Winning with a strong running game was once the hallmark of good NFL teams. Rule changes have put more emphasis on receivers, however running back is still one of the glamour positions on fantasy football rosters. Everyone wants to be able to boast that they grabbed the next big thing on draft day. In the spirit of helping you look like a genius to your friends, here are some running back sleepers for 2016.
Shallow Picks (Should Outperform Their ADP):
Rashad Jennings NYG:
Jennings has fallen out of favor over the last season or two as the Giants have deployed about 100 running backs per game. This has predictably come at a steep cost to Jennings production for fantasy owners. Keep in mind that he still has an excellent skill set including above average pass catching skills. He should also be featured in a high powered offense this season. Rumors are swirling that the Giants are through using a running back by committee approach. This could be great news for Jennings if you believe that he can hold up to the rigors of an entire season as the starter. He has had some injury problems throughout his career, but if he can avoid big hits he could be a huge score in PPR leagues.
Jerick McKinnon MIN
McKinnon is currently the backup to one of the most successful running backs in football history. His appeal is limited while Adrian Peterson is healthy, but that is the point of this column. Posessing all of the physical tools to succeed in the NFL, McKinnon could be a huge boon to owners if he finds his way onto the field for some meaningful amount of time. He was underwhelming at times during Peterson’s time on the commissioner’s exempt list, but many players have struggled as rookies and still gone on to great careers.
DeAndre Washington OAK
Latavius Murray has a firm grasp on the starting job in Oakland; he finished as a top ten back in fantasy in some formats last season. Still he has not been dominating and benefited greatly from playing behind a very strong offensive line. Coaches and staff in Oakland have said that they consider Washington a complete three down back. This confidence could mean that they see him as the future of their running game. Washington is going in the 11th round and there is a strong chance that he will get some decent playing time at some point.
Deeper Picks (Should Be Free In Most Drafts):
Zach Zenner DET
This pick is more about my concern with Ameer Abdullah as a starter. He may have a big rebound year after being largely ineffective last season, but I will not be counting on it. The pass catching duties are going to be spoken for as Theo Riddick is one of the better third down backs in the league. Runs between the tackles should be in Zenner’s wheelhouse, though. If Abdullah struggles early on, keep an eye on Zenner and give some serious thought to snagging him from the waiver wire.
Keith Marshall WAS
Speaking of running backs behind starters that I don’t believe in, check out Marshall. He was a stud in college until he was derailed by a torn ACL. Although his game has been missing a bit since the injury, his speed is clearly still top notch (4.3 40 yard dash at the combine). Matt Jones has had issues with fumbling and just general lack of effectiveness. If he has a hard time in 2016, Marshall could be one of the backs called upon to pick up the slack. He may not be worth a roster spot immediately, but this is another player that I would watch carefully.
Josh Ferguson IND
There is no real reason to throw dirt on Frank Gore yet, he keeps producing despite his age. If this is the year that he falters, however, Ferguson may be the best fit to take the reins. He has looked the part of a starter in camp, which means little but it is better than looking overwhelmed. Robert Turbin and Jordan Todman aren’t thrilling anyone, so look to Ferguson if father time finally catches up to old man Gore.
Wendell Smallwood PHI
Smallwood may be my favorite among the deep sleeper picks. He is certainly the most likely to have an opportunity to start. Starter Ryan Mathews is already hurt, although he looks like he should be fine to start the season. Mathews has been effective but injury prone throughout his career. Darren Sproles is on the roster as well, but he is simply not a three down back. Smallwood is an excellent bet to get some real playing time if Ryan Mathews spends some time on the shelf this season. Grab this running back fantasy football sleeper at the end of the draft; don’t wait for the waiver wire.
The sleepers are almost all in the books, just in time for drafts this weekend. Tomorrow I will wrap up with some under the radar tight ends. Be sure to check them out as well as going back to read through the quarterbacks and wide receivers.