Fantasy RB Sleepers 2017: Derrick Henry primed for sophomore surge

Hard Derrick Henry end-zone charges could become the norm this season in Nashville. (AP)
Hard Derrick Henry end-zone charges could become the norm this season in Nashville. (AP)

“Sleeper” is a seducing fantasy term with multiple definitions. For the purposes of this column and clarity’s sake, we’re featuring undervalued players largely available outside the overall top-60. To ensure full accountability, we also included our biggest hits/misses from 2016. Thursday’s topic: Running Backs.

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1. Danny Woodhead, Bal (73.3 ADP, RB27)

Last year Steve Smith, Kamar Aiken, Dennis Pitta, and Kyle Juszczyk combined for 306 targets. With all four of those payers missing from the 2017 receiving corps, Woodhead will continue to receive opportunities even after Kenneth Dixon – whose suspended for the first four games of the season – returns. Here’s why. Last year, Joe Flacco targeted his trio of RBs (Dixon, West, and Juszczyk) 122 times in the passing game (second only to the New Orleans Saints). If he can stay healthy, Woodhead is a lock for 60-65 catches. And he’s still available in the sixth round of PPR formats. That’s crazy value. (Liz Loza)

Liz’s big sleeper RB hit in ’16: Jay Ajayi; Big whiff: Jeremy Langford

2. Kareem Hunt, KC (97.8 ADP, RB37)

Kansas City traded up to select Hunt in the third round this year, and the team seems to have high expectations for him in the near term. Hunt was a hugely productive back at Toledo, gaining 1878 scrimmage yards in his senior season while hauling in 41 passes. He has every-down ability, and should already be viewed as a key rotational player in KC’s backfield. Spencer Ware wasn’t anything special in the second-half last season (3.7 YPC); Hunt will clearly have a chance to claim a significant role. (Andy Behrens)

Andy’s big sleeper RB hit in ’16: LeGarrette Blount; Big whiff: Jonathan Stewart

3. Derrick Henry, Ten (77.4 ADP, RB30)

Henry is still stuck behind DeMarco Murray, who’s coming off an extremely successful campaign. But Murray had 346 touches last season, is approaching 30 years old and has had injury issues in the past. Henry will almost certainly get more work this year regardless, but he’d be a true difference maker if Murray were to go down. Henry got 4.5 YPC as a rookie, and remember, his “speed score” at the combine was in the 97th percentile. He got 0.40 fantasy points per snap as a rookie, which ranked No. 16 among all running backs, and the Titans have arguably the best offensive line in football (with an emerging passing attack that will command the respect of defenses). Currently the No. 30 back off the board, Henry is the type of high upside pick who won’t come at a high cost but could end up winning your league for you. (Dalton Del Don)

Dalton’s big sleeper RB hit in ’16: Spencer Ware; Big whiff: Derrick Henry

4. Samaje Perine, Was (87.3 ADP, RB34)

If there’s a Jordan Howard in this year’s draft class, it’s Perine. The Oklahoma product, overshadowed last season by Joe Mixon, is a freezer chest with feet. At 5-foot-11, 233 pounds, he breaks numerous tackles (3.3 YAC/attempt in ’16), is an effective pass blocker and owns suitable receiving skills. Kelley enters training camp atop the depth chart, but bank on the rookie pressing him hard from the start. Unless the sophomore suddenly morphs into Stephen Davis circa 2000, Perine wrests away the starting gig no later than Week 3. Simply put, he’s more talented. If that does occur, he’ll easily achieve RB2 level status in 12-team leagues operating as the early-down/goal-line steamroller. Keep in mind, Washington ranked top-five in run-blocking last year and its explosive vertical game should lighten fronts. Pee freely in the middle rounds. (Brad Evans)

Brad’s big sleeper RB hit in ’16: Melvin Gordon; Big whiff: Chris Ivory

5. James White, NE (118.2 ADP, RB42)

Remember when Gordon Gekko started acquiring chunks of Anacot Steele? That’s what I’m doing with the Patriots running game thus far. I’ve banked a bunch of Mike Gillislee, generally jumping around the sixth round, and later on you can snag White, who easily could have been the Super Bowl MVP (14 catches, 139 total yards, three touchdowns, one conversion). New England’s backfield only looks like a crowded, untenable mess if you consider Dion Lewis a major threat (I don’t, and New England’s actions suggest they don’t, either). If you grade White from the time Tom Brady returned, he was the No. 22 running back in PPR formats last year (h/t, Evan Silva). Once again, we’ve located a pick that includes both floor and upside; the best of both worlds. (Scott Pianowski)

Scott’s big sleeper RB hit in ’16: Frank Gore; Big whiff: Thomas Rawls


Follow the Yahoo fantasy gang on Twitter: Brad (@YahooNoise), Andy (@andybehrens), Scott (@scott_pianowski), Dalton (@DaltonDelDon) and Liz (@LizLoza_FF)