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Running Back Sleepers You Missed on Draft Day


I recently identified some draft-day sleepers that won't pan out as expected. Now, it's time to take the other side and find some running back sleepers that you didn't even know were sleepers.

Whether you believe in handcuffing at RB or not, we must always keep an eye on backup running backs in fantasy football. Injuries happen and unexpected names surface when thrust into the spotlight. We like to think we know what the depth chart situation is on each team when we make our draft choices but things change quickly in the NFL (a.k.a. "Not For Long").

Instead of some popular rookies who have been seeing their ADP rise up throughout the preseason, such as Alexander Mattison, Justice Hill, Ryquell Armstead, and Elijah Holyfield, I will tell you about the running backs you should really be paying attention to.

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Mike Boone, Minnesota Vikings

Ladies and gents, I present to you the 2019 preseason rushing champ! OK, we should know that doesn't mean anything. Jeff Wilson was just 18 yards behind him in third place and he was waived by the Niners before being signed to the practice squad. Hell, quarterback Taysom Hill was fifth. Last year's preseason rushing leader was Chris Warren III and he wasn't even good enough to make the Raiders' roster this year. Still, 196 yards on 41 attempts (4.8 Y/A) ain't too bad. He did the same last year, running for 195 yards in the preseason and finishing fourth.

His regular-season production wasn't quite the same. As a rookie, Boone ran for just 47 yards on 11 carries. He was stuck behind the duo of Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray, with Roc Thomas and C.J. Ham playing ahead of him throughout the season. Why should this year be different? The team did spend a third-round pick on Alexander Mattison, who has been popular enough among fantasy owners to earn an actual ADP in the 12th round of redraft leagues. Mattison has been quiet this preseason, however, while Boone obviously earned enough trust to stick on the roster while Thomas and Ham were let go. Murray is gone and Boone now has a path to be the RB2 on a good Minnesota offense. It's not a guarantee that he beats out Mattison in the long-run but don't be shocked if Boone is the one spelling Cook early in the year rather than Mattison. He would then be one Cook injury away from immediate pickup status.

 

Gus Edwards, Baltimore Ravens

Another preseason rushing stud from 2018, Edwards did get a chance to take the field once Baltimore revamped its offense and ditched Alex Collins midyear. He went on to finish with one of the top rushing averages at 5.2 yards per carry, racking up 654 yards in the final seven games. Once Mark Ingram signed and Justice Hill was drafted, he became a forgotten man. Some thought he might not even make the final roster. But Kenneth Dixon was shown the door instead and Edwards remains in play for touches on a run-first-second-and-third offense.

Ingram is clearly the RB1 on this team and Hill is very intriguing with his multi-faceted skillset and superior speed. Where is there room for Edwards? There might actually be room for all three backs to contribute in a significant way. This seems far-fetched until you hear this:

I was already on the Gus Bus long ago, but seeing how he has clung to his role on that team encourages me to at least keep an eye on him. Not all free agents acclimate well to new environments and Edwards has the advantage of being last year's starter. Hill has to succeed in pass protection if he wants to retain a role on passing downs, as well as find holes in NFL defenses.

Edwards won't offer much versatility or the highest floor for full PPR leagues but being able to plow through linemen is a nice skill to have. He was the league's most efficient RB according to NextGen Stats, at 2.78 EFF. It's no coincidence that four of the top six leaders in rushing average were also in the top six in Efficiency. If Edwards keeps getting the job done, he'll have value in this offensive scheme.

 

Jordan Scarlett, Carolina Panthers

Cameron Artis-Payne is gone (finally), Elijah Holyfield was sent to the practice squad (thankfully), so your Christian McCaffrey handcuff is now Jordan Scarlett. I mentioned Scarlett as a potential elite handcuff months ago on the Fantasy Bomb podcast during our rookie mock draft. It turned out to be true after all!

Scarlett fell to the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft mainly because of his off-field incidents. He was suspended for an entire year due to credit card theft and had previously been charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession. The former Florida Gator (go figure) has some baggage for sure but he also has 4.47 speed and a path to immediate success if, god forbid, something should happen to C-Mac. He won't do the same things, as his hands have been a huge question mark. He caught just 15 passes total in three seasons at Florida, although he has apparently shown great improvement in that area throughout training camp.

Scarlett was drafted pretty much nowhere in fantasy leagues and currently has an ownership rate of 0%. It will stay that way for a while if all goes as planned for the Panthers. He isn't someone to add just yet unless you're in a deep dynasty league or happen to have eight bench spots. He is the first player who should earn a FAAB bid if the worst should happen to last year's fantasy MVP, though.

 

Devine Ozigbo, Jacksonville Jaguars

We'll end with the deepest of sleepers, deeper than the well where Pennywise dwells. Sorry, I have IT on the brain.

Ozigbo got some buzz among the dynasty crowd, particularly because he had a chance to breakthrough in the most fantasy-friendly offense of all, New Orleans. It didn't happen, as he was granted release on the final cut-down day. It may turn out to be a blessing in disguise, however, as he was picked up by the Jaguars instead.

At 5'11", 222 lbs out of Nebraska, he went undrafted after being snubbed for the NFL Combine. His disappointing 4.70 40 time at his Pro Day didn't help either. Still, Ozigbo has shown great burst on tape and averaged an impressive 7.1 yards per carry in college.

He appears to be fourth on the depth chart right now but that might not be a problem. He stands behind Ryquell Armstead, a fifth-round pick who is the exact same size as Ozigbo. Armstead didn't particularly stand out in the preseason, averaging 3.6 yards per carry and doing little to threaten Alfred Blue for the backup job. Blue is now on IR due to an ankle injury, so Ozigbo only has one man to beat for the backup job. Don't forget that the starter here is Leonard "Ow, My Foot!" Fournette, who carries a high injury risk per Inside Injuries. Although Armstead is widely viewed as the handcuff to own, Ozigbo is a name to watch, especially if you own Fournette.

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