Fantasy football sleepers: Running backs

by Cory J. Bonini on September 7, 2011 @ 10:20:24 PDT

 


KFFL.com's analysis of fantasy football sleepers will help you identify the characteristics that go into making a sleeper candidate. These gems can be fairly well-known players or the lesser heralded guys you may not know much about. Fear not, since no one likes doing the dirty work, KFFL.com has done it for you!

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Note: All average draft position (ADP) figures are based on 12-team, non-PPR leagues unless specified otherwise.

Running backs

Felix Jones | Dallas Cowboys | ADP: 4th round

2011 Projected NFL/Fantasy Football Statistics

Run Att Run Yds Run TD Rec Rec Yds Rec TD Tot TD
Lo Hi Lo Hi Lo Hi Lo Hi Lo Hi Lo Hi Lo Hi

Jones should be electric this year behind an improved line and with defenses having to play the pass with more honesty than last year. Expect limited touches as he'll share the backfield, but Jones has a knack for making the most out of limited work.

The former Razorback is lighter, faster and stronger than last year. He assumed a new workout regiment that included gymnastics, Pilates, yoga and massage therapy in the offseason.

He is a nice No. 2 fantasy back in yardage leagues, but the touchdowns he scores will probably be of some distance and may come in spurts. Jones has improved his hands and should be more involved in the passing game.

Shonn Greene | New York Jets | ADP: 5th round

2011 Projected NFL/Fantasy Football Statistics

Run Att Run Yds Run TD Rec Rec Yds Rec TD Tot TD
Lo Hi Lo Hi Lo Hi Lo Hi Lo Hi Lo Hi Lo Hi
549419934957177490158

The Jets ran the ball the most in 2009 and the second most in 2010, averaging 33.4 attempts per game last season. Greene will be used as the bell cow in 2011 as the elderly LaDainian Tomlinson takes over the third-down duties full-time.

Greene should at least approach 300 carries, but he needs to secure the ball better than he has (six fumbles in 309 career touches). In his defense, he didn't put the ball on the ground after working on protecting the rock entering the 2009 playoffs. The Jets' offensive line has two all-world linemen in left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson and center Nick Mangold. Mark Sanchez is still a work-in-progress and will remain dependent on a strong running game - in other words, don't worry much about Rex Ryan's talk regarding opening up the offense.

The Iowa product appears on the verge of breaking out in a big way. He won't provide much PPR punch, but Greene could easily top 1,300 yards and score 10-plus touchdowns in 2011. He may provide you Michael Turner production at a lesser cost. Consider him a No. 2 fantasy back and draft him as soon as the third round.

Beanie Wells | Arizona Cardinals | ADP: 7th round

2011 Projected NFL/Fantasy Football Statistics

Run Att Run Yds Run TD Rec Rec Yds Rec TD Tot TD
Lo Hi Lo Hi Lo Hi Lo Hi Lo Hi Lo Hi Lo Hi

Tim Hightower is now with the Washington Redskins, and there is always uncertainty when a rookie is involved. Rookie Ryan Williams (knee) ruptured his patella tendon and will miss the year, which only opens the door for more carries for Wells. He is now a much safer pick. LaRod Stephens-Howling and Chester Taylor will battle for the third-down back.

Wells has shed a few pounds and looked explosive in camp, according to reports. He appears to be hungry and wants to prove last year was a fluke. The 6-foot-2, 229-pounder is a bruising, downhill rusher and showed somewhat of a nose for the end zone as a rookie. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt may have to remain committed to the run, especially early in the year, while Kevin Kolb grows within the system. Left guard Daryn Colledge comes over from the Green Bay Packers, and veteran tight end Jeff King (Panthers) also is new to the team; the pair should immensely help the offense's run-blocking ability. If Kolb is anything the team believes he is, running lanes should be opening up with more consistency.

Draft Beanie as a third back, even though he comes with some risk because of his injury history. Wells has more value in formats that employ standard scoring.

Mike Tolbert | San Diego Chargers | ADP: 8th round

2011 Projected NFL/Fantasy Football Statistics

Run Att Run Yds Run TD Rec Rec Yds Rec TD Tot TD
Lo Hi Lo Hi Lo Hi Lo Hi Lo Hi Lo Hi Lo Hi
51911953453519251181550237

Ryan Mathews simply appears to be soft. He's an explosive player and a home run hitter, but Tolbert moves the chains. The bowling ball back caught fantasy owners' attention last year with his 11 rushing touchdowns, and now head coach Norv Turner says the duo will split reps. Mathews has also dealt with fumbling problems in his short career.

San Diego's offensive line returns intact, and their passing game is as dangerous as ever. Tolbert is a capable receiver out of the backfield (42 receptions in the last two years). He produced four scores on 30 grabs from 2008 to 2009.

Tolbert is a great choice as a fourth back and should slide into your flex spot most weeks. Mathews has given little reason to trust him; Tolbert is a safe, low-risk choice for some late-round upside.

Bernard Scott, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
WCO is his friend

Bernard Scott | Cincinnati Bengals | ADP: 9th round

2011 Projected NFL/Fantasy Football Statistics

Run Att Run Yds Run TD Rec Rec Yds Rec TD Tot TD
Lo Hi Lo Hi Lo Hi Lo Hi Lo Hi Lo Hi Lo Hi

Cedric Benson is on a one-year deal. Scott, at 5-foot-11, 197 pounds, may be asked to give Benson a little help with the workload, and his competition for touches isn't exactly threatening. Even sharing time, he is explosive enough to produce quality numbers with lesser involvement.

Cincy should rely on the run quite a bit if rookie quarterback Andy Dalton is under center. Jay Gruden's West Coast offense should lead to more third-down work out of the backfield in passing situations. The third-year Abilene Christian product has averaged 4.6 yards per carry in his short career, accentuated by a 4.9 yard-per-tote effort in 2010.

Scott is going, on average, in the ninth round of early fantasy football drafts, which is a fair spot to take a chance on him as your fourth back. He could be a PPR demon in 2011, since Benson isn't much of a receiver.

Willis McGahee | Denver Broncos | ADP: 15th round

2011 Projected NFL/Fantasy Football Statistics

Run Att Run Yds Run TD Rec Rec Yds Rec TD Tot TD
Lo Hi Lo Hi Lo Hi Lo Hi Lo Hi Lo Hi Lo Hi

The Broncos will employ a two-back system in their conservative but balanced offense. Kyle Orton returns as the starter to ensure stability at the quarterback position, forcing defenses to live outside of the box on most plays. Knowshon Moreno is still struggling running between the tackles and should be more of a third-down, change-of-pace back.

McGahee should be used near the goal line and as a closer because of his style of play. He's a savvy veteran who should feel refreshed after a few seasons of limited activity in Baltimore. Consider him a fourth fantasy back that you can probably land on the cheap; he has the makings of a weekly flex play in this offense.

Roy Helu Jr. | Washington Redskins | ADP: 16th round

2011 Projected NFL/Fantasy Football Statistics

Run Att Run Yds Run TD Rec Rec Yds Rec TD Tot TD
Lo Hi Lo Hi Lo Hi Lo Hi Lo Hi Lo Hi Lo Hi
44842193690235412562990204

Helu has been a star in training camp so far and is probably the most talented back on the roster. Ryan Torain (hand) is already hurt and will be again if you wait long enough. Tim Hightower is just average and doesn't possess the explosive quality that Helu brings to the table. Hightower is getting all the love in the media after a strong preseason showing, but Helu will see touches over the course of the year. We feel he may get as many as 12 on a weekly basis - enough to matter as a flex player.

The Nebraska product excels in Washington's one-cut zone-blocking scheme. He has quality vision to find the hole and go. Despite being a solid receiver out of the backfield, Helu may not see much time on third down because of his weak blocking skills and Hightower's sure hands.

Draft the rookie as a fourth or fifth back in the late middle rounds if you are looking to take a chance on a player with boom qualities. He is officially running as the No. 2 back for the 'Skins.

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About Cory J. Bonini

Cory is KFFL's General Manager. In late 2002, he joined the KFFL staff as a research analyst and has been involved in fantasy sports since 1996. A member of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, as well as Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Bonini has been featured in print, on radio and on scores of websites. Bonini co-hosted Big Lead Sports on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio from 2011 to 2012.

Bonini was recognized with the 2010 Best Article in Print Award from the FSWA and was a finalist for the same award in 2011. In '11, he finished first overall in the FSWA NFL experts challenge that featured 60 of the industry's best competitors.

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