The term fantasy “sleeper” can be defined in many ways. To some, it can be a relatively unknown player who emerges into a useful fantasy player. It can also be a player who makes an impact because of an increase in opportunities due to injuries. To most, the term sleeper means a player who outperforms his draft spot or average draft position.
However you define it, the art of picking sleepers can be the difference between a good fantasy team and one that becomes a championship contender in your league. With that in mind, here’s a look at 10 running backs who could break out or be sleepers.
Travis EtienneJaguars: The explosive Etienne missed his entire rookie season with an injured foot, but he’s back at 100% heading into what is ultimately his first full year in the NFL. While he will have to compete with James Robinson for touches in the backfield, the Clemson product has a higher ceiling and a great rapport with his former college teammate, Trevor Lawrence. Etienne could be a top-15 fantasy running back.
AJ Dillon, Packers: Dillon isn’t a traditional sleeper (we know about “Quadzilla”), but he’s in a good spot to remain the lead runner in Green Bay in terms of carries. Aaron Jones will also get his chances, but I see him being more involved in the pass attack with
Davante Adams off the roster. In fact, a season with 200 carries could be in the cards for Dillon (he had 187 last season). He’ll also see his share of red-zone looks, making him a potential value.
Breece HallJets: Hall landed in a good but not great situation with the Jets, who do already possess a good, young runner in Michael Carter. Still, I project Hall to be the lead back and see most of the early-down and goal-line opportunities for the Men in Green. What’s more, Hall should lead the backfield in touches although his pass-catching chances could be a bit limited. Regardless, Hall’s stock is rising as fantasy’s top rookie.
Rhamondre StevensonPatriots: Stevenson is projected to open the season behind Damien Harris on the Patriots depth chart, although some reports suggest he could be the No. 1 to open the season. Regardless, he averaged 12.3 touches per game as a rookie, and his 4.6 yards per attempt was second behind Elijah Mitchell among first-year runners. In a New England offense that will lean on the run, Stevenson could be a steal.
Dameon PierceTexans: Pierce landed in a great spot from a fantasy standpoint, as the Texans have one of the least talented backfields in the NFL. As a result, he should be able to push his way past Marlon Mack and Rex Burkhead on the depth chart either in camp or during the season. A versatile back, he averaged 5.7 yards per rush and caught 19 passes in 13 games for the Gators a season ago. He’s a late-round target.
Kenneth GainwellEagles: Miles Sanders doesn’t want us to draft him in fantasy leagues (no problem, dude!), so I’m going to take his projected backup. Gainwell is a dual-threat player who most fantasy fans can land in the late rounds as a No. 4 or 5 fantasy runner, and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if his 11.8% touch share from a season ago increases in 2022. It’s not like Sanders has been a reliable option, right?
Tyler AllgeierFalcons: The Falcons used a wide receiver, Cordarrelle Patterson, as their top running back a season ago. And while CP will continue to be the main man out of the backfield, I could see a scenario in which Allgeier earns an important role in an offense lacking for playmakers. The top rusher in FBS in 2020, he can break tackles and make defenders miss as a one-cut runner. I like him as a RB5 in the late rounds.
Rachaad White, Buccaneers: The Tampa Bay backfield will undoubtedly run through Leonard Fournette this season, but White looks like the best bet to be his handcuff. The veteran has had some issues with injuries in his career, so White would see his fantasy value explode if he’s forced into a bigger role. A potential three-down back, White would be a viable RB2 in fantasy land playing with Tom Brady and an explosive Bucs offense.
Darrell WilliamsCardinals: The Cardinals added Williams to replace the departed Chase Edmonds, who left for Miami as a free agent. The former Chiefs back quietly caught 47 passes last season, four amuse than Edmonds, and will be used more often than you think in an effort to keep James Conner from wearing down. Arizona’s offense should be an explosive one, and Williams could have some flex value this season.
Tyrion Davis-Price49ers: Elijah Mitchell will be the lead runner in San Francisco, but will he be more durable than he was as a rookie? If not, Davis-Price could have a door open for him to see a bigger role in the offense. Also keep in mind that the team has had a different rushing leader every year under head coach Kyle Shanahan (2017-21), so it wouldn’t be crazy for the rookie to make an impact. He’s a nice, late-round No. 5 back.
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Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on Sports Illustrated and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Click here to read all his articles here on SI Fantasy. You can follow Michael on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube spirit Instagram for your late-breaking fantasy news and the best analysis in the business!