Don’t overlook these running back value picks

Sometimes there are words people don’t really use anymore, even if everyone knows what those words mean. Take “swell,” for example. Swell is, well, a swell word. There’s something playful and fun about it, that provides more color than just “good” or “great.”

The fantasy community used to lean heavily on “sleepers” as a theme. The Madman and others like him would tout under-the-radar players who few were talking about. Though, that was back when those voices were comparatively few, before there were dozens, instead of just a few handfuls, or fantasy-centric websites. Before there were entire programs, or even channels, on various networks or radio dedicated to fantasy content.

Back when it was possible for a player to remain under the radar.

Now — with social media pundits and podcasts galore and sports channel scrolls offering fantasy news nuggets and rankings everywhere — well, no one is under the radar anymore. Hence, “sleeper” is an outdated term. No player gets slept on, they are all discussed ad nauseam somewhere by someone, if not by multiple people.

Instead, when referring to players we like deeper in drafts, we like to use the term “value picks.” That gives a bit more freedom of range to choose from — a fourth-rounder might be a value even if he wouldn’t be considered a “sleeper” by the previous definition. And we think that’s just swell.

You know what else is swell? Getting Josh Jacobs in the fourth round. He has no challengers to his primary ball-carrier duties, which help negate his lack of PPR production. In an explosive Raiders offense, he should get plenty of scoring opportunities. We like him better than J.K. Dobbins, Elijah Mitchell and Breece Hall, all of whom often are being drafted ahead of Jacobs.

Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs (28) runs
Josh Jacobs in the fourth round? That’s some swell fantasy football value.

Volume is a key component on our wish lists, and Rashaad Penny should get plenty even if the Seahawks don’t have a great offense. If Seattle does eventually decide to shift the emphasis over to rookie Kenneth Walker III, that isn’t likely to happen until well into the season, once the rebuilding squad is out of the playoff picture. If the sixth round, when Penny is normally picked, we’ll take a limited-upside feature RB, simply because we expected him to be featured.

The Browns’ backfield situation is strange. Early in drafts, fantasy managers appear to be aware of Kareem Hunt’s history of stealing a large portion of the workload, hence Nick Chubb has been a middle-second-round pick rather than a solid first-rounder.

But then people seem to forget about Hunt. He routinely lasts until the end of the sixth round. That’s even after A.J. Dillon and Tony Pollard, both also the RB2 on their real-life teams, who haven’t had the type of workload and production Hunt has in the past.

When you get into the seventh round, even the bad true feature backs are off the board, so you start looking for specific factors: Is a particular back a PPR hound? What kind of chance do they have of stealing or inheriting a feature role?

Chase Edmonds could do both, but mainly we like him for his PPR potential. He ranked 14th among RBs last year in receptions despite playing just 12 games. The Dolphins don’t throw a lot to their RBs, but neither did the Cardinals — Edmonds’ team last season. And in a crowded backfield — which includes Raheem Mostert, Sony Michel, Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed — we like Edmonds’ chances of emerging as the front man better than those of any of the others in teal. For a middle-seventh-rounder, we’ll take those odds.

One guy we do think can, and likely will, supplant the incumbent starter at some point is New England’s Rhamondre Stevenson. He is a tough, pounding runner, best equipped for a grinding offense and goal-line work. And the guy between Stevenson and more reps is Damien Harris, who is nothing special. Middle of the seventh round, we’ll take a potential workhorse.

Speaking of potential workhorses, we have another swell suggestion. Take a look at Houston’s Dameon Pierce. Yes, we know the Texans’ offense is more hell than swell, but we expect Pierce do post fantasy numbers that easily justify an eighth-round pick. He is our favorite late-RB target, and perhaps the only Texan we would welcome to our rosters other than Brandin Cooks.

Near the end of our list, we find a couple of RBs who are the clear-cut No. 2s on their respective teams’ backfields, yet, not unlike Kareem Hunt, should get enough work to provide more production than their draft value suggests. Drafters are sleeping on Denver’s Melvin Gordon (eight round) and the Jets’ Michael Carter even later (11th).

Neither is likely to assume the No. 1 role, barring injury to the primaries (Javonte Williams and Breece Hall, respectively). But both should get enough work to offer to give you a puncher’s chance, should you be forced into using them.

At the end of our list are a pair of wild cards from the same team. We’re willing to take an end-of-draft flyer on Kansas City’s Isaih Pacheco (12th) or Jerick McKinnon (14-15th) for two chief reasons: They play in a high-powered offense, and the other RBs who share the backfield are no great shakes. Would it surprise anyone if one of these two ended up leading Chiefs RBs in fantasy production, ahead of Clyder Edwards-Helaire or Ronald Jones? Remember, coach Andy Reid has given up RB surprises in the past, whether full seasons or multi-week streaks — including Charcandrick West, Spencer Ware, the aforementioned Kareem Hunt, Darrel Williams, Damien Williams, and even McKinnon during the playoffs last season.

So always be on the lookout for a good bargain, that primo value. Even if no one calls it a sleeper anymore.

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