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Fantasy Football 2017: Is Mike Gillislee a TD Sleeper?

Bill Belichick visited Sirius XM NFL Radio on Tuesday. He said, and I quote, “Hopefully, we’ll be a little bit less of a Blount on first down and short, and Lewis on second down, White on third down, that type of [offense].”

In a nutshell, predictable. The Patriots hope to become less plain Jane and a little more, let’s say, fancy Nancy. LeGarrette Blount out, Mike Gillislee in, Patriots running backs are normally the kind that make fantasy owners sweat. Guessing who’s going to receive bulk carries on a weekly basis has almost become a talent. Really, it all comes down to luck- – sometimes you throw a dart and win, other times you’re way off and are left with sweet, sweet nothing.

After so many years of uncertainty, though, the Patriots might finally be on to something. From what I’ve seen, Gillislee is certainly creating a rift. On one hand, you’ve got the running back that rushed for a low-key eight touchdowns behind LeSean McCoy last season, while on the other… well, I guess it doesn’t matter what’s on the other hand because you’re too busy looking over your shoulder at James White and Rex Burkhead.

Yep, Gillislee has no margin for stink this season. There’s some ferocious competition right behind him, and often Bill can be a fickle old fuddy-dudd. I guess what you can pin your hopes on, though, is the fact that Gillislee is perhaps in just as good a position as any other running back in the league when it comes to posting double-digit touchdowns this season.

During Sunday’s practice, the Patriots revealed their master plan by lining Gillislee up in goal line situations, and surprise, surprise, that’s where the 26-year old makes it rain. Gillislee was a gun last season in the red zone. He held the fourth highest touchdown rating inside the opponents’ 25-yard line among all running backs, and just quietly, wound up scoring 70% of the time. There’s no doubt the Patriots will use a good mix of White in other situations, and Burkhead’s pass catching abilities make him valuable, but as far as the touchdowns go, Gillislee is still a superb fantasy pick.

[the_ad id=”384″]The haters will, of course, use the argument that the Patriots won’t, and don’t, invest in a single lone running back. There’s no doubt this offense is running back by committee, but if we’re talking about work load, let’s not forget that LeGarrette Blount still rushed for a lazy 18 touchdowns last season while splitting the carries.

I suppose the main thing you can bank on with Gillislee is exactly that, the Blount comparison. If you’ll allow me to get geeky for a second, the math doesn’t lie. Blount touched the ball 306 times last year, and while he did put up some crooked numbers, Gillislee’s nine touchdowns on 110 touches were just a fraction behind. Basically, if Gillislee wasn’t playing second fiddle to LeSean McCoy, he would’ve put up the exact same numbers as Blount (if not more) if he actually saw a higher volume of carries.

So obviously, it all comes down to the Patriots feeding the beast. Can that happen? The great thing is, the guy that’s starting at quarterback normally has a pretty big say in who he wants lining up behind him. Since this is, y’know, New England we’re talking about here, you can expect the Patriots to be in scoring position most of the time, and even though White was the Super Bowl hero, there’s no denying Gillislee when the offense can sniff six.

Going back to Blount again for one minute, it’s also worth noting that this comparison is pretty much apples and oranges. Blount is a pretty tall fella’, 6-foot-0, to be exact, and he’s quite a big boy at 250 pounds. He may not go down in Patriots folklore anytime soon, but he’s the definition of a bell-cow running back. Meanwhile, Gillislee, on the other hand, isn’t quite as physically intimidating. He’s 5-foot-11, weighs only 219, and is somewhere in between Eddie Lacy and Darren Sproles on the “fat-to-lean-scale.”

With all of this in mind, what Gillislee has accomplished so far in this workhorse type of role is pretty damn impressive. He’s thought of as a “power” guy, but you probably can’t go as far as calling him a downhill runner.

One thing is for sure, though, Gillislee is a mid-round flyer that you may have to draft early. Out of the 15 running backs that received between 100-150 carries last year, Gillislee posted the highest yardage total (577) AND the highest touchdown total. He’s been drafted 72nd overall in drafts so far, but look, I’ll level with you: If he’s available in the sixth round, you may have to make a decision pretty quick.

The great part about this whole Patriots offense is that you could pick Gillislee in the sixth or seventh round, and then grab White or Burkhead later on. Since people are so scared of New England’s harsh running back screw-around, you can still count on Gillislee for some sleeper touchdowns. His ceiling is double-digit scores and somewhere between 800-900 rushing yards, and if things go swimmingly, you’re looking at a 26-year-old running back that could wind up as the next Corey Dillon before we know it.

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