College Fantasy Football (CFF) drafts start to heat up as we enter the middle of the summer. Managers begin to see the various magazines on bookshelves depicting college football teams and the vast information they contain. As those drafts approach, managers increase their search for value. In this piece that means we’re looking for running back sleepers you can target in your college fantasy football draft.
With the term sleeper a bit vague, we need to nail down just what we’re looking for. I’m on the hunt for valuable players who can be drafted outside the Top 24 running backs and become weekly starters. I analyzed the quarterback position in the first installment of my CFF sleeper picks. In this article, I will focus on the running backs.
Also make sure to check out John Laub’s running back rankings and projections.
2023 CFF Running Back Sleepers
My “Sleeper RB” picks could lead you to a CFF Championship. I will focus on running backs from Power 5 (P5) and Group of 5 (G5) schools to provide as much advice as possible.
Before I provide a list of running backs worth targeting outside the Top 24, here are a few key attributes that would help an RB make my list:
- An offense that historically scores more than 30 points
- Coaching change that includes a head coach/offensive coordinator that significantly impacts
- Offensive line with experience
- Multi-purpose running back (will run and catch)
- Highly recruited prospect that transferred to a better situation/ or depth chart adjustment that
improves a player’s opportunity
Before I get to my list, I asked YOU, the Twitterverse, what running back you were most confident in putting up a Top 24 season but is currently outside the rankings.
And the Twitterverse decided:
Kaytron Allen, Penn State Nittany Lions
Lately, if anyone talks about the Nittany Lions’ running game, they always focus on Nick Singleton and erroneously forget to include Kaytron Allen. In 2022, Allen notched 867 yards rushing with 10 touchdowns. Although only targeted 25 times in the passing game last year, Allen caught 20 passes for 188 yards and a touchdown.
This season, Singleton may cost more in draft capital, but Kaytron Allen is the better value. With a top-notch offensive line in front of him, Kaytron Allen may burst into the Top-24 conversation, especially if anything were to impede Nick Singleton from sharing backfield duties with Allen. And according to the Twitterverse, your favorite sleeper to enter into the Top-24 is Kaytron Allen.
Ashton Jeanty, Boise State Broncos
I have been open about my optimism in Ashton Jeanty having an impact year. Similarly to Allen, Jeanty shares backfield duties with another capable teammate, George Holani. In 2022, Jeanty tallied 821 yards and seven touchdowns. If you need an example of Jeanty’s explosiveness, in Boise State’s bowl game against North Texas, Jeanty posted 178 yards on the ground with a touchdown.
With Holani’s injury history, Jeanty could inherit the lead role and never relinquish it. Jeanty may get little work in the passing game, but he did catch 88% of his targets for 155 yards. I believe Ashton Jeanty to be on the precipice of a breakout and strongly recommend drafting him in the round 10-to-11 range.
Jadyn Ott, California Bears
I may be the band leader for the Jadyn Ott Quartet. Last year, Ott had 897 yards rushing with eight touchdowns. What I love most about Ott’s potential for a breakout is his usage in the passing game. In 2022, Ott had 58 targets with 46 receptions, 321 yards and three touchdowns.
Ott may have some competition from transfers Williams-Thomas and Cardwell; I feel Ott’s dynamic ability to make modest plays turn into game-breakers will be enough to keep the lead role and possibly be a Top-24 CFF running back.
LeQuint Allen, Syracuse Orange
After resolving his legal dispute with the university, LeQuint Allen returns to the Orange this summer and takes over for the departed Sean Tucker. There were a lot of questions about whether Allen would return to Syracuse but with that resolved, all signs point toward Allen making a considerable impact.
Allen recorded 274 yards on the ground with one touchdown. Allen’s ability to catch the ball is a substantial asset to CFF managers. Last season, Allen caught 17 of 21 passes for 117 yards and a touchdown. Syracuse averaged 142.5 yards per game on the ground, and the majority of that workload appears to be in the sole possession of Allen. With his availability no longer in question, grab Allen soon before his draft capital rises meteorically.
Roman Hemby, Maryland Terrapins
In 2022, Roman Hemby rushed for 989 yards and 10 touchdowns, and caught 33 of 39 targets for 298 yards and a touchdown. Although the Maryland offensive line only returns one starter, Hemby and starting quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa will present problems for defenses on whom to stop. And with crucial matchups with Penn State and Michigan at home, those key games may allow Hemby to notch a Top-24 season on home soil, not in Beaver or Michigan Stadium.
Kimani Vidal, Troy Trojans
Kimani Vidal had a tremendous 2022 season. Kimani had 1,132 yards rushing with 10 touchdowns and 26 receptions for 140 yards. In many ways, Vidal will be the key to the Trojan’s offense in 2023. There are some question marks on the offensive line and how successful the passing game will be from game to game, but Vidal appears to be the offense’s focal point.
In a two-game stretch against Arkansas State and U-Louisiana Monroe, Vidal totaled 450 yards rushing and six touchdowns. If Troy can utilize a more balanced attack, Vidal may prove why he is worthy of a Top-24 season in CFF leagues.
Gavin Williams/Antario Brown, Northern Illinois Huskies
The MAC may have more recognizable names at the running back position, like Samson Evans (EMU) and Sieh Bangura (Ohio), but Northern Illinois loves to run the ball. With all five offensive linemen returning, the Huskies seem primed for a breakout running back. In 2022, the Huskies averaged 190 yards rushing per game which ranked 34th in the nation. The Huskies have two running backs competing to be the lead back.
Gavin Williams is a transfer from Iowa. In three years as a Hawkeye, Williams tallied 471 yards. Williams wisely enrolled in the Spring to get to campus and begin to learn the system and compete.
Antario Brown returns from last season but finished with some injury concerns. Brown logged 689 yards rushing and seven touchdowns in 2022.
After being named Co-Offensive MVP from Spring workouts and scrimmages, all signs point to Brown leading the competition to be the lead back. One of these rushers could easily notch a Top-24 season with how this offense sets up and how they want to control the clock and run the ball. I suggest following this battle through August and draft accordingly. If your draft is sooner, my money is on Antario Brown as the better bet.
Got a few CFF running back sleepers of your own? Drop some names in the comments below.
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