The best part of every fantasy football season is digging up the sleepers. Now that I’ve finished my team-by-team review of each team’s 2020, and somewhat less importantly, the Super Bowl happened and is now in the rear-view mirror. It’s time to do the best part of every fantasy football season: finding sleepers. Obviously, free agency hasn’t happened, neither has the draft, or training camp. That’s why these are way too early sleepers, after all. The criteria for a sleeper is simple: drafted in the tenth round or later in twelve-team leagues, by fantasyfootballcalculator.com ADP. Let’s keep this ball rolling with the most frustrating position in fantasy football. No, not tight end… the other one! Running Back! Here are some sleeper running backs for consideration in your 2021 fantasy football leagues.
Sleeper Running Back #1:
A.J. Dillon, Green Bay Packers (RB43, Round 10, Pick 1)
Dillon was the Green Bay Packers’ second-round pick. Shockingly, he played the most out of their first three-round picks from the 2020 drafts. The two running backs on the depth chart ahead of him (Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams) are both free agents, and it’s unlikely they are both back in Green Bay. It’s entirely possible the Packers drafted Dillon in the second round to turn him loose in the 2021 season. It’s a prime position for him to take the reins, as the Packers’ RBs had the ninth-most touches in both the 2020 and 2019 seasons.
Dillon mostly rode the pine behind Williams and Jones in 2020. Because of this, he topped six touches just once in the 2020 season… and boy howdy did he cash in those touches. He turned 22 touches against Tennessee into 129 yards and a touchdown (in that crazy snow Sunday Night Football game in week sixteen). Unfortunately, he doesn’t really catch the ball too much, so he has to stay a miniature version of Derrick Henry for football. If the Packers bring back Jamaal Williams, don’t worry, he’s one of the most efficient pass-catching backs and makes for the perfect complement to A.J. Dillon in 2021.
Sleeper Running Back #2:
Nyheim Hines, Indianapolis Colts (RB51, Round 11, Pick 5)
A lot of this diminished ADP is likely due to the residuals from the excitement surrounding Jonathan Taylor’s 254 yard, four-touchdown effort in week seventeen against the worst team in the NFL. After all, Taylor touched the ball 32 times! Unfortunately, he had just two targets in that game. Mostly because that isn’t really a part of his game; he averaged 2.7 targets per game this season (including playoffs). That’s where Nyheim Hines and his 14% target share come in. In the last game of the season, Hines ended up with 67 yards on 8 touches… but six of them were catches. It marked the fourth time in the last six weeks of the season that Hines had at least four catches, buoying his value.
Hines had 76 targets last season, catching 63 of them, giving him over 75 targets and 75 carries in two of his first three seasons in the NFL. His 76 targets ranked third in the NFL, as did his 63 receptions and 482 receiving yards. We don’t know who will be under center, so we can’t just graft the 14% target share that a Philip Rivers RB gets every year onto Hines for 2021. But, only six running backs have at least 75 targets in two of the last three seasons. Only one (Alvin Kamara) had at least 75 targets in all three seasons. He won’t end up RB20 again (most likely), but he certainly won’t end up in the RB51 doldrums.
Of course, they could just bring back Marlon Mack and blow this whole thing up.
Sleeper Running Back #3:
Gus Edwards, Baltimore Ravens (RB61, Round 13, Pick 4)
The way we saw the failin’ mainstream media covering the Ravens down the stretch, it seemed like Mark Ingram’s benching did a lot for J.K. Dobbins. While it did do some for Dobbins, Gus Edwards was the main beneficiary of the vacated snaps:
Now, Gus Edwards is a restricted free agent. That means that the Ravens can match whatever offer he gets on the free market. I anticipate they will do just that to bring him back to be a one-two punch with Dobbins, as they used him down the stretch in 2020. In 2020, Gus Edwards played over 50% of snaps for the first time in week 12. From that point forward to the end of the season, he averaged over 72 yards per game while notching three touchdowns in the six games. That paces out to 1,157 yards. That’s if he remains in a timeshare in the Ravens’ backfield, given that he ranked in the top-ten in both yards per touch and was top-24 in yards created per touch. If he manages to break free and get a bigger role somewhere else, then he should do very well in 2021.