August 18, 2020
Finding sleepers at running back has never been more important. With fewer practices than ever during a shortened and modified training camp, understanding schemes and impressing coaches is extremely difficult for new players. And, with the constant threat of coronavirus, players will be jumping around on the depth chart like never before.
Which is why we are targeting the following five fantasy running backs as under-the-radar players we believe will be productive this season. None of them are sure things, nor are they flashy enough to draft anywhere in the first 6-8 rounds of your fantasy draft, but all have major talent and upside that most fantasy owners may miss.
Here's a look:
*(RB rankings are according to PhillyVoice)
There's a pretty big trickle effect to Damien Williams opting out. The presumptive starting running back for the Super Bowl champs now becomes rookie Clyde Edwards-Hilaire, who is certainly not low on anyone's radar. The challenge of making a rookie running back a featured back in 2020 is a herculean task, and with all the pandemic-fueled difficulty the Chiefs and Andy Reid will need to overcome, it seems more than reasonable that CEH's back up — DeAndre Washington — will be of extra importance. Washington ran for three touchdowns with the Raiders last season and also caught 41 passes. He's worth grabbing in a later round.
The Ravens like to run the ball. A lot. Baltimore ran the ball 57.5% of the time in 2019, more than six percentage points higher than the next highest team. Even if you take away Lamar Jackson's 176 rushing attempts, the Ravens still ran the ball more times than any other football team. This is an indicator that their RB corps will need to go deeper than just Mark Ingram. Last year, backup Gus Edwards had 711 rushing yards. In 2020, second-round pick JK Dobbins could unseat him for those carries. If he earns the No. 2 role, he's worth targeting in all leagues.
Sony Michel is still recovering from foot surgery and could miss the first six games of 2020. The race to start behind him is between veterans James White, Rex Burkhead and 2019 third round pick Damien Harris. In just two appearances during his rookie year, Harris was unable to break through a crowded backfield and had just four total carries. This season could be different. Under some pressure to prove his high draft slot out of Alabama was worth it, Harris should get the opportunity to show he can be a reliable early down back. If he does get that chance, fantasy owners should keep an eye on him as their draft progresses.
Here's another transactional trickle-down effect. When Washington cut it's featured back Derrius Guice (due to off-field issues), the starting job opened up. Antonio Gibson was a third round pick out of Memphis this April and has been touted for having speed and agility. He'll be going toe-to-toe with a talented group of backs looking to take Washington's starting job — Adrian Peterson, Peyton Barber, J.D. McKissic and Bryce Love. Gibson can catch the ball and line up anywhere on the field, unlike his competition. He also has youth and health going for him — so even if AP does get the starting job, Gibson will inevitably get some touches due to wear and tear and injury. He's a very good choice for a low risk high reward stab at the end of your draft,
Jones will be the lead back in Tampa with Tom Brady calling the shots. That's probably enough to make him a draft target. But he's not nearly as highly-touted as most other starting NFL running backs, and ignoring his potential could make you miss a very productive running back. Tampa beat writer Carmen Vitali has reported that Jones has been a camp standout so far and has been dynamic in the passing game. With LeSean McCoy on the wrong side of 30 and two unproven backs behind them on the depth chart, Jones is as of right now the only Bucs' back worth drafting.