A league winner is a guy who is drafted in the sixth, seventh, or eight rounds that become super valuable and ends up, well, winning you your league. In the early rounds of the draft, most of the people drafted as ‘stars’ end up being stars with a few notable exceptions. So in terms of early round drafting, most fantasy teams are on a relatively even playing field. There is, additionally, more talent in the early rounds so it is harder to make mistakes. However, in the sixth, seventh, and eighth rounds the quality of talent decreases significantly and it can be far harder to predict the success of players. For instance, in the sixth to eighth rounds in 2019, guys like Dede Westbrook, AJ Green, and Derrius Guice were taken and became complete busts. Had those fantasy players taken guys like Austin Ekeler, DJ Moore, and Miles Sanders, they may very well have won their league. This series is here to try and project who will win you your league in 2020.
Every year, fantasy analysts love to predict the next ‘best’ rookie running back. Last year, I couldn’t even go on Instagram without seeing countless Darwin Thompson posts. He was the guy last year. It made sense too. Damien Williams struggled mightily with his health going into the year and the rookie Thompson had a very solid preseason. People loved the opportunity in Kansas City but Thompson did not end up being talented enough to warrant any real touches. Thompson was being drafted in the ninth round overall but in many drafts he went as high as the sixth round. Rookie running backs tend to go later in fantasy drafts due to the fact that many are drafted into a committee of sorts. Most rookie backs don’t have the ability to be the bonafide week one workhorse as a result of coaching or other running backs on the roster.
The first player I want to talk about in this series is D’Andre Swift. He’s another great Georgia running back. However, the Lions had just drafted Kerryon Johnson with a second round pick (43rd overall) in the 2018 NFL draft. Johnson has struggled with injuries quite a bit in his short two year career in the NFL. Johnson has dealt with injury concerns all the way back to high school where he suffered two big shoulder injuries. He simply cannot stay on the field consistently and unless he discovers an amazing workout routine it doesn’t appear he ever will. He’s been put on IR the last two years as a very young back. It’s not just me who thinks Johnson may never be fully healthy. The fact that the Lions, a team that has been pretty awful for a very long time and has many needs, spent a high second round pick on Swift is concerning. It is evident that although the Lions may think Johnson is talented the injury risk is too great for him to ever be a workhorse back. Swift is not the fastest runner ever but he is very elusive and is known for being a very good pass catcher. The reason I believe Swift can be a league winner is simply because his ADP, at this moment is 65. At that ADP and with his talent, Swift has the potential to be a RB2 or higher by the end of the season which can most certainly win you your league. Getting value like that from a sixth round pick or higher is very hard to find.
In a few months this article may seem silly if Swift’s ADP rises significantly, but I honestly think that reports about Kerryon Johnson being ‘fully healthy’ and maybe even a coach saying “I think Kerryon is in the best shape of his life” will make fantasy owners wary of drafting Swift any higher than he is being drafted at currently. The talent is definitely there for Swift who accrued over 1,000 rushing yards in back to back seasons. Despite that seemingly high number, Swift’s total touches pale in comparison to that of Jonathan Taylor, JK Dobbins, or even Cam Akers. I see a comparison to Alvin Kamara in Swift’s elusiveness, speed, and lack of touches. Unlike those other backs, Swift doesn’t have the tread or injury history of teammate Kerryon Johnson either. Johnson came into the league with nearly 100 more touches than Swift, (in their senior seasons) and already had injury issues. It’s no surprise that Detroit decided to go for a guy who looks like he can actually stay on the field.
Swift’s great pass-catching ability and solid run-blocking should allow him to be a three-down back in the NFL which is great for fantasy. He does carry risk though if Detroit decides to run a full-blown committee or if Detroit’s horrible defense forces the Lions to abandon the run early on in the game. However, the Lions averaged the 15th most rush attempts per game in 2019 (25.4) and that was without Stafford at QB for the majority of the season. Swift is a guy who can, with the proper usage, be a RB2 or better for the 2020 NFL season. Usage is very important for a running back and it may not even come for Swift until a few games have passed. The talent is there and the Lions’ offensive line isn’t absolutely horrible. It was ranked 11th by PFF but ranked 20th in adjusted yards per attempt (essentially how many rushing yards an offensive line is responsible for getting). Either way, Swift has the talent to be a core piece of your fantasy squad for the 2020 season. He may not start out amazingly but down the stretch he can be very, very good.