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The Top Sleeper Running Back of the NFL Draft

As a do-it-all playmaker at Clemson, this star player could emerge as the top sleeper running back in the NFL Draft.
Will Shipley NFL Draft

While NFL teams rarely use early draft picks on running backs, the position is still valuable. Former Clemson star running back Will Shipley has a chance to be a top sleeper in the 2024 NFL Draft.

Will Shipley Enters the NFL Draft as the Top Sleeper Running Back

The Production

Teams love versatile running backs. For a player like Shipley, he has shown he can contribute on both offense and special teams. As a freshman at Clemson, he even threw for a touchdown. After Travis Ettienne entered the NFL Draft in 2021, Shipley took over as a focal point of the Clemson offense. The team relied on him as an every-down back, and he accounted for 12 total touchdowns as a true freshman. When his workload nearly doubled as a sophomore, so did his production.

Clemson’s rocky quarterback situation during Shipley’s tenure led to plenty of usage. It’s rare for a team to rely so heavily on a player to carry such a heavy workload, but Shipley has always looked the part. His compact frame makes him powerful at the point of contact. Coming into the draft, he is one of Clemson’s most accomplished running backs and owns multiple ACC records.

The Traits

Along with his production, Shipley’s blend of size and speed makes him a candidate to be the top sleeper running back in the draft. On tape, Shipley constantly uses his powerful lower body to run through contact. Not only does he display an ability to run through arm tackles, but he often embraces contact. It’s not as easy to break tackles at the NFL level, but Shipley’s frame and playing style give reason to believe he can excel in this area.

The Clemson offense often deployed Shipley as a receiving threat out of the backfield. He turned plenty of dump-off throws into yards after the catch. As a receiver, he displays soft hands and a natural ability to create space after the catch. His short-area quickness makes him dangerous out of the backfield and in open space. With an ability to create yards after the catch, there are shades of Christian McCaffrey in his game. Shipley is not quite as twitchy as McCaffrey, but the two share a history of showing production as returners in college. His production in multiple areas makes Shipley a potential sleeper in the NFL draft.

The Fit

Just about every team in the NFL could use a playmaker like Shipley. While the days of drafting a prospect to be the feature back in an offense are dwindling, a player like Shipley is still valuable as a complimentary piece. Often, backs like Shipley start as complimentary pieces before taking over the reins as a lead back. Derrick Henry, Joe Mixon, and Alvin Kamara are all recent examples of day-two picks who began as rotational pieces before becoming feature-backs for their teams.

While Shipley is not as explosive as Kamara nor as powerful as Henry, he fits the mold of Joe Mixon with his natural pass-catching ability and toughness. Two teams that stand out as potential fits for Shipley are the Los Angeles Chargers and Baltimore Ravens.

The Ravens offensive coordinator, Todd Monken, was at the college level when Shipley was at Clemson, and the team could use a player to spell Henry. With Henry also playing on a one-year deal in Baltimore, Shipley’s chances of taking over as the lead back in Baltimore would be good. The team has also indicated they might upgrade the running back position in the draft. As for the Chargers, head coach Jim Harbaugh comes from the college level and will need a new lead running back. Los Angeles is rebuilding their offense, and Shipley would give them a solid player who can contribute in multiple ways.

Main Photo: Nathan Ray Seebeck – USA Today Sports


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