Top-5 Running Back Sleepers (ADP 120+) | 2017 Fantasy Football

by Nick Ercolano August 23, 2017

Top-5 Running Back Sleepers (ADP 120+) | 2017 Fantasy Football

For those that play in 12+ team fantasy football leagues, the later rounds of your draft can make or break your season. These are where the no-name breakout players live. Here are five RBs, being picked at 120 or later with major upside in 2017.

Thomas Rawls - SEA (120 RB43)

  • I've been on the, or I guess hopping off the Eddie Lacy bandwagon for as long as he's been fat, so as long as I can remember. People think that Lacy's decreased production and lower leg injuries over the past few years are just a coincidence? Naw son.
  • After signing Lacy to a fat contract, pun intended, Thomas Rawls has already taken over the starting spot. It was reported in practice and further solidified in Seattle's first preseason game when Lacy didn't enter the game until Trevone Boykin was under center. A bruiser (5-10, 215) with above-average elusiveness, Rawls led the NFL in yards per carry (5.6) in 2015, his rookie season. He entered last season as the starter but broke his leg forcing him to miss seven regular season games. When Rawls is healthy, he's a fantastic NFL running back. Dating back to his rookie season in 2015, in games where Rawls received at least 10 carries (12 games), he's averaged 100 total yards, 0.5 touchdowns and over 14 fantasy points (0.5 PPR). That is, however, the big question mark. Can he stay healthy? After dealing with a broken ankle in 2015, Rawls missed last week's preseason game a with a minor ankle injury. It's not believed to be serious at all, but worth monitoring for sure. I actually don't hate the injury, hopefully it will move his ADP down even further. 
  • Eddie Lacy will still play a role, but it's clearly behind Rawls right now. C.J. Prosise will have a sizeable role too, as the pass-catching specialist, but Rawls just needs the carries and he can produce. Prosise just suffered a sprained groin and will need time to heal. It's a big blow to a kid with such potential, and the Seahawks coaches have showed a lot of concern over Prosise's ability to stay on the field. All three backs have big upside, but all three have been injured frequently. As it stands now, Rawls needs to be drafted in every fantasy league. The only way I'm drafting Lacy is if Rawls suffers a major injury.

Jacquizz Rodgers - TB (135 RB47)

  • With Doug Martin suspended for the first three games, Quiz will be the lead back in Tampa Bay. I wasn't sure how the load would be split up with Charles Sims returning from an injury and incoming rookie Jeremy McNichols, but it looks like Rodgers is going to get as much work as he can handle in September. According to ESPN Bucs reporter Jenna Laine, Jacquizz Rodgers stands a chance at unseating suspended RB Doug Martin for the starting job. Given the talent level of the two, it's almost impossible to imagine that happening if Martin is healthy, but you're going to get a huge workload out of Rodgers early and there's a possibility given Martin's off-field behavior and injury history, he's the Bucs RB1 again at some point in the season.
  • It's a small sample size, but last year in games that Quiz handled more than 7 carries (5 games), he averaged 105 total yards, two receptions and 0.4 touchdowns. Those are probably about what you can expect from the miniature back over the first three weeks. The Bucs, with a solid defense and as shown on the first episode of Hard Knocks, are looking to keep the ball on the ground as much as possible. Looking back at last year, we Winston's pass attempts drop from over 38 a game down to just over 31 over the second half, a stretch where the team closed out the year 6-2.
  • Doug Martin was the starter in the Bucs preseason week 2 game and he looked good, rushing 7 times for 30 yards and a score, catching two passed for 11 yards, but Rodgers was right there in with the first-team to get those reps. You're essentially renting a high-end RB2/low-end RB1 for three weeks. He gets Miami (32nd - 4.8ypc), Chicago (23rd - 4.4ypc) and Minnesota (16th - 4.2ypc), all three teams ranked in the league's bottom half for run defense.

Darren Sproles - PHI (143 RB49)

  • This is a simple case of tried-and-true. I'm usually not one to draft PPR running backs like Darren Sproles given the nature of their roller coaster week-to-week production, but Sproles has done it for long enough and is going way later than most of the guys you can expect similar production from like Duke Johnson (92), C.J. Prosise (112), James White (119),  types of guys. Over the last six seasons, Sproles hasn't had a single campaign under 705 total yards, 4 touchdowns and 40 receptions. There's no sign of him slowing down as his touches, YPC and YPR reception all increased from 2015 to 2016. Here are Sproles' fantasy finishes in PPR over the last 6 seasons starting with 2016 - [24, 28, 24, 23, 13, 5]. While he's hit-or-miss on volume, game-to-game, the numbers don't lie and he's a legitimate RB2/3 in any PPR format.
  • In 2016, Sproles quietly racked up 865 total yards, catching 52 passes and scored four times, in 15 games. Those 52 receptions were 9th in the NFL among running backs, and again, in just 15 games. If he caught 3 passes in a 16th game, Sproles would be sitting inside the top-5.
  • Rookie Donnel Pumphrey have yet to impress this summer. Pumphrey got his chance in preseason, but didn't do much, gaining just 32 yards through the air on eight targets. Jimmy Kempski from Philly's Voice expects Pump to start the year on the team's inactive list if he even makes the team. Sophomore back Wendell Smallwood has received some praise as of late, but just returned to practice after dealing with a hamstring issue. He was mediocre in his rookie season, seeing just 82 touches and I'm not expecting a major bump in usage. A big workload should still be in store for the 34-year old. Darren Sproles said the offense is built to get him the ball in space more often this season. "That’s just our thing now," Sproles said. "Moreso than even last year. We’re trying to get mismatches." Eagles running backs saw a combined 115 targets in 2016 and were the 6th heaviest passing offense overall in the NFL. Look for Sproles to lead the team in snaps and benefit from their style of play.

Jonathan Williams - BUF (160 RB54)

  • We saw it with Karlos Williams two years ago and Mike Gillislee last year. No matter how good LeSean McCoy is, the Bills number two running back will have fantasy value. The second year player out of Arkansas, J-Will has nearly an identical build (6-0, 225) to the previous two backups. Safe to say the Bills have "a type". While Shady rested in the Bills first preseason game, Williams put on a show, rushing four times for 39 yards and catching his only target for seven games, not to mention a smooth 17-yard run called back. He did this, and will run behind one of the NFL's top run-blocking lines. They led the league in yards before running back contact on rush plays in 2016. 
  • Jonathan Williams will be one of the few fantasy running backs in 2017 that has both standalone value and benefits from being a true handcuff. Three quick, need-to-know stats about 2016: LeSean McCoy had 13 rushing touchdowns. The Bills had 29 as a team. Buffalo trailed only Dallas in rushing attempts per game (30.8). I wouldn't peg McCoy as particularly old (29) or injury prone, but he's only played a full 16 games in 3 of his 8 NFL seasons. He's got a ton of tread on the tires so it's likely Williams gives you a few dynamite games this year. I'm targeting Williams in leagues where I don't even own Shady and I own him in probably 80% of my best ball leagues.

DeAndre Washington - OAK (177 RB59)

  • It's very possible Washington finishes 2017 with a very similar statline to his 2016 numbers, rushing 87 times for 467 yards (5.4 ypc), scoring twice and adding 115 yards on 17 receptions. The difference this year, of course, is that Marshawn Lynch is the starter in Oakland instead of Latavius Murray. While Murray is an average talent at best, Lynch has way more question marks attached to him in terms of longevity. Those include his 31-year old age, a nearly two year absence from the NFL and a bad season in that which was his last (3.8 yards per carry, plagued with injuries). 
  • D-Wash has been running with the second team offense all summer and started the first preseason game but still rotated with Jalen Richard. I fully expect Washington to win the number two role, and cut into a big share of the pass-catching work out of the backfield. Washington ranked 5th in the NFL last year in breakaway run percentage (8.1%, carries 15 yards +), 10th in yards after contact per touch (1.5) and second overall in yards per carry against stacked fronts (6.3, 8+ in the box). He was a favorite of mine coming out of college with an 84th percentile SPARQ score, and I think he'll earn more touches in 2017. If something were to happen, Washington becomes an immediate high-end RB2 behind one of the NFL's top run-blocking lines.


Nick Ercolano
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