By Brendan Taffe
Opportunity is just as much of a factor as talent when it comes to finding the next fantasy football sleeper. Ryquell Armstead is entering his second year in the league after the Jaguars made him the second pick in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. He comes from a small school, Temple University, whose toughest in-conference opponents were UCF and Cincinnati. Even while playing against the less-than-stellar competition, Armstead was only able to rush for 1000 yards his senior year, despite getting at least 150 carries in each of his last three years. His 4.45 40 yard dash was particularly impressive considering his 220-pound frame, but otherwise, he did not wow anybody at the combine. It is no surprise that he was the twelfth running back off the board.
Ryquell Armstead may not be the most talented running back in the league. Still, he does have a much better chance at a big opportunity than most other backups. He is currently #2 on the depth chart behind Leonard Fournette. Fournette has had an up and down career with Jacksonville since they selected him with the fourth overall pick in the 2017 draft. As a rookie, Fournette rushed for 1000 yards and carried Blake Bortles and the Jags’ offense to the AFC Championship game.
Since then, he has missed half of his sophomore season with an injury, been suspended for unsportsmanlike conduct and unnecessary roughness, and has been in the headlines for likely being one of the team’s next trade chips. The current version of the Jaguars is extremely different than the one that almost made it to the Super Bowl, and there are more changes to be made. They are in a transition phase as they look towards the future, and the future of this team does not include a soon-to-be free agent running back.
For a trade to happen, however, there must be a team that wants Fournette’s services. Fournette is a talented running back, and he significantly improved his pass-catching last year, which was his main weakness. In any typical year, a running back could get hurt, and his team could call up the Jaguars and work out a trade. The 2020 season is different, though, because we are still living through a worldwide pandemic. COVID-19 does not discriminate, and once sports start up again, the chance of contracting the virus is only going to go up. We have already seen Ezekiel Elliott test positive for Coronavirus, and it is not even July. If a contending team loses its running back to either an injury or the Coronavirus, the Jaguars will be one of the first calls.
If Fournette gets traded or goes down with another injury, Armstead will immediately become a fantasy contributor. Last season Fournette received 265 carries and 100 targets in 15 games. In the one game he did not play, Armstead was called on for the start. He was only able to rush for 33 yards with his 10 carries, but what was most attractive to fantasy owners was his work in the passing game.
Rookie QB Gardner Minshew looked Armstead’s way 9 times, and he caught 5 balls, which he turned into 52 yards and a score. That equates to roughly 10 yards per catch, but what is impressive about this is that he had a 9.6 YAC/R for the game. Meaning he was targeted around the line of scrimmage, then worked to gain nearly 10 yards with the ball in his hands. For a team that is likely to be down late in most of their games, Armstead receiving 9 targets was an extremely positive sign.
This season few players will have to fight for their job more than Gardner Minshew. The Washington State product had a surprisingly remarkable year for a sixth-round rookie thrust into the starting job midway through Week 1. Despite his performance last year, many people are expecting the Jaguars to draft a much higher rated quarterback prospect with their pick next year. But before the team decides if they will be going in another direction, they first have to know what they have in Minshew.
Their bottom-tier offensive line is not doing him any favors, but Armstead might be able to. Armstead has excellent size at the running back position at 5’11”, 220 lbs. He uses his size, an incredible motor, and constant effort to perform well in pass protection. One of the easiest ways for a running back to see significant time on the field is to execute well in pass protection. If Armstead can be trusted to keep Minshew on his feet, it will be difficult for Head Coach Doug Marrone to keep him off the field.
Ryquell Armstead has one Leonard Fournette-sized barrier keeping him from becoming fantasy relevant. The excellent news for Armstead is that Fournette is the most likely running back to get traded in the NFL. If Armstead can stay on the field with his abilities to protect Minshew, he will prove that he is a reliable pass catcher and an asset for your fantasy football team.
Brendan Taffe – Dynasty/Superflex
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