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Plunging into the world of football analytics is without question a great way to find fantasy sleepers for the coming season. Especially in the case of running backs, considering overall elusiveness is arguably the best way to determine how good (or bad) a player's performance was.

We're going to dive head-first into some grade-A elusiveness analytics courtesy of Pro Football Focus. The goal will be to find the position's best sleepers, and maybe a potential bust or two based on how many missed tackles he forced, how often he broke tackles relative to volume, and his tendency to accumulate yardage after contact.

Average draft position will play a role as well, considering many of these players can be had at a deep late-round bargain.

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Shake and Bake

Kenyan Drake - Miami Dolphins

Kenyan Drake erupted into fantasy relevance almost immediately following Miami's trade of starting RB Jay Ajayi to Philadelphia. Drake was a force to be reckoned with, totaling the ninth-most fantasy points among his peers from week 10 onward. A large part of this was due to his impeccable flashes of elusiveness.

Drake paced the RB position with his 4.3 yards after contact per carry, and his 23 broken tackles ranked 24th. This is especially impressive given he only had 133 carries all season.

Drake carries an ADP of 4.01 in PPR-formats, per FantasyPros. With both Ajayi and Damien Williams gone, and the only two players available to vulture work being 2018 fourth-round pick Kalen Ballage and the ghost of Frank Gore (on a one-year $1 million deal), Drake is a candidate to run through this coming season the same way he ended 2017.

Dion Lewis & Derrick Henry - Tennessee Titans

One of these two running backs trucked their way to force the fourth-most broken tackles in football last season. The other running back is.... Derrick Henry.

Dion Lewis flashed All-Pro elusiveness throughout the entire 2017 season, ultimately outlasting teammates Mike Gillislee, James White, and the oft-injured Rex Burkhead. Lewis broke 48 tackles on 212 touches on his way to a RB19 finish in PPR. Lewis was actually breaking tackles at a higher rate than New Orleans Saints phenom Alvin Kamara.

Lewis' true breakout didn't happen until week 9, however, where he was the 10th-most productive RB from then onward. His broken tackle percentage ranked sixth over that span. Interestingly enough, one of the RBs that broke tackles at a higher rate over that span was his current teammate in Henry.

Henry was no stranger to breaking tackles. His 3.2 yards after contact per carry ranked sixth at the position last season (as did Lewis). The now teammates actually averaged the exact same amount of yardage after contact per carry.

Tennessee has their work cut out for them trying to determine which of these two incredibly difficult to tackle RBs warrants the most usage. Both of them are worth targeting on draft day, but Lewis offers a better value, as he is available nearly two rounds later at 52nd overall compared to Henry's ADP of 37th.

C.J. Anderson - Carolina Panthers

I wrote about C.J. Anderson's sleeper potential earlier this summer, and there's every reason to revisit that claim given his underrated capabilities as a ball carrier. Anderson forced the eighth-most missed tackles last season while averaging a respectable 2.8 yards after contact. His 35 broken tackles were more than Ezekiel Elliott, Jordan Howard, and Leonard Fournette. Anderson also forced a broken tackle on a higher percentage of his carries than Christian McCaffrey.

He now has a new change of scenery in Carolina where he will share a backfield with McCaffrey. It's worth noting that last season, McCaffrey averaged more than half a yard less after contact than Anderson did. While McCaffrey is warranting draft capital at the top end of the second round in PPR formats, you can steal Anderson in the eighth round. Just based on former CAR RB Jonathan Stewart's usage over the last several seasons, we can determine there is plenty of work to go around for both McCaffrey and Anderson.

Marshawn Lynch - Oakland Raiders

While very few were willing to put their chips on the 32-year-old unretired runner, the ones that rode his season out were rewarded eventually. Over the course of 2017, Marshawn Lynch broke the fourth-most tackles and averaged the eighth-most yards after contact. His consistent elusiveness was shockingly similar to Kareem Hunt's, who led the NFL in total broken tackles and gross yards after contact.

The elusiveness eventually translated into fantasy production as well. Lynch was one of the most productive RBs in the league through the second half of the season, averaging nearly 15 fantasy points per game; a large resurgence compared to his 6.6 fantasy points per game across weeks 1 through 8.

Unlike this next veteran I'm going to discuss, Lynch requires a very fair investment based on the elusiveness and upside we saw last year. He can be drafted as a flex player in the eighth round, a high-end ZeroRB target or as a high-upside bench player for added depth if you focus on RB early.

BUYER BEWARE: LeSean McCoy - Buffalo Bills

Make no mistake, LeSean McCoy was the RB7 in PPR last season, thanks to a hefty dose of volume in an offense that was essentially a wasteland outside of him. With the additions of two former first-roundĀ picks in Kelvin Benjamin and Corey Coleman, and the top 10 draft equity investment in gunslinging rookie Josh Allen, that's not necessarily the case. Even so, the usage could be there once again for the veteran going into his 10th season, but he is not a player that should be reached for.

Elusiveness is arguably McCoy's strongest trait, and it finally hit its wall in 2017. McCoy's 2.1 average yards after contact ranked 63rd out of 70 qualifying RBs, and his broken tackle percentage ranked outside the top 50. The lack of genuine elusiveness netted McCoy the second-lowest yards per touch total of his career. Also worth noting is the now 30-year-old tallied the second-most season long touch total of his career at 346.

McCoy is always a safe bet for volume, but his efficiency reached a low point over his last three seasons in the league. He's in a strong spot to meet value if his ADP stays behind the second round, but he is not a player worth reaching for based on age and the likelihood of regression.

 

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