Some things in life are simply undeniable. Pizza is delectable both hot and cold, orange starbursts are by far the worst variety, Seinfeld is better than Friends (yeah, I said it), and last but not least, running backs win championships. Fantasy football isn’t like the NFL where running backs are spit out like Pez dispensers. The foundation of your team starts with your backfield, and the more you invest in the position the better. The investment doesn’t end in the first few rounds of the draft. The nature of the position is volatile, and you can never have too much depth. Queue the elusive running back sleeper.
Capitalizing on a mid/late-round draft pick at running back is one way to separate yourself from the pack. Running back depth is shallow to begin with, so if you’re able to add a productive piece to your rotation without limiting other positions, you’re winning on two fronts. Together, we’re going to take a look at some of the guys I’ve highlighted as having the potential to make a difference on your roster at discount pricing. Is there anything better than a good bargain?
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2020 Fantasy Football Running Back Sleepers
Jordan Howard, Miami Dolphins
Perpetually unloved by the fantasy community, Jordan Howard is once again out to prove his worth. For a group of people who preach the gospel of touch opportunity, we continue to contradict our beliefs when we write off Howard. In his first three seasons in the league, Howard carried the ball no less than 25o times per season. He faced a dip in carries last year, but he was still on pace for 211 rushing attempts. Had he continued to run at an average of 4.4 yards-per-carry, he would have racked up 928 yards on those attempts. Mind you, he had to compete with Miles Sanders for touches. In their nine games together, Sanders kept Howard’s touches at a modest pace over the seven weeks of the season. It wasn’t until Week 8 that Howard tallied more than 15 carries in a game.
In his new home in Miami, Howard again finds himself in a situation where he’ll cede carries to another running back. Matt Breida was brought in as well to serve as a change of pace back for the offense. Breida will steal his fair share of carries from Howard, but his injury history is going to work against him. While Breida has only missed a small handful of games, he was a frequent guest of San Francisco’s injury report.
The highest carry total of Breida’s career came in 2018 when he ran the ball 153 times. Care to take a guess as to who the runner-up was in that category? The master plodder himself, Sir Alfred Morris. Alf managed to snag 111 carries as Breida’s backup. Comparing Morris to Howard is a pointless endeavor. Outside of successful campaigns in his rookie and sophomore seasons and a small resurgence in Dallas, Alf hasn’t amounted to much in the NFL. Furthermore, Breida has only eight rushing attempts inside the five-yard line in his career. Meanwhile, Howard tied that number in nine appearances last year alone. Howard may not receive much attention in the reception department, per usual, but his role as the primary ball carrier makes him a steal at his current draft price as the RB36 in PPR.
Tevin Coleman, San Francisco 49ers
Speaking of 49ers running backs, I’d like to present to you the all but forgotten Tevin Coleman. Raheem Mostert’s late-season breakout stranded Coleman on the Island of Misfit Running Backs. We may have given up on Coleman, but you know who hasn’t? Kyle Shanahan. The duo’s history dates back to Shanahan’s time as the Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator where Coleman spelled Devonta Freeman as a pass-catching specialist. It’s no coincidence that Coleman landed in San Francisco during the free agency period last year. Although inefficient, Coleman got a crack at being the top back in the Niners committee last season. He showed potential at times, but he was never able to put it all together. Shanahan has acknowledged his tendency to take the hot hand approach at running back, and given Mostert’s eye-popping efficiency, it’s hard to argue with his logic.
Despite Mostert’s prolific run, Coleman was once again given the reins in San Francisco’s divisional-round matchup against the Minnesota Vikings. Coleman the ball 22 times for 101 yards and two touchdowns. What was a baffling decision to some, Shanahan’s choice to feature Coleman once more paid dividends. The young head coach showed us a willingness to play Coleman even in the face of serious competition. It’s impossible to predict what Coleman’s involvement following his comeback effort against the Vikings would have looked like as he suffered a shoulder injury against the Packers just a week later. He played in the Super Bowl, but it’s difficult to imagine that he was 100% for the big game.
Going back to Coleman’s early-season injury, it’s worth noting that the injury he sustained was a high ankle sprain. This isn’t an easy injury to overcome for a running back in the course of a season. Take Alvin Kamara and Saquon Barkley as examples for instance. Both backs suffered the same injury as Coleman, and their dampened production was highly unusual considering their talent and roles in their respective offenses. Coleman is going to start the year with a clean bill of health, and Shanahan isn’t likely to turn his back on him. As the RB45 in PPR drafts, I’ll be taking as many shares of him as possible.
Selling a running back who’s unlikely to receive 100 carries in a season is no easy task. Cohen’s ADP as the RB37 in PPR proves that he’s no exception. 2019 was a down year for the then third-year running back. While he managed to set a career-high reception total, his efficiency on those targets was drastically lower than his first two seasons. He averaged an abysmal 5.8 yards-per-reception average and only compiled 456 yards on 79 catches.
His YPR average last season is unusually low for running backs. For context, Leonard Fournette averaged 1.1 more YPR than Cohen in 2019. If you mean to tell me that Leonard Fournette possesses more explosiveness than Cohen, I’d suggest that you get your eyes checked immediately. Had Cohen managed to put up his previous low of 6.7 YPR on his 79 receptions, he would have jumped up to 529 yards through the air. That’s not a huge improvement, but considering that he averaged 10.2 YPR in 2018, there’s clearly room for improvement.
It wasn’t only his receiving efficiency that took a hit. His yards-per-carry average dropped an entire yard from his previous low of 4.3. Outlier years, even bad ones, aren’t always predictive of what’s to come. Cohen still passes the eye test with ease. Providing additional comfort are the signings of Bill Lazor and John DeFilippo. Both coordinators have a history of airing the ball out, and this should ensure that Cohen’s role in the passing game will stay consistent in 2020. In what was by far his worst season efficiency-wise, Cohen matched his current ADP exactly with an RB37 finish in PPR. All it’s going to take is a boost in efficiency for him to return value in a significant fashion. Still don’t believe me? Allow my colleague Corbin Young to further make a case for Cohen in his recent write-up of the young running back.
I take no pleasure in participating in a partial fade of Devin Singletary. He’s an incredibly talented back whose situation is frustrating, to say the least. Unfortunately, this is the reality we’re living in.
Take a look at what the ever-durable Frank Gore did last year. He carried the ball 166 times, and what’s even crazier is the fact that he managed this carry volume on a flimsy average of 3.6 yards-per-carry. What’s worse is the disparity in goal-line touches between Gore and Singletary. Gore ate up the large majority of work in the most valuable area on the field. He received 11 attempts compared to Singetary’s lowly total of two carries. I don’t expect much to change this year. Moss fits the bill of the prototypical goal-line back weighing in at 19 lbs heavier than Singletary. Add that to Singletary’s problematic tendency of fumbling the ball and you’ve got a serious issue.
General manager Brandon Beane addressed Singletary’s difficulties holding onto the ball in a press conference where he juxtaposed Singletary’s aforementioned struggles to Moss’ ability to keep the ball from hitting the field. In his senior year, Moss fumbled the ball just once. The rookie running back has “touchdown vulture” written all over him. Moss is going to offer weekly flex appeal based on his upside touchdown alone, and if Singletary goes down to injury, Moss has league-winning potential.
Who are your favorite running back sleepers for the coming season? Let us know in the comments below.
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