Fantasy football draft season is here, and with it, we get our first crack at representational ADP data. Granted, the COVID-19 crisis has everything up in the air. For example, Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s ADP won’t be the same next week as it is now due to Damien Williams opting out. But, we are starting to get good draft data that will find us sleeper running backs! That’s right, the most mercurial position where everybody gets hurt and nobody is good all-year! I will authoritatively talk about how player x or y are sleeper running backs when you will see we need a lot to break right for these guys. Anyone who doesn’t need a bit of luck to be a valued running back doesn’t make it this far.
For me, I define sleeper running backs as guys going as a “back half backup” or lower in a twelve-team league. Since there are 24 starting running backs, that means RB36 or later can qualify as one of these sleeper running backs.
Zack Moss, Buffalo Bills (RB47, #154 overall)
Zack Moss in the thirteenth round is my favorite pastime, right before snagging a kicker and the Buccaneers DST. He contends with Devin Singletary for touches this year, but Singletary split time with Frank Gore last year, and the Bills stated they would treat Moss like they treated Frank Gore before they gave up on Gore. There is a very clear line of demarcation that denotes when Buffalo abandoned Gore: week nine against Washington when he had three carries from the goal line and failed to score in any of them. In the first nine weeks of the season, Gore averaged 14.2 touches per game. After week nine, Gore averaged 8.3 touches per game.
Give any rookie running back 14+ touches per game and you have my curiosity. Give any rookie running back who I like as much as Zack Moss 14+ touches per game, and now you have my attention. I’m not scared of COVID-19 and running backs, after all, we see them plug-and-play all the time. There isn’t much to learn that he can’t learn in camp. Sure, he might got a “welcome to the league, kid” in week one against the Jets, but 14+ touchdowns for a guy who is as difficult to bring down as Zack Moss translates into lots of fantasy football potential for 2020 as one of my sleeper running backs.
Nyheim Hines, Indianapolis Colts (RB54, #170 overall)
Nyheim Hines had a promising rookie campaign back in 2018, and then the entire Indianapolis Colts roster sort of… fell apart last season. Gee, I wonder why. So, let’s take a look back at Hines’ rookie campaign back in 2018. He ended the year with 85 rushes and 81 targets for a total of 739 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns. His 80 target/80 rush attempt threshold put him in some rarified air as one of just ten rookie running backs to achieve that feat since we started tracking targets back in 1992. Granted, he was extremely inefficient with those targets (third-worst yards per touch among the 80/80 guys), but he still had plenty of opportunities!
Let’s fast forward to 2020, and the Colts now have Philip Rivers. If you total up all the targets that went to the most targeted RB in each of Philip Rivers’ seasons, a running back gets about 14% of Rivers’ targets every year. Marlon Mack is talented, but not a pass catcher. Jonathan Taylor is extremely talented, but not a pass catcher. That leaves just one guy to soak up all those targets, Mr. 80/80 himself. In an HPPR or PPR league, Hines is a near-automatic draft-and-stash for me.
Antonio Gibson, Washington Football Team (RB58, #197 overall)
Antonio Gibson was one of a trend of players we saw this year in the 2020 NFL Draft. Gibson, Laviska Shenault, Lynn Bowden, and Tommy Stevens all have no particular role in an offense or position on the field. They’re all the new normal in the NFL as everyone in this copy cat league looks for the next Taysom Hill or Deebo Samuel multi-use player. Gibson is one such player. He played 14 games last year for Memphis. Gibson had five games of over 75 receiving yards, and three games of over 75 rushing yards.
New Head Coach Ron Rivera didn’t miss this versatility, saying that he saw a Swiss Army Knife role for Gibson in 2020. Rivera likened the #66 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft to a certain former player of Rivera’s who gets fantasy football hype of his own. If Gibson can carve out 10+ touches a game in a shallow Football Team receiving group that screams for someone to take targets, then he is off to the races as one of the 2020 class of sleeper running backs.