Finding a productive running back in middle or late rounds of your fantasy football draft can fast track you to the playoffs and potentially a fantasy championship.
Most of these names will be players who did not produce last fantasy season, causing them to slide down in drafts.
It’s important to weigh various factors when deciding on which unproven or previously disappointing back to take a flier in for the upcoming season.
Is there increased opportunity for more touches this season? Is the back in front of them on the depth chart have a history of injury? Is this particular RB on an offense with a history of ranking among the best in the league? Is this back a reliable pass catcher? How good is the offensive line?
With those questions in mind, here are some running back sleepers to consider drafting in 2019:
Damien Harris - New England Patriots
Why do we want to deal with the headache of trying to figure out which Patriots running back to draft in fantasy? It’s because New England has ranked top six in rushing touchdowns each of the past three seasons, averaging 17.7 per season. Plus, Harris received valuable reps with starter Sony Michel’s history of knee issues popping up again, causing Michel to miss OTAs. The Patriots offensive line also ranked third in adjusted line yards in 2018, according to Football Outsiders, a metric designed to weigh how strong the o-line is in run blocking. Widely available in the 12th round or later, Harris is a lottery ticket worth gambling on in this offense.
Latavius Murray - New Orleans Saints
If you like how many rushing touchdowns the Patriots have produced, then you’ll love the Saints. New Orleans, far and away, led the NFL in rushing scores with 49 over the past two seasons. Mark Ingram is gone in the bayou, leaving Latavius Murray to take over that role in a backfield that includes star Alvin Kamara. However, there’s fantasy room for both of them. Over the past 12 years, the Saints back-up running back has finished as a top-36 or top-24 fantasy RB nine times. The Saints offensive line has also ranked top two in back-to-back seasons in adjusted line yards. As the 36th running back off the board on average in fantasy drafts, the price is right to pick Murray in the 7th or 8th round.
Miles Sanders - Philadelphia Eagles
The rookie out of Penn State missed time during OTAs, but that has also resulted in his average draft position slipping to a point where it’s worth taking him in the 7th round. The Eagles invested a second-round pick into Sanders. That’s significant draft capital for a running back in this day and age. The lead back job is wide open for either Sanders or Jordan Howard to take, but Howard has never been a reliable pass catcher. Perhaps Sanders gets off to a slow start, but where Howie Roseman drafted him shows he made RB a priority this offseason and believes Sanders can be the team’s lead back.
Ito Smith - Atlanta Falcons
Tevin Coleman is no longer on the Falcons, vacating 199 touches from a year ago. Starting Atlanta starting running back Devonta Freeman played in only two games last year due to injury. Even if Freeman is healthy all season, Smith is being drafted in fantasy well below where he should be in the 9th or 10th round. The opportunity is there for Ito to build on his rookie season.
Carlos Hyde - Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs offensive coordinator announced this summer that Damien Williams is the starting running back, but Hyde will also reportedly mix in with the starters this season and has been seen practicing with them. This is just a case of simple fantasy risk and reward. Damien Williams could be great, but you’re investing a second-round pick in a player that’s never carried the ball more than 50 times in a season. Meanwhile, Carlos Hyde can be had in the 10th round and is just one season removed from 299 touches, 1290 yards and eight touchdowns, including 59 receptions. If Williams were to stumble, Hyde could be a league winner on opportunity alone in this offense.
Matt Breida - San Francisco 49ers
Yes, the Niners backfield is crowded with Jerick McKinnon and Tevin Coleman in the mix with Breida. Breida was fantastic on early downs last year though when healthy, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. Kyle Shanahan’s offense has always produced reliable fantasy RB production, and Breida is worth a flier, available in the 13th round of fantasy drafts or later.
Kareem Hunt - Cleveland Browns
Hunt is suspended for eight games, which means with the bye the earliest you could start Hunt is Week 10. So drafting him is only recommended if you play in a league with a large bench. If you feel like you can navigate the regular season stashing Hunt, his talent is certainly undeniable with almost 3,000 total yards in his first two seasons. Pass catching back Duke Johnson is demanding a trade, as Hunt would likely take his job in the second half of the season. Nick Chubb is the likely early down back but isn’t a big pass catcher. There’s a role for Hunt on this team available down the stretch of your fantasy season. The lengthy suspension though means you should draft him no earlier than the ninth round.
Kalen Ballage - Miami Dolphins
We have no idea how touches will be split between Kenyan Drake and Kalen Ballage under Miami’s new coaching staff. Here’s what we do know. Frank Gore is no longer on the team, vacating 156 carries, and Kenyan Drake has never carried the ball more than 133 times in a season. That leaves plenty of opportunity for Ballage, and he is being drafted very late in the 14th round or later in fantasy. The best part? If Week 1 comes around and Ballage doesn’t get much work, he only cost you one of your last few picks, you can cut him and pick somebody else off waivers without any significant fantasy consequences.