2020 Fantasy Football Running Back Sleepers -  Middle to Late Round Values Who Could Win Your League

Scott Atkins

There are two fantasy football draft certainties. You need sleepers and you need running backs. The early rounds are easy, but it's those middle rounds that you need to strike lightning in a bottle. These running back sleepers can help you bring home a title in 2020.

First let's get on the same page about our terminology. 

Sleeper: A draft term for a NFL player that a fantasy manager believes is going to have a breakout season. These are usually players who are not rookies, but they can be. Sure the diehards know who these players are, but for the most part they are not well known NFL players. Usually sleepers are drafted in the middle to late rounds of a draft. From our Fantasy Football Dictionary

We have classified the following players as sleepers for 2020. We will be updating this list throughout the coming weeks.

Jonathan Taylor, RB, Colts (ADP 57 - RB22)

Industry insiders have been ahead of ADP on Jonathan Taylor for several weeks now, so maybe the "sleeper" term doesn't completely apply in this particular situation. Regardless, the fantasy playoffs are won in weeks 14-16, and by that time, Taylor will be ready to carry you to a fantasy title. The only question is how long it will take for him to supplant Marlon Mack as the lead back? 

Most assume a timeshare is in the works for this season with Mack, but I don't think it will take the fans very long to see there is a big reason why Taylor was selected with the 41st overall pick in this year's NFL draft.

Taylor is 5-10 and 226 pounds, (shorter and heavier than Mack) and ran a 4.39 40-yard at the combine (so faster too). He recorded a whopping 1,909 yards with over 20 touchdowns (21) but also was used as a pass-catcher with 26 receptions for 252 yards and another five scores. He is my clear No. 1 rookie in this class, and it should show right away as he faces the second-easiest schedule against running backs in 2020. 

Make sure you read the recent feature by All Colts Editor Phillip B. Wilson to find out what he predicts Taylor to do in the latter part of the season. 

I have the 1.01 pick coming up in an industry expert draft, and depending on who’s there, I’m seriously contemplating taking the Colts rookie at the 2/3 turn. Under no circumstances should you allow him to slip past you in the 4th round. ADP in the 6th is completely absurd.

In Shawn Childs' initial set of projections, he has Taylor on a path for 1,364 combined yards with 12 TDs and 35 catches. I'm with Shawn on this one. Even with Mack in the fold, I think Taylor can reach these numbers en route to a Top 20 running back season. 

Cam Akers, RB, Rams (ADP 79 - RB28)

Over three seasons in college, Akers gained 3,361 combined yards with 34 touchdowns and 69 catches on 655 touches. His highlight season came in 2019 (1,369 combined yards with 18 TDs and 30 catches).

He'll make plays in the passing game, but his pass protection skills may be below par even with strength as an asset. His path to running back came via the quarterback position, which helps his play-making ability. The Rams now have two players to help fill the void created by the decline and release of Todd Gurley. Akers will be an attractive back end RB in the fantasy market who is already gaining momentum this past month.

Sometimes we look to the pros to figure this out. The early view on the value of Akers in 2020 in the high-stakes market is that he will be the top running back option for the Rams. SI's high stakes drafterse are taking him at an ADP of 60, a difference of 18 spots, which means they have more faith than the masses that he will break out. Without the benefit of preseason games where every broken run sends drafters into a frenzy, his draft position looks to be settling in. 

Shawn Childs has him projected for 898 combined yards with six TDs and 26 catches after his first run of the projections. Rams RB coach Thomas Brown is on record stating he prefers a clear cut starter at the position, but he had specifics to say about each running back recently that muddies the waters some. 

David Montgomery, RB, Bears (ADP 80 - RB29)

Everyone is down on David Montgomery.  After his recent groin injury which was described as "moderate," he'll be sidelined for roughly 2-4 weeks. That means he's likely doubtful for Week 1, which has plummeted his draft stock to the 9th round! A Week 2 return is possible, so this drop is unreasonable. This is exactly the type of value a seasoned fantasy player as yourself is looking for. 

Montgomery wasn't much better than RB Tarik Cohen last year on early downs (3.7 yards per rush), but the Bears still gave him 16.7 touches per game.

His only three contests of value came in Week 8 (147 combined yards with one TD and four catches), Week 9 (76 combined yards with two TDs and three catches), and Week 17 (23/113/1). Chicago surprisingly had him on the field for 63 percent of their plays.

I think it's important to reflect back on his college performance for a minute. During his last two seasons at Iowa State, Montgomery rushed for 2,362 yards with 24 TDs on 515 carries, with over 4.6 yards per carry. That's not world-beating at the college level, but it certainly shows he can carry the load when asked. He also hauled in 71 receptions for 582 yards over his collegiate career, showing he's a double threat. The downside would be that many of his touchdowns came on short easy runs while lacking open-field moves and vision to create more significant plays.

There's upside here with three-down ability, but the Bears need to solve their offensive line issues to create more significant plays. Borderline RB2 in draft value (ADP – 52), but Montgomery is worth fighting for on draft day.

I set his initial bar at 1,206 combined yards with nine TDs and 30 receptions, ranking 26th with room for more behind a Bears offensive line that returns veteran starters at four of the five positions.  

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Antonio Gibson, RB, Washington Football Team (ADP 96 - RB37)

Update: Gibson has become a popular sleeper since Washington released RB Derrius Guice. He looks like the favorite to take on the third down role and possibly more.)

In his only season with starting snaps for Memphis, Gibson worked in a split role at running back (33/369/4) and wide receiver (38/735/8). He scored a TD on 16.9 percent of his touches (plus two TDs on kick and fumble return) while gaining massive yards per rush (11.2) and yards per catch (19.3).

Washington writer Bryan Manning believes Gibson can contribute now:

I'm looking at him as a running back option in 2020 due to the lack of quality options on the roster on the heels of the release of Derrius Guice. He's the right kind of target, and I expect him to gain momentum in this final week of fantasy drafting. Per Mark Morales-Smith, who I hold a lot of respect for as a draft scout, his upside is Jamaal Charles with the Chiefs. Now you know. 

Damien Harris, RB, Patriots (ADP 103 - RB40)

Breaking news (Monday September 7): The Patriots just placed Damien Harris on IR with a hand injury. Harris can return after missing three games due to new rules surrounding injured reserve. 

From the Shawn Childs' New England Patriots Team Outlook

Harris has the "it factor" an NFL team should be looking for in a lead back. He gives off the appearance of a bigger back than his size (5'11" and 213 lbs.). His first step acceleration after downshifting in tight quarters gives him many winning plays. Harris drives through contact with a unique feel for finding more open field. He tests defenses when reaching the second level with his vision and power. His pass-catching opportunity was short due to Josh Jacobs shining brighter in this area in Alabama. Harris doesn't fumble, and his game grades well in pass protection. Last year New England gave him only four touches while battling a hamstring injury over the final seven weeks. Breakout potential.

Matt Breida, RB, Dolphins (ADP 92 - RB35)

From the Shawn Childs' Miami Dolphins Team Outlook

"The RB situation in San Francisco was clearly messy heading into last season. Breida had mid-teen touches (12.6 per game) over the first nine games with success on early downs in only two contests (12/121 and 11/114/1). After missing three games with an ankle issue, his opportunity was lost to RB Raheem Mostert down the stretch and in the playoffs. Breida still has a lot to prove as a pass-catcher, but the Dolphins trade ensures he'll be in the RB2 mix in 2020 with rotational value on early downs. I like his upside while also understanding his past injury risk."

His ADP of (111) to start the drafting season has risen to an ADP of (92), now ahead of teammate Jordan Howard in this late draft season as fantasy owners have decided Breida is the player that offers the most upside. His projections (775 combined yards with three TDs and 33 catches on 150 touches) ranks him 40th out of the gate in fantasy scoring in PPR leagues.

Benny Snell, RB, Steelers (ADP 173 - RB70)

AllSteelers Publisher Noah Strackbein has been all over the Snell improvement this off-season. He's quicker, faster and 12 pounds lighter this year heading into his sophomore campaign. The fourth round pick was thrown into action last season after injuries to both James Conner and Jaylen Samuels. Pass protection is the key to Snell's extended playing time in 2020. Ben Roethlisberger has to have protection and stay upright for this offense to reach its full potential. 

TARGET. In the Fantasy Football World Championship leagues, his ADP is 173 - RB70, and I have him ranked as RB54, so as you can see, I'm much higher on him than others. If James Conner misses time, its Snell's job to lose. 

BONUS: James Robinson, RB, Jacksonville ADP: TBD

Just added September 7: In a surprising development, undrafted rookie running back James Robinson has just been named the starter in Jacksonville. The depleted Jacksonville team who released Leonard Fournette and recently lost Ryquell Armstead to a second bout with COVID-19, now has positioned the rookie to contribute on early downs. Robinson played at Illinois State and posted some impressive stats with 4,400 rushing yards and 44 touchdowns. My novice film study grades him out extremely favorably. To me, he's easily the best back on their roster. How 32 NFL teams didn't see this is beyond me, but it happens. It's looking more and more like a Robinson/Ozigbo backfield with Chris Thompson serving as the part-time 3rd down back. 

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Comments (1)
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Frank Taddeo
Frank Taddeo

Let's GO!!!! Don't sleep on JT in 2020!!!