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Adam Koffler's Running Back Sleepers for 2022 Fantasy Football Drafts

What's a "sleeper?" Well, it's really quite simple. A sleeper is a player that you expect to outproduce their average draft position (ADP) or produce better than players with a similar ADP. It could be that you have Travis Etienne ranked as RB10 and his ADP is RB24. He'd be considered a sleeper because you're expecting him to not only outproduce his ADP but to outperform other players that are being drafted in the same range (i.e. Damien Harris and Miles Sanders).

But for the sake of this early running back sleepers article, we're not going to highlight guys like Etienne. Instead, we're going to focus on running backs with ADPs much lower than that. These guys might not win you Week 1, Week 2, or even Week 3, but they have league-winning upside should anything happen to the starter in front of them. What's even better, these guys can be had at ridiculously cheap prices right now. It's your job to take full advantage of the ADP discrepancy that we're seeing in early summer.

Chances are you're going to have two very solid, startable running backs on a weekly basis. You don't go into the season thinking those guys are going to get hurt. So instead of taking a Devin Singletary or a Miles Sanders around RB28, it makes more sense to take chances on these three running back sleepers in later rounds. Remember, we want spike weeks in production, we shouldn't be searching long and hard for the guy that's going to put up 10 fantasy points. Instead, we should be interested in guys that have a chance at 18+ fantasy points. These are your league winners, these are the guys that will likely step into a feature role should the starter suffer an unfortunate injury. Here are your early running back sleepers in 2022. Note: ADP courtesy of FantasyPros

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers received five total writing awards and 13 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association, tops in the industry! Congrats to all the award winners and nominees including Best NFL Series, MLB Series, NBA Writer, PGA Writer and Player Notes writer of the year. Be sure to follow their analysis, rankings and advice all year long, and win big with RotoBaller! Read More!

 

Darrell Henderson Jr., Los Angeles Rams

ADP: RB40

We saw in 2021 how the Rams like to deploy their running backs. One guy gets featured, and the other backs are truly playing a complementary role.

When healthy, that guy is probably Cam Akers in 2022, however, we saw how he looked last season coming off a torn Achilles. In five games played, he averaged just 2.4 yards per carry (YPC). But remember, Akers was taken in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft after Darrell Henderson was taken in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft. He's their guy...when healthy.

The "when healthy" is the kicker. Akers' injury paved the way for Henderson to thrive for most of 2021. In fact, he was the RB14 through Week 12, averaging 15.7 PPR points per game, within one point per game of Dalvin Cook and Nick Chubb. Furthermore, Henderson saw at least a 75% snap share in six of those 10 games.

After finding himself on the COVID-19 list and battling a knee injury, his replacement Sony Michel came in and saw at least a 75% snap share in each of the six games he was the starter. Michel played on over 90% of the snaps in four of those six games. This is all to say it's clear the Rams believe in featuring one running back throughout a game.

With Michel no longer in Los Angeles, at a minimum, Henderson should have the backup job secured. The Rams did draft Notre Dame's Kyren Williams in the fifth round, but the chances of him having any significant role this season are pretty slim. With an ADP of around RB40, Henderson sits right above Raheem Mostert and Chris Carson.

You'll want to take your chances on the guy in a high-powered offense that gets 18 opportunities playing 80% of the snaps. That guy is Darrell Henderson, and this season he's being drafted as a backup to a guy coming off an Achilles tear.

His early ADP is very attractive. I mean, if you're the Rams, how could not have this guy in the game on third downs? Maybe we see him in that role this season, which could give him some standalone value in addition to his value as an elite backup.

 

Khalil Herbert, Chicago Bears

ADP: RB62

According to Adam Jahns of The Athletic, the Chicago Bears are likely transitioning into a run-heavy team with an outside zone scheme this season under new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy. This is similar to what we see in San Francisco with the fullback leading the way out of the backfield.

It lends itself nicely to running backs with "one-cut" ability. That's exactly what Chicago has in second-year man Khalil Herbert. He showcased great vision and acceleration through the hole last season, much like 49ers rookie running back Elijah Mitchell. Have a look:

Now, this surely isn't to say Herbert is overtaking David Montgomery as the starter for the Bears. But, there's a good chance he siphons at least some of the work away from him. At the very least, he's set to see a massive workload should Montgomery be forced to miss any time.

In three starts last season, Herbert averaged 23.3 opportunities per game on an 83% snap share. That included 3.3 targets on 17.3 routes run per game. He averaged 104.3 total yards, which led to 15.4 PPR points per game despite only finding the end zone once.

Herbert averaged more points per game as a starter than Aaron Jones, Josh Jacobs, Ezekiel Elliott...and you guessed it, David Montgomery, last season. Sure, it's a small sample size, but the Bears didn't re-sign Damien Williams and they used just a sixth-round pick on a running back (Trestan Ebner).

With the Bears not doing much to surround Fields with talent at the receiver position, it's certainly possible Herbert takes on a more prominent role in the offense in his second season. Even if he doesn't, we're getting a guy with top-15 or 20 appeal for a very minimal cost at RB62. Herbert is well worth the investment this season.

 

Darrel Williams, Arizona Cardinals

ADP: RB65

Apparently, Patrick Mahomes vouched for Darrel Williams to be a member of the Arizona Cardinals. Not sure that makes a ton of sense, but we'll roll with it nonetheless. Williams wasn't very good as a rusher last season, ranking 47th in juke rate, 46th in evaded tackles, and 49th in breakaway run rate (per PlayerProfiler).

But that's not why the Cardinals brought him in. They signed him because of his ability as both a pass-catcher and a pass-protector. Last season, Williams ranked fourth in yards per reception (9.6), 12th in yards per route run (1.61), and sixth in catch rate (82.5%). The guy just makes plays in the passing game.

James Conner is the unquestioned RB1 in Arizona, having just signed him to a three-year, $21 million extension. But recall how Conner was used last season when Chase Edmonds was healthy. He averaged just 0.8 targets on 5.9 routes run per game playing alongside Edmonds. It's obvious the Cardinals don't want Conner operating as the third-back, and that's why they brought in Williams.

Not only will he have a role on obvious passing downs, but Williams should double as one of the most valuable backups in the NFL considering he finds himself in another high-powered offense.

In 2021, he scored 20+ fantasy points in half of his starts (without Clyde Edwards-Helaire). 28% of his opportunities in those six games came in the form of targets, which are worth almost an entire point more than rush attempts in full PPR formats.

Williams averaged just 3.9 yards per carry last season but was consistently a very startable option whenever CEH was forced to miss time. RB65 for this guy is going to look like a steal if Conner, who's missed an average of 3.2 games in his five-year career, misses any time in 2022.



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