As sports begin to make their long-awaited return, football fans are eagerly counting down the days until the 2020 NFL season begins.
As of now, the season is set to kick off when the Houston Texans take on the Kansas City Chiefs on Sept. 10 at Arrowhead Stadium. If this holds true, the NFL will play a full 17-week regular-season schedule and will conclude with Super Bowl LV on Feb. 7, 2021.
So, is it too early to start thinking about which fantasy players you want to draft? Never!
While there are many star-studded names at quarterback, good running backs can make your team. Four of the top 10 fantasy players during the 2019 season were running backs, according to Fantasy Pros. Christian McCaffrey, Aaron Jones, Ezekiel Elliott and Austin Ekeler made the cut, with Derrick Henry and Dalvin Cook sitting at Nos. 14 and 15, respectively. McCaffrey topped the list, averaging 29.5 points over 16 games.
The best running backs are hard to nab if you don't have one of the first few picks in your fantasy draft. This is where knowing a few good sleepers can really help.
There are many fantasy sleepers at the running back position to keep an eye on, including Kareem Hunt, D'Andre Swift and Justin Jackson. Swift—a rookie out of Georgia—has huge upside because of the Lions' strength of schedule and could be a hidden gem late in the draft, with an ADP of 85. Jackson is a workhorse with huge potential in a split backfield with Austin Ekeler in Los Angeles.
Here's a look at some of the top sleeper RBs, including a breakdown of standout sleeper Kareem Hunt.
Top Fantasy Sleeper RBs (PPR)
Kareem Hunt, Cleveland Browns
D'Andre Swift, Detroit Lions
Justin Jackson, Los Angeles Chargers
Matt Breida, Miami Dolphins
Derrius Guice, Washington Redskins
Duke Johnson, Houston Texans
Damien Harris, New England Patriots
Jamaal Williams, Green Bay Packers
Justice Hill, Baltimore Ravens
Alexander Mattison, Minnesota Vikings
Rashaad Penny, Seattle Seahawks
Darrell Henderson, Los Angeles Rams
David Montgomery, Chicago Bears
Ryquell Armstead, Jacksonville Jaguars
Nyheim Hines, Indianapolis Colts
Justin Jackson, RB, Los Angeles Chargers
Melvin Gordon has moved on from Los Angeles to Denver, but the Chargers' offense shouldn't be too worried after coping without him during his holdout. While Gordon still led the team in overall rushing touchdowns with eight, in the four games without Gordon, Austin Ekeler ran for three touchdowns.
Ekeler proved that the Chargers have a rushing offense without Gordon, and now there's room for Jackson to step up to try to make a name for himself.
Jackson made his mark at Northwestern as a workhorse back, running for at least 1,000 yards each of his four years and adding 41 touchdowns. He has shown his agility and work ethic, and while he may not have explosive speed, he has agility and burst.
While Ekeler may take the majority of handoffs to begin the season—and will likely be targeted in the passing game because of his dual-threat abilities—Jackson has an opportunity to split the load in an offense that's figuring out how to operate without veteran QB Philip Rivers.
The Chargers may well struggle to find a rhythm at first with a new signal-caller, which will be either Tyrod Taylor or rookie Justin Herbert.
During this period, you can count on them putting the ball in the hands of their running backs. If Jackson can prove that he's a dependable back like Ekeler, he has the potential to have a breakout season.
Kareem Hunt, RB, Cleveland Browns
After being released by the Kansas City Chiefs following the publication of a video showing him pushing and kicking a woman in an Ohio hotel, Kareem Hunt was picked up by the Cleveland Browns and then handed an eight-game suspension to begin the 2019 season.
In the first eight games of the Browns' season, Nick Chubb ran for 803 yards and six touchdowns. On the season, he was the eighth overall RB in terms of fantasy points, the second in rushing yards (1494), and No. 12 in total touchdowns, according to Fantasy Data.
However, once Chubb had to share the backfield with Hunt, he ran for only two touchdowns on 691 yards, averaging 4.8 yards per attempt over the latter eight games.
The Chiefs' former star back ran for 179 yards and two touchdowns on 43 attempts, while he caught one touchdown on 285 receiving yards in Cleveland.
Despite a seemingly poorer performance, Hunt was the Browns' highest-scoring running back in six of the eight games he played:
According to Graham Barfield of Fantasy Points, Chubb was RB5 in the eight weeks without Hunt, averaging 19.7 fantasy points per game. When Hunt returned from suspension, Chubb saw a dip in fantasy production with 13.0 points per game, falling all the way down to a RB23. Chubb's target share also went from 12 to 5 percent once the backfield became more crowded.
Hunt will be able to play from Game 1 with the Browns and should play out his first full season of football in two years.
The Cleveland Browns have a lot of room for improvement after disappointing fans in Baker Mayfield's first full season as starting QB. Despite many viewing the Browns as a real playoff contender in 2019, they missed the playoffs after finishing 6-10.
The fact that Cleveland has something to prove paired with the fact that Hunt is ready to bounce back and show his worth leaves Hunt with a high ceiling for the 2020 season.