There are many different ways to define what a sleeper is for fantasy football. Typically, a sleeper is a player most managers are overlooking, or “sleeping on”, that will outperform where they’re going in drafts. For the purpose of this article, I’m running with that definition, but digging a little deeper. The following running back sleeper picks are players that managers are overlooking, but also not expected to start Week 1 on most fantasy football rosters. However, they could have a major impact this season. That said, make these running back sleepers a priority as your draft progresses and other managers start sleeping on how important those mid-to-late-round picks truly are.
Running Back Sleepers to Prioritize in 2023 Drafts
Damien Harris, Buffalo Bills
Quarterback, Josh Allen, led the 2022 Bills team in rush attempts inside the 10-yard line. He also accounted for 33% of the team’s red zone rush attempts last season. The team leader, Devin Singletary (44.5%), is now on the Houston Texans. There continues to be a narrative about having Allen run less in 2023. Bills free agent acquisition, Damien Harris, scored 15 rushing touchdowns for the New England Patriots just two seasons ago, scoring nine of them from within the 10-yard line.
I’m labeling Harris one of the top running back sleepers based on how late he’s going in drafts and his potential to finish inside the top five in red zone rush attempts this season. He may not lead the Bills in carries, but could easily score the most rushing touchdowns in Buffalo. He’s a fantastic value right now, especially in best ball formats.
Rashaad Penny, Philadelphia Eagles
Before trading for D’Andre Swift in April, the Eagles signed Rashaad Penny to a one-year deal in March. He has just 337 career regular-season carries over five seasons due to an unfortunate injury history. Even with a less-than-ideal career workload, Penny still has an impressive 5.7 yards per carry average to show from it. So, sharing the backfield with Swift, and even quarterback Jalen Hurts, may work for Penny. Swift has an injury history of his own, too.
Even without a bell cow workload, I think Penny is a running back sleeper who can erupt behind one of the best offensive lines in football. It’s a bit bold, but Penny running for 1,000 or more yards in 2023 is in the realm of possibilities. Miles Sanders, now with the Carolina Panthers, had a career year in 2022 logging 1,259 yards and 11 touchdowns on 259 attempts last season for the Eagles. Penny is going to see his fair share of those vacated carries.
Samaje Perine, Denver Broncos
We are all hoping for a triumphant return from Broncos running back Javonte Williams after last year’s season-ending knee injury. In the meantime, don’t overlook Samaje Perine. He is one of my favorite running back sleepers that could start for your fantasy team in Week 1. Beyond that, Perine should remain an asset in new head coach Sean Payton’s offense. The utilization of two running backs is a reason Perine joined Denver instead of returning to the Cincinnati Bengals in free agency.
Perine’s 133 total touches in 2022 are his most since his rookie season of 197 in Washington. Specifically in place of Joe Mixon for two games last season, Perine averaged 20.4 PPR points per game. The game prior, with Mixon exiting early, Perine hauled in three receiving touchdowns on his way to a 30.2-point week. He’s a dual-threat veteran back playing behind an improved Broncos offensive line with a new coaching regime that brought him in there. Perine is a running back sleeper, especially after how low most fantasy managers are on Denver after last season.
Tyler Allgeier, Atlanta Falcons
Rookie phenom, Bijan Robinson, ending up in Atlanta is driving down Allgeier’s fantasy draft capital big time. Bijan Robinson is a three-down player with major receiving upside that commands defensive attention. The 2023 eighth-overall pick is going to see a ton of playing time and volume in Atlanta. Don’t forget though that Tyler Allgeier, a 2022 fifth-round pick, rushed for over 1,000 yards last season. He is one of just two rookie running backs to do so.
While Bijan will be busy, I still think Allgeier logs a few carries per game, especially in the red zone. With he and Bijan in the backfield, it’s unlikely wide receiver Cordarelle Patterson, now 32 years old, will continue to log carries. At the very least, Allgeier is one of the top handcuffs this fantasy football season. In a doomsday scenario involving Bijan Robinson, Allgeier’s value skyrockets which is enough to make him a running back sleeper pick.
Jerome Ford, Cleveland Browns
With the departure of Kareem Hunt in free agency, he leaves behind 158 touches from last season alone. That’s 31% of the Cleveland Browns’ 2022 backfield touches. Hunt also led the Browns in backfield targets (44) with a slight edge over Nick Chubb (37). With Cleveland not adding any notable running backs in the draft or free agency, Jerome Ford should slide right into a similar role to Hunt’s.
Nick Chubb is likely entering the last year of his contract as the Browns would save $12 million with just a $4 million dead cap hit by releasing him next March. He’s going to log close to 300 or more touches, or close it, especially with his contract in mind. Behind Chubb though, and in case of emergency, Jerome Ford is a major running back sleeper for fantasy football. He’s capable of handling a full workload if needed. That’s evident by his 236 touches for 1,539 yards and 20 scores in 2021 at the University of Cincinnati. Chubb managers should prioritize adding Ford to their rosters, but everyone else should have him circled as a running back sleeper to target, as well.
Rookie Running Back Sleepers to Remember
Roschon Johnson is one of the most versatile running backs of the 2023 rookie class. His strong running style, receiving capabilities, and most importantly, ability to pass block, are going to earn him serious playing time for the Chicago Bears. Justin Fields will likely lead the team in rushing, but Johnson could emerge as the lead running back as soon as October.
Tyjae Spears is going to start to creep up draft boards after Hassan Haskins’ recent arrest. That leaves Spears, the third-round rookie, with a good chance to back up Derrick Henry. That makes him one of the best rookie running back sleepers, as well. The Tennessee Titans offensive line is doing a complete overhaul, but there could be enough volume for Spears to produce fantasy-relevant numbers, especially if Henry is traded mid-season. He boasts a 6.8 yards per carry average at Tulane with a hard-to-ignore 229/1,581/19 rushing line from last season.
Kendre Miller will be a great running back sleeper to stash especially if Alvin Kamara is suspended. The New Orleans Saints are bringing in Jamaal Williams. He led the league in rushing touchdowns (17) last season. Miller scored 17 of his own last season at TCU. Without Kamara, Miller could handle a bulk of New Orleans’ carries. Meanwhile, Williams will have his fair share but could see more work in a passing down role similar to his time with the Green Bay Packers.