AJ Dillon: Fantasy Draft Sleeper

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The Boston College running back has put up impressive numbers in college and at the Combine, but will this translate to NFL and fantasy success?


Throughout his college career, AJ Dillon has been the centerpiece of Boston College’s offense. His performances have led to some nice college stats along with a good showing at the NFL Combine. While he is projected to go in the middle rounds of the draft one has to wonder: will the college success translate into NFL and fantasy relevance? First, there are a few aspects to his game to look at.

College Performance

Playing in the ACC with a dominant Clemson for the past three years is tough, yet AJ Dillon has been able to keep Boston College somewhat offensively relevant during his three years. 2017 saw AJ Dillon break into the offense where he posted a whopping 300 rushing attempts, which was 3rd in the entire country. With those attempts, he posted 1,589 yards (5.3 YPC) and 14 touchdowns.

He saw his numbers slightly decline with a 227/1,108/10 stat line for the 2018 season. Here he ranked 21st in rushing attempts on the year. He was able to lower his fumbles from 4 to 1 from 2017 to 2018, which serves as a silver lining.

However, his 2019 season saw him return to those 2017 highs, where he finished with 318 attempts for 1,685 yards (5.3 YPC) and 14 touchdowns. The 318 attempts once again gave him the 3rd most rushing attempts in the FBS in 2019.

Looking even further into how Boston College worked offensively in 2019, they averaged 50.8 rushing attempts per game, 6th highest in the FBS. Of the 50.8 per game, Dillon was responsible for 26.5 on average, which shows his incredible value to the team’s offense.

Combine Performance

At the 2020 NFL Combine, Dillon came in at 6’0″ and weighed in at 247 lbs, making him the heaviest back invited to the Combine. During drills, Dillon posted a 4.53 40-yard dash, topped the vertical and broad jumps with 41.0 inches and 131.0 inches respectively, and benched 23 reps (T-5th among running backs).

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What does the college stats tell us?

Longevity

One of the first things that pop out at you about his college career is the sheer number of carries Dillon puts up each season. This makes his long term durability an issue, which is especially important in dynasty settings. He may not be a long term solution for a dynasty team looking for a running back, but I expect he is drafted low enough where there is enough reward for the limited risk.

Opponents Planned for Dillon

With the number of carries Boston College piled on him, it would make sense that opposing defenses game planned for Dillon and not much else. The Eagles ranked in the top ten in rushing attempts in both 2018 and 2019, making it pretty obvious they plan to run the ball constantly. This makes it so defenses will play to stop the run by throwing 8 or 9 bodies in the box. This makes Dillon’s YPC all the more impressive since teams know he is going to run it and he still averages over 5 YPC. In the NFL there will be more freedom to run, which could help his cause.

Dillon IS NOT a Pass Catcher

In his three years at Boston College, Dillon combined for 21 receptions for 236 yards and 2 touchdowns. This shows he is not relied on by his coaches to catch the football out of the backfield and he shouldn’t be relied on by fantasy owners either.

What does the combine show us?

Measurables

Dillon definitely put his size on display at the combine. Perhaps someone relevant to compare his size to is James Conner. Conner is a taller (6’1″) and heavier back (233lbs) that provides an idea as to how Dillon may be utilized in the NFL. Conner got his start taking over for a holding-out Le’Veon Bell, so perhaps Dillon isn’t as lucky. Dillon did receive a higher prospect grade (6.27) than Connor (5.90) if that is any indication of what teams value.

Combine Drills

In terms of the performance AJ Dillon gave at the combine, the closest comparison would be Alvin Kamara. Like Dillon, Kamara posted a 4.5 40-yard dash and topped both the vertical and broad jumps. This is NOT to say that Dillon is Alvin Kamara–he does not have the catching ability and Kamara is a lighter runner.

Summary

Individual teams may or may not need Dillon depending on your running back situation. If your team is in “win-now” mode then Dillon may be a good backup. He may not last long, but his record shows that he is a viable candidate for becoming a starter in the years to come.


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