Sleepers: Running Backs Worth Gambling On

by dave
Aug 5, 2012

Who had Sproles pegged as a sleeper last year? Jeff Haseley from FootballGuys had him ranked as his RB #23 (the consensus rank was RB #48). Yep, we track this sort of stuff.

“Dude, you stole my sleeper!” This common draft day comment is either a nice validation of your pick or totally annoying, depending on who says it. If it’s coming from the guy that has 99 sleepers highlighted on his cheat sheet, or the guy that loves to point out that he’s been “high on him since he was shredding defenses in Pop Warner leagues” then it’s pretty worthless.


Unfortunately, it’s the same with the endless supply of sleeper articles that get pumped out during the preseason. Everyone and anyone can tout a guy as their sleeper and never have to back it up (or account for it at the end of the season). How do you know when an expert really loves a guy? Simple. Just see if the expert ranks him a lot better than ADP. As they say, put your money where your mouth is!


I’ve taken a look at running backs that are ranked in the top 30 by at least one expert. In a typical 12-team league that starts 2 RBs and a Flex, this means the expert thinks the RB will achieve fantasy starter status when all is said and done. I then filtered the list to take out RBs that have a consensus ADP better than RB #40. If you’re touting a guy as your sleeper and the rest of the world already has him ranked up high, then he’s not really a sleeper.


I want to thank our featured pros for providing the insight behind why they’re bullish on these guys. If you like what they have to say, check out their sites and follow them on Twitter. Also, I’ve included a poll with each player, so you can provide your opinion too. Let us know if you think the player will exceed or not exceed his RB ADP.


Please note that an Expert’s rank doesn’t represent where you should draft him. To maximize value, you should always consider ADP or more advanced value based drafting strategies when deciding when to snatch the player.


Evan Royster (WAS)

Brad Evans, Yahoo! Sports | @YahooNoise
Expert’s Rank: RB #25 | ADP: #61 | ECR: #56
What’s your take? Will he exceed expectations (ADP) this year?

“In general, getting inside the mind of Mike Shanahan is an exercise in futility. No person, except for Lucifer himself, knows exactly what he’s thinking. However, according to beat writers close to the team, Royster is currently gripping the wheel, a position he probably won’t relinquish anytime soon. The ‘Skins staff envision Roy Helu as more of a third-down back and most are not confident Tim Hightower, who’s run with a noticeable hitch thus far in camp, will be back to full-strength come Week 1. Royster was a standout during the fantasy playoffs last year, logging consecutive 100 yard games in Weeks 16 and 17. He isn’t the most talented rusher on roster (Helu is), but his above average wiggle is enough to thrive in a one-cut-and-go system. Throw in his promising versatility and adequate blocking skills, and Royster is in line to become a RB2 Shocker Special in 12-team leagues. Expect his stock to rise rapidly as the preseason unfolds.” – Brad Evans, Yahoo! Sports

Isaiah Pead (STL)

Smitty, DraftCalc | @DraftCalc
Expert’s Rank: RB #25 | ADP: #62 | ECR: #55
What’s your take? Will he exceed expectations (ADP) this year?

“Isaiah Pead is a big-time dynasty sleeper of mine, but he also has a ton of 2012 sleeper upside. Could Steven Jackson crank out one more relatively healthy season? Sure, and I admit I’m going a bit bold in calling Pead a top 25-30 running back in 2012… the thing is, Jackson has a lot of miles on those wheels, and he has taken a major beating over the years in both the rushing and receiving games. Pead is the future of that Rams’ rushing attack. I have no doubts about. It just boils down to whether Pead cracks that Rams’ starting line-up this season (via injury, or underperforming by S-Jax). If/when Pead gets a shot to start in 2012, I firmly believe that the Rams’ coaching staff will refuse to keep him off the field. He reminds me a lot of a young LeSean McCoy, and numerous reports have surfaced recently suggesting that Jeff Fisher sees some “Chris Johnson” in Pead — I agree. If Pead starts by mid-season, which is what I boldly predict, I think he will turn heads and enter 2013 fantasy football dynasty drafts as a top 25 overall pick. Chew on that!” – Smitty, DraftCalc

Mikel LeShoure (DET)

Raju Byfield, WinMyFantasyLeague | @FantasySportDoc
Expert’s Rank: RB #22 | ADP: #41 | ECR: #39
What’s your take? Will he exceed expectations (ADP) this year?

“I have been very high on LeShoure since he got drafted last year. Yes, his torn achilles tendon would be a major red flag if not entering a less obstructed backfield picture than last year. Jahvid Best has been dealing with concussion issues and the word retirement has been bandied about when discussing Best. LeShoure is the power back an offense like the Lions desperately needs and though I was a big Kevin Smith fan coming out of college, LeShoure is and was a superior talent. I have LeShoure ranked a lot higher than some of my colleagues simply because I believe in him as an every-down back and do not believe Best will play in all 16 games. LeShoure must serve a two game suspension but has the talent to finish in the top-25 despite playing in only 14 games. I do understand no one should draft him in the top-25 but my rankings are based strictly on where I think the running back will finish the year amongst other running backs and not where they should be drafted in fantasy drafts. LeShoure will also unquestionably be the goal-line back further buoying his value. LeShoure is clearly the most talented back the Lions have and at his current ADP he has a chance to be this years ADP MVP. I have drafted him in every redraft league I am in and own him in 85% of my dynasty leagues. I am all in.” – Raju Byfield, WinMyFantasyLeague

Jacquizz Rodgers (ATL)

Jeff Tefertiller, FootballGuys | @JeffTefertiller
Expert’s Rank: RB #25 | ADP: #49 | ECR: #58
What’s your take? Will he exceed expectations (ADP) this year?

“There is a perfect storm brewing for Jacquizz Rodgers to be a fantasy factor this season.  Michael Turner faded down the stretch in 2011 and the coaching staff has repeatedly stated their desire to scale back Turner’s workload.  There are a couple more things working in Rodgers’ favor.  First of all, the coaches consider Rodgers a three-down back.  A recent ESPN article spoke of Rodgers playing a “Warrick Dunn role” in the offense.  Coach Smith went on to say how Rodgers was short, but not small.  Lastly, there have been hints that Atlanta will employ an up tempo, no huddle more this season.  If so, expect Rodgers – not Turner – to be on the field.  The Falcons love Rodgers and so should fantasy owners.” – Jeff Tefertiller, FootballGuys

Kevin Smith (DET)

Jeff Boggis, FantasySportsEmpires | @JeffBoggis
Expert’s Rank: RB #22 | ADP: #45 | ECR: #48
What’s your take? Will he exceed expectations (ADP) this year?

“I like Kevin Smith this season as one of my top sleeper candidates.  Let’s not forget what Smith did when he was on the field in 2011.  Smith played in 7 games and compiled 535 rushing yards, along with 7 TDs.  In week 11 against the Carolina Panthers, Smith rush for 140 yards and scored 2 TDs, so he has the ability to put up fantasy points.  Smith has a great week 1 matchup against the St. Louis Rams.  In 2011, St. Louis ranked 31st in rush defense, giving up an average of 152.1 yards per game.  Smith has 2 running backs he is competing against for the starting running back in 2012.  His major competition will come from Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure.  Best has not been cleared to practice this season due to the concussion he suffered last season.  Best will most likely start on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list and will be an injury concern all season.  Mikel Leshoure is suspended for the first two games of the season for substance abuse and has a mild hamstring injury.  Leshoure is an injury risk as he missed 2011 with an Achilles injury.  I look for Smith to be the featured back most of the season for Detroit and is worthy of an 8th to 12th round draft pick.  This is why I have him ranked in my top 25 running backs versus an ECR of #48 from the other experts.” – Jeff Boggis, FantasySportsEmpires

Ryan Williams (ARI)

Bryan Fontaine, ProFootballFocus | @Bryan_Fontaine
Expert’s Rank: RB #27 | ADP: #46 | ECR: #40
What’s your take? Will he exceed expectations (ADP) this year?

“Ryan Williams is a good bet to start for the Cardinals over Beanie Wells, even though both players are huge injury risks. Williams ruptured his patellar tendon during the third preseason last season and has yet to take a regular season snap. Wells is coming off another knee surgery in January that appears to be more serious than the team is letting on. Williams has generated positive buzz with his rehab and did not start training camp on the PUP list. In fact he is healthier and more explosive than Wells at this point. Williams was going to be more involved in the passing game regardless, but now is in line for the majority of the carries – including goal line duties. When the Cardinals took Williams 38th overall last year, it was not to be a change of pace back. He is a more talented player than Wells.  If you have concerns about Williams holding up as your flex option, reserve a late round selection for LaRod Stephens-Howling to protect your mid round investment.” – Bryan Fontaine, ProFootballFocus

David Wilson (NYG)

Jeff Pasquino, FootballGuys | @JeffPasquino
Expert’s Rank: RB #26 | ADP: #40 | ECR: #41
What’s your take? Will he exceed expectations (ADP) this year?

“Wilson was a stud at Virginia Tech, better than Ryan Williams for those who saw him play on a consistent basis.  Those who believe that Ahmad Bradshaw will stand in his way will see that it is just a matter of time until Wilson is the top dog for the Giants.  There is a reason he did not escape the first round, and he will get at least 50% of the workload this year and could be a featured tailback as soon as the second half of 2012.” – Jeff Pasquino, FootballGuys
A few other potential sleepers came out of this rank analysis. Again, I looked at RBs that had a least one expert touting him in their top 30 despite an ADP greater than RB #40. You can see which experts are backing each player by clicking on the player names: Shane Vereen (NE), Ronnie Hillman (DEN), Pierre Thomas (NO), LeGarrette Blount (TB), Daniel Thomas (MIA), Rashard Mendenhall (PIT), Tim Hightower (WAS), and Kendall Hunter (SF).

We’ll take a look at some of the other positions in August and we may try to do a cut on “deep sleepers” since I’m sure many of you are looking for fliers to grab at the very end of your draft.

Enjoy the first NFL preseason game tonight!
Photo Credit: Link

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