One of the biggest secrets to success in Fantasy Football is being able to look into your crystal ball and predict breakout players before anyone else does. Being able to grab a quality producer for free off the waiver wire, especially at the running back position, could prove to be the boost your team needs to make a title run. Last week I pulled out the crystal ball to predict that Brady and the Patriots were going to get Tim Wright more involved, and suggested you pick him up as a sleeper TE. He responded to the tune of 5 catches for 85 yards and a touchdown, and was the catalyst to their resurgent offense. This week I’m going to address the coveted running back position with a super sleeper. While a wave of week 5 running back injuries have people making a beeline for the waiver wire to pick up obvious replacements such as Andre Williams, Ronnie Hillman, and Branden Oliver… I’m going to point you in the direction of a much less heralded choice. So if you missed out on those three, fear not, I have your sleeper answer for you.
Meet virtual unknown Storm Johnson, a 6’0, 216 pound chiseled rookie out of the University of Central Florida. The off season buzz around Jacksonville was that Toby Gerhart was going to be a workhouse 3-down back who would approach 300 totes and carry the Jags offense on his back while they gradually worked in rookie sensation Blake Bortles at quarterback. Wishful thinking, Jags. Toby Gerhart has been dreadful, averaging just 2.6 yards per carry while struggling to stay healthy. The obvious verdict? He’s not the answer. He lacks explosiveness and his rushing style just isn’t cut out for success behind an awful offensive line that can’t create holes. Personally, I think Gerhart’s 235 pound frame and soft receiving hands are best suited for a Daryl Johnston-esque fullback role, but I digress. The point is, 10.5 million dollar contract or not, he’s not going to get it done and the Jaguars are quickly coming to that conclusion. They’ve tried their hand at mixing in Denard Robinson, a gifted and explosive athlete who they converted into a running back, but his inexperience at the position and lack of running back instincts has canceled out his freakish physical skills. He’s clearly not the answer either. So do they move down the chain of command and try out their 3rd option, Jordan Todman? No. They tried that last year when Maurice Jones-Drew was banged up, and although he ran admirably in his stead at times, he made it perfectly clear that his skill set wasn’t up to par to be a lead back. Enter: Storm Johnson, their 4th string running back. While for most teams, turning to their 4th string running back would spell disaster, the Jaguars are actually sitting on a gem.
Central Florida isn’t a high profile college that you’ll see on national television every week, so I’m going to assume most people reading this article have never heard of Storm. Allow me to fill you in. In his final season with the Knights last year, he rushed for 1139 yards on 213 carries in 13 games. For those who are counting, err… dividing, that’s 5.3 yards per carry. Even more impressive is that in 13 games he had 14 rushing touchdowns, and added 3 more via reception. He’s explosive and has a nose for the end zone. In the Fiesta bowl this past January against powerhouse Baylor, he rushed 20 times for 124 yards and 3 touchdowns, helping his Knights drop 52 points on the Bears in the upset victory. Other highlights from the season saw him rack up 117 rushing yards and 2 pay dirts vs Penn State, 188 combined yards (109 rushing, 79 receiving) and 2 scores vs Louisville, and 122 rushing yards on only 14 carries vs Temple. He’s no joke, and guess who his quarterback was with those Knights? Some guy named Blake Bortles, who I’m sure has given the coaching staff his opinion of Storm’s skills.
The Jaguars are a disaster right now. They’re 0-5, 28th in passing, and 31st in rushing. They’re just an absolutely horrible team. However, there’s a silver lining. Blake Bortles is now at the helm and has a strong arm and promising future. Their rookie receiver out of Penn State, Allen Robinson, has loads of talent and sleeper potential of his own, so grab him if you have an extra roster spot as well, as he’ll be Bortles’ go-to guy and should produce modestly consistent numbers from here on out himself. And, of course, the aforementioned Storm Johnson. The Jaguars play the Tennessee Titans this week who are woeful against the run. 26th overall to be exact. In addition to being ridiculously ineffective, Toby Gerhart is also nursing a sprained foot that he suffered in week 5 against the Steelers. The Jaguars coaching staff is also on record as saying they do not want to have four guys toting the rock and prefer to whittle that down to just two. This is a perfect opportunity for Johnson to prove that he not only should be one of the two, but he can also establish himself as the best running back on the roster with a decent performance against a weak rushing defense. The stage is set. A weak offensive line and a probable timeshare may limit his breakout capabilities this week, so temper your expectations… but there’s also an outside chance that if the game remains close and he runs strong on his first few carries, they may just stick with the hot hand and he could wind up with 12 to 15 carries, which would be all he’d need to put together a mini-breakout game and establish himself as the go-to running back for the remainder of the season. As bad as the Jaguars are though, there’s also the distinct possibility that they could find themselves down early and turn to Bortles to chuck it all over the field 40+ times to try to keep them in it, which would probably see his carry totals fall more within the 6 to 8 range, thus making him a high risk, high reward crystal ball player this week. Either way, I fully expect the Jaguars to realize he’s the best weapon they have at running back soon, which will inevitably result in him leading the carry count for the remainder of the year from that point forward.
Side note: On the opposite side of the ball, if you’re looking for a super sleeper quarterback stash for future reference in a keeper league or a late season bye replacement, it’s just a matter of time before Zach Mettenberger establishes himself as the quarterback of the future for the Titans. Who??? Don’t worry… you’ll know who he is soon, possibly even within the next 2 weeks if the Titans keep spiraling out of control. Or even, let’s say… if the Titans are somehow getting crushed by the lowly Jags on Sunday and Locker and/or Whitehurst is stinking up the joint. If that happens, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Mettenberger as soon as in garbage time this weekend. A long shot, but his time is coming either way.