As the NFL Draft rapidly approaches, it’s time to start analyzing each position and start looking at potential fantasy football sleepers heading into the 2012 season. We are starting with the running back position, because it is one of the easiest position to come in right away and contribute. This means rookie running backs are more likely to be relevant when it comes to Fantasy Football than quarterbacks or wide receivers.
In the past, former University of Oregon running backs such as Jonathan Stewart and Blount have had success in the NFL and LaMichael James should be able to follow in their footsteps. He was extremely productive playing in the Duck’s high octane spread offense, carrying the ball 771 times in his career for 5,082 rushing yards to go along with an incredible 53 rushing touchdowns.
His rushing total is the fifth-highest in NCAA history, while his number of rushing touchdowns ranks seventh all-time. He also averaged an unheard of 6.6 yards per carry, while averaging 11.6 yards per reception. The bottom line is that James has amazing speed and quickness and was one of the most explosive running backs college football has ever seen. However, scouts are undervaluing him mainly due to his size, yet he’s as talented as any back in this draft outside of Trent Richardson.
The only real downside for James is his size. He’s listed at 5’8, which isn’t bad, Richardson for instance is 5’9. Yet, he weighs in at only 196 pounds compared to Richardson’s 228 pounds. However, his staggering numbers are hard to ignore and so is his film and in addition to being a great runner, James also showed he can make an impact as a receiver as well, catching 51 passes for 581 yards and four touchdowns. He may not be an every-down running back but with the NFL becoming a passing league, does it really matter?
If James can get on a team that knows how to use his lightning speed and home run hitting ability, he can easily make an impact right away. Remember, other undersized backs like LeSean McCoy, Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice and Darren Sproles were also devalued because of their size, got drafted outside the first-round and turned out to be highly productive players.
James can follow suit if used correctly because of his ability to create explosive plays. The passing game dominates nowadays anyways, so teams don’t need a bell cow, they need a guy who can take it to the house anytime he touches the football and more than any running back in this class, James is that guy.
PPR Fantasy Analysis: James fantasy value this season will very much depend on where he ends up. Ideally, a team that uses a zone running system will draft him, because he would do well as a one-cut runner due to his lightning fast burst. If he’s in the right situation this season and gets around 15 touches a game, he could be a very solid flex option on a weekly basis. He’s proven he can catch the football as well as run it, meaning he could see time early on as a third-down back, giving him another opportunity to produce explosive plays out of spread formations.
James is more of a sleeper candidate heading into this season and will likely be drafted in the later rounds of the draft, if at all. However, if he lands in the ideal spot, he will have some upside, so he’s a player for PPR Fantasy Owners will want to keep an eye going forward.