One of the most difficult tasks in drafting a fantasy football team
is trying to decide between two players you see as having nearly
identical value. Knowing how to break this “tie” can
be important to your draft success.
The purpose of this article is to not only identify pairs of players
that are considered of nearly equal value in 2020, but also take
a look at the process of solving those dilemmas. Our final installment
in this three-part series focuses on running backs. In this case,
players who had their moments last season, but are now expected
to carry a more comprehensive workload.
Kenyan Drake and Miles Sanders are likely going to come into play
as early second round options for those who drafted late in the
first. For example, if you drafted Davante Adams or Tyreek Hill
in the first and would like to pair one of them with a high-upside
RB, Sanders and Drake are going to be prime options. But neither
player is a slam dunk. So, how do we break this value tie?
When the 2019 season began, David Johnson and Jordan Howard were
the presumed starting running backs in Arizona and Philadelphia
respectively. While Sanders was given a chance by many to surpass
Howard due to his all-around skill set, Drake was wasting away behind
a horrible offensive line in Miami.
And then it all changed.
Drake was sent packing to Arizona where he excelled to the tune
of over 160 yards from scrimmage and a TD in his first game. Later
in the season, in the only two games in which he was allowed 20
or more carries, Drake recorded a whopping 330 yards and 6 TDs…
again, in just two games.
Drake is not only an explosive runner as evidenced by an 80-yard
TD last season, but he also has outstanding skill position players
surrounding him which should continue to keep running lanes open.
The addition of DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona’s offense definitely
benefits Drake as does the presumed maturation of Kyler Murray in
Year 2 of his NFL career.
It’s true that Drake has never
logged more than 170 carries in a full season, but given his production
in a larger role late last season and a 5.2 YPC average in Arizona
following the trade, the upside for 2020 is undeniable.
Sanders caught the exact same number of balls as Drake last
season (50)… but he did a lot more with those catches. While
Drake only amassed 345 yards receiving, Sanders went off for 500+
yards, meaning that he averaged over 10 yards per reception. That
speaks to how dangerous Sanders is when allowed to be out in space
- something Philadelphia will try to exploit this season considering
the data provided by his rookie campaign.
There is no Jordan Howard to take away early-down touches making
Sanders a true threat to gobble up that role even as he cedes
some third down snaps to Boston Scott. Scott is no threat to Sanders
outside of that nuanced role, so a 300-touch season for Sanders
looks not only possible, but also probable.
Philadelphia has proven to be an innovative team offensively in
recent years and with few other stars to lean on at the RB or
WR positions, Sanders is set up to be a focal point of their offense
- if not THE focal point.
Yes, Drake had two monster games when given 20+ touches out of
the backfield, but he has never truly embraced the bell-cow role
for the bulk of any season, whether it be pro or college. Some
of that may have been out of his control, but the fact remains
that there is no evidence to completely support the jump to a
truly elite fantasy running back.
In addition, Kyler
Murray’s propensity for trying to make plays with his legs also
means less check-downs to Drake. It would appear that Drake’s ceiling
is limited a bit by usage history and the fact that he’s only one
of many weapons in the Arizona offense. In reality, a timeshare
with Chase Edmonds
to keep him fresh is not out of the question.
Being one of many weapons, however, can be a very good thing. It
keeps defensive coordinators from designing a game plan that is
centered on stopping any one player. Saquon Barkley suffered in
his second NFL season from being the offensive centerpiece given
that defenses geared up to minimize his impact. Could Sanders be
in for a similar fate with Philadelphia’s uncertainty at WR
in terms of health and inexperience?
With Barkley having also come from Penn State, the parallels are
uncanny, although the Giants were breaking in a rookie QB and
that is not the case with the Eagles. And, while one season is
a small sample size, Sanders (like Drake) did carry the ball fewer
than 200 times. So, the workload exacted upon him this season
will be completely unprecedented. All in all, it’s the uncertainty
about who else defenses have to account for that is most bothersome.
Many fantasy owners will reach this point in their draft and just
take Aaron Jones. After all, Jones has proven over the course of
a full season that he can be “the guy” and handle a
near 300-touch workload. I think, however, that would be a mistake
as Jones is almost certain to experience significant TD-regression
and isn’t particularly effective in the passing game. The
upside lies with Drake and Sanders… but in order for this
article to achieve its objective, we must choose one over the other.
What Kenyan Drake did after coming over to Arizona last season was
truly eye-opening. He appears to be in an offense that fits his
skill set and while Chase Edmonds will challenge him for carries,
there’s little doubt that he’ll approach or surpass
5 yards per carry this season, which puts him over 1,000 yards rushing
with only a minor bump in number of carries. All of that represents
a high floor - something you want in an early round redraft investment.
All that said, Miles Sanders will be looking to not only raise
his floor, but shatter his ceiling with a season that sets up
for 275 touches (or more) and a likely replication of receiving
numbers, but over the course of more games. Boston Scott is an
effective runner in spot duty, but his role isn’t likely
to expand beyond that barring as injury. So, Sanders should have
Drake’s floor, but with a higher ceiling. Look for Drake
to have a few monster games this year vs. teams with poor run
defenses, but consider Sanders the better choice overall, albeit
by a nose.
Projected 2020 stats for both players:
Miles Sanders - 1,076 rushing yards; 650 receiving
yards, 10 total TDs Kenyan Drake - 1,050 rushing yards, 460 receiving
yards, 11 total TDs