Fantasy Football: Looking for deep sleepers at running back, focusing on players with ADP beyond 150 overall

We all love targeting sleepers on Draft Day in our Fantasy leagues. These can be players you draft with a mid-round pick, or someone you pick with one of your last selections. And the latter is something that can be the most gratifying when that player succeeds. It’s why you clicked on this story.

For this week, as the calendar turns from June to July, I’m going to look at players you can draft at pick No. 150 overall and later. I’ll use the Average Draft Position data on FantasyPros now, and we’ll revisit this topic again in August using our ADP on CBS Sports.

You can call these players deep sleepers. And some of these guys are being selected after kickers, which is amazing, because several of these players will be league-winners in 2020.

The running backs we’re looking at in this range are some potential prominent handcuffs (Darrynton Evans, Chase Edmonds, Anthony McFarland and A.J. Dillon), along with some guys with standalone value in PPR (Nyheim Hines, Antonio Gibson and Jalen Richard). And I love this group of running backs.

While they might not be weekly Fantasy starters in Week 1, there are guys who could emerge as quality options — and potential stars — if an injury occurs. And these are players you should be targeting at the end of your draft.

Editor’s note: Players are listed in order of Jamey Eisenberg’s rankings.

I’m excited for Hines with the addition of Philip Rivers in Indianapolis. Hines should play on passing downs, even with the Colts adding standout rookie Jonathan Taylor to go with Marlon Mack, and that should make him a flex option in PPR. Rivers has a lengthy track record of throwing to running backs, and I expect Hines to be the latest. LaDainian Tomlinson, Darren Sproles, Mike Tolbert, Danny Woodhead, Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler each had at least one season with 75-plus targets playing alongside Rivers in the Chargers’ backfield. In 2019, Rivers connected with Gordon and Ekeler for 134 catches for 1,289 yards and nine touchdowns on 163 targets. In two seasons in the NFL, Hines has averaged 54 catches, 372 yards and one touchdown on 70 targets, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he had 70-plus receptions in 2020.

I’ll be buying a lot of stock in Gibson this year. He has the chance for a prominent role in Washington even though the team has a crowded backfield with Derrius Guice, Adrian Peterson and potentially Peyton Barber, Bryce Love and J.D. McKissic around. I’m not sure what Washington has planned for the latter three guys, but Guice should be the starter if healthy, with Peterson getting work as well — and Peterson is someone you can draft in the later rounds with an ADP of No. 221. But Gibson has a good opportunity to play on passing downs for offensive coordinator Scott Turner, who helped call plays in Carolina last year for Christian McCaffrey. Gibson should be a valuable weapon for Washington, and he could see more touches than initially expected if Guice, who has played five career games in two years, gets hurt again.

Justin Jackson (ADP No. 156) is being selected ahead of Kelley as the No. 2 running back for the Chargers behind Austin Ekeler, but I like the rookie from UCLA better. I expect Kelley to be the complement Ekeler this season. There are 162 carries and 42 catches available in the Chargers’ offense with Melvin Gordon gone as a free agent to Denver, and while Ekeler will take some of those touches, Kelley could see a good portion as well. He might even help replace Gordon as the touchdown leader for the Chargers, and Gordon has scored at least nine total touchdowns in four years in a row. This is a battle to watch in training camp between Kelley and Jackson, but I prefer Kelley’s upside heading into the start of camp.

I’m targeting Evans as a lottery ticket this year. I’m nervous about Derrick Henry coming off 400-plus touches in 2019 and he could suffer an injury because of too much wear and tear. Evans is expected to be the handcuff to Henry this season, and that would obviously put him in a prominent role if he got the chance to start for the Titans if Henry suffered an injury. Tennessee finished 2019 as the third-best rushing team in the NFL, and it’s doubtful the Titans would change their style dramatically even if Henry were out. Evans was a third-round pick in the NFL Draft out of Appalachian State, and he’s coming off consecutive seasons with at least 1,200 total yards. He also scored 23 total touchdowns in 2019. He could be fun if given an expanded role, and Evans is a good running back to stash on your bench. 

The Packers made a surprise selection in the second round of the NFL Draft with Dillon since they already have Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams on the roster. But Dillon is a physical presence at 6-feet, 247 pounds, who could prove to be someone who needs touches immediately. It would be a surprise if Jones lost too much work after he was a star in 2019, including tying McCaffrey with a league-leading 19 total touchdowns. But Dillon could take away from Williams’ 107 carries, if not more. Where Dillon could end up hurting Jones is in rushing touchdowns. Last year, Jones had 14 touchdowns inside the 20-yard line, 11 touchdowns inside the 10-yard line, and eight inside the 5-yard line. Dillon scored 38 rushing touchdowns in three seasons at Boston College, and that could be his niche for the Packers this year. I’d much rather have Dillon over Williams, who is also available in this range with an ADP of No. 193.

Edmonds should be the handcuff to Kenyan Drake, and he’s a lottery ticket to target in all leagues. Should Drake miss any time due to injury, Edmonds could be a star. He showed that in 2019 when he had three games in a row with at least 14 PPR points from Weeks 5-7. The biggest outing came in Week 7 at the Giants when he had 27 carries for 126 yards and three touchdowns, as well as two catches for 24 yards on four targets. Eno Benjamin (ADP No. 290) might play a role as depth behind Drake, but Edmonds should be No. 2 on the depth chart. He’s worth stashing in all leagues, and he has the ability to be a weekly starter if Drake were to get hurt.

I’m curious to see how the Jaguars plan to use Leonard Fournette this season after spending the offseason trying to trade him. It could lead to more work for Armstead and Chris Thompson (ADP No. 259), with Thompson likely playing on passing downs. Armstead didn’t do much as a fifth-round rookie in 2019, but he did perform well in a spot start in Week 17 against the Colts with 19 PPR points. It would likely take an injury to Fournette for Armstead to see a big role, unless the Jaguars just get frustrated with Fournette and want a change. Thompson could also be an option in PPR given his history with new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, but I’d still gamble on Armstead first in all formats if you want to one of the Jaguars’ backups this season.

James Conner is healthy heading into camp, but he’s missed nine games over the past two years due to injury. McFarland should be able to have a role while Conner is healthy, but he could be the lead rusher for the Steelers if Conner were to miss any time again in 2020. Benny Snell (ADP No. 261) would also have a role if Conner is out, and he’s not a bad flier in this range as well. But Fantasy managers might be able to use McFarland now if the Steelers get him on the field in tandem with Conner, and I plan to stash McFarland on my Fantasy roster in all leagues.

Sony Michel should hopefully be fine for the start of the season after undergoing foot surgery in May, but that’s an injury to keep an eye on. Should Michel miss any time, we could see Harris get some meaningful playing time in the NFL. As a rookie in 2019, Harris only had four carries for 12 yards and appeared in just two games. Now, if Michel is healthy, we might not see Harris do much, especially with James White and Rex Burkhead on the roster. And Burkhead could be worth a flier in this range in deeper leagues with an ADP of No. 279, too. Plus, let’s not forget about Cam Newton’s ability as a rusher — and the potential to take away rushing touchdowns. But I would hope that the Patriots would turn to Harris if Michel misses any time, and Harris is someone I plan to target in most formats this year.

The Raiders are going with Richard and Lynn Bowden (ADP No. 280) as the top backups behind Josh Jacobs, and we saw last year that role could be valuable if Jacobs misses any time. He missed three games in 2019 with a shoulder injury, and DeAndre Washington had either a touchdown or 120 total yards in each outing. Washington also was a factor in the passing game in tandem with Jacobs, and Richard should be more involved in that facet of the game for the Raiders this year. Remember, in 2018, Richard had 68 catches for 607 yards on 81 targets. It’s doubtful he’ll do that again if Jacobs is healthy, especially with Bowden now on the roster, but it will be interesting to see what Jon Gruden would do if Jacobs missed any time due to an injury in 2020.

Even though Cam Akers is on the roster, and Darrell Henderson (ankle) should be healthy, the Rams could still use Brown in some capacity this season with Todd Gurley now gone. He’s the veteran of this trio, and the coaching staff might feel the most secure with him given the lack of offseason work. Brown doesn’t have the same upside as Akers or Henderson, but he might get the first opportunity. And because of that, he’s worth drafting in deeper leagues just in case he has the chance to replace Gurley as the main scoring option. Gurley scored 54 total touchdowns in three seasons under Sean McVay, including 14 touchdowns in 2019.

As long as Bernard remains the backup to Joe Mixon, he has lottery-ticket appeal in case Mixon were to miss any time. This Bengals offense should be much improved in 2020 with a better offensive line and the return of A.J. Green (ankle). If Joe Burrow is good as the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft then this offense could be electric. I’m excited about Mixon this season, and I could see Bernard doing just fine as a replacement option if needed. In 2018, he had two games with double digits in carries, and he had at least 80 total yards and a touchdown in each outing. Bernard doesn’t get enough playing time when Mixon is healthy, but he could be a league winner if he got the chance to start any games this season.

I wish Rashard Penny (ACL) was healthy, but it sounds like he might be on the PUP list to start the season. It’s part of the reason the Seahawks brought in Hyde to help Chris Carson, who is also coming off a hip injury from last year. Hyde isn’t a sexy Fantasy option, but he did just have his first 1,000-yard season in 2019 with six touchdowns in Houston. If he somehow landed a prominent role with the Seahawks if Carson and Penny were out, that wouldn’t be a terrible expectation. Of course, rookie Deejay Dallas could play a role in that scenario, but Seattle would probably lean on Hyde. He’s not a bad Fantasy option to target in deeper leagues, as well as Penny (ADP No. 179) with the hope he’s healthy by the end of the year.

The Falcons main options behind Gurley aren’t exciting between Smith, Brian Hill and Qadree Ollison, and it could be a committee approach if Gurley were to miss any time. I give Smith a slight edge over the other two options just given his role last year as the backup to Devonta Freeman. Unfortunately, Smith ended up on injured reserve with a neck injury, but he should be healthy heading into training camp. He’s not someone you have to handcuff to Gurley, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him in a big role if Gurley got hurt in 2020.

McKinnon is worth a late-round flier in deeper leagues if he’s healthy this season, which seems to be the case at this point. He’s missed the past two seasons due to knee problems, but he should be third on the depth chart now behind Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman. There might not be many touches available for McKinnon, but he should be able to play on passing downs. Prior to getting hurt just before the start of the 2018 season, the 49ers were looking at McKinnon as their featured rusher. Things have changed since then, but the 49ers have kept McKinnon around for a reason. Maybe this is the year that he delivers — for San Francisco and Fantasy managers.

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