Running backs rule the roost this time of year, with fantasy football drafts in high gear.
It’s funny, as the position doesn’t seem anywhere near as important in the real deal. Committees behind strong lines can work wonders with any nameplate on jerseys, the rare exception being the Marshawn Lynches and Adrian Petersons of the world.
The approach throws the weight of importance behind the position in fake football. One of the best ways to get ahead in a league? Find the borderline sleeper who will turn into a major producer.
Look at it this way—owners drafted Le’Veon Bell as the 14th back last year with an average draft position (ADP) of 3.05, and he went on to score the second-most points at the spot.
Here’s a look at 12-team standard league rankings and a stab at similar sleepers this year.
RB Sleepers to Grab Early
Frank Gore, Indianapolis Colts
Now 32 years old, Frank Gore has come full circle and resides in the sleeper category.
Age is but a number, and owners should avoid Gore at their own risk. Right now, they take him with an ADP of 3.02 as the 13th back, an odd number given his situation behind Andrew Luck with the Indianapolis Colts.
Gore’s consistency over the last four years alone should soothe owners’ minds:
Despite an odd situation in San Francisco last year, Gore still scored as a top-20 back. There’s nothing odd about his situation in Indianapolis, where coach Chuck Pagano made it clear before the ink dried that the veteran would be an every-down back, per Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com:
“He’s a tough, hard-nosed, every-down back. He can play all three downs. He’s a great protector in pass-pro. He catches the ball out of the backfield. We all know what he can do as a runner on early downs.”
In fantasy, touches equal production. Gore will be the workhorse on all three downs with the Colts, all while defenses focus on Luck and major weapons through the air such as Andre Johnson and T.Y. Hilton. He’s going to well outplay his ADP.
Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It’s time to throw some faith behind Doug Martin, too.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers starting back has disappointed over the past two years, appearing in just 17 games due to injuries. Now healthy, does anyone doubt he can post numbers similar to his breakout rookie campaign?
There, he posted 1,454 yards and 11 scores on a 4.6 average. So far this preseason, he looks similar. In Tampa Bay’s second preseason game, Martin ripped off 59 yards on six totes while resembling a bulldozer, then went for 40 yards and a score on nine carries in the third exhibition.
NFL captured his touchdown:
It’s the preseason, but the warning signs of a breakout campaign seem obvious. Owners have Martin as the 21st back with an ADP of 4.05, but it doesn’t seem a proper reflection.
Martin’s in a contract year and healthy, meaning big things should be on the way. It helps the Buccaneers continue to look better and better, with the well-known targets in the passing game now working with upstart rookie quarterback Jameis Winston.
Barring an injury, Martin looks back to his usual self. Around an ADP littered with rookies (Ameer Abdullah) and unknowns (Andre Ellington), he stands tall as a risk worth taking early.
T.J. Yeldon, Jacksonville Jaguars
It’s always a risk to roll the dice on a rookie back. There needs to be the right balance of proven production and a solid situation for the roll to make sense.
Believe it or not, the balance seems there with Jacksonville Jaguars rookie T.J. Yeldon.
Yeldon wasn’t the biggest name at Alabama despite rushing for 3,322 yards and 37 scores over the course of his career. A few heads turned when the Jaguars took him with the 36th pick in this year’s draft, but it provided a sign that the coaching staff was ready for a change in the backfield behind Blake Bortles.
With Yeldon finally healthy, it’s clear this is the route the Jaguars want to go. He made his debut in Week 3 of the preseason as the starter and every-down back, rushing eight times for 10 yards and a score and catching one pass for 12 yards.
The numbers aren’t the most encouraging sign in the world, but the usage is. Yeldon will see the field plenty as a rookie and won’t receive much in the way of competition from names such as Denard Robinson, Toby Gerhart and Bernard Pierce, provided they all even make the final roster.
Remember, the above was just Yeldon‘s debut. His feel for the game will improve as he chugs along, so grabbing him well before his ADP of 5.10 as the 27th back won’t be hard to do.
There are many places to look for a rookie breakout candidate, but more and more it looks like owners can rely on Jacksonville more than they have in years.
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