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August 24, 2021

Fantasy football running back sleepers: Target Phillip Lindsay, Xavier Jones, Larry Roundtree III

There's a difference between drafting running back handcuffs — or backups that could back their way into a starting role due to injury — and drafting running back sleepers.

A sleeper is a player who is badly underrated by everyone else drafting, and a player who has a ton of value selected later in the draft. We've pinned down five such running backs, some of whom are currently competing for a role and some who are playing behind players we have little confidence in.

So while Alexander Mattison or Qadree Ollison may be smart picks if you have drafted Dalvin Cook or Mike Davis respectively, the following backs are smart to target no matter who your starters are.

Phillip Lindsay, Texans (ADP: 149)

Lindsay in our opinion is the top sleeper in fantasy. He is in Houston where there could be a whole lot of nothing offensively if Deshaun Watson sits out the season. On the depth chart, he is competing closely with Mark Ingram II, David Johnson and Rex Burkhead. In the preseason, he has played with the first team, at least on early downs.

We are not suggesting Lindsay is a smart pick in the first, say, 10 rounds of your draft. But he is worth a shot later on, with the potential that he gets feature-back reps with the other veteran running backs spelling him, or playing on third down. Houston's offense could be slim pickings this season, but some of the scraps could lead to fantasy points if you know when to pounce.

Xavier Jones, Rams (ADP: 179)

Everyone knows by now that Cam Akers is done for the year in Los Angeles and Darrell Henderson is the starter there. But everyone knowing that will probably ruin Henderson's value. So too does a recent injury to his thumb, the extent to which is unknown.

What could be a savvy move in your draft is selecting Xavier Jones before you are done filling out your bench. Jones is a second-year back who is impressing in the preseason and emerging as the clear No. 2 to Henderson. Obviously the injury upside is there, but even if not, Henderson got plenty of action working alongside Akers last year, and Jones could get the same production as the second RB for LA.

Tevin Coleman, Jets (ADP: 182)

Coleman is a classic case of a guy who will start the season early but should inevitably lose his job to the rookie playing behind him, in this case New York's Michael Carter. While Carter surely has value in your fantasy draft, we are telling you not to sleep on Coleman, who should get first team reps to start the year.

Starting strong in your fantasy league is important, and there is no reason not to buy high on someone with the willingness to cut him loose once he struggles. Coleman will be a nice snag in your draft right around that time where all the starters are gone, and you realize there is someone still available who could put up a solid 12-to-15 points in Week 1. 

Salvon Ahmed, Dolphins (ADP: 220)

Last year, the Dolphins offense only ran for 1,688 yards, the 23rd most in the NFL — with a bunch of those coming from their quarterbacks. Having a piece of their run game may not be ideal in 2021, but you have to get creative when you are drafting and trying to outwit others in your league.

The Fins don't appear to favor running just one featured back. So while Miles Gaskin will be the first Miami RB off the board, there is a lot of upside in also targeting Ahmed, the No. 2. Last year he had the same number of TDs as Gaskin while averaging 53.2 yards per game to Gaskin's 58.4. A similar split could be in the cards this year, so draft accordingly.

Larry Roundtree III, Chargers (ADP: 318)

Roundtree is a risk — he is barely slotted third or fourth on current depth charts — but the sixth-round pick has been lights out in extended time this preseason and could be a really smart stash on your roster if you have nothing to lose in the later rounds. 

He is a big, tough back who can catch passes and convert on short yardage situations. He's kind of the perfect backfield mate for the starter Austin Ekeler, and with draft stock on his side the Chargers will be motivated to see him contribute. He had 40 touchdowns with Missouri in college.

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