I have this vision, 40 years from now, of tucking my grandson into bed. He asks me to tell him a story and of course, I oblige. But instead of reciting The Very Hungry Caterpillar or Goodnight Moon, I go a different route.
In a deep, mysterious tone, I say… “Once upon a time, there was a running back named James Robinson, who went undrafted in most 2020 dynasty rookie drafts…”
Ok, maybe I’m slightly overselling my vision, but stories like James Robinson are potentially my most favorite aspect about dynasty fantasy football. In terms of dynasty “experts,” absolutely nobody saw it coming. If someone told you they did, they were lying.
The Tale of James Robinson
The abridged tale of Robinson goes something like this: A decorated player at a Rockford, Illinois high school, he was only a two star recruit who didn’t get many looks from big colleges. He ended up at Illinois State, an FCS school, where he set school records, and because of COVID-19, didn’t get the extra scouting attention. Therefore, he went undrafted and signed as a rookie free agent with Jacksonville.
But it doesn’t end there. The Jaguars already had Leonard Fournette, signed Chris Thompson in the offseason, and rostered an established backup in Ryquell Armstead. Alas, Fournette was cut, Armstead was on the COVID-19 list for all of 2020 and Thompson was relegated to a third down role.
In steps Robinson, and the rest is history.
Someone in your dynasty league may have had the foresight to snag him in your rookie drafts, but in most instances, he was a waiver wire pickup after week one of the NFL season.
This tale is a rarity, but there are some unicorns out there that come close.
Deep Sleeper Dynasty Rookies
I’m here to try to help you avoid missing on players like James Robinson in your rookie drafts (note: I definitely missed). We will look at a handful of individuals in the next couple of weeks leading up to the NFL Draft. It’s likely you won’t see them in my Top 30 rankings nor get drafted in the first few rounds – if at all – in your upcoming rookie dynasty drafts.
Here is a look at the first dynasty deep sleeper.
Elijah Mitchell – Running Back – Louisiana
You don’t hear Mitchell’s name mentioned much with this class of 2021 running backs. To me it’s a bit odd, seeing how it’s not very deep. However, when you dissect the situation Mitchell was in at Louisiana, it makes sense.
Somewhat the antithesis of NFL backfields, there’s normally a clear cut bell cow who totes the ball for their university.
However, the Ragin’ Cajuns were an outlier. If you harken back to the Wisconsin Badgers’ 2012 backfield of Montee Ball, James White and Melvin Gordon, or the continually crowded backfield for the Georgia Bulldogs the last few years – Sony Michel, Nick Chubb and DeAndre Swift – you can compare it to the situation Mitchell found himself in.
Certainly the backfield Mitchell occupied the last four years may not have the star caliber profile as that. Nonetheless, he was part of a three-headed monster that set records at the school, as well as put their program on the map.
Raymond Calais was the engine of the backfield before being drafted by the Buccaneers in 2019. Then there is Trey Ragas, who has literally shared the backfield all four years with Mitchell. Ragas and Mitchell will both likely get drafted in the upcoming 2021 draft.
By the Numbers
Mitchell is about 5-10, 200 pounds. He’s not necessarily known as a bulldozer, but his body seems to be ready for the next level. He hasn’t had much, if any injury history to be concerned about.
Mitchell’s breakout season came as a sophomore. He gained 985 yards on the ground and averaged an astronomical 6.7 yards per carry. He also expanded his game by catching 20 balls. In total, he scored 16 touchdowns.
He followed that up with a stellar junior season, gaining over 1,000 yards and finding the end zone 19 more times.
For whatever reason, Mitchell’s Pro Day flew under the radar, but it was pretty impressive. He ran a blazing 4.32 40-yard dash – one of the best of any running back this year, or in the most recent years (Jonathan Taylor had the fastest in 2020 at 4.39).
Elijah Mitchell (@EliMitch15) – The Closer
The Erath native comes up big in the clutch again. Running over defenders for the first down, then easily walking in for the TD.
Also, check out the @ShaneVallot64 celebration
— Seth Lewis (@SethLewisInc) November 8, 2020
But his straight line speed wasn’t the only eye-popping number. Add a 6.87 second 3-Cone drill, 10-8 broad jump, and 37.5” vertical, he literally had one of the best Pro Days of any player at any position in the offseason. These numbers rival those of any running back in the past handful of years.
His Pro Day was important, because one of the knocks on Mitchell is his inability to get to the corner. He’ll need to show that his 40 and 3-cone times can be applied to in-game situations.
He was normally an inside-the-tackles type of runner at Louisiana, although, he has the burst to get to the next level. He has shown he can be physical, but he’ll need to add a few pounds to take the NFL pounding.
Mitchell played all four seasons of college ball, so he should be ready both physically and mentally for the NFL.
Also, many naysayers may point out that Louisiana is not in a Power 5 conference and has a weak schedule. However, they’d be completely wrong. Just this past year, the Ragin’ Cajuns went into Ames, Iowa and beat ranked Iowa State. They then nearly pulled a huge upset, but ultimately fell to Coastal Carolina, 30-27, which was their only loss during the 2021 season.
He also played in three straight Bowl games, scoring a touchdown in each, and capped by an impressive 172 yard performance to end his collegiate career. So, basically, he’s faced solid enough competition to repress any argument that starts with “but the competition he faced…”
Lastly, the normal wear and tear of a four year running back isn’t of concern. He only had 527 rushing attempts total in 42 games for an average of 12.5 carries per contest. So splitting time could actually be a blessing in disguise.
It’s all about situation for Mitchell – and most running backs. Thinking back to the James Robinson tale, it was a lot of situational luck. However, he still turned heads with his natural abilities before everything went down.
Mitchell has a shot to do the same. Wherever he lands, once he shows his overall abilities, a team is going to give him a chance.
He’s not going to go into the 2021 season as anyone’s lead back, so dynasty owners likely will pass on him. Depending on how many rounds your rookie draft is, it’s very possible he’ll go undrafted. Let’s say your draft is three rounds long. With the unusual amount of quarterbacks to be selected this year, along with one of the deepest wide receiver pools we have ever seen, Mitchell will fall.
He’s an immediate waiver wire pickup if you have a roster spot. Preferably, though, you will want to draft him and put him on your taxi squad until he blows up. And I think the blowup is coming.