Successful Fantasy Football players know that the key to winning a league is acting on informed premonitions, not simply relying on what experts tell you or last season's stats. It is in that vein that I am looking at Taiwan Jones as a potential sleeper pick in the 2012 fantasy draft.
Sleepers can mean everything to a fantasy football team's success. A few years ago, I drafted LeGarrette Blount when he was buried on Tennessee’s depth chart and picked up Steve Johnson before the mad rush for him began, both of which greatly contributed to my championship run. Granted, these are two of the rare cases where it panned out for me to hold a sleeper on my roster, but if there is enough evidence to believe a player can succeed in the NFL, they should be worth a fantasy roster spot regardless of their position on the depth chart.
The sleeper I have the most hope for right now is Taiwan Jones, running back for the Oakland Raiders. It was announced that Jones is now ahead of Mike Goodson on the depth chart after Goodson was injured in training camp by a helmet-to-helmet collision.
Goodson’s test results on his neck were negative and he was back in the football facilities later in the day, so he may be ready for the beginning of the season—but this is certainly not the type of injury you want your running back to have before the season begins. This injury has moved Taiwan Jones into the second position on the RB depth chart and raises questions about who will back up Darren McFadden once the season begins.
After four seasons in the NFL, McFadden has never played more than 13 games and only played in seven last season. This should pique the interest of fantasy players with McFadden on their roster, as they will likely want to handcuff the backup. In the battle between Goodson and Jones, I like Jones.
The hype surrounding Taiwan Jones coming into the NFL was his speed, clocking a 40 time under 4.35 seconds. The strike against him is his size, but we have seen short running backs have great success in this league. Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith had success with a shorter stature than Jones and Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren Sproles continue to show that it is possible for smaller backs to succeed in the league and as fantasy options.
With Taiwan’s speed matching that of McFadden, there is reason to believe he would be the natural backup. The sample set for Jones is very limited as he was the third back in Oakland last season behind McFadden and Bush, but in that rookie campaign he averaged 4.6 yards per carry, which is certainly a good start for a rookie.
I understand that the crux of my argument has been that Taiwan Jones’ speed warrants attention on draft day, but speed is highly valuable in fantasy football. Jones’ ability to accelerate and maintain an elite speed could be the difference between a shoestring tackle at the five and a touchdown run.
Of course, I am not suggesting anyone take him with a high pick, but you will not have to. He will most likely be available at the end of the draft and is certainly worth a pick that late. He is third on the depth chart, but is sitting behind two players who combined for 11 games played last season.
Jones is currently dealing with a sore hamstring, but should be ready for the start of the season. This is a low-risk, high-reward pickup, and if Taiwan gets an opportunity to prove himself you will want to be the one who has him buried on your roster.
The best of luck in your drafts.