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Deep Sleepers: Running Backs

Footballguys staff members examine the running back position for deep sleepers

A fantasy draft is all about obtaining the most value with each selection. There is value available throughout a draft, and grabbing it is one of the most important keys to a successful fantasy team. This article specifically targets deep sleeper value (players that can be found very late in a fantasy draft). In an attempt to point out this value, we asked our staff to look deeper than the top 160 players and identify players that should significantly outperform their late draft position. These players should be your targets after the 12th round of your draft.

Player with 7 Votes

Johnathan Franklin, Packers

Sigmund Bloom: Eddie Lacy will get all of the sleeper hype in this backfield, but Franklin is arguably in a better position to produce over the long haul with his slashing style that is reminiscent of Ryan Grant's successful years in this offense. Lacy's durability issues could open the door for Franklin, if his skills don't do that on their own. The Packers could also choose to pace their use of Lacy to preserve him for the cold weather games, giving Franklin another chance to show what he's got. He's worth a late pick to see how much he'll be used in the Packers backfield.

Will Grant: Question marks surround the entire Green Bay running game right now. Franklin was a potential starter for a lot of NFL teams, and if the Packers had not drafted Eddie Lacy, Franklin would be ranked much higher. If Lacy's toe problems are as bad as some NFL teams were thinking it would be, Franklin could very quickly become the star in Green Bay.

Adam Harstad: Draft position is not destiny, as Daryl Richardson reminded us last season. Just because Lacy was drafted first does not mean he'll be more immediately productive. When the pickings get pretty slim at the position, Franklin is a solid gamble who could easily emerge from an unsettled situation with the starting job.

Andy Hicks: Johnathan Franklin is not going to be the favourite heading into the season, but given the feet problems fellow rookie Eddie Lacy has had, he stands a good chance to grab his opportunity should it arise. Green Bay has been looking for a dependable back for years and even in a worse case scenario Franklin should be given work should Lacy win the job outright. The price to draft both Packer rookies isn't that high and if you get one, getting another seems like a safe move.

Jeff Pasquino: Jonathan Franklin received a ton of buzz before the 2013 NFL Draft, but he was still available in Round 4 right up until the Green Bay Packers snapped him up. Now with two rookie tailbacks, the Packers can see how Franklin and Lacy pair together as either a committee or if one back emerges as a feature tailback option. Either way, Green Bay has greatly increased their ability to establish a ground game to compliment one of the best passing attacks in the NFL. Odds are that neither back will be much more than a fantasy RB3 / flex option in 2013 given how much of the Packer offense goes through the air, but if one back (like Franklin) becomes a dominant player in the preseason, he could become a great sleeper pick for this year. Franklin would be the favorite here despite Lacy's draft spot and pedigree because of Lacy's history of toe problems.

Matt Waldman: I think Franklin is a must as a handcuff to Eddie Lacy this year. A smart, versatile back capable of big plays, Franklin should carve a role as a third-down back this year, but have the skill to take the starting job should Lacy get hurt or underwhelm. At the spot you can nab Franklin in drafts, it's worth taking him after Lacy as talented depth.

Mark Wimer: Johnathan Franklin is a guy I plan on snagging late in drafts, especially when I put Eddie Lacy on my fantasy teams this year. If Lacy has trouble with his toe (or another injury) or winds up suspended for some reason, Franklin would likely be the next guy up for the potent Packers' offense. There's also the possibility that Franklin wins the starting job outright in training camp...

Players with 4 Votes

Joique Bell, Lions

Sigmund Bloom: Reggie Bush has played 12 or fewer games three times in his seven years, and played in all 16 games only twice. Bell, and not Mikel Leshoure is the best fit for Bush's role if (when?) he misses time, and Bell was the clearly superior runner between him and Leshoure last year. It might shock some to know that Bell actually had 899 total yards on only 134 touches last year, including a 5.0 yards per carry on 82 attempts. Bush's signing has overshadowed what could be a prelude to a breakout for Bell in the near future.

Jeff Haseley: Joique Bell was utilized heavily as a pass catching back for the Lions in 2012. His numbers will drop dramatically with the addition of Reggie Bush. If Bush suffers an injury, Bell automatically becomes a fantasy player of interest.

Matt Waldman: A back who has long reminded me of Marion Barber in style, the Lions added Bell two years ago as a free agent and commented that they had long-term plans for him. Bell didn't out-produce Mikel Leshoure last year, but he did out play the second-year Illinois star returning from an Achilles. With Reggie Bush added to the depth chart as the lead back, I think it provides an opening for Bell to eventually take Leshoure's job if Leshoure cannot stay healthy and play to his talent level. As late as one can grab Bell, it's worth the bet.

Mark Wimer: Joique Bell is someone to consider for your bench in deep leagues - Reggie Bush hasn't been a paragon of health throughout his career, and that goes for Mikel Leshoure as well. Bell put up 82/414/3 rushing (5.0 yards per carry) and 52/485/0 receiving last season in a part-time role. If Bell winds up starting for the Lions at some point, he could be VERY productive indeed, for the cost of a late-round draft pick.

Joseph Randle, Cowboys

Will Grant: The Cowboys love DeMarco Murray. They'd love him more if he played a full 16 games. Last season he missed six games though, and it's clear that there could be an issue with him as an every down back. Randle's value won't be in the weeks that Murray is healthy. In those cases, it may be RBBC approach. But when Murray gets banged up and has to sit out for a couple games, Randle has the potential to really shine.

Chad Parsons: Randle is not all that talented, but finds himself in a good spot to see early action. Demarco Murray has been good, but not great in his time as the Cowboys starter in addition to missing significant time throughout his football career. Randle fits the mold to produce in Dallas' offense as a solid pass-catcher and able to gain yards in space. There are few situations where the backup running back is a good bet to see a few starts at some point during the season. Dallas is one of them.

Jeff Pasquino: Joseph Randle is a very capable running back when he stays healthy, which is one of the questions he will face this preseason. The good news is that he is almost guaranteed to be the second back for the Cowboys behind DeMarco Murray, another tailback with a checkered health history. Randle has the ability to perform well and if he gets the chance to start or even split time with Murray then he will have a quick path to fantasy relevance in Dallas.

Jason Wood: As much as I like DeMarco Murray, it has to be noted that he's not proved capable of being a feature back for an entire NFL season. With that in mind, the Cowboys principal backup is someone of value and I'm betting that will turn out to be rookie Joseph Randle. Randle needed be an exceptional prospect to earn the RB2 role considering his competition for the job comes down to Lance Dunbar and Phillip Tanner – hardly inspiring threats.

Player with 3 Votes

Mike Gillislee, Dolphins

James Brimacombe: Everyone is giving Lamar Miller the starting RB spot on the depth chart. Is this justified as only seeing limited action as a rookie?  I am not sure I am completely sold as of yet and where Miller is being drafted I would rather pass and take his backup much later as a flier.

Ryan Hester: Gillislee is a rookie out of Florida who is likely to enter the season third on the team's depth chart at the position. However, the players ahead of him are uninspiring (Daniel Thomas) and unproven (projected starter Lamar Miller). Gillislee isn't flashy, but he knows how to find holes and get the yards that are given to him by his schemes and offensive line. It's well within the realm of possibility that Gillislee sees a couple of starts this season, and that's all you need to be a deep sleeper that pans out.

Jeff Tefertiller: Mike Gillislee has a chance to see extended action in Miami this season. Lamar Miller is far from durable and Daniel Thomas is an outright bust. Expect the rookie to be slowly worked in behind Miller and to play more as the season progresses.

Players with 2 Votes

Mike Goodson, Jets

Jeff Haseley: I am intrigued with Goodson because he's a capable all-purpose back in a situation that has him the unquestioned second option behind Chris Ivory. It is unknown if Ivory can withstand a full season as the lead back. He is a battle ram full of explosion and force, but that style has also led to injuries in the past. Goodson would benefit with an injury to Ivory, but he also can be productive as the team's primary receiving threat out of the backfield. His floor is 25 catches, which could amount to more.

Matt Waldman: The most explosive runner on the Jets, Goodson offers a Reggie Bush-style complement to Chris Ivory's Marshawn Lynch-like style between the tackles. If Goodson can stay healthy and out of jail during the season after a recent arrest, he's a nice value as a handcuff with starter ability if called upon.

Rashad Jennings, Raiders

Jeff Tefertiller: Rashad Jennings is now healthy and in Oakland. He has shown flashes of strong potential in Jacksonville and now plays behind one of the more injury-prone backs in the league. He could be a fantasy RB2 for long stretches, just like Marcel Reece last season.

Jason Wood: We have to dig deep for candidates at the RB position, since more than 50 RBs come off the board in the top 150 picks, and so I'll turn your attention to the Raiders new backup Rashad Jennings. Jennings is massive (6'1”, 238 lbs.) and was once considered a complementary weapon to Maurice Jones-Drew. He averaged 5.3 yards per carry in his first two seasons and also caught 42 receptions in limited work as MJD's backup, but missed the entire 2011 season and looked like a shadow of his former self upon his 2012 return (2.8 yards per rush). But Jennings is battling Latavius Murray for RB2 honors in Oakland, and anyone that's Darren McFadden's backup is someone fantasy owners need to keep an eye out for.

Latavius Murray, Raiders

Ryan Hester: When you attended the University of Central Florida like me, it's rare that you get to write about a player you saw live and cheered on first-hand many Saturday afternoons in Orlando. But Murray's status as a UCF alum – aside from being the only thing he and I have in common – isn't the reason he's appearing in this space. Murray enters the season in a position that has provided fantasy value in years past. He's a backup to Darren McFadden, a player who is known by every fantasy footballer in the world for being injury-prone. If (when) McFadden misses time, Rashad Jennings might get the first chance to start. But don't be surprised if Murray can pass a pedestrian back like Jennings on the depth chart and get those opportunities should they present themselves.

Chad Parsons: Every season, the Oakland backup running back position is a worthy fantasy consideration. Fantasy owners live by the mantra ‘it is not when, but how long' in terms of tracking Darren McFadden's injuries, making Michael Bush, Justin Fargas, Mike Goodson, and even Marcel Reece fantasy-viable in previous seasons. This year, the trio of possible replacements includes Marcel Reece, Rashad Jennings, and Latavius Murray. Murray is the exciting name to monitor for a big impact. He has some, keyword some,physical similarities to Adrian Peterson as a prospect. Looking through hundreds of drafted running backs over the past decade, that is a rare thing. Considering his dirt-cheap cost at the outset of 2013, Murray is a no-brainer final running back on a fantasy roster because, as the phrase goes, "the juice is worth the squeeze."

Robert Turbin, Seahawks

Stephen Holloway: Robert Turbin was drafted in the 4th round in 2012 by Seattle and performed well backing up Marshawn Lynch last year. Turbin averaged 4.4 ypc and caught 19 passes. His ADP is lower this year than it was a year ago as the team added Christine Michael in the 2nd round. However, most expect Turbin to continue as the Seahawks' second running back and with Lynch's beast mode style, Lynch always seems to be one collision from injury, and in fact already suffers from back spasms. In addition, Lynch has a trial date later this summer and could be facing a suspension to begin the year. Turbin could have a chance to get established early and carve out some playing time, even with Lynch's return. The Seahawks' offense featuring Lynch's skill set seems also to fit well with Turbin's skills and he is also an excellent receiver, having caught 67 passes in his collegiate career.

Jason Wood: The Seahawks are committed to the run and are set to contend for a Super Bowl title. Marshawn Lynch is one of the few true workhorses in the NFL, and Coach Pete Carroll isn't going to change his stripes if Lynch gets hurt. Turbin would be set to be the focal point of a run heavy offense with a great offensive line and plenty of receiving threats to keep defenses honest. He's only 23 years old, looked great as a part-time contributor in his rookie season (4.4 yards per rush, 9.5 yards per reception), and has the size and patience necessary of a successful every down runner.

Players with 1 Vote

Knile Davis, Chiefs

Adam Harstad: After a mediocre senior season, Davis is generating very little buzz for a rookie 3rd round draft pick. At the moment, all that stands between him and a starting job in one of the most RB-friendly systems in the league is Jamaal Charles.

Justin Forsett, Jaguars

Mark Wimer: Justin Forsett has been effective for extended stretches of various seasons in his career, and has a careeer average of 4.9 yards per carry (79 games played for 341/1,662/8 rushing and 146 targets for 100/765/1 receiving). Maurice Jones-Drew has yet to prove that he is recovered from the surgery to correct his Lisfranc fracture, which is a dicey proposition at best. If Jones-Drew suffers a setback, or a reinjury, Forsett would be the next man up in Jacksonville. You can get Forsett for a throw-away pick right now - he's worth stashing on your bench.

DuJuan Harris, Packers

Sigmund Bloom: How easily we overlook the Packers #1 back from the end of the 2012 season just because the Packers took two running backs in the draft. It sounds like I might be joking, but I'm not. Harris knows the offense, and he was a quality running back, when he got a chance to get on the field last year - definitely better than the other incumbent backs, James Starks and Alex Green. Eddie Lacy's durability issues and Johnathan Franklin's hit-and-miss pass-blocking could keep Harris prominent in this backfield even though everyone has already written him off in early fantasy drafts.

Bilal Powell, Jets

Stephen Holloway: Bilal Powell has played adequately for the New York Jets over the past two seasons. He averaged 4.0 ypc last year on 110 carries and also caught 17 passes for another 140 yards. This will be his third season with the team. The other top two candidates for the primary running back job are both newcomers. Most give the edge to Chris Ivory who has a 5.1 ypc career average, but has also played sparingly for the Saints in his three years there. He has been injured some, but has also been inactive and played in only 24 games over three years. The other candidate, Mike Goodson played last year in Oakland following three years in Carolina. He has rushed for only 722 yards over four seasons and has had an arrest since coming to the Jets. Powell has a chance to be the last man standing.

Marcel Reece, Raiders

Jeff Haseley: The Raiders have said that they want to use Marcel Reece in more of a standard fullback role, this year thus minimizing his fantasy production. I'll believe it when I see it. Reece has excellent receiving skills and would be a great backup for Darren McFadden in the event of an injury.

Daniel Thomas, Dolphins

Andy Hicks: Daniel Thomas will finally be given a chance to seize the job full time for the Dolphins following the departure of Reggie Bush. Before we get too carried away it must be said that he won't be the favourite heading into that competition, but those of us who doubt that Lamar Miller will be the man see Thomas as the most likely and as the potential goal line back should be much better value than his current ADP states.

Mike Tolbert, Panthers

Jeff Pasquino: The Carolina Panthers love to run the ball, and neither Jonathan Stewart nor DeAngelo Williams is a stranger to the injury report. Last year, Tolbert posted strong numbers (54-183-7 rushing, 27-268-0 receiving) with Stewart sidelined for nearly half of the season. Tolbert's seven rushing scores was second to QB Cam Newton and two higher than the lead tailback DeAngelo Williams. Tolbert has history posting solid numbers out of the backfield in both San Diego and Carolina and could be another goal line vulture for the Panthers this year.


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