald Jones at the 8.04 spot. These last three picks are risky and low ceiling picks that I’m avoiding across the board. Give me Sanders athletic profile, O-line and RB1 upside all day versus what else is available in the late 7th and early 8th round for running back.

In the case of Jacobs, there are still WR1s available on the board in the late 3rd early 4th: AJ Green, Stefon Diggs, Julian Edelman and Brandin Cooks are all available in this range. Depending on your roster construction, you may be considering your first TE off the board in George Kittle at 3.10. As you enter the fantasy football playoffs, you’ll be happy to have one of these TE1s or WR1s on your roster.

As much as I love Josh Jacobs the prospect and his situation, the cost to acquire him is just too high. Enjoy snagging an RB3 with upside in the 7th-8th with Sanders vs over paying for your RB3 in the 4th with Jacobs. An every down player could fill that slot that will be a solid contributor to your team week in and week out.

Try not to get blinded by the hype. Find value, look for the explosive athleticism, and sit back and enjoy Hard Knocks on HBO versus on your fantasy team. The rookie RB to put your later round breakout pick on is Miles Sanders and it isn’t even close for me.

I’m buying Sanders. Bye-bye Jacobs, see you in drafts next year!

About the Author- Will Harris is relatively new to the fantasy football scene having spent most of his life watching, playing and playing fantasy hockey like a good Canadian. He’s making up for missed time by batting 1.000 in making the playoffs and making championship appearances in 66% of his season long leagues last year. Itsharristime plays big on Draft, FanDuel, and involved in leagues on FFPC, Yahoo, ESPN and MyFantasyLeague.

Seek value and have no player bias=winning formula.

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Author: Will Harris