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A fantasy draft is all about obtaining the most value with each selection. There is value available throughout a draft, and grabbing it is one of the most important keys to a successful fantasy team. This article specifically targets deep sleeper value (players that can be found very late in a fantasy draft). In an attempt to point out this value, we asked our staff to look deeper than the Top 150 and identify players that should significantly outperform their late draft position. These players should be your targets after the 12th round of your draft.
Player Receiving 6 Votes
Ryquell Armstead, Jacksonville
Sigmund Bloom: Armstead comes into the year as the top backup to Leonard Fournette, who is clearly departing after the season. How will Fournette and the team handle this lame-duck situation? It’s possible that they decide to see more of their backups (including 2019 UDFA Devine Ozigbo and 2020 UDFA James Robinson) as the season goes on, and it’s also possible that the team drafted Armstead in the fifth-round last year knowing that he was part of a plan to replace Fournette.
James Brimacombe: The whole Jacksonville running back situation is reminding me of two years ago in Pittsburgh when Le'Veon Bell held out and James Conner was inserted into his role and won people fantasy championships. The Jaguars have been trying to trade Leonard Fournette for two years now and have even benched him in the past. The big question is will Jacksonville release him before the season and maybe even think about tanking this season altogether as part of a rebuild. I like Armstead as a late-round pick just in case the Jaguars decide to part ways with Fournette.
Andrew Davenport: Here's an interesting fact about the guy who is the starter ahead of Armstead: Leonard Fournette, according to Pro Football Outsiders, finished the season as the 34th ranked running back in Defensive Adjusted Yards over Replacement (DYAR). Why is this significant? His DYAR value was exactly zero. That means he was the actual definition of a replacement-level player in 2019. That was borne out in the fact that Jacksonville tried trading him around the NFL draft and wasn't successful. Despite trying to move on from Fournette, the Jaguars didn't make any strong moves to bring in any competition for Armstead, so if Fournette performs poorly or gets traded, Armstead shoots up draft boards as a starting running back. Jacksonville has no long term commitment to their starter, so as a result, his backup has strong value as a late-round pick.
Andy Hicks: With the Jaguars seemingly in rebuild mode and Leonard Fournette not part of their future, there is every chance we see significant playing time for Ryquell Armstead this year. Whether he is good enough is debatable, but getting an opportunity is everything in the NFL. Armstead will need breaks to go his way to play all three downs with the arrival of Chris Thompson but can, at the least, play third down very well. With the injury history of Thompson and the tenuous situation regarding Fournette, Armstead is a player that should be on your radar as the year unfolds.
Jeff Pasquino: Armstead has late-round sleeper value as both the handcuff to Leonard Fournette and his relatively unknown potential. Armstead would see a ton of work if Fournette misses any time - and he has missed 12 games in his first three seasons. He is worth a very late pick, especially for Fournette owners. Fournette is in his final season with Jacksonville, making Armstead a sneaky addition in keeper and dynasty formats.
Jason Wood: The Jaguars may be the worst offensive team in the league and are clearly focused on 2021 and beyond. But Armstead has the talent and physicality to step into Leonard Fournette's lead role if the opportunity presents. The former Temple Owl has a complete skill set, with good vision, functional power, and a low center of gravity. It's hard to get excited about a bad team's backup running back, but all No. 2 running backs have draft value and Armstead is in the top third of projected backups from a talent perspective.
Players Receiving 4 Votes
Chase Edmonds, Arizona
Sigmund Bloom: Edmonds was the "it" back in Arizona after his three-touchdown performance against the Giants, but quickly lost that mantle after injuring his hamstring, which led to the team acquiring Kenyan Drake. Drake is getting a one-year, $8.5 million dollar deal under the transition tag, but he has never been a lead back for an entire year. Edmonds is one of the most valuable handcuffs after Latavius Murray and Alexander Mattison.
James Brimacombe: It is hard to ignore Kenyan Drake ahead of Edmonds on the depth chart but after Drake and Edmonds there is not much there. Edmonds plays in an offense that plays fast one that if Drake happened to get sidelined it would be next man up to play that RB1 role. Edmonds showed what he could do in a full-time role in Week 7 against the Giants when he had 27 attempts for 126 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Edmonds is one of the best late-round handcuffs available in this year's drafts.
Andy Hicks: Chase Edmonds has only seen more than 10 carries in a game once and that was against the Giants last year and the results were spectacular. 27 carries for 127 yards and three touchdowns. After that, injuries forced the team to trade for Kenyan Drake and he made the job his own very quickly. Drake was never trusted with the full load in Miami, but Kliff Kingsbury was happy with his results. Edmonds is a Drake injury away from being the starter, and a dynamic one. The price to handcuff Drake and Edmonds is very good value and if you have a deeper bench, drafting Edmonds on his own is a move that could pay off as the season unfolds.
Chad Parsons: Edmonds had a single start in 2019 before a Week 8 concussion halted Edmonds' starting opportunities with Kenyan Drake added to a then-recovering David Johnson on the depth chart. The start was glorious for Edmonds, however, with 150 total yards and three touchdowns. With David Johnson traded this offseason, Edmonds is the primary backup to Kenyan Drake, an option who has not been a higher volume starter for much of his NFL time or dating back through his collegiate career at Alabama. Edmonds is the clear injury-away option in Arizona, one of the few trumpeted potential breakout offenses in the NFL for 2020.
Damien Harris, New England
Jeff Haseley: The interest in Damien Harris mostly comes due to the uncertain short and long term health status of Sony Michel. Michel had offseason foot surgery to relieve discomfort, which is not a good sign for anyone, let alone a running back who had knee troubles the season prior. Harris had a successful career with Alabama, but he has yet to see the field enough to make a fantasy impact. The last two third-round running backs from the SEC have performed well in the NFL, Alvin Kamara and fellow Alabama back, Kenyan Drake. Harris has a chance to stake his claim this season, especially if Michel struggles to stay healthy and reliable.
Jordan McNamara: Harris had a quiet start to his career, but as a day two pick, Harris has three-down potential. Starter Sony Michel has a significant injury history and recently had foot surgery without a firm timetable for his return. The depth chart is not clear in the event Michel misses time, with James White, Rex Burkhead, and Damien Harris a potential committee. With the Patriots turning the keys to the offense over to unproven Jarrett Stidham, the Patriots may look to relieve pressure on Stidham and rely on the running game and their defense to win games. Harris could benefit from a run centric game plan in any week Michel misses time.
Chad Parsons: Harris is a prototypically-sized Day 2 selection, a subset which rarely goes multiple seasons without getting a stint as the starter. Sony Michel was outside the top-40 in PPG last season despite a close-to-redshirt rookie year from Harris. With the Patriots doing a factory reset post-Tom Brady and likely questionable quarterback, wide receiver, and tight end situations, look for a run-centric offense where Harris can take advantage of any erosion by Michel or an injury.
Jason Wood: Harris was a colossal bust last year. The 5-foot-10, 216-pounder came in from Alabama with a pedigree suited to catch Bill Belichick's eye. A power runner from Nick Saban's (someone Belichick admires) program seemed readily suited to factor into a committee with Sony Michel, at a minimum, and potentially become the team's lead back if the chips fell right. Instead, Harris only appeared in two games, was inactive for most of the season, and carried the ball four times. Nothing is guaranteed, but Sony Michel plateaued last year, is a non-factor as a receiver, and is coming off foot surgery. There's no runner on the depth chart with a clear path to touches, and Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears recently said Harris did "everything right" last year behind the scenes. If we view 2019 as a red-shirt, Harris could be the focal point of a young, rebuilding offense.
Players Receiving 2 Votes
Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati
Sigmund Bloom: Bernard is a simple pre-camp draft Joe Mixon holdout hedge who can be discarded in the Week 2 (or preseason if your league runs waivers then) waiver wire run if Mixon doesn’t hold out, or does but reports before the season begins. Also, 2019 draft picks Rodney Anderson (recovering from an ACL tear) and Trayveon Williams figure into the backfield picture, but Bernard is the likely starter if Mixon follows the same tack as Dalvin Cook - and the Bengals are less likely to cave than the Vikings, who have signed multiple players to extensions on the eve of camp in the past.
Jeff Haseley: Bernard becomes a player of interest due to the possible hold out of Joe Mixon. If Mixon signs an extension or decides to play under his current agreement, the interest in Bernard becomes moot. If Mixon elects to hold out and it lasts into the season, Bernard automatically becomes a fantasy commodity. He is an excellent late-round draft selection who can be the first one dropped in a waiver claim if he isn't needed.
Justin Jackson, LA Chargers
James Brimacombe: This one comes down to an open opportunity in LA as Melvin Gordon is now in Denver and even with Austin Ekeler's breakout from a year ago it was Gordon who scored nine touchdowns in 12 games. Jackson might be in a battle with rookie Joshua Kelley but he should have the first crack at winning a majority of those vacant Melvin Gordon touches and comes at a huge discount at the end of your drafts.
Andrew Davenport: The fact that Jackson is getting so little credit in this situation is somewhat baffling. Sure he doesn't have the job locked up, but in Los Angeles who can claim to have a more clear path to touches outside of Austin Ekeler? Melvin Gordon leaves behind over 200 touches from 2019, and despite the Chargers selecting rookie Joshua Kelly in the fourth round, Jackson will get the chance to win a large share of the committee opportunities as the incumbent back. The great thing about a pick like Jackson is that he's so cheap that if he fails to win or hold onto the job alongside Ekeler then he's easily thrown on to the waiver wire. But taking a chance on a guy who could hit 150 touches with his current ADP is a no-brainer selection at the end of a draft.
Joshua Kelley, LA Chargers
Jeff Pasquino: Kelley was selected by the Chargers in the fourth round in April’s draft, and he brings a good mixture of size and speed to the Los Angeles backfield. Kelley will look to push both Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson for a bigger role in a post-Philip Rivers offensive scheme. Kelley has enough talent to pass Jackson for the second spot on the depth chart and thus has a good amount of upside as the handcuff to Ekeler and possible goal-line back.
Matt Waldman: The Chargers backfield operates at its best when Austin Ekeler remains in a scatback and slot receiver role. Ekeler has skills between the tackles, but he's not built for multiple seasons of heavy workloads inside. The addition of Kelley mitigates that need to deploy Ekeler in this fashion. Kelley is a well-built, interior runner with good speed and smarts to set up his blockers. Kelley proved at UCLA that he could produce in an offense that condensed the field in 12, 22, and 23 personnel sets and forced its runner to navigate heavy boxes to create yardage. Look for Kelley to grow into Melvin Gordon's role and by midseason, begin producing as no worse than a bye-week contributor in fantasy lineups.
Adrian Peterson, Washington
Andy Hicks: Adrian Peterson and Marcus Allen are the only running backs aged 33 or over in the last 50 years to average over four yards a carry on 200 plus carries. Both have done it twice. Will Peterson see 200 plus carries this year? Chances are that he won’t if Derrius Guice is fit. The good news for Peterson is that Guice has knees that aren’t co-operating. Not drafting Peterson because of his age would be a mistake. He is still performing better than most backs in the league. A new head coach in Ron Rivera is always a question mark for a veteran, but if Peterson is on the final roster he should easily be worth considering for your fantasy team.
Jeff Pasquino: Adrian Peterson simply does not age - or at least, that is how it appears. The 35-year old veteran has led Washington in rushing the past two seasons thanks to injuries to Derrius Guice, but Peterson's numbers have been more than pedestrian. With over 1,900 yards and 13 scores in the past two seasons, Peterson is at worst a must-own handcuff to Guice, but at best he offers starting-caliber value if Guice succumbs to another major injury.
Players Receiving 1 Vote
Khari Blasingame, Tennessee
Matt Waldman: Blasingame is a UDFA from Vanderbilt who earned playing time by season's end as a fullback. He can produce from single-back sets as a runner between the tackles and lead block and catch the ball from the H-Back spot. He has enough burst and the decision-making maturity to earn playing time as a running back if Derrick Henry gets hurt. Neither of the scatbacks behind Henry is proven nor as skilled for the Titans power attack as Blasingame. It would not surprise me if Blasingame becomes the Titans' second back. It's a long shot, but that's what deep sleepers often are and the Titans depth chart is not impressive when judging them as interior runners. In fact, the Titans might have the worst running back depth chart in the NFL if excluding Henry.
Antonio Gibson, Washington
Sigmund Bloom: Gibson is one of the most explosive size/speed running back prospects to come into the league since David Johnson, and like Johnson, he could have a fantasy impact on limited touches and he can add value immediately as a receiver. It’s unclear what Washington’s plan is for Gibson other than announcing him as a running back, but if he shows the playmaking ability he did at Memphis, his role is bound to increase as the season goes on.
Nyheim Hines, Indianapolis
Sigmund Bloom: The Colts have already said Hines should be excited to play with Philip Rivers. Rivers turned Austin Ekeler into a PPR machine and Hines is as athletically gifted as Ekeler with advanced route-running ability and hands for a running back. After looking like the most explosive player on the field for the Colts last year, Hines should be used a lot more in 2020.
Carlos Hyde, Seattle
Andy Hicks: Carlos Hyde lands on his fifth team in the last four years with his arrival in Seattle. Don’t be confused by his nomadic adventures, he had his most productive season as a running back with the Texans last year. No one will confuse his upside with that of a Hall of Famer, but he can be very productive if given the ball and is a good goal-line back. If Chris Carson is fit, then Hyde is relegated to backup duty. Carson did however have a fractured hip and you always like to see backs with this type of injury come back 100%. Hyde is going to be one of the strongest backups to draft on deeper rosters and with three RB2 finishes or better in the last four years he has a good upside.
Ito Smith, Atlanta
Jeff Pasquino: Atlanta has always liked Ito Smith, and the Falcons have employed a two-back system for years. Insurance for your top running back is never a bad idea, and Todd Gurley has plenty of injury history. Smith is going to be completely off of many radars in fantasy drafts in 2020, but do not sleep on him with great upside if (or when) Gurley cannot suit up.
Mike Warren, Philadelphia
Jeff Pasquino: The depth chart is very open for the Eagles after Miles Sanders at running back, especially for a pounder who runs between the tackles. Enter Mike Warren, a UDFA from Cincinnati that dominated while a Bearcat but was severely hampered by the 2020 NFL Draft process. Warren could easily replace the Jordan Howard role in Philadelphia, as the Eagles need a hammer-type back that can move the pile inside and work well in goal-line packages. Warren has drawn comparisons to both Howard and Latavius Murray and was nicknamed "The Tank" for his physical running style. The Eagles need his style of back to keep Sanders fresh for the full season and to work in short-yardage and four-minute drills to wrap up a game, affording Warren a lot of opportunities to not only make the team but have a significant role in the offense in his first season.