There’s no such thing as a true sleeper anymore. Everybody in your league is going to have some people in mind that they want, but they can also easily utilise some of the infinite technology attached to modern day fantasy football. These recommendations, instead, are for some players who I think might slip further down the draft board of your league mates than they should – allowing you to swoop in and get a steal at great value. These running backs aren’t all going to be RB1’s, but they’re guys who have either more upside or a better situation than most of the other backs who will be going around them in the draft.
It’s early in the fantasy pre-season, but it’s never too early to put together your draft board. Here are some running backs that you need to keep an eye on in advance of your draft.
Jerick McKinnon – RB, San Francisco 49ers
Starting with a difficult one. McKinnon isn’t a traditional sleeper.
He could easily go in the late third round, even in standard/half PPR leagues if people are keen. But he’s a player that could just as easily slip into the fourth, and that’s where I’d target him – no matter where you take him he has a really great situation lined up for next year, and you’ll be happy with the pick going into the season anywhere you take him. In PPR leagues he could rise to the late second, so if you play with that receiving-back favourable scoring-system, very few people will be sleeping on him.
Jerick McKinnon is a newly acquired member of the San Francisco 49ers. This is great. Not only is this team on the rise, the two most important offensive positions have both experienced a change of personnel. Jimmy G has entered, and Carlos Hyde has left… This is the perfect scenario for a young RB to find himself in – an improvement at QB, and the veteran RB1 leaving. Upon becoming a free-agent, McKinnon said that he wanted to be a feature back, and I think that’s exactly what Kyle Shanahan has in mind.
His current ADP is somewhere in the North of that fourth round for standard leagues, which is actually really good value, but if you still see him when your pick is coming closer keep him on your watchlist and try and get an absolute steal, if people start catering to other positional needs. If you can get him as an RB2 or maybe even 3, you’re going to be a terrifying team to come up against next season, because he has all the tools it will take to win score you some much-needed points. And, if your team is looking really really strong, he could be one of the best flex pickups anybody makes in your whole league.
Rashaad Penny – RB, Seattle Seahawks
This kid has upside. A lot of upside…
He is walking into a role where he could potentially start for them this season, even if not right away, alongside one of the best quarterbacks in the league, but a team which has had no run game since Pete Carroll chose not to utilise it in the Super Bowl. Penny is a very talented prospect coming out of college, and he was taken with the 27th overall pick, this year. If his rookie season shapes up like his 2017 campaign for San Diego State, he will easily secure the leading role in Seattle; and has a genuine chance of putting up RB2 numbers on the season. If you can find this 220lb All-American in the middle rounds of the draft, you could be in for an absolute steal. Now, let’s not ignore the fact the Seahawks O-Line is atrocious, they will not do him many favours – but when you’re drafting Penny, you don’t pick him up because you expect to plug him in week one and win.
He’s a player that you should look for when the skeleton of your starting lineup is already in place, and you’re looking for those gems who have slipped down into the middle rounds. Picking him up anywhere beyond the fifth is a steal, as long as you sort out your urgent priorities first. (QB is not an urgent priority, please stop).
Alex Collins – RB, Baltimore Ravens
This is a player who you should draft for multiple reasons.
Firstly, because he’s a very talented running back, who can provide fantasy points every week. That is obvious. He’s a starter who has all of the skills to win you fantasy games. But drafting him will also provide another benefit, an underrated thing in fantasy football, he looks great when he runs. When he averages five yards per carry – he actually gets five yards every carry. If you are watching him play, you won’t have to sit and wait for him to break a home run rush for fourty yards just to get you some fantasy points. He is a consistent back, who will slowly tick over in your lineup and should provide double-digit points practically every single week, making him a great flex play or an RB2 if your team has some early WR talent. Last season he had a few really good performances, including back-to-back 20+ point games in weeks 13 and 14. This year I’m expecting to see more of those, and without Danny Woodhead clogging up the depth chart, he’s actually got even more upside, now that he can stay on the field for passing downs.
Kenyan Drake – RB, Dolphins
A lot of people will forget about Kenyan Drake in the distracting months of the draft and the offseason, but he is a very good running back in an underrated situation. The Dolphins are not a good team, but most beneficially, they have an absolutely awful passing game – which has become even worse post-Landry. Failure through the air will lead to more rush attempts. It isn’t clear on who the RB1 will be at the start of week one, but I believe that when the dust settles, (hopefully by the end of the offseason) Miami will realise the potential of the 24 year old. He averaged almost 5 yards per carry last year on 133 carries. If he ends up as their featured back, which I think is entirely possible, this season, he has some really promising fantasy upside. When he was used correctly, he was incredibly productive, he had three games in a row scoring more than 20 fantasy points (in half PPR) near the end of last season, incluyding a game against Denver. He’s the real deal. He’s definitely a guy worth looking at in the middle rounds. If he slips to the fifth you should definitely consider him, especially if you’re looking for an RB.
D’Onta Foreman – RB, Houston Texans
This could be one of the steals of your draft if you can get him at the right time. D’Onta Foreman is the RB2 of the Texans, behind Lamar Miller, who is getting older, and even last season he started to lose carries. So, the reason that I rate Foreman highly is because he will be drafted as a back up, but I feel he will almost inevitably take over the starting job once he’s back to full fitness. Plus, Deshaun Watson is returning, and he will bring back the explosiveness that the Houston Offense started off with last year. If they are even half as good as they were in 2017 before Watson’s injury, Foreman will become a starter in a powerful attack. Your opponents will likely have forgotten about Foreman since he got injured last season (especially as alot of eyes came off of Houston when his QB went down) – and so you can utilise the recency bias to pick up Foreman in one of the later rounds. He’s better than Lamar Miller, and he’s better than many of the players who will be available on the board in the later rounds. He has got a lot of potential this year.
Corey Clement – RB, Philadelphia Eagles
LeGarrette Blount’s depature leaves Clement as the RB2 behind inconsistent Jay Ajayi He’ll serve as a high-upside handcuff, but will also be fighting for the RB1 job throughout the season and there’s nothing saying that he won’t get chance for a solid carry count this year, even with Ajayi healthy. Clement is very fast for someone in the 220lbs range, and if given the reps, he could do some work in fantasy. He isn’t a person you’d target in the middle rounds, when other positions are at a premium, but he’s the kind of player with enough upside to get a look later on, to try and provide some depth and keep him away from your opponents. And if you’re in a dynasty league, or starting on, he’s young too. He could be an incredible pick up in all formats.
De’Angelo Henderson – RB, Denver Broncos
“Henderson is going to be the Kenyan Drake of 2018/19.” – Joe Hulbert of Read American Football.
Henderson didn’t get much of the look in his rookie year, you can count his NFL appearances on one hand. He was only afforded seven carries all year, and so he remains an unknown quantity. But if you play fantasy football, you must know by now that being an unknown quantity can be a very good thing. This year his situation is encouraging, as he sits either alongside or behind another unproven rookie in Royce Freeman and the starting running back is Devontae Booker, who doesn’t look like a formidable RB1 by any means. Henderson can do work in the passing game, he scored a 29-yard TD against Kansas City last season. If you’re happy with your team, and you want to pick up a potential gem, then De’Angelo Henderson is a great sleeper in the most traditional sense of the word, and he’ll be sat there waiting there for you in the last rounds of the draft.