Top Running Back Sleepers (2019 Fantasy Football)

Aug 18, 2019

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Every year as the fantasy football season rolls around, one of the first things I do is identify who my top sleepers are at each position. Finding a good sleeper late in drafts could be the thing that puts your team over the top. For example, last year’s top-two sleepers had to have been Patrick Mahomes and James Conner. If you were able to pick them near the end of your draft then you almost certainly had one of the best, if not the best team in your league. As you can see, finding “that guy” is a huge part of drafting and it can be massively valuable for your team. Today I’m going to focus on the running back position and spotlight three guys who I think will be 2019’s top sleeper backs.

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Tevin Coleman (SF): RB30
After spending his first four seasons in Atlanta, Tevin Coleman is headed west to the San Francisco 49ers and should be the featured back for the first time in his career. Off the bat, you might think that he will have serious competition with Matt Breida and Jerick McKinnon in town but I’m not too nervous. Breida is best used as a change of pace back, mostly due to his inability to stay healthy in a featured role. Meanwhile, McKinnon is coming off of an ACL tear and is now having knee soreness, which makes it likely that he starts the season on IR.

Getting back to Coleman, he has already been declared the “de facto” lead back by The Athletic’s Matt Barrows, who covers the 49ers. The reasoning for this is pretty simple, Coleman has a history with head coach Kyle Shanahan, he’s had success even as a backup in Atlanta and he has the capabilities to be a threat on the ground and through the air. I don’t think he has an RB1 kind of ceiling but going as the 30th back off the board gives him major value. He is a great target if you decided to pick wide receivers early in your draft and need good mid-round value at running back.

Latavius Murray (NO): RB37
Murray now finds himself on his third team in four years with the New Orleans Saints. He has put together a decent career but has never fully broken out, at least in terms of fantasy. While I doubt this is the year we see him break out, I do think he has tremendous mid-round value as the RB2 in New Orleans. Over the past two seasons, no team has scored more running back touchdowns than the Saints with 27 both years. That’s an average of nearly two running back touchdowns per game. I love Alvin Kamara, but he isn’t scoring 20-plus touchdowns this year. Head coach Sean Payton has made it clear that he wants to use a committee approach as he’s always done, and Murray is going to be the guy he turns to when Kamara needs a breather.

I think the goal line is where Murray is going to prove most valuable which is great for fantasy owners. Throughout his career, Murray has been one of the most efficient goal line runners and he could excel in that role for the Saints. Remember one more thing if you’re still on the fence, if anything were to happen to Kamara (knock on wood), Murray immediately becomes a must-start guy every week with top-ten upside. With a current ADP of RB37 (102nd overall), you couldn’t ask for more value that late in drafts.

Jaylen Samuels (PIT): RB42 
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ second-year running back Jaylen Samuels enters 2019 as the clear-cut number two option in this backfield with some sneaky PPR upside as a converted tight end out of college. Now some of you may look at Samuels as more of a handcuff to James Conner than someone you’d want to draft on his own, but it’s starting to look more and more like he’ll have some real stand-alone value. The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly, who covers the Steelers, has reported that Samuels has been a “significant part of the offense” throughout training camp. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise considering what Samuels did to finish the 2018 season. In his final five games of 2018, Samuels accumulated 46 carries for 230 yards while also grabbing 22 catches for 165 yards and two touchdowns. Granted, most of this was done with James Conner hurt, but the sentiment remains. Samuels is going to be a part of this offense, especially through the air.

The Steelers have learned from the Le’Veon Bell saga that overworking a running back isn’t conducive to long-term success. If they want to maximize Conner, they’ll have to lighten the load and allow Samuels to take some valuable snaps. To recap, while I do like Samuels as a handcuff to Conner, he doesn’t have to be. He’ll have stand-alone value in PPR leagues and if Conner were to go down at any point, Samuels is an automatic top-10 back, regardless of format.

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Eli Berkovits is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Eli, check out his archive and follow him @pttf_eli.

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