Fantasy football sleepers: Running backs

by Cory J. Bonini and Bryce McRae on September 7, 2010 @ 16:33:00 PDT's analysis of fantasy football sleepers for the 2010 season will be updated weekly throughout the offseason. We have separated our sleepers and undervalued players this year, so be sure not to confuse the two.

Sleepers are also undervalued players in some cases. Yet, you can still have a hidden gem on your hands, even if appropriately drafted, as long as you identify the right characteristics that go into making up a sleeper. No one likes doing the dirty work, so let do it for you! Be sure to check for weekly updates.

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

Running backs

LeSean McCoy | Philadelphia Eagles | ADP: 3rd round

The Eagles made McCoy their No. 1 with the release of Brian Westbrook this offseason. Mike Bell should see a few totes, but McCoy likely will receive the bulk of the workload. The sophomore ran the ball 155 times for 637 yards and four touchdowns last year. He also caught 40 passes for 308 yards.

Philly's passing game should keep defenses honest. Backs in head coach Andy Reid's system have been great (see Westbrook prior to last year), and this offensive line is solid. McCoy is a shifty, pass-catching back in a similar vein to Westbrook. McCoy's yards-per-carry average wasn't exceptional last year (4.1 YPC), but he can be a home run threat with a 66-yard run on his resume.

Fantasy value: On average, you can snag McCoy in the late third round. View him as a No. 2 back, though he has a good chance to perform as a No. 1, especially in point-per-reception leagues.

Beanie Wells | Arizona Cardinals | ADP: 3rd round

The Cardinals are now in position to become a power-running team. Kurt Warner's retirement means Derek Anderson will become the starting quarterback, which will be conducive to the implementation of a strong rushing attack. Arizona's offensive line is molded to open holes rather than excel in pass blocking, too.

Beanie Wells, RB, Arizona Cardinals
The Wells won't run dry in '10

Wells (knee) has all of the talent in the world, just as long as he can stay healthy. The former Ohio State Buckeye came on strong late last season, scoring in three straight games starting Week 14. He'll share time with tailback Tim Hightower, but we've seen plenty of productive two-back systems in recent years. Don't expect much from Wells as a receiver. A knee injury may slow him, but he is not expected to miss time.

Fantasy value: On average, fantasy owners are snagging Wells at the beginning of the third round. His value in point-per-reception formats will be lower, of course. Be sure to draft quality running backup depth if you opt for Beanie on draft day. 

Jahvid Best | Detroit Lions | ADP: 4th round

The Lions' Kevin Smith (knee) tore an anterior cruciate ligament in December '09 and is likely to be slowed early in the year. This prompted Detroit to draft the electric Best 30th overall. Even if Smith returns to health early on, Best should see a lot of touches.

Detroit improved their offensive line during the offseason, and expected on-field maturation from quarterback Matthew Stafford should open running lanes. The Lions want to run the ball a lot, just as long as their defense allows such.

Best is a good receiver out of the backfield and can contribute in a number of ways. As long as his pass-blocking skills are up to par, he could be a three-down back while Smith is on the mend. If healthy, Smith could serve as a short-yardage back. 

Fantasy value: Best probably won't score a lot of touchdowns, but he could account for a ton of yardage and receptions. The Lions need a checkdown outlet for Stafford, and Best has the wheels to rack up yardage after the catch. Fantasy owners are drafting him as a weak No. 2 or strong No. 3 in the early fourth round, on average.

Matt Forte | Chicago Bears | ADP: 4th round

Forte was overvalued last year, and some owners are probably still feeling the sting of drafting him. It's a new year, so turn the page. He has played in 32 straight games and gutted it out through various nagging injuries in 2009.

The Bears' offense as a whole should be more competent this year, and even though Martz is known for successful passing games, the rushing attack will not be forgotten in the Windy City. Running back Chester Taylor will occasionally spell Forte, but there is talk that Forte will be the centerpiece of the offense. The big-bodied Forte should be a better goal line option than Taylor, especially after adding muscle in the offseason.

Fantasy value: Forte's receiving ability - especially in a Mike Martz offense - makes him more valuable in point-per-reception formats. Taylor is a pretty good receiver, too, but we don't expect Forte to come off the field in passing situations very often. Drafting Forte in the fourth round is a fair place to take this minor risk.

Arian Foster | Houston Texans | ADP: 4th round

Running back Ben Tate (ankle) has been placed on Injured Reserve, which solidifies Foster's role. He is currently running with the first-team offense. Third-year back Steve Slaton will likely see the majority of third-down work, so Foster's touches will be somewhat limited. Slaton is being hampered by a turf toe injury.

Foster has improved his conditioning this offseason. He averaged a healthy 4.8 yards per carry last year (only 54 attempts) and scored three times. Slaton, who is coming off neck surgery, doesn't seem to be past his fumbling problems of a year ago. Foster is an acceptable receiver, but this is where Slaton excels. We feel it will be a fairly even split provided Slaton can overcome his fumbling issues.

Fantasy value: Foster's fourth-round ADP is a tad high, yet acceptable. He should be viewed as a No. 3 upside. He could lose out to Slaton, the more talented back, on passing downs, so temper your expectations a bit in PPR formats.

Cadillac Williams | Tampa Bay Buccaneers | ADP: 7th round

Jahvid Best, RB, Detroit Lions
You Best draft him!

Williams returned from almost two full seasons lost to injury (2007, 2008) to play in all 16 games last year for the first time in his career. The sixth-year back ran for 823 yards and four scores while catching 28 passes for 217 yards and three touchdowns.

When you consider the offense surrounding him, those numbers aren't that bad. Tampa Bay was installing a new offense, made tougher by the dismissal of offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski just before the season started. They had a rookie head coach and a rookie QB for most of the season and a porous offensive line.

The only other backs capable of taking away from Williams on the Bucs' roster: Earnest Graham and Kareem Huggins - neither is particularly tough competition. Williams is really explosive, and he's going to be an injury concern, but if you value a possible No. 1 back with little competition, he could be a solid value.

Fantasy value: Owners are sleeping on Williams too often. View him with a healthy dose of skepticism because of his injury history, this offense and his own limitations, but for a likely No. 2 fantasy back, take a chance on his carries in the seventh or eighth round.

Donald Brown | Indianapolis Colts | ADP: 9th round

Coming off an injury-riddled season, Brown is healthy and has a better grasp of the offense, according to head coach Jim Caldwell. The '09 first-round pick will be given every opportunity to excel; coaching staffs never want to see a high-end pick falter.

The Colts plan to rely more on the running game in 2010. Joseph Addai is injury-prone, which gives Brown a good chance at seeing more playing time than most No. 2 backs. Addai isn't under contract after this season; Indy might want to take a longer look at Brown to see if he has what it takes to be a No. 1 back.

It never hurts having quarterback Peyton Manning at the helm to take pressure off the running game, either.

Fantasy value: Clearly, splitting time isn't the ideal situation, but you can land Brown on the cheap. We've seen him fall into the 10th round, so don't put a lot of weight into his ninth-round ADP figure. If you own Addai, be sure to add Brown as a handcuff, but don't feel like only Addai owners should draft the second-year back. He's a No. 4 for fantasy purposes.

Javon Ringer | Tennessee Titans | ADP: 18th round

It's very strange that Titans rusher Chris Johnson can regularly be the No. 1 overall pick and his top backup doesn't come off the board until the 18th round. Ringer barely touched the ball in 2009, but he averaged 6.0 yards per carry on his eight rushing attempts.

Ringer gained valuable experience running with the first-team offense when Johnson opted not to report to the team during his contract dispute. CJ's contract issues are apparently over, but more notable, is the workload Johnson incurred in 2009. A high touch count and not training with the team could take its toll on the star running back.

Fantasy value: Don't think Ringer will dominate the league if he sees the field, but he could be a very effective fantasy back should something happen to Johnson injury-wise or he extends his contract dispute into the regular season. Don't leave this chance to the waiver wire. Consider Ringer a worthwhile gamble after the 13th round in all formats, especially for CJ2K owners.

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Also See:
Sleepers: QB | RB | WR | TE | PK | DT
Busts: QB | RB | WR | TE | PK | DT
Undervalued players: QB | RB | WR | TE | PK | DT
Overvalued players: QB | RB | WR | TE | PK | DT

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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