Top Consensus Running Back Sleepers (2020 Fantasy Football)
Every year, a late-round player breaks out and helps fantasy players win their championships. They’re called “sleepers.” Last year, running back Miles Sanders was a strong sleeper. He was going late in fantasy drafts at this time last year, yet he finished as the overall RB15 — offering his owners a far greater return on investment than what Saquon Barkley drafters got.
But Sanders wasn’t a perfect sleeper, as he didn’t earn an RB1 finish. This season, there are a handful of sleepers capable of exceeding Sanders’ impressive ROI from last season. Who are they? Well, FantasyPros polled experts for their picks, and I’m here to contextualize them — and to give you my take.
1. Antonio Gibson (WAS)
ECR: RB41; ADP: RB47
Experts in Support: 13
All aboard! The Antonio Gibson hype train is finally leaving the station. Washington’s third-round running back is the perfect case study in speculative upside — on the one hand, he’s got 99th-percentile speed; on the other hand, he played wide receiver in college and ran the ball just 33 times. But that’s not deterring fantasy drafters from taking the human highlight reel as the RB47.
Should it be? Absolutely not. You can’t win your fantasy league without taking risks, and Gibson’s ceiling is worth betting on. Washington’s backfield situation is, erm, complex. Alongside Gibson, they have Adrian Peterson, J.D. McKissic, Bryce Love, and Peyton Barber on the roster. So while there’s a chance that Gibson beats out everyone for touches, the more likely scenario is that he’ll get mostly passing-down work.
The good news is that we know Gibson can succeed in that role. His 99th-percentile 11.2 yards per carry and his 19.3 yards per catch display just how electric of a playmaker he is — he probably won’t need that many touches to pay off his ADP.
Gibson has a wide range of outcomes, but unlike most other players around his ADP, that includes a potential low-end RB1 finish. To be sure, lots of things will have to go right for that to happen — Ron Rivera’s famous Christian McCaffrey comparison will have to be more accurate than most coachspeak. But you can’t find many players with Gibson’s explosiveness and upside this late in fantasy drafts, so don’t hesitate to pick him once you’ve filled out your starting lineup.
2. Damien Harris (NE)
ECR: RB53; ADP: RB54
Experts in Support: 14
After his unremarkable rookie season, some people are sleeping on Harris. I know, I was one of them! But let’s forget 2019 for a second and look at Harris’ collegiate production. In four seasons at Alabama, he logged 477 carries for 3,070 yards (6.4 YPC) and 25 total touchdowns. For some perspective, that’s 226 more attempts, 1,579 yards (0.5 more YPC), and four more touchdowns than ex-teammate Josh Jacobs. And Harris only played one more season than him!
With his elite college production in mind, Harris’ four-carry 2019 seems more forgivable, especially since the Patriots also had Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, James White, and Brandon Bolden on the roster. Bolden opted out, Michel missed some crucial practices with an injury, and the Patriots have a new quarterback, so there’s a decent chance that Harris can find a way to prove himself.
That said, Sony Michel should still get the bulk of the work. Bill Belichick gave him 209 carries in 2018 (14th-most) and 247 in 2019 (10th-most), and he’s still on his rookie contract. Belichick has also been loyal to his unimpressive running backs throughout the years (remember first-rounder Laurence Maroney? He got four years with Belichick. Even Stevan Ridley got four seasons), so I don’t expect him to dump Michel.
Much of the Harris hype has to do with fantasy players’ dissatisfaction with Sony Michel, but there’s a realistic chance that Harris can break out in 2020. He’ll need to capitalize on his limited opportunities early, and he’ll probably need Michel to struggle with an injury, but those both seem like plausibilities at this point. He’s a great high-upside handcuff, but I prefer some of the other names on this list.
UPDATE (9:20 AM, 9/3/2020): News broke after publication that Damien Harris suffered a hand injury and may miss the Patriots’ season opener. You should avoid taking him until around RB60/65 as a result.
3. Boston Scott (PHI)
ECR: RB47; ADP: RB50
Experts in Support: 7
What if I told you that Miles Sanders only played on more than 85 percent of the Eagles’ snaps once last season? While Jordan Howard’s departure has vaulted Sanders into the workhorse conversation, it’s allowed people to overlook Doug Pederson’s inability to commit to a single back.
In his four seasons as Philly’s head coach, only Sanders and Darren Sproles have ever earned more than 80 percent of the snaps in a given game, and only Sanders has cleared 85 percent. A handful (Sanders, Howard, Sproles, Scott, etc.) have cleared 70 percent for one game, and only Sanders has broken the 50-percent mark for the full season.
So if Pederson loves his committee backs, then where’s the love for Boston Scott? He earned 10-plus fantasy points in three games last season, all of which he played alongside Sanders. In those three games, he totaled 139 rushing yards, 192 receiving yards, and four touchdowns, so Pederson knows that he can contribute in all parts of the game.
That said, Scott probably won’t finish as an RB1. Unless something happens to Sanders, he’s locked-in as a committee back, but he’s one that carries matchup-dependent flex appeal. You can take him late in drafts as a high-upside depth option. Oh, and maybe don’t take Sanders in the first round.
4. Joshua Kelley (LAC)
ECR: RB59; ADP: RB69
Experts in Support: 8
Kelley is in a weird spot. Melvin Gordon’s departure frees up a whopping 162 rushing attempts and 55 targets in this offense, but no one knows whether Kelley, Justin Jackson, or even Austin Ekeler will inherit them. And although Jackson has a higher ECR than Kelley, most experts don’t consider him a sleeper for 2020.
Unlike Jackson or Ekeler, however, Kelley has strength. Yes, we all saw the now-infamous workout picture of Ekeler, but Kelley has already translated his 74th-percentile power onto the gridiron without sacrificing his speed and athleticism.
If the Chargers choose to give Kelley reps, it’ll be because of his strength. That makes him an excellent candidate to take over some of Gordon’s 37 red-zone touches. And unlike most guys on this list, Kelley doesn’t need an injury to secure a larger workload — he could easily be fantasy-relevant as a committee back.
All of that said, we haven’t seen much of the Chargers with Tyrod Taylor under center. They could revamp their offense without Philip Rivers, and that could lessen the impact of Gordon’s vacated carries. I’m more than comfortable taking Kelley as a late-round flier, but his ceiling is a bit lower than someone like Gibson or Pollard.
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