A “sleeper” running back can take a lot of different forms when you’re thinking about DFS. You’re looking for players about whom the preseason conversation is not necessarily positive, because, well, otherwise they wouldn’t be sleepers. And it feels a little oxymoronic to call a guy a sleeper in my column when everyone else is doing the same thing. At a certain point that makes you not a sleeper, right?
So you have to identify players no one thinks are going to be good, who are actually going to be good. Here’s to everyone being wrong.
5. Melvin Gordon – San Diego Chargers
Here’s the issue: Wisconsin running backs are always good. Every year, they are putting up huge numbers in college, so the question becomes whether Gordon is actually good, or just a product of a good system.
I think this logic is faulty for a couple of reasons, not the least of which being that it way too early, still, to say with certainty that Monte Ball and James White (NE) are “not good.” Those are the other two Wisconsin running backs drafted in recent years, and they haven’t panned out (which is what brought this conversation on – otherwise, Wisconsin would be the school that produces stud running backs). But it also leads us to the second reason this situation is not the same as those: Gordon is not White or Ball. At 6’1’’, 215 he looks like a wide receiver out there, but he runs with real power. He can replace everything every back on the San Diego roster last year could do, talent-wise. He is already a better runner, blocker AND pass-catcher than Woodhead, with the explosiveness to turn any kind of play into a home run.
4. Tre Mason – St. Louis Rams
The starting job in St. Louis has been handed to Todd Gurley by every expert and pundit in the land. You don’t draft a RB tenth overall and then bench him! But Tre Mason was a third round pick only last year, and after he finally earned himself some playing time, he played really, really well. In twelve games last year, he had over 900 total yards and five touchdowns, on an otherwise anemic Rams offense. Right now, the status of Gurley leading up to the season is unknown, so Mason could easily end up with the first few starts of the year (WAS and PIT in weeks 2 and 3), and his price will reflect that, but could be depressed for those good matchups if he doesn’t produce against Seattle in week 1. And if you are thinking about this from a year-long perspective, just remember that not all first round running backs are good. Mason might put a strangle-hold on this job and never let go – you never know, which might make him the most draftable of all the handcuffs for someone who doesn’t also own the “starter.”
3. Joseph Randle – Dallas Cowboys
Honestly, I have no idea why people aren’t hyping him up more. Darren McFadden, I guess? It must be, because I can only assume there is consenus that if anyone does get the majority of the carries on this offense, he is going to have value. Well, reports out of Dallas are saying that Randle is getting the first-team reps, and he knows the offense. He can pass-block, which is important, since they’d like to keep Romo upright until the postseason. And he is not just some replacement-level guy, at least in my opinion. He averaged well over 6 yards a carry last year, and while he – of course – won’t do that as the feature back, it does demonstrate an ability to either make the first guys miss or break arm tackles through the middle of a defense, or both. All he needs to do is be better (or even just healthier) than McFadden, and hit his holes. I have faith. And the Cowboys open the season with NYG, PHI, ATL, NO, NE before their bye. My guess is Randle’s price tag is progressively higher with each passing week.
2. Justin Forsett – Baltimore Ravens
Justin Forsett is a sleeper just because he’s not exciting. No one is going to get mad at you when you draft him in your yearly league. He’s the kind of guy you just pass right over when you’re looking at your opponent’s lineup before the games start. And then he has 140 total yards and a TD, and you’re not quite sure what just happened. In case you’re not sure, because you haven’t heard or read a single thing about him this offseason: he is still playing for the Ravens. They have no one else. They also lost their best WR. And their TE. Last year, Forsett totaled over 1,500 yards from scrimmage, including 44 catches. I certainly don’t see a reason for any of that to decrease. If anything his usage rate might go up as Flacco looks for his outlet receivers more and more with no one open down field.
1. Mark Ingram & C.J. Spiller – New Orleans Saints
The issue here is a simple question of “which one will it be?” To which my answer is: both. We have seen this out of the Saints before, and with all the targets that left town after last season, there is plenty of meat on the bone for both of these players to thrive. Spiller is more like Reggie Bush than Darren Sproles, but even Bush had over 100 targets in his first season in NO. If I told you Spiller would get 8 carries and 5 targets on average, and Ingram would have 17 carries, wouldn’t you agree they’d both have value? Yeah, me too.