Stay Woke: 2017 Running Back Sleepers

 

This pre-draft edition of running back sleepers will not feature any rookie backs. This is not for a lack of talent. The 2017 running back class is deep, and depending on landing spot, many of the up-coming rookies will be worthy of starting or sleeper status. However, in order to avoid unnecessary speculation, this pre-draft list will feature only players that are already in the league.


Danny Woodhead / Ravens

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If you are in a PPR-league, please continue reading. If you are in a standard-league, feel free to skip.

Danny Woodhead is now 32 years old and he is returning from an ACL-injury he suffered in week 2 last season. In his four years in San Diego, Woodhead was night and day. In the even numbered seasons of 2014 and 2016, Woodhead was a ghost. Injuries limited him to a total of five games, a combined 223 rushing and receiving yards, and 1 touchdown.

He fared far better in the odd-numbered years. In 2013, Woodhead hauled in 76 receptions, accumulated a combined 1,030 rushing and receiving yards, and scored 8 touchdowns. These numbers were good enough for Woodhead to finish as the #12 overall PPR back.

If you think his 2013 fantasy-stat line was good, you are going to love what he did in 2015. Two years ago, Danny Woodhead was the #3 overall RB in PPR scoring. Oh, how long ago that feels. Woodhead caught 86 balls, totaled 1,091 combined rushing and receiving yards, and scored 9 touchdowns.

Woodhead’s age and injury history are causes for concern. Kenneth Dixon’s 4-game suspension and Joe Flacco’s 672 pass attempts last year are reasons to smile. Even after Dixon returns, Woodhead will remain featured in the passing attack. Terrance West is not a receiving back, and he will not challenge Woodhead for touches in passing downs.

If he can stay healthy in 2017 (an odd-numbered year to boot 👍), Woodhead can return decent value for a late-round draft pick. Do I expect RB2 numbers from him this year? No, not necessarily, but a 60 reception, 600+ total yard year wouldn’t surprise me at all. Make no mistake, Dixon is the bell cow of the Raven’s offense, but Woodhead’s ceiling would rise if Dixon’s issues last longer than 4 games.


Paul Perkins / Giants

New York’s 2016 5th-round pick is set to take over lead-back duties for the G-Men. The Giants released veteran running back Rashad Jennings this offseason, making Paul Perkins the de-facto starter. Many believed Perkins was going to take over as the primary-back in his rookie season. While his snap-count steadily increased as the season progressed, Perkins never claimed the bell cow role until week 17 when he ran for 102 yards on 21 carries in his first career start.

Last season, the Giant’s rushing offense was horrendous — and that is putting it lightly. The G-Men finished with only 1,412 rushing yards, plunged in a league-low 6 rushing touchdowns, and tied for the 10th fewest rushing attempts. The Giant’s rushing woes were in part due to poor line play, but the New York Football Giants have not finished in the top half of the league in rushing since 2012. The teams rushing problems are deeper rooted than Tom Coughlin’s condition that turns his skin into raspberry jam in the cold.

Perkins showed flashes in the latter-portion of his freshman campaign, but none of his numbers really jump out. He was limited in rushing attempts, and therefore rushing yards. His 4.1 yards per carry were good for 22nd in the league, and on pace with the league average in 2016 of 4.19.

 Source: pro-football-reference.com

Source: pro-football-reference.com

His biggest knock in making the jump from college to the NFL was his size. Perkins, however, averaged 3.6 yards after contact as a Bruin (3rd best in his draft class) and broke 73 tackles in his final collegiate season. He also proved durable, playing in all 39 games for his alma mater. It will be interesting to see if he can translate those figures to the pros as he gets more touches.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again, opportunity is king in fantasy, and Perkins will get his in 2017. The Giants run game cannot very well get worse this year, so if they are able to address some of the issues on the line in the draft, I expect we see a solid year from Perkins. He is a top-RB3 and has mid-RB2 upside.


Jalen Richard / Raiders

Jalen Richard is the deepest sleeper of the bunch featured in this pre-draft edition. He is currently the consensus #60 overall back on FantasyPros. Richard went un-drafted out of Mississippi State; he only made the team after a three-day tryout. Richard got injured in the preseason and the Raiders drafted another running back, DeAndre Washington, in the same draft they chose not to select him, both of which made his journey to a final roster spot all the more perilous.

Despite this adversity,… A quick aside: Part of my soul dies every time I hear a player or coach talk about overcoming adversity in a post-game interview. It is a bigger clichè than getting stabbed at a Raiders’ game. Sorry, back on topic… Despite this adversity, Richard found a way to make a name for himself in a crowded RBBC Raider backfield.

Richard averaged 5.9 yards per carry last season. Washington averaged 5.2 ypc. The Raider duo were only one of two RB tandems in the league to average over 5.0 ypc last season. LeSean McCoy and Mike Gillislee of the Buffalo Bills were the other pair.

Other people might tell you Washington is the sleeper back in Oakland. Don’t listen to other people. Last year, the carry split between the two were almost even (87 Washington / 83 Richard). When you factor in receptions, Richard out touched his partner by 8 touches. The gap widens when you consider overall targets, Richard had 16 more passing targets.

Another factor to consider is the potential return of Marshawn Lynch. We were early bettors that Beastmode would return and would play for the Raiders — might as well stick with the prediction at this point. If Lynch returns, he will cut into Washington’s value more than Richard’s. Jalen is the small, change of pace/passing down back and Lynch will not cut into his role. I admit, that I don’t think a Lynch return kills Washington’s value either. We do not know if he is in football shape, and the Raiders got it done with three-backs last year.

Richard may be small, but he’s got the juice. If he continues to show the vision and the ability to quickly hit holes like he does in this gif, I’ll certainly have a roster spot for him on my team.

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