The wide receiver position could be the deepest in fantasy football this season with passing and receiving numbers rising every year. And yet according to Fantasy Pros running backs account for five of the first six picks in the first round this season. So even with receivers ascending to the top of draft boards, running backs remain the most coveted fantasy players. The reasons are easy to tick off: 1) Many will touch the ball 20 times a game on average 2) Many swing out of the backfield for passes, making them a dual threat 3) They don’t necessarily rely on the quarterback for their stats, etc etc.
One problem for fantasy owners is obtaining a starting running back who consistently puts up numbers. That’s why LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson and Matt Forte are likely to be the first four players off the board. They’re proven, established players who we know will get the ball, and they might be a dying breed. From 2008 to 2012, an average of nearly 16 running backs rushed for 1,000-plus yards. In 2013, there were 13 who did so.
Over the next few years we’ll be able to tell if running backs are truly being marginalized, but for now let’s figure out who else owners can pick up to keep their fantasy title hopes alive.
We’ll take a look at some of this year’s sleeper picks, who could pan out by the end of the fantasy season. Based off their average draft position tabulated by Fantasy Pros, each o the below running backs present great value in the lower rounds.
Rashad Jennings, New York Giants
David Wilson’s career-ending injury makes Jennings the top guy. He played well last year when Darren McFadden went down in Oakland, and he’ll get the majority of the touches for the Giants. As the 21st back off the board, Jennings has great value in the fifth or sixth round.
Toby Gerhart, Jacksonville Jaguars
A hip flexor injury kept him out for two weeks during training camp, but Gerhart returned to practice this week and he’s expected to get 15 to 18 touches a game from the get-go.
Bishop Sankey, Tennessee Titans
Shonn Green’s hyperextended knee means Sankey moves up, even though the rookie hasn’t impressed very much during camp and lost a fumble in the most recent preseason game. Still in that same game he averaged more than five yards a carry. A fourth to sixth round choice, but likely won’t be there afterwards.
Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons
Freeman suffered an undisclosed injury on Monday but came back to practice the next day. Likely nothing too serious, and he’ll have major value when Steven Jackson inevitably goes down or underperforms.
Bryce Brown, Buffalo Bills
His touches might be limited from the start, but Brown played well for Philly last year and if Fred Jackson or C.J. Spiller go down the carries should go to him.
Danny Woodhead, San Diego Chargers
As the 37th back off the board, Woodhead is a sleeper despite making 76 catches for 605 yards and six touchdowns last year. He really shouldn’t be a sleeper, but owners can capitalize on this mistake in the fifth round.
Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati Bengals
The LSU standout is buried behind Giovani Bernard and BenJarvus Green Ellis, but later this season he could become a factor. You can easily snag him in the 10th round or lower, and in dynasty league’s he’s worth a keeper for at least two seasons.
Carlos Hyde, San Francisco 49ers
Another rookie behind a top rusher in Frank Gore, who’s averaged 272 carries the last three seasons. That’s a ton of wear and tear. Kendall Hunter was also lost for the year, and Hyde has played well during preseason. Pick no later than sixth round.
Khiry Robinson, New Orleans Saints
Someone has to make all those catches out of the backfield now that Darren Sproles is gone, and it’s not going to be Mark Ingram who’s totaled 24 receptions in three seasons.
Lance Dunbar, Dallas Cowboys
DeMarco Murray is a great player, but he’s missed 11 games in three years. Dunbar or Joseph Randle will get some significant time this year.
Darren Sproles, Philadelphia Eagles
Like Woodhead, he’s way undervalued as pass-catching back. He light it up Chip Kelly and the Eagles with another 70-plus reception year.
Maurice Jones-Drew, Oakland Raiders
He’s already tops on the Raiders depth chart, and last year rushing the ball wasn’t a problem for Oakland’s offensive line, they just needed a healthy back. Jones-Drew is healthy again and a big year might be coming.
Joique Bell, Detroit Lions
In a PPR league Bell could do wonders after snagging 53 balls last season, though he didn’t get any touchdowns. Avoid in a standard league.
Bobby Rainey, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
He’s now Doug Martin’s primary back-up after Charles Sims went down with an ankle injury that required surgery. Rainey put together two 100-yard games last season when Martin went down. How much time he gets is yet to be determined, so maybe best to monitor rather than draft right now.
Trent Richardson, Indianapolis Colts
In two seasons Richardson has averaged 3.3 yards per carry. He’s really not a game-changer unless the Colts are in the redzone. Let’s not forget he still totaled 11 touchdowns in his rookie season and nearly got 1,000 yards. Handcuff him to a more consistent back and Richardson is a steal.