As we begin to settle into this off-season, our team here at DFF has decided to tackle a list of sleepers at each position. As you’ve probably noticed, this isn’t just offensive sleepers; this 7-part series will consist of IDP sleepers as well. We know not every league is offense-only, so we’ve got you covered. In case you missed it, we’ve already looked at the wide receiver and defensive back positions, and today we’ll look at running backs.
TJ Yeldon, Jacksonville Jaguars – After a season of ups and downs, Yeldon has the potential to be a top-10 NFL fantasy running back in 2017. New coaching; new direction. The best back on the Jags roster is going to eat: Doug Marrone starts his most talented players. The often-injured Chris Ivory is no spring chicken and he’s become little more than a situational RB. Your peers may have moved Yeldon down on their big boards, so you can likely scoop him up as a serious value play. Yeldon came into the league with an “X” on his back. Everyone expected him to succeed early, but he hasn’t been a world-beater. Believe this: patience will pay off. Popularity contests don’t win fantasy football league trophies. Draft Yeldon or trade for him. 2017 is the year of the RB in Jacksonville.
UPDATE 5/2/2017: As soon as Jacksonville drafted Leonard Fournette, any long-term value of Yeldon’s stock plummeted. At some point, Fournette is taking Yeldon’s job, and once he has it, Yeldon won’t get it back. He’ll get some use, maybe as a 3rd down back and in passing situations, but Yeldon is no longer a hard “buy.” Arrow pointing DOWN. Still, you can likely draft him in start-ups at a very cheap cost as a sneaky upside play.
Charles Sims, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Good old Muscle Hamster is not likely to return to Tampa next year and Sims is next man up. Other than Peyton Barber, there is not much for Sims to compete with. In addition to being a smart and solid runner, Sims is an above average pass-catcher. No other back on the Buccaneer’s roster has these traits. Sims could end up in the top-10 of fantasy RBs in PPR scoring during the 2017 season. Your opponents will probably sleep on him based on his past injuries and historical production, but I expect Sims to go off next season as the top dog in Tampa.
UPDATE 5/2/2017: The Buccaneers drafted Jeremy McNichols and he should offer competition for Sims, and serve as the primary backup to Doug Martin, who remains on the roster. It’s a log jam of RBs in Tampa Bay with much uncertainty. I still like Sims’ all around game, and he’s the most talented receiving back in Tampa, so if he stays healthy he should have a large role in the offense. Peyton Barber is merely a backup and special teams play that may not make the roster. Muscle hamster is likely gone after this season. Clearly, McNichols is the back to buy now. Sims remains a late-round value-play.
Kenneth Dixon, Baltimore Ravens – Since they parted ways with Ray Rice, the Ravens’ roster has been a turnstile of RBs. They’ve had plenty of capable choices to man the run-game, but no bellcows. They finished the 2016 season with Terrance West handling the workload. The Ravens want to feature a well-rounded guy that can do it all – one they can count on with consistency. They’re looking for versatility, not a change of pace. I predict that the 2017 season is going to be Dixon’s breakout campaign. He is truly the back to own going forward in Baltimore as he checks all the boxes on the Ravens’ offensive wish list. Dixon will be given every chance to earn his draft pedigree.
UPDATE 5/2/2017: Baltimore did not draft a running back so Dixon is 100% the Ravens back to own in dynasty. However, the arrival of fantasy superstar Danny Woodhead muddies the situation in the short term. With the presence of Woodhead and the relative success of West last season, Dixon should still be available at a bargain cost in your dynasty leagues.
*Kareem Hunt (Rookie, Toledo), Kansas City Chiefs – OK, this is dynasty football. I have to talk about rookie RBs, and there are many in this year’s draft class. Like always, there are very good players who get downgraded for various reasons – yet they become fantasy stars: David Johnson and Jordan Howard come to mind. Different draft classes and different reasons, but the same kind of draft trend dynamic that can help you beat your friends. Kareem Hunt is an impact player and a future RB1. Playing for the small-market school of Toledo did him few favors as far as NFL draft ranking. Hunt is being drafted on average in the middle of Round-3 in rookie mock drafts. I think it’s fair to say he’ll probably be picked somewhere in the second round of real rookie fantasy drafts. Make no mistake: this is a Top-5 talent in the 2017 RB pool. Hunt can do it all and will be a three-down RB in the NFL. He will become a better pro than RBs drafted ahead of him who will be situational NFL players. Hunt is an all-purpose feature-back with excellent vision, balance, and agility. He has the power to run through contact and is an electric runner with an elite jump-cut, 850+ collegiate touches and only one fumble. He had nearly 5,000 collegiate yards and is no worse for wear. Hunt is an excellent value pick at any point after Round-1. If he’s still available in the second or even third rounds of your rookie dynasty drafts, he’s the epitome of a “steal.” Don’t sleep on him. Small school running backs make a mockery of the NFL draft. Many of them have had great success in the NFL.
UPDATE 5/2/2017: There may not be a better fit for Kareem Hunt than Kansas City. With a superb blend of vision and balance this kid is going to assume the role previously owned by Jamaal Charles. No longer a sleeper with an ADP in the 1.10 – 2.02 range, he’s an even greater buy as we get closer to the start of the NFL season.
*Elijah Hood (Rookie, UNC), Oakland Raiders – So, this may seem like a reach and likely is dependent on landing spot. Hood epitomizes a sleeper in this year’s loaded RB draft class. On CBS Sports 2017 NFL draft board, Hood was once rated as the 15th best RB prospect. That’s simply too low. Hood doesn’t have mind-boggling stats with tons of rushing yardage, but what he does have is the UNC-record 6.0 YPC, which is slightly better than Giovani Bernard’s mark. His usage at UNC was perplexing, as he routinely had only about 15 carries per game. Remember, the ACC has been one of the best college football conferences during the past two years. Hood is 5’-11,” 220 lbs., and uses his size, making him a tough, punishing runner who is adept at gaining yards after contact. But listen, this isn’t just a banger that mows guys over. He’s got wheels and moves to go with the toughness. He also has above-average vision and he makes smart decisions in both short yardage situations and between the tackles. He has all the traits of a starting RB. He is a potential all-purpose back in the NFL. As an NFL rookie, Hood could immediately step in and contribute on third downs, in short-yardage, and in goal-line situations. I expect him to ultimately develop into no worse than a solid fantasy RB2. I recommend drafting him late as a dynasty stash (#DynastyValues). My fantasy rosters would love to see Hood land in Carolina, for instance.
UPDATE 5/2/2017: Hood fits the Raiders well and there is little in his way to playing time. I love this landing spot. He’s going to surprise a lot of people and remains a strong value in dynasty rookie drafts. I think he makes the Raiders forget about DeAndre Washington. BUY!
Every new NFL season brings with it millions of predictions and projections for real life and for fantasy. 2017 will be no different. With the 2016 fantasy season over and the draft and free agency yet to come, every move will impact multiple players across all positions. This list is a work in progress, but as of today, these are a few players to keep an eye on during the off-season and might be worth grabbing when draft day rolls around.
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