Fantasy Football Sleepers 2012: Underrated Running Backs Who Will Electrify

Ian Hanford@Ian_HanfordFeatured ColumnistAugust 23, 2012

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 11:   DeMarco Murray #29 of the Dallas Cowboys carries the ball against  Jacquian Williams #57 of the New York Giants at Cowboys Stadium on December 11, 2011 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Outside of Arian Foster, Ray Rice and LeSean McCoy, this year's crop of elite fantasy ball-carriers is up in the air. Everyone else has one question mark or another, and it will make for some interesting strategies come draft day.

With so much competition within the next level of running backs, fantasy owners are going to look for that diamond in the rough.

One sleeper can change the fortune of a team, setting them apart on a week-by-week basis.

Let's take a look at three running backs who won't go in the first round, but will make everyone who passes on them regret that moment.


DeMarco Murray

I'm not a fan of Dallas' team in general, but Murray can flat-out play. When healthy, this second-year back is capable of carrying an offense.

Last year, he had 897 yards and two touchdowns. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry. His season was highlighted by a 253-yard performance against St. Louis in October.

Expect bigger things this season. Anything short of 1,000 yards and eight to 10 touchdowns would surprise me.

On top of his rushing production, Murray is also a capable receiver. He caught 26 passes last season, and his role in the pass offense could increase with another year of experience.

Health has been the only issue for Murray since his days at Oklahoma. He's extremely talented and can impact the game in multiple areas.

Don't be shocked if he's someone's No. 1 back this season, and a good one at that.


Trent Richardson

Throw his rookie status out the window. Richardson is a stud and a legitimate candidate to clear 1,000 yards in his first NFL season.

The only thing standing in Richardson's way could be his knee and the focus opposing defenses will place on him. I'm guessing that his dynamic legs scare opponents more than Brandon Weeden's first-year arm.

Either way, you should expect big things from this Alabama product. He's compact, strong and uses his low center of gravity to his advantage. He's tough to tackle in the open field, and his quick feet allow him to make defenders miss.

In terms of physical ability, there's nothing Richardson can't do. Look for Cleveland to give him at least 275 carries and for that to translate into a 1,000-yard, nine-touchdown season.

His unproven resume shouldn't make you nervous. He has ability well beyond his years.


Darren McFadden

If McFadden didn't play for the beleaguered Raiders franchise, he would be a first-round lock. He has it all physically, but health has always been an issue.

It's impossible to predict whether Run-DMC will stay healthy this season, but look at your other choices. Adrian Peterson and Matt Forte are both a similar value, but both are also plagued by bumps and bruises.

Rolling the dice on McFadden should make you nervous, but he's as tantalizing as talent gets. He only ran for a little over 600 yards and four touchdowns last season, but he also only played in seven games.

In a small sample size, he was excellent in 2011. If he plays even 10 games this season, you're looking at a 1,000-yard performer. Add his exceptional receiving ability to the mix, and you have yourself a No. 1 running back.

Oakland is going to lean on him heavily this year. That could be a bad thing if he can't hold up, but it could also pay major dividends for one lucky fantasy owner.

I'll opt for the latter.