Training camps have started, the preseason is near and every franchise has hope and optimism following the offseason.
For those who haven't already started looking ahead to fantasy football, you're likely already behind the curve in your league.
A lot has happened since last season, and plenty of it has to do with your fantasy team. Whether it's Josh Gordon facing a potential year-long suspension or the 2014 NFL draft bringing in numerous talented players, this year will be vastly different from the 2013 season.
One position that is always important for fantasy is running back. With a limited amount of top-tier tailbacks this season, gathering several potential breakouts will be crucial to winning a championship.
Before the preseason gets underway and most fantasy drafts begin, here's a look at the top sleeper running backs this season.
Bishop Sankey, Tennessee Titans
Fantasy owners who have been paying attention all offseason already know his name, but Bishop Sankey has a chance to be a breakout star this year.
Though it will be difficult for him to replicate the production of a player like Eddie Lacy from last year, Sankey should have the opportunity. With Chris Johnson now a member of the New York Jets, the former Washington player steps into a perfect situation.
After being selected by Tennessee, Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN (subscription required) has Sankey as his top overall rookie in fantasy. He also has the best odds at taking Rookie of the Year, per Kyle Bonagura of ESPN.com:
Though he's never taken an NFL snap, Sankey is already projected to have over 1,100 yards and seven touchdowns by Dave Richard of CBS Sports.
That's a lot of hype surrounding Sankey, but he's a great option for any fantasy owner. While Shonn Greene is currently projected to start for the Titans, Sankey's talent will no doubt earn him time in the backfield.
Expectations shouldn't be Lacy-type numbers for him this season, but Sankey will certainly be a standout rookie. In a keeper or dynasty league, his talent will be even more coveted for seasons to come.
LeGarrette Blount, Pittsburgh Steelers
A fantasy favorite down the stretch last season, LeGarrette Blount is no longer the lead back on his team.
Since signing with the Pittsburgh Steelers this offseason, Blount is now behind Le'Veon Bell on the depth chart. While the backfield could be crowded with Bell at the top, Scott Brown of ESPN believes he will still get plenty of touches:
However, I doubt that the Steelers lean as heavily on Bell as they did last season because of the additions of LeGarrette Blount and Dri Archer. Bell will start at running back but the other two will get touches as well. I like that approach because I think it will extend the number of productive seasons Bell has in the NFL.
That might not be comforting news for Bell owners, but Blount will still be productive this year.
After exploding onto the scene at the end of last season, Blount has a chance to be more than just a handcuff to Bell in Pittsburgh. Here's a look at his numbers at the close of last season:
|Blount Avg. Stats from Week 15-17|
|Rush Att.||Rush Yds||YPC||Rush TD|
New England Patriots fans also remember him rushing for 166 yards and four touchdowns in the playoffs, something that goes unnoticed in his fantasy production.
Even if Blount is only used in goal-line situations, he is a brute force that can get to the end zone. Let's also not forget about the fact that Bell has a history of injuries, so Blount could wind up being a steal if he becomes the workhorse.
Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons
This might not be because of talent but more due to opportunity.
The former Florida State running back was a fourth-round selection by the Atlanta Falcons in the draft, making him the ninth tailback taken overall. Several others might have gone before him, but Freeman has a chance to shine right away.
While he was overlooked by several teams, Freeman could take the No. 1 role in 2014. Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com explains where the current battle stands heading into training camp:
I'm turning my attention to the running backs. Steven Jackson is the starter. He turns 31 next month and probably has one good season left in him -- but if he is slowed by nagging injuries, the Falcons will turn to someone else. They drafted Devonta Freeman in the fourth round with thoughts of grooming him as the three-down back of the future. If he looks as good in pads as he did in shorts, Jackson might have a battle on his hands.
Sure, there's a lot of time left and four preseason games to be played before the season starts, but Freeman has as good a shot as anyone.
Much like Blount, Freeman is also behind a player with a track record of injuries. Steven Jackson suffered a hamstring injury last year and played in just 12 games with limited production as the starter.
Whether Freeman wins the starting job over Jackson or steals snaps during the regular season, he will be one to watch this season. As the late rounds roll around, snag Freeman and wait for the opportunity to utilize him as a flex.
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