Last Call - Deeper Running Back Draft Sleepers

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It is typically a lot tougher to hit on a late round running back than a late round wide receiver. That being said, spending little in the way of draft capital on a running back with breakout potential can be the difference between winning and losing your league.

The 2016 season's second leading rusher in Jordan Howard went undrafted in most fantasy circles, providing us with an important lesson about assessing opportunity and upside: taking a flier can absolutely payoff in the right situations.

With that in mind, here are a few very deep running back sleepers that you should consider taking a shot on for the 2017 fantasy football season!

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Forgotten Running Backs - Later-Round Targets

Jamaal Williams (RB, GB) - An Every Down Workhorse

It seems that many fantasy owners are warming up to Green Bay Packers’ rookie running back Jamaal Williams, as he has the earliest ADP of anyone on the list. At 6’0, 212 lbs, Williams’ brings with him a unique rushing skillset that combines quickness, agility, and toughness all in one. The Packers desperately lacked a between-the-tackles presence at running back last season and Williams has shown the ability to grind out yardage with a large workload in college.

With reports coming out of training camp that Williams was pushing Ty Montgomery for first-team reps, it seems like he is a fairly safe bet to get some form of action in 2017. At the same time, Montgomery has looked solid in preseason action, rushing four times for 34 yards and a touchdown in their third game against the Denver Broncos. While it is Montgomery’s job to lose right now, Williams possesses the toughness and skillset to be this year’s Jordan Howard if given the opportunity.

 

Marlon Mack (RB, IND) - Lightning in a Bottle

I’ve gone out of my way to draft Marlon Mack in most of my fantasy leagues as the deep running back sleeper to own for this upcoming season. The freakishly shifty athleticism that Mack put on display at South Florida is exactly the kind of thing that the Colts need to incorporate into an offense that has had a tough time finding ‘the guy’ at running back. He’s drawn comparisons to Jamaal Charles as a player who, when given small gaps, can rip a run for a huge gain and make defenders miss in the open field.

Mack is in an ideal spot with a 34-year old Frank Gore as the current starter and Robert Turbin figuring to be relevant mostly on third downs. He’s already shown why he can’t be left on the bench in 2017 with two solid preseason outings that included spectacular runs and playmaking after the catch. Although Gore has been called the fantasy bell-cow, Mack will be nipping at his heels all season long to the point where I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up getting some starts in the upcoming fantasy season.

 

C.J. Prosise (RB, SEA) - The Best Bet in a Crowded Committee

With all the talk about who will take over the between-the-tackles rushing role for the Seahawks this offseason, C.J. Prosise is being lost in the mix. Although he saw action in only six games last season, Prosise averaged 4.9 yards per carry and caught 17 passes for 208 yards. His floor as a receiver makes him a fairly safe player to draft from a backfield in complete chaos, especially in PPR formats.

Both Thomas Rawls and Eddie Lacy have been dealing with their own respective injuries throughout team practices and figure to eat into each other’s workload even at full health. Boasting one of the worst offensive line groups in the NFL, the Seahawks are going to have to throw the ball more than in previous seasons. With that in mind, Prosise will get some touches of his own and is clearly the best receiving back on the roster for Russell Wilson to target. Expect more from Prosise in 2017.

 

Wendell Smallwood (RB, PHI) - A Surprise Emergence

Philadelphia Eagles sophomore running back Wendell Smallwood was supposed to be phased out of the offense with the offseason acquisition of Legarrette Blount. Then came the news that Smallwood had a chance to be the team’s starting running back, a surprise to many fantasy owners considering Blount led the NFL in touchdowns with 18 last season on a high-powered New England Patriots squad. Smallwood was no slouch in his rookie season though, averaging 4.1 yards per carry on 77 attempts and proving to be a durable weapon in a sub-par Philadelphia backfield.

Smallwood doesn’t have a ton of size or power, but he did prove that he can be an every-down player during his tenure at West Virginia. Perhaps more importantly, he managed to outplay Blount in the team’s early-down role in the team’s third preseason game by rushing four times for 28 yards. He may not be worth a pick on draft day depending on how deep your league is, but he is a name to watch as the Eagles’ running back situation unfolds this season.

 

Jalen Richard (RB, OAK) - When Rooting for the Underdog Can Win Your League

If you are looking for a true deep sleeper, look no further than Jalen Richard. While many people expect veteran Marshawn Lynch to occupy lead-back duties, I’m a little more skeptical about his overall durability. He has been out of professional football for over a year and I wouldn’t be shocked if the Oakland Raiders opted to limit his touches to some degree. While DeAndre Washington still remains in the picture, Richard has shown glimpses of being the more talented player.

Despite being the No. 3 running back in 2016, he rushed 83 times for 491 yards and a touchdown while also catching 29 passes for 194 yards and two touchdowns. Furthermore, he averaged 2.7 yards after contact, which led all running backs who carried the ball at least 80 times. Having come to the Raiders last season as an undrafted free agent, Richard managed to show the grit and toughness to beat out plenty of other players to make the roster and carve out a role for himself in the offense. Bet on a second-year breakout from Richard if he is given more work in 2017.

 

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