Five Running Back Fantasy Football Sleepers
Finding late round running back fantasy football sleepers is the surest way to attain a league-winning roster. Phillip Lindsay and James Conner were legitimate league-winners at the running back position last year and they barely had ADP’s. Unlike most of our recent content, including the ULTIMATE Guide To Winning Play DRAFT Best Ball Leagues, this article is less focused on best ball drafts and more on weekly management leagues. While a few of these running backs are options in best ball leagues, they are better kept on the waiver wire speed dial or in deeper (14 team or 20-man roster leagues) fantasy football formats. These fantasy football sleepers are relatively deep but the ceiling is RB1 for all of them.
Chase Edmonds, Arizona Cardinals
Unlike the other four running backs on this list, I am making a pretty significant investment in Chase Edmonds in my best ball drafts. Edmonds is the perfect type of fantasy football sleepers candidate. He will contribute enough on a weekly basis in terms of snaps and touches to be used as an emergency flex but his ceiling if David Johnson gets injured is a weekly RB1. The Cardinals are running exclusively shotgun plays at early OTA practices which indicates a few things: first, that they are going to pass at a much heavier rate than they did last season and second, that the running backs will have far more opportunities to catch passes in space. David Johnson’s average depth of target in 2018 was .8 and Edmonds’ was .2. Compare that to 2016, when the Cardinals were running a vertical passing offense under Bruce Arians and David Johnson’s aDOT was 4.7. Edmonds had 80 touches as a rookie and was able to score twice but like the rest of the Arizona offense, he seemed dreadful. Coming out of Fordham, Edmonds was an above-average prospect who ran a 4.55 40 at 209 pounds and had 70th percentile SPARQ athleticism. We are projecting massive improvements in yards per play, plays per game and adjusted yards per attempt for the Cardinals and Edmonds stands to be a beneficiary of that.
Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys
Every NFL team is trying to acquire a player like Pollard who can handle rushing and receiving with equal ability. Pollard shared a backfield with fantasy football darling Darrell Henderson and just like Henderson, was acquired to be a spell back to a fantasy football stud. Pollard’s competition for backup running back in Dallas is Mike Weber (who suffered an injury in rookie minicamp already) and Darius Jackson. Jackson might more sense as a traditional two-down back. Pollard had more targets than rushing attempts in college and averaged 8.2 yards per touch at Memphis while scoring 18 touchdowns. To share a backfield with Darrell Henderson and have comparable efficiency numbers is pretty impressive as his 4.52 40 at 210 pounds. There have been some murmurs that not only was Pollard drafted as a potential backup for Ezekiel Elliot but that he might play in the infamous Tavon Austin “web back” role. While that sounds exciting, it isn’t something that I am counting on. I’m mostly in on Pollard due to his receiving skill set and his path to playing time if something were to happen to Elliot in one of the league’s best rushing offenses.
Shaun Wilson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
When the Buccaneers declined to draft a running back in the 2019 NFL Draft, everyone in the fantasy football community assumed that it meant that Ronald Jones and Peyton Barber would be given another crack at the starting job. I am not 100% sold on Jones who flamed out hilariously as a rookie despite being drafted highly. The team knows what they have in Peyton Barber but Wilson is a more unknown asset. Wilson is a fast, satellite-back type player who caught 81 passes at 4 years at Duke. His playing time as an undrafted free agent rookie was limited to less than 10 touches but he is expected to make the team again. Wilson’s path to being a true RB1 is probably more limited than the other four backs on this list because it is unlikely that Tampa would use him as a 20-touch per game player but playing in Bruce Arians vertical passing offense makes him attractive as the one back on this roster with a history of catching passes well. I’m not very interested in investing in Peyton Barber though I do think there is a chance that Ronald Jones just takes the reigns of this job.
Travis Homer, Seattle Seahawks
The last time the Seattle Seahawks benched a first-round running back for a fantasy football sleepers favorite was…. last year. Rashaad Penny played behind both Chris Carson and Mike Davis in 2018. The most likely scenario is that Penny becomes the primary passing-down back for the Seahawks and Chris Carson retains his grinder role. However, with coaches that don’t place a ton of emphasis on pedigree as it regards to playing time, I am a fan of investing in physically talented UDFA running backs. Homer had one of the best SPARQ scores of any running back in this class and was drafted to a team that loves to run the ball and loves SPARQ-y athletes. The Seattle Times reported that Homer could actually find a role as the team’s third-down back as early as this season. If that is the case, then my rankings and projections on Homer are actually a little low. In terms of later round running backs with RB1 ceilings, Homer might be among the best because he is playing for a team that is so committed to running the ball and not nearly as committed to draft capital determining playing time.
Justin Jackson, Los Angeles Chargers
We have already seen what happens when Melvin Gordon gets injured and Justin Jackson gets a chance to take over the Chargers backfield. In Week 11 against the Chiefs in 2018, Jackson had 16 touches with 4 targets and scored a touchdown. In the two games before that, he split time with Austin Ekeler but was the more effective player on the ground. Jackson had a massive 1,142 carries in college while catching 122 passes and scoring 42 times at Northwestern. He is a bonafide, RB1-style player who would excel if given the opportunity. Jackson plays in one of the most RB-fantasy point friendly offenses in football and if either Austin Ekeler or Melvin Gordon were to miss significant time, Jackson would be a weekly starter in 12-team PPR leagues. Both of them did, in fact, miss time last year and Jackson performed admirably in their stead. Given what we know about Melvin Gordon’s knees, I plan to have Justin Jackson be one of my primary Zero-RB targets throughout draft season.
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