What do I think of the zero-RB draft strategy? Child, please. The running back position is where you flex your feel for the game. You’ve got to decipher injuries, depth charts, opportunity, talent and matchup every week to squeeze points over your opponents. You’ve got to cover your bases with handcuffs to mitigate injury risk at just the right time. You’ve got to work the waiver wire to stay a step ahead of the competition. It’s simple, right?
I try to find the right mix of youth and veterans while seeking out ADP value. It’s easy to have tunnel vision and stick to “your guys” at running back, but the problem is most managers like the same guys. Let the running backs come to you. Injuries make it easy to find replacement-level players on the waiver wire during the season. So, you should be looking to draft an extra RB because an extra bullet on your bench gives you a better chance of protecting your lineup from the inevitable shifting opportunities at the position.
Before we dive in, I’d like to clarify what is a sleeper in the first place. Sleeper, to me, doesn’t mean a player nobody has heard of that comes out of nowhere to succeed. I believe that’s more of a fantasy "breakout" than sleeper. Instead, a sleeper is a player who will significantly outperform his current average draft position value.
Fantasy Sleeper Running Backs
J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens want to pound the rock and control the clock. They’re built to play from the lead and wear teams down on offense. We knew this last year when Dobbins frequently appeared on sleeper and breakout lists. An ACL tear ended his 2021 season before it began and fantasy managers are hesitant to invest again.
As the consensus 22nd-ranked RB, I’m more than happy to take advantage. We have to return our minds to how we felt about him after the 2020 season, which showed a ton of promise. That year, Dobbins outperformed Gus Edwards, Mark Ingram and Justice Hill to emerge as the most promising and talented back in this crowded group. He averaged 83 rush yards over his last six games, with seven TDs over that stretch.
In this draft range, there are teams’ No. 2 running backs drafted like Breece Hall, Travis Etienne and A.J. Dillon. I understand the optimism for these players, but Dobbins has a much clearer path to touches in a run-centric offense.
James Cook, Buffalo Bills
The Bills were thought to be one of the ideal landing spots for running backs in the draft because of the inconsistent play by Devin Singletary and a lack of emergence from Zack Moss. Cook is a rookie out of Georgia and yes, he’s the younger brother of Dalvin Cook.
Skeptics will point out that Josh Allen and the Bills didn’t provide many passing opportunities to their backs and that was Cook’s specialty in college. Instead you need to look at his drafting as Buffalo’s attempt to improve its checkdown game. When teams speak, I believe them. Buffalo didn’t use a second-round pick on him to not give him an opportunity.
We’ll know more as we move through training camp and preseason, but for now, I trust my eyes and the Bills intent in selecting him. Cook was one of my favorite rookie prospects because he is a smooth runner who runs with vision, quickness and speed. I believe he’s a great fit in this offense. His PPR numbers should keep him competitive for fantasy managers as he builds experience in Year 1.
Dameon Pierce, Houston Texans
The Texans will have a wide-open RB competition this offseason. To be frank, I’ll take just about anybody over the incumbents in Houston. Marlon Mack and Rex Burkhead are journeymen nobodies who have done little to nothing in their careers. Pierce could be perfectly average and run away with the job. Pierce was a fourth-round selection, so his athletic profile won’t wow you. He’s a north-south runner who uses decisive patience and quick footwork to barrel between the tackles. He has a nice accelerating burst but lacks a second gear to take many long runs to the house.
Houston isn’t going to be playing with the lead too often, so I’m optimistic in his ability to stay on the field all three downs to contribute as a pass-catcher. He has solid hands and can make defenders miss with shifty cuts.
Pierce is ranked outside the consensus top 50 running backs and I’m very confident he will be on the rise all summer.
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