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The Deepest Dive: RB Sleepers in 16+ Team Leagues


Following up on our earlier look at wide receiver sleepers and quarterback sleepers for deep leagues, it's time to look at running backs.

Fantasy leagues can be as large as the commish want them too, but for our purposes, we're going to define a deep league as one in which at least 16 teams take part. That means that each draft round would consist of 16 picks and that there would be 240 (15 rounds multiplied by 16 teams) players drafted overall. So for this exercise, I will be looking at players with ADPs over 240 using a dataset comprised of data from drafts based on leagues with such structure. The data comes from PPR-format leagues, and whenever I mention stats, projections, and fantasy points those would all be spoken of on the basis of that format.

Here is a look at four running backs that can be considered sleepers in super deep, 16-plus teams leagues. Keep an eye on them and track their presence on the draft board as they can become interesting pieces down the road during the development of the 2020 season!

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Antonio Gibson, Washington Redskins

ADP: 241

I'm not saying it's going to happen with Gibson, but in the last decade 25 running backs have been drafted in the third round and 18 of them played 10-plus games in their rookie season while carrying the ball at least 70 times. Paying a third-round pick for a running back usually signals usage. And it is not like Washington can be too happy or sure about what it has with its backfield already.

Derrius Guice and Adrian Peterson are the 1A and 1B rushers for the Redskins. Derrius Guice is entering his third season and he has played all of five games since he was drafted in 2018 due to multiple injuries. Adrian Peterson is about to become a 14-year veteran and although he has somehow stayed on the field for 31 games between 2018 and 2019 his production has dropped a bit as of late compared to his heyday--and you can expect it to keep going down each passing game.

Both Peterson and Guice should enter 2020 as the starting running backs poised to log the most attempts and starts, but Gibson is a do-it-all player that can be slotted both at RB or WR positions. Playing for Memphis last year he was able to rack up 735 yards receiving and 369 rushing in 14 games.

Even if you don't have full trust in Gibson, keep in mind his multi-position versatility and the fact that Washington is in developmental mode and far from contending, and you have a potential weapon at a very cheap price.

 

Chris Thompson, Jacksonville Jaguars

ADP: 345

Speaking of Washingtonians... Chris Thompson has played his whole career in the nation's capital, but this summer he flipped Washington for Jacksonville, where we should be slotted as the RB2 behind go-to monster Leonard Fournette--assuming he makes it to the season still donning Jaguars' threads and isn't traded.

No matter what happens with Fournette, though, Thompson will still have chances to put points on the board during the course of games. And Fournette has also shown a shaky health profile during his three-year NFL tenure. He missed three games in his rookie year, and could only play eight in 2018. Are we sure he will have another 15-plus game season in 2020 as he did last season?

Although Thompson will compete with Ryquell Armstead for RB2 duties, he should hold his own and get most of the reps on pass-plays. While Thompson's rushing ability (and opportunities, for that matter) is not great--he topped at 68 carries and 356 yards on the ground in 2016--he has always shown prowess at catching the rock.

He has been targeted 48-plus times in each of the past five seasons and he's racked up more than 240 yards through the air in each of those, to go with nine combined touchdowns.

Thompson has good hands (he caught 42 of 58 targets in 2019) and Fournette's pass-catching numbers are far from mind-blowing, so the RB2 could be in for a moderate workload on certain snaps. While Thompson has missed time to injury steadily during his career, he's an ultra-cheap option in way deep leagues worth restoring given his situation and a potential mid-season trade of Fournette.

 

Reggie Bonnafon, Carolina Panthers

ADP: 288

Look. Christian McCaffrey is going nowhere. Shut down those voices calling for a trade, for how overvalued running backs are, etc. CMC just compiled the most incredible season you can imagine. He rushed for 1,387 yards, caught passes for another 1,005, and scored 19 combined touchdowns last season. All of that playing 16 games, carrying the ball 287 times and being targeted in 142 plays. You could even say last season we watched the Carolina McCaffreys and nobody would bat an eye.

Will all of this change in 2020? Well, considering CMC just signed a 64-million, four-year contract extension, I'd put my money on a resounding no. What are we doing picking Bonnafon, then? Drafting the ultimate handcuff. Nothing is telling us that McCaffrey will miss time, nor that he will be vultured from touchdowns, carries, or targets, but hey, there is always a chance it happens.

Bonnafon's upside is all reliant on CMC missing time, there is no denying in that. But if the best running back in the game is actually forced out, then Bonnafon is probably the player in the best position to get all of the chances he can handle and then some.

There is no other player with an ADP over 240 that is in a better position to back up his starting teammate, which is reason enough for me to add his name to this list. Bonnafon is pretty much an unproven commodity (he's a sophomore and last season he just rushed 16 times for 116 yards while being targeted nine times for 57 yards), but he has everything to thrive if the football gods smile his way.

 

Carlos Hyde, Seattle Seahawks

ADP: 323

Hyde will play next season as a 30-year-old man. That's not a young player, but it's not like we're talking about a near-retired veteran. In fact, Hyde's numbers from last year--his first one playing full-time in Houston before hitting free agency--were rather nice: 245 rushing attempts for 1,070 yards and six touchdowns in 16 games.

While he didn't rule the league (he finished RB30 in the PPR format) Hyde was still a very productive player given his ADP of 161. Even with that, his price has dropped in half as he's been out of a deal for the 2020 season until a few days ago.

That was reason for concern, obviously, but Hyde finally found a team in the Seahawks. Even if his days as a bellcow are probably over, which explains him not being until this deep into the offseason, there are not many RB2 out there poised to put up better numbers than Hyde while carrying such a clear second-fiddle role.

Hyde's value is limited to whatever he can do on the ground, as his pass-catching prowess is rather null. Given the short depth of Seattle's backfield (which only has Chris Carson healthy while Rashaad Penny recovers from a torn ACL), it made sense to sign Hyde to a one-year deal.

Even in a limited role, Hyde should prove valuable (remember, we're talking about one of only 15 rushers to top 1,000 yards last season; he averaged 4.37 Y/A) and he could find his way to some goal-line carries given his frame, boosting his chances of scoring touchdowns and bulking his fantasy points.

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