We see this phenomenon every year – the players who make “The Leap” from on the radar to fantasy football stud. Let’s take a look at one of this season’s most likely breakout running backs.
MIKE DAVIS, RB, ATLANTA
Now, you could plausibly make the argument that his breakout has already occurred, but wasn’t that impressive spurt entirely dependent on injuries?
I don’t think many of us had Mike Davis on the fantasy radar heading into last season. He was penciled in behind Christian McCaffrey (aka “CMC”), the overall top dog heading into the fantasy season. Prior to some surprising roster moves, many of us had young RB Reggie Bonnafon ahead of Davis on his very own team.
But, overall, the chips ending up falling Davis’ way. CMC – high-ankle sprain, shoulder, thigh, quad, you name it – ended up only playing in three games, and the door was subsequently left ajar for Davis.
And the big man did not disappoint.
At a (maybe under-listed?) 221 pounds, Davis bowled his way to 642 rushing yards and 6 rushing TDs in 12 starts for Carolina. But avid fantasy footballers and fans already knew about Davis’ physicality. His bruising style on the ground didn’t exactly come out of left field.
What became a great surprise was his superb pass-catching ability.
In five professional seasons prior to 2020, Davis’ high in receptions was 34 with Seattle in 2018. (Again, even there, most of his opportunities came via teammate injuries.) In three of his seasons he had less than 10 catches. Single-digit territory.
But Carolina’s OC Joe Brady is no joke. This young man quite obviously instills confidence in his players. You might look at a guy like Davis and instantly think short-yardage, goal line back, but Brady refused to give in to “typical” thinking. CMC went down, and Mikey D immediately went into his role. Shot-for-shot, play-for-play, you had a 221-pounder taking over for a significantly smaller back who hovers around 200 pounds (when soaking wet).
Davis is a guy who is not very fast. Not “electric”; something we might say about other fantasy football running backs around the league.
But he’s also a guy who caught 59 passes last year for 373 yards and a couple touchdowns. No one had ever really used him like that before. Brady and Carolina caught lightning in a bottle, and the rest of the league promptly took notice.
Now, here we are a season later, and CMC is expected back at full strength. Davis is out of town; not surprisingly. Atlanta came a knockin’ to the tune of two years, $5.5 million, and Davis is now The Man in their backfield.
And I mean, how can we not love this from a fantasy perspective, and also in the betting world? (Davis’ Over/Under on DraftKings Sportsbook is just 800.5 rushing yards.) Playing little defense and also playing from behind, Atlanta’s vicious cycle spits out fantasy darlings on the offensive side of the ball. And we know they traded veteran leader Julio Jones away to championship-chasing Tennessee. I’ve had success in fantasy football for 22 years now, and I come from the following school:
You take away a star player? That helps the other positions just as much as the one at issue, in terms of fantasy looks. Meaning, you take Julio Jones (FYI, Julio’s Over/Under on DraftKings Sportsbook is 995.5 yards) out of the gameplan for Atlanta, and that opens things up for both RB Davis and explosive rookie TE Kyle Pitts. You look at Atlanta’s roster right now and you gotta think Davis, Pitts, Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage are going to get an awful lot of work.
And when it comes to fantasy football, we just want that volume. Touches, looks, targets, opportunities. We’re selecting players who are hopefully getting all of the above. The possibilities look good for Davis right now; so in fairness, we just have to take a look at the possible negatives:
-RB Wayne Gallman was just added to Atlanta’s roster this week. I actually thought he was going to be a high-quality fit in San Francisco, but the Niners were simply too overloaded in their backfield. Now, Gallman becomes a better backup than anyone Atlanta had, prior. Just keep an eye on his usage around Weeks 3 and 4. Early on, he needs to get acclimated to the playbook.
-No offense to Atlanta’s OC Dave Ragone, but he’s not Joe Brady. What if the play designs aren’t there for Davis to thrive?
-We’ve seen what Carolina’s offensive line can do for CMC. We saw how they assisted in Davis’ production last season, as well. But can we think of a stud Falcon back other than Devonta Freeman in his absolute prime? Do I have to harken back to the days of “The Dirty Bird” Jamal Anderson? I just don’t have the same kind of faith in Atlanta’s O-line. Things could go south; no pun intended.
-Davis is 28 years old; not exactly a spring chicken at the running back position. What if last season’s extra workload wears on him?
And so, as always, we must consider both sides of the coin in our fantasy world. Yet and still, for me, Davis’ prognosis looks mighty good. According to Fantasy Pros he is going as the RB23 in Redraft, and Fantasy Football Calculator has him as the 7.03 overall in Dynasty (as of the date of this writing). There is plenty of room, here. We aren’t reaching for Davis in any particular format. The price is right, as Bobby B used to say.
In the end, if these ADP trends continue, I’m taking Mike Davis in those spots. Not much risk, in my opinion.
John Frascella is a published sports author and Senior Fantasy Analyst for Aaron Torres Online. Follow him on Twitter @LegendSports7 for all things fantasy football.
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