Yahoo's Fantasy Football Deep Sleepers 2018: Running backs

Yahoo Sports

In the darkest recesses of drafts, a statistical monster sleeps. Every year, a near unanimously overlooked player wakes up and snakes on the competition. When it comes to return on investment, who could be this year’s Samkon Gado? Our fanalysts weigh in.

Brad – JOHN KELLY (227.3 ADP, RB68). Similar to philosophical discussions about the existence of extraterrestrial life, this selection is DEEP. Todd Gurley, after all, is a popular No. 1 overall pick and cemented as Los Angeles’ primary ball carrier. However, in a contact game (Maybe not so much anymore with the league’s ridiculous helmet rule), injuries happen, setbacks that swing open the door of opportunity for previous unknowns. Kelly is one such buried player to monitor closely.

The Tennessee product often dazzled last season with the Vols. Well-built at 5-foot-9, 205 pounds, he regularly blasted through arm tackles (3.2 YAC/att) while also showcasing competency as a receiver and blocker. Like Kerryon Johnson he isn’t extraordinary in any single category, but he’s consistently solid across-the-board as his advanced metrics and scout grades indicate. If Gurley were feasted on by the injury imp, the rookie would instantly have RB1-level appeal in 12-team leagues given the favorable environment.

Andy – MATT BREIDA (157.4 ADP, RB54). It sounds as if Breida dodged a bullet with his preseason shoulder issue. He’s expected to be good to go in the regular season opener, and, based on last year’s performance, he deserves a significant share of the backfield touches. The fantasy community has been drafting Jerick McKinnon as if he’s a lock for an every-down role, but that seems unlikely. For starters, McKinnon has generally been an inefficient runner when he receives a substantial workload — he’s averaged just 3.6 YPC over the past two seasons on 309 attempts. Also, Breida is good. He certainly passed the eye test last year while gaining 645 scrimmage yards on just 126 touches, averaging 4.4 yards per carry and 11.3 per reception. To me, this backfield looks like a committee. But we’re drafting these guys as if McKinnon is a workhorse and Breida his handcuff.

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Scott – COREY CLEMENT. Clement is dealing with a nebulous leg injury this summer, so it’s possible I could move off this pick as we get later in the draft season. But the Wisconsin product certainly caught my eye in his rookie year, scoring six times on just 84 touches, making 12.3 yards on his 10 receptions, and then adding a 10-139-1 receiving line in the Philly championship run (including an even 100 yards in the Super Bowl).

Jay Ajayi might not have the body type to handle a true bell-cow role, and Darren Sproles is 127 years old. If the knee issue is clement, I want Clement.

Dalton – JAMES CONNER (236.30 ADP, RB74). The biggest way to profit in fantasy football is backup running backs, especially those who can step into good situations like in Pittsburgh. Conner isn’t talked about much, but the Steelers used their third round pick on him in 2017, and he’s emerged as the team’s clear RB2 during an impressive preseason. Le’Veon Bell has an extensive injury history, is coming off extremely heavy workloads (he’s averaged 371 touches over the last two seasons despite missing five games) and is currently holding out. Conner would have immediate fantasy value running behind a strong offensive line on an offense loaded with weapons should Bell miss time in the regular season.

Matt – PEYTON BARBER (175.5 ADP, RB57). One of the most valuable traits a fantasy owner can have is the ability to be flexible, to change when information is presented. The news cycle in the NFL is constantly whirring, so it makes no sense for us to be stuck in our previous opinions.

It’s beyond time to update our thoughts on the Tampa Bay backfield. While we assumed that Ronald Jones’ second-round draft status would help him moonwalk right into the starting spot, it’s been Peyton Barber running with the ones all preseason. Meanwhile, Jones has more carries than yards and keeps whiffing in the passing game. It looks like Barber is the favorite to be the team’s starter, at least in the early stages of 2018. Barber is a rugged runner who collected 335 yards on 78 carries to end last season. While still so much of what made Ronald Jones a bad fantasy pick at cost will haunt Barber (playing for a potential sub .500 team facing a tough schedule), he’s so cheap the risk is mitigated. If you start your draft with a wide receiver-heavy approach, Barber should be a target in the late rounds. At worst, he’s a lifeboat for your RB2 spot, but don’t rule out the possibility he gets this job, runs with and becomes a cheap source of rushing production all year.

Follow the Yahoo fantasy football crew on Twitter: Andy Behrens, Dalton Del Don, Brad Evans, Matt Harmon, Liz Loza, Scott Pianowski and Tank Williams.

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