written by Leo Howell on Jul 31st, 2014
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Dexter McCluster Is a Legitimate Breakout Candidate This Season

A versatile and exciting running back has a new home and no respect in fantasy drafts.

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Sometimes, a potential breakout player stands out so well from the crowd that his value exceeds his highest expectations in a hurry. Players like Cordarrelle Patterson this year fall into this category of "overhyped breakout stars" who have to achieve a breakout (and then some) to justify their value in drafts.

But sometimes, a potential breakout player remains under the radar, like Joique Bell last season, remaining a late-round pick for most of the off-season and producing a great year for fantasy owners as the second running back in Detroit.

And since you already know about Patterson, Montee Ball, and numerous other "breakout" candidates who have ridiculous ADP's and are no longer a great value, let's consider an under-the-radar option with a chance to have a Joique Bell-like season in 2014 for a similarly cheap price.

Dexter McCluster is poised to be a dual-threat back for the Tennessee Titans, leaving the enormous shadow of Jamaal Charles for the decidedly less exciting offense in Nashville. But don't let the boring nature of the Titans' offense scare you away from a potential breakout star at running back.

A History Lesson

Dexter McCluster was such a skilled athlete and receiver that the Chiefs used him as a receiver for most of his time with the team, opting to use Jamaal Charles in the backfield for obvious reasons. McCluster became a poor man's Wes Welker, using his short-area quickness and good hands to help move the chains for the Chiefs.

In this way, he's a lot like Darren Sproles, who began his career as a change-of-pace receiving back for the Chargers. By the end of Sproles' time with San Diego, he was a flex option in fantasy leagues, but was headed to a team where he'd find a bigger role and opportunity than the one he had on the west coast.

And as a result, Sproles jumped into the top 10 among running backs the next year, and has been a consistent PPR play at the position ever since.

McCluster doesn't have the same overall production (using our Net Expected Points, or NEP, data) that Sproles had when he moved east to New Orleans, but he does share a similar Success Rate. Success Rate measures how often a player gains positive Net Expected Points when he catches the football.

Let's compare Sproles' time in San Diego to McCluster's in Kansas City to get a better idea of what I mean.

PlayerSeasonsRushesRush NEPNEP/RushSuccess Rate
Dexter McCluster4151-11.45-0.0841.06%
Darren Sproles5250-12.00-0.0540.80%

PlayerSeasonsReceptionsRec NEPRec NEP/TargetSuccess Rate
Dexter McCluster417391.740.3567.63%
Darren Sproles514695.680.5367.12%

Sproles was a more productive player overall (in a better offense), but the efficiency was virtually the same. And taking into account the difference in overall offense (and quarterback play), that puts them on pretty level ground through their first few seasons.

The issue here for McCluster is that he's not going to be playing with a great quarterback in Tennessee. But can he still experience the boost that Sproles (and Danny Woodhead, among others) have seen when they've moved to a new team to take on the role of "dual-threat running back?"

Music City Running Back Committee

McCluster seems likely to make up for what he'll lack in a great quarterback by contributing to the running game more than Sproles or Woodhead. Jim Wyatt of The Tennesseean had rave reviews for McCluster's first day of training camp, and noted that he received a large amount of carries for the Titans.

This echoes the sentiment of the Titans' official website, which mentions McCluster's return to his "natural" position of running back. That puts him in competition with Bishop Sankey and Shonn Greene, who will have their roles within the offense, but lack the polish and explosion of McCluster.

The Titans' new versatile tailback will see the field often thanks to his pass-catching ability, and that will keep him on the field to carry the ball as well. Sankey is likely viewed as the "future" of the position, and McCluster isn't going to handle a full-time workload on his own, but there are far too many touches to go around to not get McCluster involved and use his quickness to bring a spark to an otherwise bland offense.

Yet McCluster is currently going undrafted in standard leagues and falling to the 13th round in PPR leagues according to Fantasy Football Calculator. The last time that McCluster received a decent portion of his team's carries, 2011, he finished in the top 40 among running backs.

The running back finished the 2011 season in the top half of his peers with 75-150 carries in both Rushing NEP and Reception NEP. He was versatile enough to earn continued touches, and he turned those touches into production. He's since been buried behind one of the best backs in the game (Jamaal Charles), and seems poised to break out yet again.

And with a price tag as the 55th back in a PPR draft, or a freebie at the end of a standard draft, his upside and floor are well worth considering over purely speculative or injury-based plays like Knile Davis or James White.

McCluster could be on the verge of a Darren Sproles-like breakout as a starting fantasy running back, and comes with a lower overall risk than many of the more trendy "breakout" picks you may have been considering this season.

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In This Article

Danny Woodhead
RB, San Diego Chargers

Darren Sproles
RB, Philadelphia Eagles

Dexter McCluster
RB, Tennessee Titans

Jamaal Charles
RB, Kansas City Chiefs

Shonn Greene
RB, Tennessee Titans

Bishop Sankey
RB, Tennessee Titans

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