At the risk of deemphasizing the need for any level of serious draft prep, we'd like to remind you that the most valuable running back in the fantasy playoffs last season was a guy who was likely added via waivers in December. Rashaad Penny was a championship-tilting force in December and January when we needed him most, erupting for 692 scrimmage yards and six touchdowns over his final five games. That outburst represented 87 percent of his total yardage for the season and an outrageous 39 percent of his career production.
And, again, Penny was almost certainly a late-season waiver pickup in your fantasy league. This sort of thing is actually not all that uncommon at the running back position. Anybody who won a ring with Jerome Harrison in 2009 or Damien Williams in 2018 understands this basic truth. The essential RB in fantasy football in any given season can emerge from pretty much anywhere, including the lowest reaches of a lousy team's depth chart.
You shouldn't need an expert to tell you that the final rounds of a fantasy draft can, of course, produce an every-week running back. We need to be taking swings at this position up and down our drafts, and in every waiver run. Whenever you think you finally have enough RBs, maybe just add one more.
If you're looking for various sleepers (or fliers or breakout candidates, or whatever you prefer to call 'em) who fall outside the opening rounds, here are a few names worth targeting...
Dameon Pierce, Houston Texans: Yahoo ADP 121.7
At this point, it would be a massive surprise if Pierce's usage in his first NFL season didn't exceed anything he did as a collegiate back at Florida. He never handled more than 123 touches in any of his four years with the Gators, but he appears to be the best bet to lead Houston's backfield. The Texans had a dreadful rushing attack in 2021, finishing last in the league in yards per game (83.6) and per attempt (3.4), and that won't change if they rely on a Marlon Mack-Rex Burkhead committee. Here's a taste of Pierce's preseason work...
— Houston Texans (@HoustonTexans) August 14, 2022
His balance and tackle-breaking ability is tough to ignore. Pierce certainly seems legit. At 5-foot-10 and 215 pounds, he would seem to have the size necessary to handle a significant uptick in touches. He's the priority pick in Houston's backfield, without question.
Tyler Allgeier, Atlanta Falcons: ADP 130.2
Allgeier is a fifth-round rookie from BYU who rushed for a whopping 1,601 yards and 23 touchdowns last season while catching 28 passes. He averaged 6.4 YPC over 452 career rush attempts for the Cougars, demonstrating a do-it-all skillset and running with vision, balance and power. Like Pierce, Allgeier landed in a spot that offers a clear chance to see significant touches. The man at the top of the backfield depth chart in Atlanta happens to be 31-year-old converted kick-returner Cordarrelle Patterson. If the rookie can't force his way into the mix early in the season, it would be a mild surprise (and also a bad sign).
It would have been nice to see Allgeier playing with the varsity in his first preseason action, but he impressed when he received an opportunity, carrying three times for 25 yards, shedding a few defenders along the way:
BYU’s Tyler Allgeier showing the nation what he’s all about
— WestCoastCFB (@WestCoastCFB) August 13, 2022
Keep him in your late-draft plans. If things break right for Allgeier, he can be a high-usage, all-situation back.
Khalil Herbert, Chicago Bears: ADP 131.8
Herbert demonstrated to everyone's satisfaction last season that he's fully capable of serving as a one-for-one replacement for David Montgomery as needed. During a four-game mid-year stretch, he rushed for 344 yards on 78 carries (4.4), hauling in nine balls on 10 targets. Herbert also rushed for 100 yards against Tampa Bay's defense, which is no small feat. He's spent a good deal of time with the first-string Bears offense in camp and seems headed for at least a rotational role. There's a very good chance he emerges as a flex-worthy back early in the season. If Montgomery were to miss time, Herbert would be almost unbenchable.
Isiah Pacheco, Kansas City Chiefs: ADP 130.5
Pacheco has been one of the buzziest players in any team's training camp, but don't feel too bad if you didn't see it coming. He's a seventh-round draft pick who averaged just 3.9 YPC at Rutgers last year and never topped 1,000 yards in any collegiate season. But he's a powerful runner with ideal size (5-11, 215) and blazing speed (4.37) who impressed Chiefs coaches immediately, earning first-team reps in camp. He caught 47 balls over four college seasons, so he's approved for use as a receiver. Pacheco's emergence in camp has turned Ronald Jones into a clear cut candidate — which is worrisome, because Jones definitely has the potential to shake up another team's backfield depth chart. At the rate Pacheco is climbing in the consensus ranks, he may not qualify as a sleeper for long.
Kenneth Gainwell, Philadelphia Eagles: ADP 131.7
Gainwell produced 544 scrimmage yards, 33 receptions and six scores as a rookie last season, averaging 4.3 yards per carry and 5.4 per touch in a generally promising first year. Fantasy managers have more or less treated the Philadelphia backfield as if it's a one-man show, but Miles Sanders has not actually reached 200 touches in either of the past two seasons. Injuries have been an issue for Sanders and he's dealing with a hamstring malfunction at the moment. Let's just keep Gainwell in our late-draft plans. He topped 2,000 scrimmage yards at Memphis in his final collegiate season while catching 51 passes, so it's easy to imagine him claiming a fantasy relevant workload.
Brian Robinson Jr., Washington Commanders: ADP 128.7
All Antonio Gibson did for the WFT last year is handle 300 touches, gain 1,331 total yards and score 10 touchdowns while playing through a stress fracture in his leg. The team rewarded him by using a Day 2 pick on Robinson, then declaring the formation of a backfield committee. Robinson passed the eye test in his first preseason action...
The first two touches of Brian Robinson's career:
9-yard catch pic.twitter.com/5FhmpODOcK
— NBC Sports Commanders (@NBCSCommanders) August 13, 2022
...which was no great surprise. He's a 225-pound bruiser who should claim goal-line responsibilities at a minimum. Gibson could very well end up with the least interesting role in a three-man backfield.