Editor’s Note: The season is just beginning for DLF! We continue our 2019 Early Look series today as the new year really puts our rookie coverage into high gear. Enjoy all we have to offer in the upcoming months and thanks to all of you for making DLF the world’s number one dynasty fantasy football site.
Heading into the 2018 season, Devin Singletary was one of my favorite relatively under-the-radar candidates to become a household name in college football in 2018. He had eclipsed 2,000 yards from scrimmage the prior year, en route to an 11-3 finish with the Florida Atlantic Owls in Lane Kiffin’s first year with the program. With Kiffin back and a seemingly manageable amount of turnover across the board, it was disappointing when FAU took a step back in 2018, finishing 5-7. As a result, Singletary remained one of college football’s best-kept secrets.
AS A RECRUIT
Singletary attended American Heritage for high school — located roughly 20 minutes from FAU’s campus. With a 0.8078 247Sports Composite score (3 stars), he slotted in as the 133rd-ranked running back in the class.
However, he may have been a better prospect than the ranking indicates; according to 247, both the Florida State Seminoles and the Miami Hurricanes gave him offers. At one point, he was actually committed to another Power Five school, Illinois. Still, he ultimately signed his letter of intent to the hometown Owls.
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Stats courtesy of sports-reference.com
It took Singletary about half of a season to settle in and take over the backfield, but once he did, it was his: After toting the rock ten times or more just once in six games, he racked up over 100 yards in four of his last six games — including two monster performances of 257 and 235 rushing yards against Rice and Middle Tennessee State, respectively. This second-half breakout was enough to lift Singletary above 1,000 rushing yards in his debut season.
After that, Kiffin came to town and opened up the offense. In turn, Singletary’s volume exploded and his already-strong efficiency kept pace: His carries almost exactly doubled, and his yards per carry mark only decreased by 0.3 yards, despite an enormous workload. In addition to the aforementioned 2,000 scrimmage yards, “Motor” also put up 33 touchdowns — the most in the country. He was recognized for that sustained effort as the 2017 Conference USA MVP.
In 2018, Singletary’s yards per carry plummeted from 6.4 to 5.2. Digging into the numbers, he offered the Owls basically the same amount of explosiveness, but the team couldn’t stay on schedule nearly as well. Per Bill Connelly’s statistical profiles, the Owls fell from third in rushing success rate in 2017 to 51st in marginal efficiency (a newer version of success rate) in 2018. The defining strength for an 11-win team became an ordinary stat for a five-win team.
Looking further at the stats, I suspect that the departure of three starting offensive linemen precipitated the fall. The Owls fell from 30th in the country in adjusted line yards to 77th, and from 28th all the way to 105th in stuff rate (how often rushers were tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage). From there, I think Singletary further contributed to the problem. Qualitatively, he was a much riskier runner in 2018, bouncing runs and swinging for the fences on plays where he should have been taking guaranteed yardage. Given the line’s regression, perhaps Singletary took it upon himself to try to make up for the lost efficiency by creating more big plays on his own.
Still, he ended the year with over 1,300 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns — not too shabby.
Testing results courtesy of ESPN.com
Singletary’s high school measurements were middling. Indeed, looking at his tape at FAU, his short and long straight-line speed are merely fine. However, one athletic category that doesn’t show up on his testing is agility, and that may be his best overall rushing trait. Throughout his college play, Motor’s lateral movement is routinely quick, clean, and explosive. Better yet, he knows how to put that skill to use and, consequently, is one of the most elusive backs in the country.
Meanwhile, he is listed on FAU’s website at 5-9, 200 lbs. On the field, he looks closer to 5-8, 210 to me. Either way, he’s fairly short and sturdily built. Tarik Cohen has shown that even a 5-6 running back can succeed in the NFL, so I’m not worried about Singletary’s height. However, it may be in his best interests to shed a bit of his weight in order to unlock some more athleticism heading into the combine.
- Refined, explosive lateral agility
- Undying effort despite heavy college workload
- Understanding for the position’s nuances
- Immediate and sustained productivity
- Ordinary quickness and long speed
- Occasional tunnel vision
- Questionable decision making
- Limited production in passing game
Singletary’s draft buzz has lagged behind most other 2019 running back prospects, but momentum finally appears to be turning his way: On January 8, Matt Miller named Singletary his “biggest riser” of all 2019 running backs. He would go on to rank Singletary as the third back overall and, interestingly, give him the title of “best third-down back” as well.
While I disagree about Singletary’s passing game acumen, he slots into about the same range for me when compared to his 2019 peers. To me, he’s a comfortable Day Two pick in the draft, but teams that put more of their athleticism evaluation into athletic testing could see him less favorably; his best athletic trait is the hardest to measure in combine testing, while his speed, quickness, and burst are much more ordinary.
As with just about any day two or early day three NFL draftee, much of Motor’s value will be decided by who drafts him. His well-rounded skill set with a couple special traits could earn him a generous workload in a backfield without a true number one option. This would be especially plausible if he got the chance to develop his pass blocking and catching skills a little bit, since his elusiveness makes him such a dynamic playmaker with space.
I haven’t had the time to get a great feel for every running back prospect yet, but I would expect Singletary to slot in somewhere in the third-to-eighth range among running backs. While he isn’t special by any means, he certainly has the skills to thrive when given a solid workload, as he proved at FAU. Before his release, Kareem Hunt was a great example of that sort of upside. However, his skill ceiling makes him replaceable in the long term, and might keep him from emerging from a crowded backfield. For now, I’ll treat him roughly as a late-first/early-second round dynasty rookie draft asset.
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