Top 25 Running Back Sleepers: Fantasy Football 2019

The 2019 fantasy football season is nearly upon us, and Lineups.com has you covered.

Here, we take an in-depth look at the running backs. Guys like Saquon Barkley and Ezekiel Elliot are known commodities that will go in every league’s top five, but there are always those backs that unexpectedly break out to win leagues. Last year, James Conner and Phillip Lindsay burst onto the scene. The year before, it was Kareem Hunt. Who will it be this year? We cannot say for certain, but I bet he’s on this list. You can find last years Running Back Fantasy Stats on our site and it will be updated throughout the year.

Tier One: “I Saw that one Coming”

Damien Williams, Kansas City Chiefs

Projected Stat Line: 1300 total yards, 13 touchdowns
Kareem Hunt and Spencer Ware are gone, and the Kansas City running back situation has historically been among the most profitable for fantasy owners. In the 6 games after Hunt was released, including the playoffs, Williams had 602 total yards and 10 touchdowns. If he can hold off veteran Carlos Hyde and rookies Darwin Thompson and James Williams to prove that he’s a 3-down back, he just might become an RB1. If not, if he ends up splitting some carries, he’s still a high-end FLEX or RB3.

Derrius Guice, Washington Redskins

Projected Stat Line: 1000 total yards, 7 touchdowns
A preseason ACL injury kept the much-hyped rookie off the field for the entire 2018 season. In his stead, Adrian Peterson turned back the clock and had a great year. At 34-years-old, Peterson is unlikely to replicate that performance in 2019, and Guice is already rumored to be on equal footing with the veteran in a timeshare situation. If both of their current trajectories continue, Guice will likely cement his status as the clear lead back at some point this year. Until then, he’s still a worthy FLEX, given Peterson’s struggles as a pass catcher on third downs.

D’Onta Foreman, Houston Texans

Projected Stat Line: 800 total yards, 6 touchdowns
An Achilles injury has derailed his first two seasons, but Foreman still has a lot of talent, and, perhaps more importantly, a lot of opportunity. The running back ahead of him, Lamar Miller, had a solid year on the ground but struggled to find the endzone, and the Texans coaching staff has talked openly about using multiple backs this year now that Foreman has returned. The fact that they waited until the seventh round to draft another running back only further demonstrates their faith in Foreman. If Miller gets any sort of injury and proves at all ineffective, the Texans won’t hesitate to cede more carries to Foreman, perhaps allowing him to be an RB3. If he is stuck behind Miller, he’s still worth rostering and even has FLEX appeal.

T.J. Yeldon, Buffalo Bills

Projected Stat Line: 1100 total yards, 6 touchdowns
LeSean McCoy and Frank Gore are already in tow, but Yeldon chose Buffalo, suggesting that the 25-year-old pass catching back sees plenty of opportunity on the Bills. He had 55 catches in just 14 games last year. This year, he’ll have a better quarterback and presumably equal opportunity, given the age of his two primary competitors and could reasonably hit 70 receptions to place himself firmly in the FLEX tier.

Josh Jacobs, Oakland Raiders

Projected Stat Line: 1200 total yards, 10 touchdowns
As a first-round pick, Jacobs is hardly a traditional sleeper, but he wasn’t selected with the same buzz as were Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott, or Christian McCaffrey, and, as a rookie, his name isn’t up there with the other starting backs in the league for fantasy. But with Marshawn Lynch’s retirement and Jon Gruden’s affinity for old school football, Jacobs may very well be the best positioned fantasy running back in the NFL. His combination of size, power, speed, and opportunity could push him to the RB2 tier.

Tier Two: “I Should’ve Seen that one Coming”

Jaylen Samuels, Pittsburgh Steelers

Projected Stat Line: 900 total yards, 6 touchdowns
Much like the Chiefs’ system, the Pittsburgh running back system has been especially kind to fantasy owners over the years. Just this past season, Le’Veon Bell holds out, and James Conner fills in and becomes a league-winner. Even years before that, Bell was suspended, and DeAngelo Williams steps up and turns back the clock five years to his Carolina days. Conner is the clear top back in Pittsburgh, but that won’t keep Samuels off the field. Reports from Pittsburgh camp say not only that the Steelers are inclined to use more than one back this year but also that they could use multiple backs on the field at once. In limited time last year, Samuels accumulated 455 total yards, including a 142-yard game against the Patriots when Conner was hurt. If he can grab any consistent role this year, he’s a FLEX. If Conner ever goes down, he demands a play at RB1 or RB2.

Peyton Barber, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Projected Stat Line: 900 total yards, 7 touchdowns
Last season, Barber gained nearly 900 yards on the ground but offered little in the passing game, yet still, the Bucs declined to draft a runner, meaning that Barber and second-year man Ronald Jones will once again shoulder the duties. Jones was a disappointment in his first season, so Tampa is hoping for more this year. Butm as of now, Barber is the lead back, making him a sleeper only because he might become the lowest drafted lead back in the league. If he can fend off Jones again while upping his pass catching slightly, he’ll be worthy of a roster spot and a potential bye-week play.

Ito Smith, Atlanta Falcons

Projected Stat Line: 1000 total yards, 9 touchdowns
Tevin Coleman is out of the picture, making Smith the second back in Atlanta behind Devonta Freeman. Smith was a fantasy sleeper darling last offseason as well, but he never really broke out in the way many expected. Still, he did manage to score four times in 90 rushing attempts. Smith’s dual skillset as a runner and a receiver prime him perfectly to take over Coleman’s role, a role that has been worthy of FLEX or even RB2 play in the past.

Rashaad Penny, Seattle Seahawks

Projected Stat Line: 800 total yards, 5 touchdowns
Mike Davis has gone to Chicago, leaving the Seattle backfield less crowded. Chris Carson is still the lead back, but Penny was drafted in the first round in 2018 for a reason. He’ll get plenty of run behind Carson, and the flashes he showed last year should translate to tangible production for a run-heavy Seattle offense in 2019. For now, I would roster Penny, but it will probably take a few weeks to gauge what type of production you can expect from him. If he supplants Carson, you’re looking at an RB2 or RB3.

Royce Freeman, Denver Broncos

Projected Stat Line: total 800 yards, 8 touchdowns
Phillip Lindsay’s huge season came out of nowhere and totally knocked Freeman from his perch. The 2018 third-rounder was a popular sleeper last season, but, with Lindsay’s emergence, he was relegated to the background. Even still, the rookie gained 521 yards on the ground. With defenses now more accustomed to Lindsay’s game, perhaps he will be slowed, opening the door for Freeman. Even if not, running back is a physically demanding position, and Lindsay is a smaller back. Freeman remains an important handcuff.

Mike Davis, Chicago Bears

Projected Stat Line: 900 total yards, 9 touchdowns
Davis comes to Chicago to fill the role vacated by Jordan Howard. In Seattle, Davis proved his worth as a bruising back with surprising ability in the receiving game. To remain viable in Matt Nagy’s offense, Davis will have to demonstrate that versatility again and again. Tarik Cohen is a great player, but he’s a change-of-pace back that serves mostly as a pass catcher. Davis’s real competition could be 2019 third rounder David Montgomery. The above projected stat line stands only if Davis is able to beat Montgomery during camp.

Tier Three: “Wow. Didn’t Expect that”

David Montgomery, Chicago Bears

Projected Stat Line: 950 total yards, 9 touchdowns
The third-round pick will have to compete with Mike Davis for touches, but the rookie was arguably the most talented runner in his class and could wrestle Howard’s old role from the veteran during camp. If he is able to do so, he could become a surprise FLEX player and potential touchdown vulture. But, for either Davis or Montgomery to be effective fantasy assets, one will have to fully supplant the other. Splitting Howard’s role while also contending with Cohen won’t offer enough value to fantasy owners, so keep an eye on the preseason battle between Davis and Montgomery.

Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles

Projected Stat Line: 750 total yards, 5 touchdowns
Because of Philadelphia’s propensity to use as many running backs as possible over the course of a single game, Sanders doesn’t have the same upside as his fellow rookies. But, as a second-round pick, he does have pedigree. He also finds himself in a situation with a lot of running backs but no clear top dog. Sure, Howard is there, Josh Adams is there, and Corey Clement is there, but none of those guys are true top backs, meaning that, if Sanders has a great camp, he could rise to the top of the depth chart, even if that depth chart isn’t as meaningful in Philadelphia as it is elsewhere.

Nyheim Hines, Indianapolis Colts

Projected Stat Line: 1000 total yards, 7 touchdowns
Hines thrived as a pass catcher in his rookie season, hauling in 63 catches last year. Projecting 80 catches wouldn’t seem like too much of a step given typical year-to-year improvement patterns, but such a projection comes with some risk for Hines, who has Spencer Ware to contend with this year. Hines is younger and probably more explosive at this point, so, if he impresses during camp, he could find himself to be a valued option on one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. In short, if Hines can beat out Ware, he could prove to be an every-week FLEX, especially in PPR leagues.

Kalen Ballage, Miami Dolphins

Projected Stat Line: 750 total yards, 4 touchdowns
As a rookie, Ballage saw little action, but his potential as a pass catcher makes him a very interesting option going into this season. Kenyan Drake is the only back in Miami that is clearly ahead of him, but Drake has never proved himself to be a traditional ball carrier. If Ballage can split carries with Drake, he might become a worthy FLEX play, but, again, training camp and the preseason could provide more clarity in that regard.

Darrell Henderson, Los Angeles Rams

Projected Stat Line: 900 total yards, 6 touchdowns
This offseason has suggested that Todd Gurley’s injuries might be very severe, severe enough for the Rams to purposefully limit his carries and severe enough to potentially sideline the star back down the road. In steps Henderson. As a third rounder, Henderson has the draft pedigree and ability to contribute, and he just might get the opportunity. Considering what C.J. Anderson was able to do in that offense last season, Henderson, if given the opportunity, could perform like an RB2 if Gurley is out. He might be the most valuable insurance on the fantasy market, and every Gurley owner should roster him.

Elijah McGuire, New York Jets

Projected Stat Line: 600 total yards, 4 touchdowns
Le’Veon Bell is on the roster and is obviously the clear top option, but McGuire is a valuable number two. Bell was away from the game all of last year, meaning that he could be a bit rusty and that the Jets might try to slowly work him in. If that’s the case, McGuire stands to benefit. In PPR leagues, McGuire is worth monitoring, although his potential is capped by the versatility of Bell’s game. Still, Bell rarely plays 16 games, so McGuire could be a hot waiver-wire add at least once this season.

Tier Four: “Who?”

James Williams and Darwin Thompson, Kansas City Chiefs

Projected Stat Line: 12000 combined yards, 10 combined touchdowns
Williams went undrafted, while Thompson went in the sixth round, and both will have to compete with Carlos Hyde for touches behind Damien Williams in a crowded Kansas City backfield. However, based on their youth and versatility, I predict that one of these two guys will beat out the veteran Hyde. Figuring out which one it will be is the hard part. Williams was a star pass catcher at Washington State who projects as a James White or Shane Vereen type and could fit in nicely as the third-down back. Meanwhile Thompson is also sure-handed but with the more complete skill set of an every down runner. It’s possible that Williams’s niche ability gets him on the field first, or maybe Thompson’s well-rounded game will win out. Either way, the beneficiary could be a FLEX option as the season progresses.

Justice Hill, Baltimore Ravens

Projected Stat Line: 700 total yards, 4 touchdowns
With Mark Ingram in tow, the Baltimore backfield just got even more talented, but Hill’s talent remains singular. Hill’s speed could complement Ingram’s power perfectly and get him on the field immediately. At best, Hill will get a timeshare with Ingram, but, given how often the Ravens are expected to run, that could be a very valuable role. As with all rookies, it is important to pay attention to camp and the preseason to see if Hill will be worth the investment.

Ryquell Armstead, Jacksonville Jaguars

Projected Stat Line: 850 total yards, 5 touchdowns
Leonard Fournette is the number one runner on the Jacksonville depth chart, but he has had trouble staying healthy throughout his career. If he were to miss time, the rookie Armstead would presumably become the main option, and his frame and skillset suggest that, in the near future, he could become a valued three-down back. Every Fournette owner should scoop up Armstead as well.

Wayne Gallman, New York Giants

Projected Stat Line: 500 total yards, 3 touchdowns
Behind Saquon Barkley, Gallman shouldn’t expect to start anytime soon, but he’s the clear second back, which is always pretty meaningful but especially so in an offense that doesn’t figure to threaten much downfield. As the year goes on and the Giants continue to lose as expected, New York brass might be unwilling to trot out Barkley 30 times a game, perhaps giving Gallman increased run.
 

Chase Edmonds, Arizona Cardinals

Projected Stat Line: 475 total yards, 3 touchdowns
Edmonds did little to impress as a rookie who saw time in the absence of David Johnson, but, with typical improvement, he could cement himself as a valuable handcuff to Johnson, one that fantasy owners should keep an eye on.

Benny Snell Jr., Pittsburgh Steelers

Projected Stat Line: 450 total yards, 6 touchdowns
While Conner and Samuels are certainly better pass catching options, Snell could see the field as a rookie due to his ability to run the ball. He projects as a better between-the-tackles runner than either Conner or Samuels and could receive time as goal line back if nothing else. But again, being in that Steelers’ system is a godsend for a running back, and Bell could become a fantasy darling in the near future, especially if Conner can’t improve as a pure runner.

Alexander Mattinson, Minnesota Vikings

Projected Stat Line: 800 total yards, 6 touchdowns
Dalvin Cook’s injury history opens the door for Mattinson, but so does the rookie’s versatility. The third-round pick excels running north-south, but he also has soft hands, allowing him to excel as a pass catcher as well. He should immediately step into the second spot on the running back depth chart. Even without an injury to Cook, Mattinson could create value on his own, but most of his value comes as a handcuff.

  
Brevin Fleischer, originally from Albany, New York, is a rising senior at the University of Pennsylvania. He’s a devoted Giants, Yankees, and Rangers fan, but in the NBA, he passionately supports the Sacramento Kings. Beyond sports, Brevin enjoys watching and discussing good movies and television.

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