That’s right, it’s time to stop dozing off and recognize some running backs who are flying under the radar.
Is one of these guys on your roster? If so, be proud—and don’t worry about what the peanut gallery in your league had to say on draft night.
Before we dive into the sleepers, let’s define what that word means. Grantland’s Bill Barnwell doesn’t think they’re even real:
I obviously watch my fair share of football and can probably go deeper on team rosters across the league than the typical guy in your fantasy league, but overexposure isn’t why I’m stumped for sleepers. I don’t have a good answer for that question because I don’t think fantasy football sleepers really exist. There was a bygone era in which the concept made sense, and there’s obviously value in finding talent that other people don’t recognize, but in 2015? It’s a term we need to retire.
I think people love sleepers because it’s the most obvious way for a fantasy football participant to look educated before the draft and smart afterward. It’s a way that inexperienced or casual owners try to catch up to the rest of their league while simultaneously proving the value of their endless research.
While Barnwell‘s is a fair point, saying that sleepers don’t exist is a bit extreme. Not everyone is a full-fledged expert. For now, let’s slap a simpler tag on it.
Here’s how FF Toolbox explains them:
A draft term for a NFL player that an owner believes is going to have a breakout season. These are usually players who are not rookies, but they can be. For the most part they are not well known NFL players.
Ah, that’s better. Now stop hitting the snooze button and let’s go.
Running Back Rankings
Latavius Murray, Oakland Raiders
Rank: No. 16 RB, No. 35 overall
Now, Latavius Murray isn’t being sold as some sort of scrub. By all accounts, he’s predicted to have a decent-to-good fantasy season.
But that’s the problem. This kid is set to have a huge campaign for owners.
At 6’3” and weighing in at 230 pounds, Murray is both lightning fast and thunderously strong. Just ask the Kansas City Chiefs (more on them in a bit):
SB Nation’s Steven White describes why we’ll see bigger numbers from Murray this season:
Can you imagine trying to tackle a dude that big who clocked a sub-4.4 40-yard dash at his pro day? Hey man, good luck with that. Add in the fact that the Raiders’ offensive line should build off their play last year and be a solid unit, and Oakland may actually be able to grind the s–t out of people with its ground game this year. Don’t forget that new head coach Jack Del Rio is an old-school guy who loves to run the ball. I think the sky is the limit for Murray.
The 25-year-old ran the ball 82 times last year as he competed for carries with Maurice Jones-Drew, Darren McFadden and Marcel Reece. Through the first 12 weeks of the season, Murray didn’t have more than four carries in any game.
It was on Nov. 20 against the Chiefs when the third-year man out of UCF broke out, though. He left with a concussion four carries in, but not before bolting for two scores and 112 yards.
From then on, Murray saw a healthy dose of touches in games that were the equivalent to garbage time. He put 85 all-purpose yards on the San Francisco 49ers after his initial huge week, but then saw his touches fluctuate the rest of the way out.
Things will be different this year, though.
Fantasy is all about opportunity. Listen to Matthew Berry on ESPN, Brad Evans on Yahoo, Eric Mack at FanDuel and every other big writer in the field; they’ll all tell you the same thing.
Murray has all the physical tools, but a hammer is worthless without a nail.
All those other scrubs he was battling last year are gone. With Trent Richardson cut, Roy Helu is next in line for carries.
Repeating for emphasis here: Roy Helu.
Oakland has a second-year quarterback leading a blossoming offense that features a potential superstar in Amari Cooper and reliable veteran Michael Crabtree on the outside. The defense has the potential to be formidable, too.
Translation: The team won’t get destroyed—and consequently have to air it out—every game.
Make no mistake, the Raiders are well on their way back. And if healthy, Murray is going to be a key reason why.
After finishing as fantasy’s 28th-best running back last year, expect Oakland’s freak athlete to be around or in the top 10-15 range this time around.
Tre Mason, St. Louis Rams
Rank: No. 40 RB, No. 112 Overall
Read the following in Stephen A. Smith’s voice:
The dis-re-spect being shown to Tre Mason is asinine. I mean…This is unbelievable, man. C’mon, y’all. C’mon.
(You can drop the voice now. Or continue if you’re feeling wild, your call.)
Last season, the 5’8” rookie out of Auburn grabbed the reins of the St. Louis Rams running game and exploded. The 22-year-old carried the rock for an average of 14.9 times a game and racked up nearly 800 yards and four scores out of the backfield.
In Week 12 against the Raiders, Mason scampered for 117 yards and two scores in a blowout 57-0 win. Two weeks earlier versus the Denver Broncos, the former Auburn Tiger erupted for 113 yards on a hefty 29 carries.
Mason finished 2014-15 as the No. 23 back in standard leagues (via ESPN). So why is he so low this time around?
With the No. 10 pick in last spring’s draft, St. Louis took big, burly Todd Gurley.
The bruising runner from Georgia is still recovering from ACL surgery, but he’s widely believed to get the lion’s share of Rams carries once he’s healthy enough.
“Tre Mason is still here,” Mason said in early August, per Nick Wagoner of ESPN. “Give me the ball. I’m ready to rock. That’s how I feel about the situation. … [The pick] didn’t faze me much. I’m an individual myself and I have got goals of my own.”
That’s right, Mason is still here. And Gurley probably won’t be for at least a few games.
If the second-year little man picks up where he left off last season, there’s a good chance he could take over as the big dog while Gurley works his way back.
Keep in mind that the Rams are supposedly expecting a rookie to hop into competition without training camp, practice or the preseason.
The team can’t let Gurley dive in headfirst without at least letting him feel out how deep the water is.
Mason will open up against the Seattle Seahawks, Washington Redskins, Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals, so he won’t exactly be given anything.
But if he shows the burst he had last season, the Rams would be out of their minds to take the ball out of his hands.
Stats and rankings are courtesy of Fantasy Pros (standard scoring).
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