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Fantasy football sleepers 2016: Running backs to consider in your draft

We explore some late-round running backs most likely to make a significant impact on your fantasy team.

Champions aren’t made at the draft, but late-round picks can mean the difference between making the playoffs and looking in from the outside. These players may not be household names, or they may have recently underperformed, but depending on the circumstance they represent great bargains that may put your team over the edge.

Note: We use Fantasy Football Calculator to determine average draft position (ADP), looking at 12-team leagues. The ADP for each player will change as the season approaches.


Theo Riddick, Detroit Lions (ADP: 148)

Riddick is the primary backup in Detroit, but the starter, Ameer Abdullah, has already had an injury scare earlier in the preseason, and didn’t look particularly impressive in his first preseason game. In addition, the Lions were quick to pull Abdullah last year after he had issues keeping the ball secure. This leaves plenty of room for the pass-catching Riddick to showcase his talents on the pass-happy team that is the Lions.

Riddick’s potential is compounded by the fact that the Lions lost their No. 1 target with the retirement of Calvin Johnson. Although Riddick won’t take over a significant portion of those looks, he will be sure to benefit. Riddick has an ADP well into the 12th round, and represents an extreme bargain for what could be a starting running back if Abdullah’s issues continue.

Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland Browns (ADP: 92)

Crowell is the running back the Browns plan to use to run the ball, and the other half of the backfield is covered by Duke Johnson, who is projected to be quite involved in the passing game. Brown’s head coach, Hue Jackson, is no stranger to running a two-running back system, much like he installed in Cincinnati. However, the key difference in Cleveland is the quarterback. Robert Griffin III has regularly targeted his tight end in short pass situations, as is evidenced in his time in Washington, as well as in the preseason. This opens up more value for Crowell, who will most likely be the back running the ball.

The ADP of Johnson is actually a full round earlier than Crowell, but Crowell’s upside in the Brown’s offense is seemingly higher. Crowell is only 23 years old, and has only rushed a total of 333 times in his NFL career. This is due in no small part to how the Browns have tended to trail in games in recent seasons, leading the team to pass much more than throw in efforts of catching up. The combination of an offense on the rise and Crowell’s talent projects an excellent fantasy player for a low price.

T.J. Yeldon, Jacksonville Jaguars (ADP: 95)

The Jaguars’ backfield will feature two talented backs, and while that is enough to scare some potential fantasy owners from drafting Yeldon — seen by many as the secondary back in this rotation — those fears should be extinguishing quickly. Yeldon and Chris Ivory were both featured heavily in the preseason thus far, and they appear to be taking a somewhat even load of the work. The main difference is that Ivory is being drafted a full two rounds before Yeldon on average.

The primary difference between the two backs is that Ivory is expected to receive the lion’s share of red zone carries, while Yeldon will be more involved in the passing game. These two factors will most likely lead to Ivory ending the season with a few more fantasy points than Yeldon, but the value in drafting Yeldon as a RB2 in the eighth round is apparent. Ivory isn’t known for injuries, but he’s missed a game as recently as last season, and if this occurs again Yeldon would become the undisputed running back for the Jaguars.