Finding the I Should Have Known Guys
Every fantasy season there are a few players who break out in a big way and fantasy managers are left telling themselves “I should have known that would happen." Last year Cooper Kupp, Joe Mixon, and Diontae Johnson fit this mold. All three of these guys had been top 10 options in the past or showed flashes of dominance that should have made us see their spectacular 2021 coming. We are going to find these sorts of players for next season. I am not talking about guys like Jonathan Taylor or Justin Jefferson who everyone is already saying will be great in 2022. You’re not going to win your league by just drafting players in the first round that belong in the first round. We are looking for players who people are currently not ranking or drafting as RB1s or WR1s. This will be the start of a series of articles where we try to identify these “I should have known” types so we don’t miss out on the Cooper Kupps of 2022. We want to take advantage of the frustration people had towards Joe Mixon. We will identify players like Diontae Johnson who had clear trajectories to fantasy dominance. Just like Mixon, Kupp, and Johnson these players are not nobodies, but they are also not respected as potential top 10 fantasy options. All of these guys we’ll talk about could be drafted as your WR2 or RB2 but could outperform your first back or receiver taken. Let’s dive in and win some leagues, shall we? This time we’ll kick it off with a post-hype sleeper who people are letting slip way too far.
Why People are Down on Him
Alright, stop me if you've heard this one before. This is the season that Miles Sanders breaks out and becomes an RB1. No… like really this time. Sanders has been a player who has been spotlighted on many sleeper or breakout articles over the past couple of offseasons. Sanders has displayed the talent to be a top fantasy option but for one reason or another, he has slightly missed expectations. His rookie season in 2019 was his best fantasy finish at RB15 (half-ppr) even though he was not the lead option until week 10. He followed that year up in 2020 by averaging more ppg but finished as the RB23 because he only played 12 games due to injury. People were skeptical in 2021 but still saw the potential. However, just like an unknowing toddler near a stove, fantasy managers were burned by Sanders yet again as he finished as he only played in 12 games again and finished as the RB41. He is now being drafted as the 27th RB and overall 79th player off the board in Underdog Fantasy drafts.
The Case for Being an “I Should Have Known Guy”
So the case begins with the fact that Sanders has been an efficient three-down back and finished as high as the RB15 when he was healthy. Sanders has never been healthy and the number one option in a full season. Well, Sanders is going to be the lead back and have the potential to be an every-down runner on a team that was second in rushing attempts in 2021. Also, I’ve said it once and I’ll say it a million times; fantasy managers should never be in the business of labeling players as injury-prone. Until someone shows me their crystal ball, it is fair to assume that all players run the risk of getting hurt. Sanders has yet to receive an injury that is truly devastating as well. So, Sanders is still the same talent who was the RB15 in limited work in 2019 and is ready to get the most rushing attempts he has ever seen in his career. Let’s dive deeper to see exactly what to expect from the Eagle's top back.
Again, the Eagles ran the ball the second most times last season. This is stunning because Philadelphia was on pace to run the ball just 374 times (22 rushes/game). This would have been last in the league. Once the Eagles realized that Jalen Hurts couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat, they decided to stop letting the QB who ranked 29th in true passer rating throw the ball like he was Tom Brady. They followed up those first 6 weeks of watching Hurts make a fool of himself by running the ball 38 times per game. That pace over a full season would have been the most rushing attempts since the 1984 Chicago Bears. Ya, da Mike Ditka Bears! Believe it or not the Eagles won a lot more games playing this way, so they will certainly repeat this at a similar rate.
"(The Eagles), pace over a full season would have been the most rushing attempts since the 1984 Chicago Bears." - Me
The only competition at the RB position that Sanders has in this historically run-heavy offense is Boston Scott and Kenneth Gainwell. Sanders should easily see far more work than those other two backs. Sadly for Sanders last year he only played 3 games that were uninterrupted by injury in this new-look, run-heavy offense. In those 3 games, he averaged 19 attempts and 115 yards per game. Astonishingly he did not score a single TD in those 3 games. Sanders did not score a single TD at all last season. This will certainly change in 2022 because the Eagles run make Mike Ditka look like he runs a pass happy offense. On top of that, Gainwell and Scott had just one red zone carry combined in games that they played with a healthy Miles Sanders after the offense transformed in week 7.
People trying to dispute Sanders’ breakout potential will point to the fact that Hurts will be stealing carries or that the team only ran the ball so much last season because they played weaker opponents. Conveniently I am here to discredit those fears. For starters, please go watch Jalen Hurts try to complete passes. After you take something to get rid of the throbbing headache you just got after watching that, know that the Eagles also did not enjoy watching Hurts throw 35 times a game. Another reason you shouldn’t fear Hurts taking work away from Sanders is that he actually accounted for less of the carries after the Eagles switched up their offense in week 7. From weeks 1 to 6 he averaged 40% of the team's carries. In weeks 7 to 18, he accounted for just 25% of them. Additionally, the Eagles will keep running the ball at the rate they do because they should have many run-heavy game scripts. They are set to play a season with the 30th ranked strength of schedule and they made a ton of improvements to the roster this past offseason. They traded for AJ Brown to improve the offense and added James Bradberry, Hasson Reddick, and Jordan Davis (as well as others) to improve their defense. Oh ya it doesn't hurt that he's playing behind best offensive line in the league according to RotoWire.
Find your own "Should Have Known Guys" with tools like this in the 2022 Draft Guide
Let's Look Back At A 2021 "Should Have Known Guy"
Remember that Mixon guy who everyone was frustrated about? Season after season fantasy managers were waiting for Mixon to become a dominant three-down back but because of competition or injury, he never put it all together to have an RB1 season. Coming into 2021, the Bengals also made tons of additions to their team and were playing ahead with run-friendly game scripts. I was at my fantasy draft when one of my buddies said “I guess I’ll be the guy who has to take him.” Mixon was ranked as the RB19 by Yahoo Sports coming into 2021. Now we all feel dumb for not seeing the obvious talent and opportunity that helped Mixon finish as the RB3 in 2021. Sound familiar? Ya, it sounds a lot like this Miles Sanders fellow!
Sanders is uber-talented and has seen stretches in his career where he was handed a work-horse role. 2022 truly is the best outlook that Sanders has had in his career. He should see 20+ touches a game in an offense that is great at running the ball. He is also in line for quite a bit of positive touchdown regression. At RB27, you're buying him at his rock-bottom floor. If you don’t buy into Sanders and get left thinking “I should have known”, just remember that I told you so.
Andrew Teuscher is a certified fantasy try hard.