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Reality Check: Why Your RB Sleepers Won't Wake Up

"Embrace reality, even if it burns you." - Pierre Berge

This quote is ironic for a couple of reasons. First of all, this is a column about fantasy sports. Fantasy - the very definition reads, "the power or process of creating especially unrealistic or improbable mental images in response to psychological need." An escape from reality. That's what we want, isn't it? So why ruin it with a big dose of reality? Because the reality of winning is a lot better than losing. It's also ironic that the man who said this quote spent years trying to suppress a documentary about his life but that's neither here nor there... The point is that we can't let our cognitive biases get the best of us if they blind us to what's truly important.

Perhaps the most poignant quote in this vein came from the great philosopher, Terrell Owens. "Align your expectations with reality and you will never be disappointed." With that, I urge you to lower the bar a few rungs because I'm about to make sure you check yourself before you wreck yourself because some of these takes could be bad for your health. Oh, and I'm not coming real stealth, so be prepared.

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Devin Singletary Isn't an RB1

This goes for both fantasy and reality. Guess who the real starter is in Buffalo? That's right, none other than Frank "The Highlander" Gore. Despite Kenyan Drake averaging 5.0 yards per carry and showing great hands as a receiver over his first two seasons, Gore still outrushed him by approximately four carries and 18 yards per game in 2018. That was low for Gore, who had averaged at least 16 rush attempts per game for the past 12 seasons in a row!

I doubt Gore will go much higher than the 10-carry mark in terms of rush attempts this year but let's assume he stays in that range. T.J. Yeldon will also take a few carries away in addition to his work on passing downs. His low mark was 4.9 A/G in 2017 with the Jags. How much is left for Singletary? The Bills averaged 29.25 rushes per game last year. If you follow my complex equation above, 29-10-5=14. That means 14 carries a game for Singletary. He averaged 5.2 Y/A playing in Conference USA last year, so it's safe to assume a small drop-off. If he does well enough to stay at 4.5 Y/A, that would mean 63 rushing yards per game, good for a total of 1,008 for the season.

That's not bad... if you drafted him in the eighth round or later. It's not good if you spent a fifth-rounder on him after the Shady trade and got carried away. The fact is that guys like Phillip Lindsay and Jordan Howard have already proven they can put up better numbers, guys like Derrius Guice and Matt Breida are more talented, and guys like Austin Ekeler and Latavius Murray are in better situations. I'm not buying Singletary as anything more than a Flex play or low-end RB2 in a 14+ team league.


Dare Ogunbowale is not the starter in Tampa

Read the following tweet closely...

Yes, Dare Ogunbowale will have a big role on the Bucs this year. On special teams.

Sure, he'll play on third downs, maybe even see a few goal-line carries and rumble in for the occasional score, but if you think that is enough to make him fantasy-relevant, you are either in one of those really deep 32-team leagues or you drafted very, very poorly.

Not convinced? How about this...

Impressive? Yes. Inspiring that a breakout season is about to happen? I don't think so. You can love his story, love his name, love his hair, love his sister but don't love his fantasy value.

Look, I hate Tampa's backfield situation as much as anyone but not enough to convince myself that there is a special teams player who has struggled to stay in the league that can leapfrog Peyton Barber just from showing up. Ronald Jones II, I'm not worried about, but Barber is still the RB to own in Tampa, sadly.


Houston's Backfield Belongs to... Nobody

Duke Johnson's days as a top-20 fantasy running back value lasted all of three weeks. The Texans cut their undrafted free agents Karan Higdon and Damarea Crockett in order to sign Carlos Hyde. While I'm not the biggest Hyde fan and realize he has limitations, he wasn't brought in just to watch Duke take every snap. Hyde will get the early-down work while Johnson plays on third down and obvious passing situations.

Some fantasy owners just won't accept this. His ADP in the past week is still in the early fifth round, above Phillip Lindsay, Austin Ekeler, and Derrius Guice! Johnson was never going to be a workhorse back regardless of circumstances. He's not even sure if he would have been capable of doing so. “I’ve always been ready (to be an every down back), especially mentally. Physically, I guess we’ll find out,” Johnson Jr. told reporters on Thursday. No, we won't.

He struggled with injuries (and fumbles) throughout his illustrious college career and has managed to stay fresh in the NFL because of his light workload. For that reason, Johnson will play the same role he did in Cleveland early last year, when he averaged just over three carries and two catches per game, good for a 45.8 yard average. Meanwhile, Hyde averaged 19 carries per game. If anything, Hyde could get even more usage than he did in Cleveland, as Houston runs the ball more frequently.

With this comes some good news: Deshaun Watson and his WR fam should feast this year. In 2018, Houston ran the eighth-fewest passing plays (537) and had the fifth-highest rushing play total (468). If Watson could put up nearly 4,200 yards and 26 TD with that split, imagine if he gets to throw the ball 35-40 times per game as opposed to just 31.6? With an iffy backfield, a lesser defense thanks to the loss of Jadveon Clowney, and a better receiving corps, Watson is a solid top-five QB and all four wideouts could have weekly value, if they manage to actually stay healthy simultaneously.


Rashaad Penny Is Not and Will Never Be a Thing

I'm not sure if he qualifies as a sleeper based on the hype he's received the past two draft seasons but given the fact he's never actually produced, he must be considered one. Penny was an eighth-round pick this year, coming off the heels of a rookie campaign in which he averaged 4.93 yards per carry. The problem is he only carried the ball 85 times because Chris Carson was the better runner, as was Mike Davis most of the time. If you pull out the old "take away his best game" trick, Penny's average drops dramatically down to 4.26 yards per carry.

He did show signs of life late in the year but is it enough to think he'll somehow earn a bigger role? Based on what we've seen and heard this preseason, not at all. I don't care how much you think preseason doesn't matter, you can't ignore the fact Penny looked terrible and barely made it past the line of scrimmage most of the time. He carried a total of 20 times for 35 yards, good (bad) for 1.8 Y/A. Chris Carson had no such trouble, averaging six yards a pop. Sure, small sample size, but isn't this just a carryover from what we saw most of last year?

NextGen Stats confirm my take too. Penny spent the third-most time behind the line of scrimmage after hand-off, behind only Carlos Hyde and Tarik Cohen. Any trouble he might have finding holes is inexcusable considering he saw the fifth-lowest amount of stacked boxes (8+ defenders) at 10.59%. By contrast, Carson's rate was double that at 21.86%, yet his rushing average was almost as high despite a much bigger workload in tougher circumstances. Just to drive the final nail in the coffin, Penny saw just nine red zone rushes all last season while Davis took 21 and Carson 41.

Ultimately, Penny will get more opportunities since Mike Davis is gone and the Seahawks will want to prove they didn't waste a first-round pick to acquire a running back they didn't need. More touches will result in slightly higher production but I'm not holding my breath for a second expecting him to break out. That's why instead of fading Carson like others have, I doubled down on him this year and advise you to do the same.

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