The term fantasy “sleeper” can be defined in many ways. For some, it can be a relatively unknown player who grows into a useful fantasy player. It can also be a player who makes an impact through an increase in chances through injury. For most, the term sleeper means a player who outperforms his draft spot or average draft position.
However you define it, the art of choosing sleepers can be the difference between a good fantasy team and a team that becomes a championship contender in your league. With that in mind, here’s a look at 10 running backs who might 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% on his way to what will eventually be his first full year in the NFL. While he will have to compete with James Robinson for backfield touches, 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 in decline.
AJ Dillon, packers: Dillon isn’t a traditional sleeper (we know from “Quadzilla”), but he’s in a good spot to remain the leading runner in Green Bay in terms of carries. Aaron Jones will also get his chances, but I see him more involved in the pass attack with Davante Adams off the roster. In fact, a 200-carry season could be in the cards for Dillon (he had 187) last season. He’ll also be seeing his share of the red zone looks.
Breece Halljets: Hall got into a good but not great situation with the Jets, who already have a good young runner in Michael Carter. Still, I expect Hall to be the lead defender and see the most early down and goal line opportunities for the Men in Green. What’s more, Hall should lead the backfield in touches, although his chances of catching pass could be a bit limited. Either way, Hall’s stock is soaring as fantasy’s best rookie.
Rhamondre StevensonPatriots: Stevenson is expected to open the season behind Damien Harris on the Patriots’ depth chart, although some reports suggest he could be number 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 freshman runners. In a Patriots attack that will be on the run, Stevenson can 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 work his way past Marlon Mack and Rex Burkhead on the depth map, 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 drafting him into fantasy leagues (no problem, dude!), so I’m going to take his scheduled backup. Gainwell is a dual-threat player that most fantasy fans can land as a number 4 or 5 fantasy runner in the late rounds, and it wouldn’t be a big surprise if his 11.8% touch share from a season ago increases in 2022. It’s not that Sanders has been a reliable option, has it?
Tyler AllgeierFalcons: The Falcons used a wide receiver, Cordarrelle Patterson, as their top player a season ago. And while CP will remain the main man out of the backfield, I could see a scenario where Allgeier earns a major role in a foul that is missing 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 an RB5 in the late rounds.
Rachaad White, pirates: The Tampa Bay backfield will no doubt run through Leonard Fournette this season, but White seems to be the best bet on his handcuffs. The veteran has had some issues with injuries throughout his career, so White would see his fantasy power explode if forced into a bigger role. A potential three-down back, White would be a viable RB2 in pretend play with Tom Brady and an explosive Bucs attack.
Darrel 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, four last season Lake than Edmonds, and will be used more often than you think to keep James Conner from wearing out. Arizona’s attack should be explosive and Williams could have some flex value this season.
Tyrion Davis Prize49ers: Elijah Mitchell becomes the frontrunner in San Francisco, but will he be more durable than he was as a rookie? If not, a door may be open for Davis-Price to see a bigger role in the offense. Also keep in mind that the team has had a different hasty leader every year under head coach Kyle Shanahan (2017-21), so it wouldn’t be a surprise if the rookie impressed. He’s a nice, late-lap RB5.
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Michael Fabiano is an award-winning Fantasy football analyst on Illustrated Sports 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 and Instagram for your latest fantasy news and the best analysis in the industry!
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