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A Potentially Elite RB Prospect Flies Below the Draft Radar

Despite a reality draft believed to be the deepest in years, this isn’t a particularly appealing draft at the fantasy positions. With the possible exception of Ezekiel Elliott at 1.o1, the top half of the first round has a fraction of its normal value. Savvy drafters would probably prefer to trade down into the Will Fuller/Tyler Boyd section or out of the 2016 first round entirely. On the other hand, interesting sleepers abound, and the most intriguing might be Wendell Smallwood.

Wendell Smallwood Super Sleeper

One of my favorite aspects of fantasy writing is the community of fellow writers and readers. I recently received an email from reader Matt Rosenberg saying he’d won his 2015 leagues due to winning the race to fill the flex and asking about Wendell Smallwood. That query encouraged me to investigate Smallwood in more detail, and I’m glad I did.

Smallwood is a riser according to the most recent version of the RotoViz Scouting Index, but that’s because he’s risen from No. 33 to No. 19. That ranking mirrors our pre-draft staff rankings which have him at No. 18. Moreover, Smallwood sits at a junction in value where we move from “tantalizing flyer” to “probably drafted by the Houston Texans.”

Because I was focusing on RBs who can reasonably be expected to go in the first two rounds of rookie drafts, I left Smallwood out of my RB Prospect Lab Rankings. That was a mistake. Smallwood earns a 49 in the Lab, which places him above quite a few of the trendier prospects.

Player Age Weight 40 3-cone Attempts Yards TDs Receptions Score
Wendell Smallwood 21.9 208 4.47 6.83 18.3 116.8 0.69 2 49
Alex Collins 21.3 217 4.59 7.3* 20.8 121.3 1.5 1 47
Paul Perkins 21.1 208 4.54 7.2* 18.2 103.3 1.2 2.3 47
Daniel Lasco 23.1 209 4.46 7.22 17.5 92.9 1.2 2.75 44
Jonathan Williams 21.9 220 4.6* 7.1* 16.2 91.5 1.1 0.8 32
Kenyan Drake 21.9 210 4.45 7.04 5.9 31.4 0.2 2.2 24

If anything, I think this may understate his likely ability. Smallwood is a 208-pound back with a sub-4.5 forty and a 6.83 three-cone. He was a workhorse back for West Virginia, averaging 18 carries and 2 receptions per game. For our draft prospect series, Anthony Amico penned an excellent and more extensive breakdown of Smallwood’s college career. It’s also worth noting that Smallwood added 550 kick return yards, and lands on Jon Moore’s special teams sleeper list.

A lot of very smart draft experts and fantasy owners are obsessed with RB size, but it’s always been my preference to target what I call Profile 2 runners. Fantasy football is trending in the direction of Zero RB and reality football is trending in the direction of pass-catching backs. Profile 2 runners find themselves at the intersection of these two trends.

Why do we want Profile 2 runners?

I think a quick look at Smallwood’s comps helps answer this question.1

Smallwood BSS

Three names jump off the page: Duke Johnson, Javorius Allen, and Shane Vereen. I’m targeting all three in early MFL10s. Johnson and Allen flashed immediately as rookies in the pass-catching department and will be fixtures on this year’s Top Zero RB Candidates lists. Vereen is a no-brainer MFL10 pick.

Beyond those names, we get two surprising superstars. Marshawn Lynch feels like a different style back because he entered the league seven pounds heavier and with a very different reputation. Jamaal Charles feels like a very different back because he’s eight pounds lighter and has a reputation at the other end of the spectrum. The takeaway here isn’t that Smallwood will be like Lynch or Charles from a stylistic – or production – perspective but that he’s more similar in terms of size, speed, agility, and production than you would ever realize without doing this exercise. That’s unequivocally a good thing.

Finally, Smallwood could be Javon Ringer, Tashard Choice, Felix Jones, or Montel Harris. It’s important to keep that in mind as well.2 The good news is that, barring a surprise this weekend, the cost to find out will be extremely palatable.

  1. Close readers will notice that I’ve used final season rushing numbers and career receiving numbers. I wanted to find runners who earned a good rushing workload in at least their final seasons but that had demonstrated consistently high receiving numbers. I’m mostly interested in receiving totals. As Kevin Cole mentioned in his RB Prospect Model explanation, receiving numbers tend to have three times the value of rushing numbers.  (back)
  2. Perhaps those backs would have succeeded with better opportunity and/or injury luck.  (back)
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