5 Late-Round Running Backs You Should Be Targeting - Footballguys

Bonnema analyzes five running backs who offer lots of upside for little draft capital.

 

 

Once upon a time, sleepers existed in fantasy football. That was long before social media sites blew up as the mainstream news source. Nowadays, the concept of sleepers means nothing more than late-round draft picks, since it’s rare for a player to fly under everyone’s radar.

With that in mind, it’s time to start taking ADP seriously as we focus on the upcoming fantasy football season. And that means identifying late-round players that do more than just satisfy roster requirements. We want winners!

Regarding the concept of what qualifies as a “late-round running back”, the analysis that follows assumes 12-team leagues, with the 10th round being the cutoff. That’s not necessary an arbitrary number. After 10 rounds, the core of your roster is set and you are merely drafting depth. So it’s fair to say players chosen in the 11th round or later qualify as late-round selections. The number by each player’s name is where they are being selected at their position per our consensus ADP for PPR leagues.

With the minutia aside, let’s jump in!

Giovani Bernard – RB48

It wasn’t all that long ago that Bernard was a second-round draft pick for bullish fantasy players (2014). That’s what happens when a running back enters the league and vastly outperforms his rookie ADP by racking up over 1,200 combined yards, eight total touchdowns, and logging 71 targets.

Since then, the Bengals have forced a full-blown committee with Jeremy Hill receiving the bulk of carries and Bernard playing the change-of-pace, pass-catching back. Despite that committee, Bernard has averaged nearly 70 yards per game in his career and ranks fifth in targets among running backs since being drafted in 2013 (fourth if you eliminate Tavon Austin). There were concerns about his recovery from an ACL tear in 2016. He responded by averaging 4.4 yards-per-carry while rookie Joe Mixon struggled both with effectiveness and health. From Week 10 on, Bernard scored the 17th most fantasy points and closed out the season (Weeks 13-16) as the eighth highest scoring running back.

If you remove his 2016 season where he played only 10 games (and was RB20 before getting injured), Bernard’s fantasy finishes are as follows: RB13, RB19, RB17, RB31. You won’t find many running backs after the 10th round who can come even close to those numbers. The questions circling his 2018 outlook are the same ones we’ve been asking nearly every season of his career: how long before the Bengals turn to a traditional lead-back approach with Hill/Mixon? The answer is the same as it has always been: not this year. Bernard’s consistency and effectiveness as both a runner and a receiver keep his role safe and predictable. He’ll be especially valuable if Mixon once again struggles and we can certainly bank on the Bengals playing from behind often, leading to more passing downs. Bernard should be one of your top late-round targets, not just among running backs, but of all positions.

Matt Breida – RB52

The fantasy community has flocked to the altar of Kyle Shanahan and his promises of gold at the running back position. Jerick McKinnon has all the tools as one of the best athletes in the NFL, which has never translated to success for him as of yet. Perhaps that will change in San Francisco under Shanahan’s scheme, but Breida also has all the tools and will be a common theme in the 49ers’ weekly game plan.

This, of course, assumes he enters the season at full health. The first preseason game had everyone holding their breath while injuries piled up. Thankfully, the MRI on Breida’s shoulder eased concerns. He won’t see any more playing time until Week 1, which may be worrisome, but it may also drop his ADP to some degree. He’s more than worthy of his current 12th round ADP. If you’re a believer in Shanahan’s scheme delivering fantasy gold with running backs, then hitch your late-round wagon to Breida, who will be one of the most valuable players in fantasy when McKinnon predictably struggles.

Peyton Barber – RB60

Tampa Bay provides one of the hardest offenses to project. We know they have talent between Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, DeSean Jackson, O.J. Howard, and Cameron Brate. But with Jameis Winston suspended for four games and the offensive line full of concerns, are any of these talented players worth targeting at their respective ADPs?

That question takes on added importance when directed at running backs. Doug Martin is gone. In his place stand Peyton Barber, Charles Sims, rookie Ronald Jones II, and Jacquizz Rodgers. Jones is the clear favorite among drafters who have pushed his ADP into the fifth round. But there’s no indication that he’s the clear favorite among coaches, who turned to Barber for lead-back duties in their first preseason game.

Of course, the key words there are “first preseason game,” which hardly qualify as a magic 8-ball. Jones is everyone’s favorite to become the Buccaneers' lead man. But folks currently burning fifth-round draft capital on him have a rough season coming. Not only do the Buccaneers’ have a questionable offensive line that struggled to create yards last year, but they also open the season with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback and no true clarity at running back usage. So, it’s difficult to have much confidence in this offense in general.

That said, Barber will at least be in the mix for early downs and possibly goal-line work. As Matt Waldman notes, “Unless Jones finds the super-secret cheat code to upgrade his game in two weeks, Barber has earned the starting job for the Tampa Buccaneers.” Waldman goes on to showcase Barber’s excellence as a short-yardage, between-the-tackles grinder that dominates leverage against defenders. Long story short: Barber is being drafted like a kicker when he should be drafted no later than the 10th round. His running style is good enough to overcome the poor quality of his blockers, and even though Jones may earn a bigger workload as the season wears on, Barber projects to easily outplay his 15th round ADP.

Javorius Allen – RB65

Believe it or not, Allen was the 24th highest scoring running back in PPR leagues last year and came up just 8.7 points short of outscoring teammate, and current fourth-round pick, Alex Collins. The Ravens feature an elite run-blocking offensive line that paved the way for 84 redzone opportunities, sixth most in the league for the position, resulting in a pair of RB2s:

Player
Rush
RuYards
Yds/Ru
RushTDs
Targets
Rec
RecYards
Yds/Rec
RecTDs
Opps
Snaps
PPR Rank
212
973
4.6
6
37
23
188
8.2
0
249
378
19
154
592
3.8
4
60
46
250
5.4
2
214
465
24
Danny Woodhead
14
56
4.0
0
39
33
200
6.1
0
53
157
76
Terrance West
39
138
3.5
2
4
2
23
11.5
0
43
66
92

Collins led the group in opportunities (targets + carries), but Allen played more snaps by a wide margin. His 60 targets ranked as fourth most on the team, and his 46 receptions ranked 15th most among all running backs.

He shakes out as the favorite to win the passing-down role again this year thanks to Danny Woodhead’s retirement. Mike Wallace, Jeremy Maclin, and Ben Watson—Joe Flacco favorites last year—have departed, leaving behind 225 targets for the offense to redistribute. Many of those will filter to additions Michael Crabtree and John Brown, but Allen should have no trouble logging a 50-catch season at a minimum. And it’s also worth keeping in mind that Collins comes with zero guarantees to retain lead-back duties, which means Allen could force a full-blown committee—exactly the kind of player and situation you want to target in this format.

Indeed, he’s a better fit in best ball leagues where you don’t’ have to predict when he’ll start. But He’s also worth a late-round flier in redraft leagues, where he’s basically free.

Jeremy Hill – RB79

Full disclosure: Hill’s odds of making the Patriots roster dangled around 50/50 after they spent a first-round pick on a running back in the 2018 draft. But he was excellent in their preseason debut as he battles to earn the gig as the “big back” on a loaded depth chart. If he continues to play at that level, you have to like his chances to at least grab the goal-line role on a team that enjoys a lot of goal-line opportunities (last year, the Patriots ranked first in red zone rushes, rushing yards, and ranked second in rushing touchdowns). With Michel’s health in question and no guarantees that Rex Burkhead secures RB1 duties, drafters in deep leagues could do worse than throwing a late-round dart in Hill’s direction.