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Fantasy Football Sleepers: Running Backs

Raheem Mostert

As the offseason is coming to a close, fantasy football drafts will start to begin. Going into every draft it is good to highlight a few sleepers that could be grabbed late that could potentially carry a fantasy team if that player reaches their full potential.

There are a lot of big-name running backs, but in a fantasy draft, they go off the board fast. This because even though there are a lot of notable running backs there are not enough elite ones to go around for everybody. A great draft strategy is to draft running backs early and often in the first few rounds. Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliot, and Dalvin Cook are all expected to be off the board within the first few picks.

Every year there are a few running backs that get drafted later and emerge as players that could be started with confidence every week. Last year Austin Ekeler, Chris Carson, Miles Sanders and Aaron Jones were considered flex or bench players and ended the year as top-20 running backs. Here are a list of running backs who can do the same.

Devin Singletary

Devin Singletary
Devin Singletary could have a breakout year in fantasy if rookie running back Zack Moss is held to a limited role Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
ESPN: #21
FantasyPros: #26
Yahoo! Sports: #28
NFL.com: #24

After cutting LeSean McCoy last season, Devin Singletary’s stock rose and he looked like a sleeper to become at least an RB2 last season. However after a hamstring injury, Singletary had to work his way back into the gameplan and ended up splitting carries with Frank Gore almost right down the middle last season. After scoring double-digit points in the first two weeks Singletary was out until Week 7. From Weeks 7-16 he was the 18th highest scoring running back with 121.4 points. That is better than Le’Veon Bell, Alvin Kamara and Josh Jacobs over that span.

Gore is now with the division rival New York Jets, but the Buffalo Bills spent their third-round pick on running back Zack Moss. What is good for Singletary’s fantasy value is that he is a different type of runner than Moss. Singletary is an outside runner that could be used in the passing game. While Moss is a downhill runner that will spend most of his time running between the tackles.

It is unclear right now how the Bills plan on using their running backs. But it seems like it is Singletary’s job to lose. He will likely start and take a majority of the snaps. Singletary will catch a lot of passes out of the backfield. The biggest hit to Singletary’s value is that Moss will eat the short-yardage situations and goal-line opportunities. Since the Bills are expected to be leading a lot of games both running backs will be getting a lot of work. If Singletary sees a majority of the snaps he could be a 1,000-yard rusher and could rack up 400 yards receiving.

Most fantasy analysts have Singletary as a flex or low-end RB2/high end RB3 depending on the number of players in the league. His average ranking amongst running backs is in between 24th and 25th. If Singletary can stay healthy and takes a majority of the running back snaps he can possibly play his way into the RB2 category.

Raheem Mostert

Raheem Mostert
Raheem Mostert carried the 49ers offense late last season to the Super Bowl. Including a 220 yard 4 TD performance against the Packers in the NFC Championship.
ESPN: #23
FantasyPros: #25
Yahoo! Sports: #22
NFL.com: #29

Late last season, Raheem Mostert emerged as a star. Mostert seemingly came out of nowhere. Though he only emerged as the teams lead back Week 13, Mostert finished the year as the  26th ranked running back with 165.2 points. From Weeks 12-17 Mostert scored 104.5 of his fantasy points which is an average of 17.4 per game. He was the eighth highest-scoring running back during that time.

Though some changes happened among big-name running backs in the San Fransisco 49ers backfield, it shouldn’t have a major effect on who gets the carries. The team traded away Matt Breida to the Miami Dolphins and for now, are holding onto Jerrick McKinnon who has missed the past two seasons because of injury.

As for right now, it appears that the starting job is Mostert’s job to lose. The 49ers backfield will be a committee but after he played last season there is no reason why Mostert should not lead the team in carries by a wide margin.

At the rate that Mostert was playing at last season, he could have 1,200 yards rushing this season. If you take production he had over the last six weeks last season and span it over an entire season he would have had for 1,370 total yards and would have had 21 total touchdowns. That would have led the league in touchdowns. That is good for 278.7 fantasy point which would have made Mostert the seventh-highest scoring running back. That is better than Leonard Fournette and Nick Chubb last season.

Experts essentially have Mostert ranked around the range where he finished last year he is between the 24th and 25th ranked running back. But if Mostert receives starting and a majority of reps for the entire season, like he did towards the end of last year and in the preseason, there is no reason why Mostert can’t be a top 15 running back at the end of the year.

Cam Akers

Cam Akers
Cam Akers is the favorite to emerge as the Los Angeles Rams starting running back in 2020 (Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports)
ESPN: #29
FantasyPros: #28
Yahoo! Sports: #27
NFL.com: #25

The Los Angeles Rams used their first selection of the 2020 NFL Draft on running back Cam Akers. The Rams had a major void on their roster at running back after cutting Todd Gurley earlier in the offseason. However, the Rams backfield was a mess last year as well. The team did not have any consistency when it came to how often they would run the ball and who was their primary ball carrier.

Akers went to Florida State that did not have a lot of success as a team during his time there. However, this did not affect Akers’ production too much. He broke the school’s freshman rushing record previously held by Dalvin Cook. This past season Akers rushed for 1,144 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Sean McVay stated that the Rams will be running a committee this season that Akers, Darrell Henderson Jr and Malcolm Brown will each have roles next season. But at some point in the near future, Akers will be the team’s feature back. A team doesn’t take a running back in the second round if they don’t believe they will be the team’s workhorse back at some point. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Akers get a majority of the reps Week 1. Brown wasn’t anything more than a gap filler when Gurley needed a break last season. Henderson Jr. did not get a lot of playing time last year. He will likely get more playing time, but won’t likely see major reps.

The uncertainty about centering the offense around Jared Goff will force the Rams into running the ball often like they did late last year.  If their offensive line can stay healthy the Rams will have one of the best running attacks in football. This past season Gurley and Brown combined for 278.5 points which would have been seventh among running backs. The year prior Gurley was the third-highest scoring running back with 372.1 and the highest-scoring running back the year before that with 383.3. Akers may not be as talented as Gurley, but McVay’s offense has a history of producing high-end fantasy running backs.

On draft boards, Akers is a flex in a deeper leagues, but is an RB3 or bench player among standard leagues. His average rank among running backs by fantasy analysts is between the 27th and 28th. If Akers emerges as the Rams’ lead running back and their offensive line can stay healthy he could emerge as a weekly flex starter and flirt with RB2 territory in standard leagues.

Jordan Howard

Jordan Howard
Could Jordan Howard return to how he looked his first two season this year in Miami? (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
ESPN: #31
FantasyPros: #32
Yahoo! Sports: #32
NFL.com: #33

Jordan Howard’s career has taken a major turn. After he was second in the league in rushing his rookie season and followed it up with another 1,000+ yard rushing season, he has played for three teams in three years. His third season was a rough one rushing for just over 900 yards but he did split reps with the more explosive Tarik Cohen. Howard was then traded to the Eagles where be became a part of a committee and only played in 10 games because of injury.

Last year should not define Howard as a fantasy running back. Howard rushed for only 525 yards and six touchdowns. But his role in Philadelphia was to keep the seat warm for Miles Sanders until he took over Howard’s role as the teams lead back. It has also been extremely hard to trust a running back in Doug Pederson’s offense since he became the Eagles head coach. Jay Ajayi, Darren Sproles and LeGarrette Blount are examples for veteran running backs who lost the trust of fantasy owners once they played in Pederson’s offense. He spreads the carries out too much for his running backs to be trusted on a weekly basis.

Howard now is a member of the Miami Dolphins who were by far the worst running team in 2019-20. Their leading rusher was 37-year-old quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick with 243 yards. That had to do with the fact that they traded away Kenyan Drake and cut Mark Walton. They also had one of, if not the worst offensive line in football last year. They also rarely ever had a lead, so they had to pass the ball for the majority of games.

This season should be different because the Dolphins revamped their roster. They added four new starting offensive lineman including first-round pick Austin Jackson. The Dolphins also took Tua Tagovailoa fifth overall and will be trying to protect him at all costs. This means the Dolphins will be a run-first team to keep Tua from getting it. They might not even play Tagovailoa in a single game next season. The Dolphins also revamped their defense to be the strength of their team. Head Coach Brian Flores is instilling a ground and pound mentality in Miami. The Dolphins will try to win low scoring games with their defense and run the clock out and that is centered around Howard. The only thing that could stand in the way of this is Matt Breida who the Dolphins acquired for a fifth-round pick.

Howard will be drafted as an RB3 or bench player in most leagues. Fantasy Football experts’ average rank for Jordan Howard is the 32nd ranked running back in fantasy. But if he can stay healthy and fend off Matt Breida keeping him to a chance of pace role back while becoming the focal point of the Dolphins offense, Howard can be a solid flex. Howard might not be the prettiest flex play but he should be able to put between 12-17 points a game as the Dolphins lead back.

Sony Michel

Sony Michel
Sony Michel could emerge as the Patriots primary weapon on offense this year.
ESPN: #38
FantasyPros: #29
Yahoo! Sports: #34
NFL.com: #32

There are a lot of questions surrounding the New England Patriots heading into next season. For the first time in 20 years, the Patriots will not have Tom Brady as the number one quarterback on their depth chart. Brady is in Tampa Bay and Jarrett Stidham and Cam Newton will be competing for the Patriots starting quarterback job. With so much uncertainty surrounding the quarterback position, it is not crazy to think the Patriots might run the ball even more in 2020.

For the past couple of seasons, the Patriots have committed to being a run-first team because of Tom Brady’s age. The move that established the Patriots as a run-first team was taking Sony Michel in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. In Michel’s first two seasons he led the team in rushing with just over 900 yards both seasons. Last year Michel missed time with a knee injury and would have likely reached 1,000 yards if he didn’t miss time. He was the 31st highest scoring running back with 152.6 points in fantasy last year. At times he could not be trusted in lineups last year.

Unless Newton returns to MVP form or Stidham outplays his expectations this should be Michel’s offense. Usually, Michel hasn’t taken a grasp on the offense until later in the year because of the weather in New England, but the Patriots might start the year running Michel a lot until they figure out the offense with their new quarterback. By the time the offense feels comfortable with their new starting quarterback, it might be the time of year where Michel would start receiving a heavy workload anyways. They are going to continue the same philosophy as last year. Their defense is going lead New England to most of their victories and their offense is going to do what is required of them to win games. Even though James White will be taking all the passing down snaps, Michel will be the teams first and second-down back and will be receiving most if not all of the goal line carries.

Michel is ranked fairly low amongst running backs by fantasy analysts. He is average rank is between 33rd and 34th. If Michel can stay healthy and becomes the focal point of the offense like his first-round draft selection expects him to be he can be a weekly flex starter with upside to finish amongst the top-10 on any given week.

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