Fantasy Football 2019: Sleeper Running Backs to Target in Late Rounds

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistJuly 29, 2019

Miami Dolphins running back Kalen Ballage (27) runs drills during voluntary minicamp at the Miami Dolphins football training facility, Tuesday, April 16, 2019, in Davie, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

Typically, in standard leagues, a fantasy manager's picks at running back will determine whether the team has a legitimate chance of contending for a championship.

In the past, workhorse running backs came off the board as the must-have fantasy assets. Now, most teams use a committee approach, divvying up ball-carrying and pass-catching responsibilities among the running backs. 

Managers in point-per-reception leagues prefer three-down tailbacks or a primary pass-catcher out of the backfield to tack on additional points at the running back spots. Nonetheless, coaching staffs will ride the hot hand or tinker with workloads based on matchups—effective in the actual games but a nightmare for fantasy enthusiasts.

If fantasy owners miss out on the top running backs with a predictive workload, they should target players in new destinations despite their uncertain outlooks or backup tailbacks with an opportunity to handle a decent workload.

The running backs below may fall into the late rounds of your draft, but managers should keep tabs on them as handcuffs or potential sleepers. 


Running Back Sleepers

LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills

Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

ADP: 9.02

Fantasy opportunists should pounce on LeSean McCoy if he's available in the ninth round. The Buffalo Bills loaded up on running backs, signing Frank Gore, T.J. Yeldon and selecting Devin Singletary in the third round of this year's draft, which makes it difficult for managers to rely on one ball-carrier emerging from the group.

Although McCoy will attempt to bounce back from a down season with career lows in rushing yardage (514) and yards per carry (3.2), he's a consistent threat to catch the ball out of the backfield, which appeals to PPR league managers.

Because of the added talent in the backfield, the Bills could opt to trade McCoy to a new destination, but if he remains in Buffalo, we could see him making a bigger impact in the passing game while Gore, Singletary and Yeldon grind away on the ground. 

Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll can focus on isolating McCoy in space, which would allow him to add on to his career 475 catches, 3,616 receiving yards and 15 touchdown grabs. A transition to the primary pass-catcher role out of the backfield in addition to 10-12 carries would put him in RB2 or flex territory.


D'Onta Foreman, Houston Texans

David J. Phillip/Associated Press

ADP: 9.10

Houston Texans running back Lamar Miller could have some help in the backfield. As a rookie, D'Onta Foreman registered 78 rush attempts for 327 yards and two touchdowns. In November of 2017, he tore his Achilles and felt the lingering effects throughout the 2018 campaign—suiting up for just one contest.

Going into his third season, head coach Bill O'Brien sees potential in Foreman after a full recovery.

"I think that he's a talented guy," he said. "He's from this area. I know he wants to do well. I just think that he's got a chance to be a really good football player. I think if he's healthy and consistent and showing up day to day and putting the work in, he's got the chance to be good." 

Most NFL teams use multiple running backs. In 2017, the Texans selected Foreman in the third round. Lamar Miller has posted disappointing touchdown numbers over the last three seasons, logging no more than five scores on the ground in those campaigns. He'll likely retain his pass-catching duties out of the backfield, but the 28-year-old may cede touches in short-yardage and goal-line situations. 

Foreman averaged 7.8 rush attempts per game during the 2017 campaign. Now healthy, he could see 10-12 carries per contest in the upcoming season.


Kalen Ballage, Miami Dolphins

Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

ADP: 13.04 

Before we push Kenyan Drake as the featured running back in the Miami Dolphins backfield, consider the pecking order on the first two days at training camp. According to ESPN.com's Cameron Wolfe, Kalen Ballage took first-team reps: 

Cameron Wolfe @CameronWolfe

One notable takeaway from first 2 days of Dolphins camp: Kalen Ballage has a real chance to win starting RB job. Brian Flores said he’s done a “great job” this offseason & he’s got a lot of run with the 1s. I mentioned it in May but I don’t expect full Kenyan Drake show in 2019.

Ballage only touched the ball 45 times during his first season with the team, but head coach Brian Flores and offensive coordinator Chad O'Shea may lean on him more than most would expect going into the upcoming season. 

In terms of fantasy outlooks, the gap between Ballage and Drake may be minimal as opposed to clear-cut feature and backup roles. At 6'2", 231 pounds, the former can handle goal-line carries, which makes him an intriguing pickup for managers who want to target touchdown vultures. 

Flores and O'Shea coached in New England where they've used multiple tailbacks. If they replicate offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels' approach to the ground attack, expect Ballage to see a healthy number of touches.


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