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Dynasty Running Back Sleepers (Fantasy Football)

by Aaron Schillinger | @aaron_schill | Featured Writer
May 11, 2018

Despite the arrival of two new faces to Cleveland’s backfield, Duke Johnson still figures to have a significant role moving forward

If you’re a seasoned dynasty owner reading this, there is a good chance that you’ve heard of all of the names on this list. When I think of sleepers at the RB position, it isn’t the Alex Collins or Kenyan Drake types of backs, who many owners are swooning over, or swearing on the breakout coming in 2018. The sleepers for me are the ones that are getting overlooked, undervalued, or have years left on them where they’ll produce for your fantasy teams.

The guys that regardless of the new young back in their offense, they’ll still have their role and are young enough to continue to produce low-end RB2 or flex numbers for years to come. Many times, players such as this require a robust PPR role to be effective.

On the other hand, there are always those RBs that are fun to speculate on and look ahead at next year’s free agents. Players who will be free agents after the 2018 season make for some interesting pieces to buy on, because many times the investment is because they may very well have a new home in the following season and beyond.

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Duke Johnson (CLE)
This past offseason, Duke Johnson owners got a bit of relief when Isaiah Crowell headed out to New York to sign with the Jets. This relief was short-lived, as Carlos Hyde was brought in shortly after. To add a little salt on the wound, the Browns drafted Nick Chubb, the rookie out of Georgia.

Johnson is an unrestricted free agent after the 2018 season, and with Hyde and Chubb, there is a good chance “The Duke” has a new home. Although Hyde is only on a one-year deal, the other option is that he leaves Cleveland, giving Johnson back that pass-catching role that he so flourished in last year.

There is a good chance that with all of the current rookie hype as well as the continued idea of the upside in Hyde, Johnson is getting overlooked. With the ability to catch out of the backfield, run nice routes, and even line up in the slot, he is young enough that I want to go out and invest in him while his price is low. Lower than it should be, that is.

Johnson entered 2017 in his third season, after putting up decent PPR numbers for fantasy in 2016, he was someone that had minimal value, primarily as a low-end RB2 for deeper leagues, or a flex option. Just a year ago, there was some serious hype around Crowell as a potential breakout candidate, and he was extremely disappointing. Johnson, on the other hand, took a big step forward.

He finished the season with 74 grabs for 693 yards, totaling 1,041 yards from scrimmage with seven total touchdowns, which was good for an RB1 season as he finished as the RB11 in PPR formats, Johnson was a very nice surprise for fantasy owners last year.

Ito Smith (ATL)
As I stated previously, sleepers aren’t always players that are going to produce right away. The rookie out of Southern Mississippi, Ito Smith, is someone who lands in a spot that isn’t looking like much production will come right away, barring any injuries of course. Running backs by committee are all the rage this day in age, and the Falcons have shown us that they’re the epitome of this. has Ito’s comparable player as Shane Vereen, which makes sense. He as a bit undersized, and is someone that will excel in the passing game. His last three seasons in college, he caught over 40 balls in each season. He is a versatile back with good hands, is a good pass-blocker, making him an ideal candidate for the scat-back type of role.

One of the main reasons that I like Smith as a sleeper is that the current 1B of this RBBC, Tevin Coleman, is an unrestricted free agent after this year. Coleman was a guy that I initially thought about putting in this piece as a sleeper, but he’s well known and valued enough that Ito is more of a sleeper at this point.

Coleman has proven that he could handle a decent sized workload when Devonta Freeman has been out. Between the likelihood of Coleman having a new home in 2019 and Freeman continuing to be the highly valued back in this offense, Smith is someone I’m grabbing late in my rookie drafts and stashing. Talent typically has a way of showing itself, even when an RB gets stuck in what appears to be a less than ideal situation.

Corey Clement (PHI)
The second-year RB out of Wisconsin, Corey Clement, made a name for himself last year in the Super Bowl. Although Clement finished the season with just 434 yards from scrimmage on 84 total touches, he did end up with six total touchdowns. One of the biggest reasons why I like Clement as a sleeper stems from my dislike for Jay Ajayi.

If you’ve followed me for the past year or so, you’d know he’s someone that I was avoiding like the plague. Ajayi has issues that I’d be happy to get into if you’d want to reach out to me on Twitter. Another reason that Clement is intriguing is the loss of LeGarrette Blount to the Detroit Lions. One final reason why I like Clement is my dislike for the rookie RB that they grabbed in Josh Adams out of Notre Dame.

On top of his sneaky PPR upside, I always am a fan of grabbing someone who I like that is behind someone I don’t like. The Eagles did show their faith in Clement when he grabbed four balls for 100 receiving yards and a touchdown. No place shows that a coach trusts you more than the Super Bowl.

This Eagles team with Carson Wentz leading the offense is looking like a big-time threat for years to come, and I expect Clement to see an expanded role moving forward. Although he finished the season with a good chunk of his fantasy points coming from his touchdowns, I expect the Eagles to utilize him much more. If you can buy Clement right now in your dynasty leagues, this may very well be the lowest his price will get.

Giovani Bernard (CIN)
Jeremy Hill is officially out of Cincinnati, and second-year back Joe Mixon looks like the real deal. Giovani Bernard is someone that has gone relatively under the radar with the recent hype around Mixon, and he’s also looking like someone primed for a big breakout year in 2018. Bernard, on the other hand, doesn’t bring you that “sexy roster” appeal that so many owners like to have.

Guys like Bernard are solid pieces to have on your dynasty team to plug in as RB2 or a flex option in PPR. Before Jeremy Hill came on the scene and broke out, there was a great deal of talk about Bernard potentially being the guy to own in Cincinnati moving forward. Between the flash of Hill and the signing of Mixon last year, Bernard has gone under the radar and been somewhat tossed to the side.

Bernard won’t be an unrestricted free agent until 2020, so between now and then, you can count on him to have his usual third down and pass-catching role. The price tag is cheap for him, and the return on investment is a nice, safe option to own. Not to mention that if something would happen to Mixon, Bernard will be someone you’re glad you own.

Tarik Cohen (CHI)
With the offseason moves that the Chicago Bears have made, they’re becoming a trendy team that has a chance to take a big step forward next year. Second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky should be more comfortable as a starter, Allen Robinson from the Jaguars is a great weapon, and they have a nice backfield duo along with a highly-touted new coaching staff. These are all reasons that the Bears could breakout next year.

The former Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator, Matt Nagy brings new hope to this offense and should be fun to watch in 2018. The way he utilizes the tight end position and likes to get pass-catching backs involved makes Tarik Cohen a nice sleeper. Cohen is a very shifty back, who catches well out of the backfield. The main knock that Jordan Howard gets is his inability to catch the ball. Howard should still have a solid role and get the goal line work, but Cohen offers some great PPR upside.

Cohen was a nice prospect heading into the 2017 season, but landing behind Howard in a fairly underwhelming offense with either Mike Glennon or rookie Trubisky set to lead the way, caused his value to fall. This is another example of investing in talent rather than someone who is set up for volume, despite being an underwhelming prospect. Yes, I’m looking right at you, Ronald Jones.

Cohen is more than just a handcuff. If you’re in any league that offers half or full points per reception, Cohen is set to surprise you. He’ll produce despite being the 1B of this backfield, and if you can give up a second-round rookie pick or something of similar value, grab Cohen.

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Aaron Schillinger is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Aaron, check out his profile and follow him @aaron_schill.

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