Before we jump into my sleeper picks, let’s lay some groundwork. First, what is a sleeper? NFL.com fantasy page defines a sleeper as typically, a late-round pick or waiver-wire selection who exceeds his statistical expectations and becomes a prominent option in fantasy leagues. Based on that definition picking a running back sleeper is going to be pretty hard. It is going to be hard because running backs rarely come out of nowhere and surprise us. Usually, it takes an injury to a lead back for someone to come out of nowhere to surpass expectations we have for them. Since it is nearly impossible to predict injuries I am not going to talk about guys like C.J. Anderson, Ameer Abdullah or Carlos Hyde all whose production will depend on health. We all know these guys are good, what we don’t know is how healthy they will stay. I am also going to avoid talking about guys like Kareem Hunt, Alvin Kamara, or D’Onta Foreman who will get obvious spikes in production if the lead back goes down. So instead in this sleeper article, I am going to look for running backs at will have more value than their current ADP. Typically these guys will have most of their value in PPR leagues because of they won’t be starters but will be able to help your team on bye or tough match-ups for lower level starting backs.
1. Duke Johnson – This guy is my favorite on my list. Current ADP is 36th running back and 93rd overall. This is a great opportunity to get a guy that can easily over produce his expectations. The first reason I like him is that I believe the Brownies are turning things around and going in a positive direction. The second reason is his receiving ability. He already has 114 receptions in his first two years. In fact, he has shown great ability in the passing game that the team is talking about using him in the slot this season as a wide receiver. Finally, one last reason is the improved offensive line. Last year he only had 73 rushing attempts but averaged 4.9 yards. So with a better line and possibly 125 carries he should improve his rushing totals as well. I could see a slash of 125/560/2 and receiving line of 60/550/2 which could easily be enough points to place him as a solid RB2. He should be no worse than a top flex option most weeks and in deeper leagues will be a fixture at the RB2 spot.
2. C.J. Prosise – Last year we were teased with Prosise ability. We only got to see 30 carries and 17 receptions, but how awesome were those limited touches? They were awesome enough for me to take a chance on him again this year. I was not put off by the addition of Eddie Lacy and a healthy Thomas Rawls does not really bother me either. Mostly because neither of those guys has the hands or route running ability that Prosise does. So even if Lacy and Rawls both manage to stay healthy all year it will not cut into Prosise being the primary passing down back and with a questionable offensive line, those passing downs might come in bunches. The upside here is if one of the two starters go down Prosise not only is the passing down back but also a backup runner as well, only increasing his base value. Currently going in the 9th or 10th round, Prosise is a little more of a gamble than the others on this list because of such a small sample size we have on him, but Seattle is a good team that should produce plenty of opportunities make Prosise a bye week filler with possible flex value.
3. Chris Thompson – Over the last two-year Thompson has caught 92 passes, out of 118, for 678 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran for 572 yards and three touchdowns on only 103 carries. Last year he actually finished as the 28th best running back, which means in a 12 team league he was a high RB3. Current drafting trends have him going in the 16th round or later. Think about that for a second, a guy that has a good shot at finishing as an RB2 getting drafted in the possibly the last round in the draft. I say he has a good shot because I can easily see him repeating last years receiving numbers, but the coaches are on record saying he will get more rushing attempts this year too. So if you add another five or ten receptions and an additional 35 carries, which is less than three additional touches a game, that should be more than enough to move him into low RB2 status. At minimum, this guy should be used as a regular flex play or a top option in a zero running back team. If you have already had your draft and he is on waivers I would be making room for him right now.
4. T.J. Yeldon – Yeldon is another running back is a very similar position as Prosise. With Leonard Fournette and Chris Ivory likely ahead of him for early down work, Yeldon is the clear option for passing down work. Yeldon has caught 86 passes in his first two years but also has rushed for over 1,200 yards. That is probably the biggest difference between Yeldon and Prosise, Yeldon has more of a track record running the ball. But like Prosise, Yeldon will need an injury to Fournette or Ivory to see a serious uptick in rushing production. Many people will point to the disappointment in Yeldon’s season, and rightfully so, but what they miss is that he still managed to finish as an RB3, barely but he did. I do not think the season will be much better than last years, but even a slight improvement can drastically move him up the ranks. So again here we have a guy getting drafted right around the 18th round and could very possibly finish as an RB3. I would not want to stake my season on a guy like Yeldon, but knowing I can draft a guy in the 18th rounds that I can use in a spot start that could easily get me 10 points is pretty comforting.
Michael Kelley is a member of the Going For 2 team. You can check out his website Dynasty League Problems for more writings or find him on Twitter @mikekelleydlp spreading fantasy knowledge for the masses.