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Running Back Stat Busts and Sleepers- Elusiveness

Rashaad Penny - Fantasy Football Rankings, NFL Injury News, DFS Lineup Picks

We recently featured an article on running back busts and sleepers based on missed forced tackles. Building from that data, we're taking it up a notch, focusing on elusiveness, which goes beyond missed forced tackles to offer an in-depth assessment of talent and performance.

Elusiveness is a strong indicator of running back success, frequently correlating to the most talented tailbacks in the NFL. It measures their effectiveness, independent of the blocking they receive from their offensive line, instead focusing on how difficult it was for the defense to bring them down. The formula for calculating it is missed forced tackles / (designed run attempts plus receptions) multiplied by (yards after contact per attempt * 100). In other words, it accounts for volume and efficiency to provide a score.

Below you'll find four sleepers, players who scored highly but whose FFPC ADP is still low, and three busts, players who scored poorly yet are still being drafted higher. We've made sure not to duplicate players from the initial article, but there is mention of them at the end. Let's dig in!

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2023 Running Back Sleepers

A note for the sleepers, the cutoff used was a minimum of 45 rushing attempts. They also had to finish with an elusive rating inside the top 40. 

#4  Gus Edwards (Baltimore Ravens)

Edwards is all but forgotten among the fantasy community, which is understandable given his age (28.1), injury history, and lack of receiving upside. However, he remains the backup to J.K. Dobbins on an elite rushing offense that just received a massive overhaul.

While instinctively you may think adding weapons like Zay Flowers and Odell Beckham Jr. may cause a shift in philosophy, the Ravens have been so run-heavy that even a drop in volume would leave plenty of rushing attempts for the backfield and Lamar Jackson. They ran the ball 50% of the time last season, finishing sixth in carries and third in rushing yards. They were 20th in touchdowns, but that was a product of their struggles in all facets of the offense.

Edwards comes in at No. 26 with an elusive rating of 66.2. He was also 11th in true yards per carry and faced an average of 7.4 defenders in the box on his attempts, which makes it harder to generate big plays. He's certainly not a sexy pick to make, but as the primary insurance back for Dobbins in a great offense, his ADP of 186 overall is very low.

#3  Raheem Mostert (Miami Dolphins)

The Miami running back room is commonly described as the most difficult to predict in terms of touches because both starters have a lengthy injury history. In addition, they don't tend to hyper-target the position in the passing game. When situations become muddled like this one, there is a potential for value because of the uncertainty.

You could argue that Jeff Wilson Jr. will be the starter and earn the most work. You could make the case that Raheem Mostert will emerge as the lead back and be utilized as a pass-catcher or in the red zone. You could even take the best ball approach of drafting the rookie, Devon Achane, who has the upside. This is especially if one or both backs ahead of him miss time, which is probable. Ultimately, it's a call-your-shot type of scenario.

Mostert is entering his age-31 season, but when he's been on the field, he's effective. He finished 13th with an elusive rating of 84.7, which is really impressive. Additionally, he tallied the 20th-most breakaway runs (15-plus yards), the 16th-best true yards per carry, and averaged the 20th-most yards per touch.

He's being drafted a little higher than Edwards at 157 overall. However, it will be extremely low if, in fact, he ends up being the starter and handles the goal-line or pass-catching role. For reference, his teammates Wilson Jr. and Achane are going 144th and 96th, respectively.

#2  Samaje Perine (Denver Broncos)

Next up is another player mostly off the radar of fantasy managers who has received some hype this offseason from his new team. Similar to Edwards, Samaje Perine is currently next up on the depth chart after Javonte Williams. What makes him even more intriguing is that we still don't have a clear timeline on when Williams will be able to play. There's still a chance he takes the field in Week 1, but there's also a strong possibility he's inactive to open the year, creating a window for Perine to shine.

Furthermore, even if Williams suits up, there's no guarantee the team treats him like a workhorse back, especially coming off such a significant injury. Perine demonstrated exceptional receiving ability in Cincinnati, plus he scored decently as a runner with the 36th-highest elusive rating at 57.5. With an ADP of 97 overall, fantasy managers are beginning to realize the lottery ticket he could be, at least early in the season. However, there's still room for that to rise if the injury news for Williams is negative.

#1 Rashaad Penny (Philadelphia Eagles)

It's been a frustrating career for Penny, and last year was no exception. He opened the season as the lead back in Seattle, averaging 10 fantasy points per game in half-PPR scoring over the first five weeks before suffering a season-ending injury in Week 6.

It's fair to wonder whether he could've staved off Kenneth Walker III, or at least for how long, but he was performing well as a runner during that stretch. He finished sixth with an elusive rating of 97.0, which is outstanding even for a smaller sample size.

The team moved on from him, acquiring Zach Charbonnet in the draft. Meanwhile, Penny signed with the Eagles. The deal itself is not indicative of a team feeling confident in what he can provide, but it does land him in a very potent rushing attack. Plus, Miles Sanders has departed for Carolina, vacating 259 carries and 20 receptions.

Philly traded for D'Andre Swift and still has Kenneth Gainwell, so this isn't to say Penny will have a workhorse role. However, he will get an opportunity to prove himself. If he can secure a meaningful role, then there's a path to spike weeks and big performances for as long as he can remain healthy. His current ADP is 110 overall, allowing you to take the risk on him late in the draft. He's better suited for best ball because of his injury history, but he's viable in redraft, too.

Repeat Customers

It's worth noting that several of the backs from the previous article also scored highly in elusive rating, including Alexander Mattison at 11th overall, Jaylen Warren at 12th, Khalil Herbert at 15th, and James Cook at 33rd.


2023 Running Back Busts

A note for the sleepers, the cutoff used was a minimum of 45 rushing attempts. They also had to finish with an elusive rating outside the top 50. 

#3 Damien Harris (Buffalo Bills)

The longtime Patriot signed with their division rivals, the Buffalo Bills, an offense coveted by many fantasy managers. While the landing spot sounds promising, there are reasons to be concerned about the success Harris will find with his new squad. We know Josh Allen doesn't typically target the backfield, plus Cook is the better receiver.

That enables us to remove his pass-catching upside, leaving his rushing ability and potential for goal-line work. Much like with Jalen Hurts or Lamar Jackson, the possibility of touchdowns being stolen by the quarterback is high, which makes relying on them risky.

Furthermore, digging into his statistics as a runner, we find that Harris finished 61st out of 72 qualifying running backs with an elusive rating of 34.7. He was also 33rd in efficiency, 26th in rushing yards over expectation, and outside the top 50 in rushing yards after contact per attempt.

His size may make him better suited for the between the 20s role, but his metrics don't project for him to be a key contributor in fantasy. Finally, his ADP cost is 115 overall, requiring him to outproduce more appealing options in that range.

#2 Jerick McKinnon (Kansas City Chiefs)

McKinnon is a tricky player because he showcased a skill set as a receiver that only a handful of other players at his position possess. However, relying solely on touchdowns and big plays in the passing game is a dangerous place to be. He finished outside the top 30 every week until Week 13 when he went on an incredible run, scoring eight touchdowns in five weeks.

That stretch featured a No. 7, No. 3, and No. 1 overall performance. However, the Chiefs were riddled with injuries, including players like Clyde Edwards-Helaire, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Mecole Hardman, Kadarius Toney, and Skyy Moore. Needless to say, they relied heavily on McKinnon.

There may be times they choose to utilize him in that manner again, but given his age and their depth at receiver, it's unlikely. As expected, McKinnon struggled in the run game, finishing 68th in elusive rating at 30.2. Again, his ADP is lower at 122, but the odds of him ever making a difference for your team are very low.

#1  James Robinson (New England Patriots)

The last name on the list is Robinson, who lands in running back purgatory with the Patriots. He opened 2022 with a couple of decent games, providing optimism while simultaneously forcing the community to wonder if tailbacks can overcome an Achilles injury in Year 1.

Unfortunately, science prevailed, leading to him falling out of favor with the Jacksonville Jaguars before eventually being shipped off to New York despite the Jags lacking a capable backup. The Jets used him sparingly over the first four weeks and then made him inactive for their final five contests.

He found a new home in New England, but there's nothing visually or statistically to support him securing a role. He was second to last, besting only Kenyan Drake, with an elusive rating of 26.2. It may seem a bit harsh to throw colder water on a player with an ADP of 260 overall, but when you're that late in a draft, you're much better off taking a shot on someone with untapped potential.

Repeat Customers

It's worth noting that several of the backs from the previous article also scored poorly in elusive rating, including Ezekiel Elliott at 62nd overall, Joe Mixon at 65th, and Leonard Fournette at 67th.

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