This Running Back Sleepers article will take you step-by-step through some of the new kids on the block at the running back position. Not only are these players potentially the most talented RBs on their current roster, they also have the right stuff needed to shine if presented with the opportunity.
The incumbent starters in front of these kids are hangin’ tough when it comes to their hold on the starting gig but none of them have it locked down by any means.
11 of last season’s Top 24 scoring running backs in standard scoring leagues were players in either their first, second or third season. Before casting off the young guns, keep that stat in mind.
The most important thing we can do over the next few weeks is to keep an eye on training camp battles and listen to the local beat writers when it comes to projecting running back carries. If your league is drafting within the next week, you don’t have that luxury so you’ll need to stay ahead of your competition. This list should help you do just that.
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Running Back Sleepers
Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs
From today’s 7 on 7 drills: Rookie RB Kareem Hunt hauls in a one-handed grab from QB Tyler Bray. Fans greet him in the end zone with cheers. pic.twitter.com/xqg7YkLkfg
— KCTV5 News (@KCTV5) July 30, 2017
Kareem Hunt may already be the most talented running back on the Kansas City Chiefs roster. All that stands in the way of Hunt being, at worst, half of the running back by committee in KC is Spencer Ware. Ware is a fine back who was able to get the job done last season but wasn’t spectacular in any one area. His 4.3 yards per carry average, three rushing TDs and 17 touches per game don’t scream RB1. There’s an opportunity here. Keep an eye on this RB battle in training camp, and if you’re drafting Ware, make sure you grab Hunt a few rounds later. He won’t last longer than that.
Jamaal Williams, Green Bay Packers
Williams, like Hunt, is only one injury away from seeing first team reps at RB. The problem here, however, is the starter (Ty Montgomery). Montgomery looked exceptional at times last season. He averaged nearly six yards per carry, caught the ball well out of the backfield and most importantly, was solid in pass protection. So why is Williams on this list? Because as productive as Montgomery was last season, it was his first season as an NFL running back and he amassed just 77 carries. We don’t know whether Montgomery can handle a starter’s workload and from the early reports out of Packers training camp, Williams looks more than capable of filling in when needed. This Packers offense is good enough to make a mediocre RB (James Starks) Fantasy relevant. Williams is much, much better than Starks.
Kenyan Drake, Miami Dolphins
It wasn’t too long ago that the words, “bone on bone” were included in any paragraph discussing Jay Ajayi. Have those injury concerns been deemed no longer applicable to Ajayi? No, they have not. Ajayi put up RB1 numbers last season and suddenly all injury concerns have disappeared. Drake averaged 5.4 yards per carry in 2016, his rookie season, and is the team’s backup RB to open camp. While concerns about Drake not being able to physically handle a full-time workload may be valid, if Ajayi were to miss any significant time, Drake could have significant flex appeal. He was at times an electric player in college who has big play ability as a rusher and receiver.
Wendell Smallwood, Philadelphia Eagles
Ryan Mathews had offseason neck surgery, Darren Sproles is 34 years old and LeGarrette Blount isn’t as good as his 2016 stats suggest. Even if Blount takes hold of the starting RB role in Philadelphia, there is plenty of room for another back to be Fantasy relevant. Blount had 306 touches last season yet only seven of those were via the pass. Passing downs belong to Darren Sproles.
Smallwood averaged just over four yards per carry in his rookie season and before you say, in limited touches, a friendly reminder that his 77 carries are the same as Ty Montgomery in 2016. The Eagles offense should improve in Carson Wentz’s second NFL season and if age finally catches up with Sproles, then Smallwood likely takes over his role. I’m personally not drafting Smallwood outside of deep leagues but he’s going to be at the top of my watch list.
Joe Williams, San Francisco 49ers
Let’s not over analyze this situation. The Niners coaching staff clearly likes Williams. Carlos Hyde is rumored to be on the trade block and Tim Hightower isn’t going to handle full-time carries at his age. There’s too much potential playing time here to ignore.
Malcolm Brown, Los Angeles Rams
It took Malcolm Brown three days of training camp to be named Todd Gurley’s backup by Sean McVay. pic.twitter.com/lyeDRyY1SU
— Joe Curley (@vcsjoecurley) August 1, 2017
Okay, I’ll admit, this is the third year in a row I’ve had Malcolm Brown on my sleepers list but this year it might actually happen. Jeff Fisher is out as coach and newly hired Sean McVay has already publically praised Brown and suggested he will be the team’s backup RB to begin the season. Brown isn’t a physical freak by any means but he’s decisive and shifty. He looks the part. If I’m a Todd Gurley owner, I’m likely spending my last pick on Brown.
Wayne Gallman, New York Giants
Run drills/. Wayne Gallman in action. pic.twitter.com/2scxrXApkJ
— Paul Schwartz (@NYPost_Schwartz) August 1, 2017
Paul Perkins and Shane Vereen stand in Gallman’s way. Perkins could be a breakout this season and I’d be thrilled to have him as my RB3. Raise your hand if you’re sick and tired of hearing about Shane Vereen’s potential Fantasy value. All the hands in the room should go up.
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