In our second installment of “Colege Fantasy Football Sleepers”, we tackle the running back position.
Unlike the quarterbacks, where most of the players we highlighted are likely to start in 2009, the running backs are a much riskier bunch. More players are vying for playing time, freshman can sneak in and make an immediate impact, and two or three-back systems are becoming more and more prevalent.
With all of that being said, we still found a handful of players who are currently under the radar, but could perform at a high level this fall.
The definition of a sleeper varies depending on who you talk to. For the sake of this article, sleepers will be defined as players who are projected to make contributions to their teams but could far exceed those projections.
We are leaving incoming freshmen off our sleeper list since we just published a comprehensive analysis of the ‘09 recruiting class last week. See it here.
2009 Pre-Spring Sleepers: Running Backs
Phillip Tanner (Middle Tennessee State) [pictured]
This Blue Raider was a Touchdown Machine in 2008, racking up 16 scores. However, he only gained a total of 850 yards from scrimmage on the year.
With the hiring of former Troy and Auburn offensive coordinator Tony Franklin, the MTSU offense could get a boost. There is hope that Tanner will continue right where he left off at the tail end of the year (329 yards and 8 TD’s in final three games) and have a big year.
Duane Bennett (Minnesota)
Bennett shared time his freshman year with Amir Pinnix. Pinnix graduated and Bennett took over the starting role.
The Gopher RB kicked off 2008 in impressive fashion, racking up 117 total yards and 2 touchdowns in the season opener. In week two, Bennett suffered a knee injury and was lost for the remainder of the year.
Minnesota is said to be moving away from the "Spread" and back to the "Pro-style" offense next fall. That could mean good things for Gopher running backs.
There is a logjam at the position, which is a concern for Bennett owners. He will battle DeLeon Eskridge, Jay Thomas, and Kevin Whaley for carries in the fall.
If Bennett returns 100% from his injury, we like his chances.
Brandon Minor (Michigan)
Minor only logged 13 carries in his first six games of 2008. Then, on October 18th, he exploded against Penn State (23-117-2) and finished the season with a total of 592 yards and 11 TD’s.
Minor comes with some strings attached asCoach Rodriguez is still tinkering with his offense, and he hasn’t yet settled on a feature running back.
With Sam McGuffie transferring to Rice, one would conclude Minor is currently the front-runner for the starting job. But Michael Shaw, Carlos Brown and some incoming freshman will battle for carries.
Keola Antolin (Arizona)
Antolin had a nice freshman year, rushing for over 500 yards and 10 touchdowns. The majority of those stats came in three big games the second half of the season against Cal, Oregon and Oregon State. Just when you thought he might have supplanted Nic Grigsby in the starting lineup, Antolin was virtually non-existent in the final two game of the year.
Grigsby has had a penchant for fumbling in his first two seasons on the scene, and one gets the sense that he could be one or two drop-sies away from losing his starting spot - especially with the talented Antolin waiting in the wings.
If that does happen, Antolin could produce like Grigsby did last year (1,100 yards and 13 TDs).
Zona will be breaking in a new QB next fall and could rely more heavily on the running game than they did with veteran Willie Tuitama under center.
Morgan Williams (Toledo)
We’re rolling the dice on this one as Williams could be in a 50/50 split carry situation with senior-to-be Dajuane Collins. To add to the risk factor, Toledo just hired a new coaching staff and it is unclear what type of offense they will implement.
However, one thing is certain: Williams was red hot down the stretch last season. In his final two games, he racked up: 28-330-3 and 21-153-0.
If the new coaching staff decides to go with a feature back, and if that back is Williams, he could be in for a monster season. The MAC defenses have been very friendly to fantasy running backs over the years. We’ll keep a close eye on this situation leading up until August camp.
Anthony Allen (Georgia Tech)
Allen sat out last year after transferring from Louisville. In two years as a Cardinal, he rushed for 1,100 yards and a total of 23 touchdowns.
Inserting Allen into the potent Georgia Tech option attack is very appealing from a fantasy standpoint , even with star RB Jonathan Dwyer returning.
Allen could become a goal-line vulture, or he could get enough carries in a #2 role to justify stashing away on your fantasy roster.
Todd DeVries is the founder of CollegeFootballGeek.com, your premier resource for college fantasy football information. Check us out.