Unlock More Content Like This With a Footballguys Premium Subscription
"Footballguys is the best premium
fantasy football only site on the planet."
Matthew Berry, NBC Sports EDGE
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.
They gave us 20 names. That's a lot.
If you want all of the players, keep on reading. If you just want the top vote-getter, it was a three-way tie between Ryquell Armstead, Darrell Henderson, and Jerrick McKinnon with five votes each.
NOTE: We know all these different opinions can be a lot. And certainly, not everyone agrees on everything.
If you want to cut straight to the chase and get our "Bottom Line" for where we project every player right down to the last yard, you can see that here. That's our Bottom Line and where we plant the Footballguys Flag for all these players.
If you'd like to see more detail about how the staff sees different players, here is every wide receiver who was mentioned and the reasons why.
Players Receiving 5 Votes
Ryquell Armstead, Jacksonville
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.
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.
Danny Tuccitto: As a rule, my deep sleeper targets at running back are A) in their first or second season, and B) the immediate backup behind a starter that's in the last year of their contract. Armstead fits the bill on both counts and is also a Top 15 receiver among running backs with respect to True Yards per Route Run (15th) and True Touchdowns Per Route Run (6th) -- which is kind of important in PPR 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.
Darrell Henderson, LA Rams
Andrew Davenport: Not every rookie in this running back class is going to come in and contribute for their teams. The runaway optimism for the rookies, Cam Akers among them, is the way drafters can find value. Last year at this time of the draft season Henderson was climbing draft boards despite the presence of Todd Gurley. Now with Gurley gone, fantasy owners are suddenly in favor of a rookie holding him off for the job? At the very least Henderson will start the year getting the chance to earn a significant share of the opportunities, and at best he commands half of the work in Los Angeles. Taking a shot on him late is a smart investment.
Ryan Hester: What's keeping Henderson from the top of Sean McVay's depth chart? Maybe the answer is Cam Akers, but with Akers being a rookie in a pandemic-altered preseason, those same reservations should apply to him. Yet Henderson is being selected at least four rounds after Akers. If Henderson has even a 20% chance to emerge ahead of Akers, he's worth an investment at a smaller price.
Andy Hicks: It is being presumed that Cam Akers comes in and starts for the Rams straight away. This is despite the presence of veteran Malcolm Brown and second-year man Darrell Henderson. Henderson has the advantage of a year in the system and gaining valuable experience behind Todd Gurley last season. His injuries held him back a little, but there is considerably more value in Henderson than Akers in fantasy drafts. It does smell like a committee, therefore you look for value if you want a piece of that pie.
Matt Waldman: The 2019 draft pick struggled to adapt to a wide zone scheme after massive success running gap at Memphis. The Rams changed to a gap rushing attack in the middle of last year, which suits Henderson and rookie Cam Akers. While Akers is the favorite to earn the lead role, McVay's coaching influences ingrained a strong desire to have an explosive scatback role in his offenses that has never come to fruition. Both Akers and Henderson have strong receiving chops. While Akers has more promise to become a feature back and shut the door on Henderson's potential in L.A. an Akers injury could make Henderson a massive play-making starter.
Jason Wood: What on Earth is happening? Yes, Henderson was overvalued in drafts last year because Todd Gurley was still going to be the workhorse. Henderson not only failed to displace Gurley, but he also struggled to hold onto the No. 2 role. Todd Gurley is now in Atlanta, but Los Angeles used a high pick on Cam Akers as the presumptive new lead back. While Akers is talented and could step into the lead role, the pandemic makes it harder for any rookie to win a starting job quickly. Henderson is still the explosive runner who excited the fantasy community a year ago, and he's well suited for the gap scheme that Sean McVay appears to be favoring now. Even if it's a coin toss between Henderson and Akers, Henderson's price is too good to ignore considering how many clear No. 2s with no chance at a lead role are going rounds earlier.
Jerrick McKinnon, San Francisco
Phil Alexander: Beat writers are bullish McKinnon will return to full health, he's reportedly looked sharp running routes, and teammates say he looks phenomenal in camp. We haven't seen McKinnon on the field in two seasons, but it means something that the Kyle Shanahan regime signed him to a big-money deal and kept him on the roster all this time. If he's truly made it all the way back, expect McKinnon to carve out a role that gives him low-end flex appeal in PPR leagues, with upside for more if either Tevin Coleman or Raheem Mostert get injured.
Sigmund Bloom: Fingers crossed, but McKinnon is healthy and staking claim to a passing down job and more in the 49ers backfield. He is looking explosive and presents the best receiving skills of the group along with experience as an option quarterback. McKinnon could at least be solid PPR depth, but with the nature of this hot hand backfield, he could have even more value.
Andrew Davenport: With the news coming out of San Francisco that McKinnon finally appears healthy after two years out of football he shouldn't be falling so far in drafts. Don't forget that Shanahan went out and targeted McKinnon for his system with a big contract, and that he kept him on the team as he worked through his injury. With the only obstacle ahead of him to meaningful touches coming in the form of oft-injured Tevin Coleman, McKinnon is suddenly very interesting, especially in PPR leagues. Matt Breida's departure and the dynamic 49er run game should put any San Francisco back on the fantasy radar, especially one as cheap as McKinnon in drafts.
Dan Hindery: Whenever there is uncertainty about how a backfield will play out, the guy with the lowest ADP is usually the best value. That is the case here with the 49ers backfield and McKinnon. He has been getting strong reviews and brings more to the table as a pass-catcher than any of the other backs. We already know that Kyle Shanahan liked McKinnon’s skill set enough to make him one of the five highest-paid backs in the league just a couple years ago. If he is fully recovered from the knee injury as reported, McKinnon will easily outperform his current ADP.
Jason Wood: McKinnon was supposed to be the centerpiece of Kyle Shanahan's offense after coming over from Minnesota. Injuries derailed those plans and the 49ers didn't skip a beat by relying on Raheem Moster and others. The fantasy community quietly assumed McKinnon's future in San Francisco was dimming, with Moster and Tevin Coleman serving as the 1-2 punch. That may still be the reality, but beat writers and coaches have gushed about McKinnon in recent weeks. He's apparently 100% healthy and looks like the explosive, open-field runner that Kyle Shanahan expected to have a few years ago.
Players Receiving 4 Votes
Damien Harris, New England
Phil Alexander: The addition of Lamar Miller gives the Patriots the most ambiguous backfield in the league, as usual. It's often made sense to place a chip on the least expensive New England rusher, and Harris is the guy this year unless you think Miller is more than a camp body or Rex Burkhead's role will expand. The Miller signing seems like a hedge against Sony Michel suiting up in Week 1, which theoretically puts last year's third-round pick, Harris, in a position where he can run away with the starting job. Many close to the organization have suggested Harris will get his shot this year, and he was the type of physical, between-the-tackles runner at Alabama we can easily picture assuming the Michel/LeGarrette Blount role for the Patriots.
Andrew Davenport: The signing of Lamar Miller certainly throws a wet blanket on the Harris buzz, but the Patriots backfield is the perfect one in which to employ a scattershot approach by grabbing the cheap pieces. Harris has seen plenty of reps during Patriots camp so far, and there is room for all four backs to make the roster - Miller, Harris, Rex Burkhead, and James White (assuming Sony Michel goes on the PUP) - now that Brandon Bolden won't be taking a spot after opting out. Predicting the guy who will earn the most carries is hard, and Michel could complicate things the second half of the year, but right now Harris is worth a late-round selection to see what develops.
Jeff Haseley: The interest in Harris has grown since the injury-news of Sony Michel. Harris saw limited snaps last season but his pedigree suggests he may see a bump in carries and touches this year. With Michel nursing a lingering foot injury and dealing with a problematic knee, Harris could finally get a chance to prove his third-round worth. The signing of Lamar Miller puts a small damper on Harris' outlook, but Miller too has injury concerns with his recovery from a torn ACL that forced him to miss the entire 2019 season. If Miller isn't 100% or if he is released, Harris' 2020 outlook will be a lot more appealing.
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.
Carlos Hyde, Seattle
Andrew Davenport: This isn't necessarily a pick to make when playing for upside late in a draft, but rather a floor play. Hyde is only one injury away from a full-time role on a team that runs the ball with stubborn determination. While it is assumed that starter Chris Carson is going to be healthy, there is no guarantee that he's 100%, and even if he is, the Seahawks run the ball enough that Hyde could find himself fantasy relevant in a timeshare as well. Seattle certainly showed with Rashaad Penny that they want more than one back involved, and outside of the rookie they drafted, Hyde is all they've got. He's not an exciting pick, but his situation is what fantasy owners want - volume, opportunity, and lack of strong competition. Bet on the situation, not necessarily the player.
Jeff Haseley: If Chris Carson struggles to return to form after a hip injury derailed the end of his 2019 season, or if Carson suffers another injury, Carlos Hyde becomes a weekly fantasy start in Seattle's offense. Hyde is coming off a 1,000-yard rushing season and he averages close to 6 touchdowns per season in six years in the league. If you're looking for handcuff darts later in the draft, Hyde is a good one to target.
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.
Matt Waldman: Thanks to a difficult injury, Rashaad Penny is little more than a fantasy player's fever dream at this point. DeeJay Dallas is a hard-running option who can catch and has promise as a pass protector but he's not out-dueling Hyde for the primary backup role. Hyde is a similar style of a runner as Chris Carson. Both break tackles at a strong rate, neither are highly dependent on their offensive lines for production relative to other starting backs in the league. Hyde gained over 1,000 yards last year for a Texans offense that doesn't run the ball as well as Seattle. If Carson gets hurt, Hyde should give you a fantasy RB2 floor and surprising RB1 upside.
Joshua Kelley, LA Chargers
Andy Hicks: There are forgotten rookie running backs drafted in the fourth round every year. Joshua Kelley looks like that guy in 2020. He has one thing that is crucial though, opportunity. Austin Ekeler is not built for 200-plus carries and nor is a similar back in Justin Jackson. If the Chargers need a guy to fill the missing Melvin Gordon rushing attempts it will be Kelley. Will he help you win your championship? Probably not, but he could be that key back that gets more work than people expect and be at least useful for fantasy managers.
Justin Howe: Kelley isn't a particularly enticing prospect: a middling college producer who showed so-so athleticism at the combine. But more importantly, he's in line to fight for rushing opportunity in an offense that feeds its backs relentlessly. With Melvin Gordon gone, the Chargers have 13.5 carries per game to replace, with only Kelley and injury-riddled reserve Justin Jackson (at the moment) to do so. If Kelley can seize the early-down role and secure 150+ touches, he'll blow this late-round ADP out of the water.
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: A well-built runner with experience working in 21-, 22-, and 23-personnel sets against condenses boxes, Kelley has the vision, contact balance, and deep speed to do what head coach Anthony Lynn expects: take over the Melvin Gordon role in the offense. It may not happen this year to the degree that Kelley forces Austin Ekeler back into low-end fantasy RB2 production, but Kelley is the best-suited runner on the depth chart for feature-back touches between the tackles. He's a better receiver than advertised and when I watch him play, I see an option whose skills are still on the ascent. Even with Ekeler as the star, Kelley could surprise with fantasy RB3 value. If Ekeler gets hurt, Kelley could be a solid RB2.
Players Receiving 3 Votes
Bryce Love, Washington
Andy Hicks: Bryce Love was drafted to be Chris Thompson's replacement last year but did his knee. Now with Derrius Guice gone as well, there will be a real chance to learn his craft behind Adrian Peterson. His upside seems capped as a third-down back, but opportunity is everything. Whichever of Antonio Gibson and Love is ready first will have an excellent chance at keeping the job long term.
Justin Howe: Love could easily fail to crack the Washington backfield in a meaningful way and land as a fantasy afterthought. Luckily, he's still coming far too cheaply in drafts for a guy with just as good a chance of leading the backfield. Value is crucial in this game of ours, and landing 250 touches from the middle rounds can be a season-saver. Ron Rivera's Football Team will likely skew very run-heavy, and only Adrian Peterson looms as a real threat to cut into the backfield.
Jason Wood: Let everyone else reach for Antonio Gibson, a guy who had 33 career carries at Memphis and has never been a feature back since his earliest days in high school. Then, at the end of your draft, take the young runner more likely to be a bargain workhorse. Fantasy owners have fickle memories, and that's to your advantage. Love ran for more than 2,000 yards as a junior at Stanford and finished 2nd in Heisman voting behind Baker Mayfield. He was hurt as a senior and then tore his ACL in the final game, dropping his draft stock. A redshirt year last season has everyone forgetting Washington viewed Love as a future 250-carry workhorse. That time is now, having been cleared for full workouts.
Benny Snell, Pittsburgh
Sigmund Bloom: Snell has slimmed down going into his second offseason and he appears to be first in line behind James Conner for early-down work if Conner goes down. The Steelers are also seeing Snell as a more versatile back, so he could get more work than expected if injury opens opportunity. He, not Anthony McFarland, should be drafted as the handcuff to the oft-injured Conner.
Dan Hindery: Snell is a worthwhile late-round target as a handcuff to James Conner. There are a few things that make Snell attractive. First, he is one of the rare backups who are very likely to see an extremely heavy workload should the starter get injured. If Conner goes down, Snell is a 20+ touch per game guy. Second, Conner has not been the most durable guy in his career. Tony Pollard is going off the board 100 picks earlier than Snell despite the fact Ezekiel Elliott has proven himself to be much more durable than Conner. Lastly, the early reports from camp on a slimmed-down Snell are very positive. The Steelers have had a number of backs transform their bodies before their second seasons and then breakout as fantasy difference makers.
Danny Tuccitto: As a rule, my deep sleeper targets at running back are A) in their first or second season, and B) the immediate backup behind a starter that's in the last year of their contract. Snell fits the bill on both counts. He may not rank higher than 41st in any of my "true" stat categories for running backs, but Pittsburgh's offense makes it nearly inevitable that volume will trump efficiency if/when Snell takes the reins.
DeAndre Washington, Kansas City
Phil Alexander: Clyde Edwards-Helaire isn't the only Chiefs running back who should move up with the news Damien Williams won't play this season. DeAndre Washington was dynamite in the passing game after Josh Jacobs was hurt last year. And according to Pro Football Focus, he has allowed just two pressures in 74 career snaps as a pass-blocker. If you want to know who will be protecting Patrick Mahomes II on critical passing downs, look no further. Should Edwards-Helaire miss time, Washington could help swing championships for a second consecutive season.
Ryan Hester: There might not be a bigger Clyde Edwards-Helaire fan on staff than me, but all fantasy analysts have been wrong before. Washington could play a small role regardless of Edwards-Helaire's health, but he could play an even bigger role if the rookie is injured. Late-round RB picks should be high-upside players, so the larger appeal of selecting Washington is the latter scenario where he sees significant action.
Chad Parsons: I want a poker chip on the Kansas City running back depth chart this year not named Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Washington has looked the part of a two-way producer previously his career and his curious signing with the Chiefs earlier in the offseason looks better now with Damien Williams opting out of the 2020 season. Washington (and Darrel Williams) are two of my favorite deep sleepers at the position on the prospect either has a bigger early-season role than most expect.
Player Receiving 2 Votes
Rex Burkhead, New England
Sigmund Bloom: Burkhead took a pay cut to stay with the Patriots, but that move likely ensures his roster spot. While Damien Harris will be the more fashionable sleeper in the wake of Sony Michel starting camp on the PUP list, Burkhead has a more versatile application and was running ahead of Harris when camp opened. Burkhead is an especially astute late-round flier in best ball.
Dan Hindery: With the uncertainty surrounding Sony Michel, all of the Patriots' backs become much more interesting. I expect Damien Harris to be the big beneficiary and for his ADP to rocket up into the 10th or 11th round. He is worth drafting in that range and deserving of sleeper mention. However, Burkhead looks like an even bigger bargain. He has the experience edge and is currently running ahead of Harris in camp. Plus, Burkhead is always available very late in drafts. Taking a chance on an unclear backfield situation is easier to justify in the final rounds of a draft.
Players Receiving 1 Vote
Eno Benjamin, Arizona
Matt Waldman: Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds have the first two spots nailed down in the Arizona backfield. However, Kliff Kingsbury has deep knowledge of Benjamin's skill as a receiver and runner and believes if Benjamin shows enough on special teams, he'll earn that No.3 spot and get a chance to develop into an offensive contributor. My nickname for Benjamin is 98-Proof LeSean McCoy because there are similar stylistic skills to their games although McCoy is just that extra "kick" of talent to his game that Benjamin may never attain. Still, Benjamin's talent is enough to deliver fantasy value if called upon.
Malcolm Brown, LA Rams
Jeff Haseley: Malcolm Brown, not Darrell Henderson, may see more opportunities, especially in the red zone where he had 16 touches in 2019 compared to Henderson's two. Brown scored three times on five carries inside the three-yard line last season and he had five total touchdowns compared to Henderson's zero. It's possible that Cam Akers struggles to pick up the offense, or has ball security issues. Brown is my pick to see goal-line touches, not Henderson if Akers falters.
Mike Davis, Carolina
Matt Waldman: Reggie Bonnafon gets the love from the fans because he's younger and worked his way up the Carolina depth chart. However, new head coach Matt Rhule praised Davis and believes he's easily in the mix for the role. Davis is one of the best receiving backs in the NFL, a quality pass protector, and a smart cutback runner with power. If Christian McCaffrey gets hurt, Davis lacks the McCaffrey's elite upside, but solid RB2 production isn't outside reasonable expectation.
Darrynton Evans, Tennessee
Chad Parsons: I love the low-cost rookie running backs this year who project as an injury away from a prominent role. Evans is one of them with electric speed on a run-centric offense. Evans has minimal depth chart competition for the RB2 role and has a Derrick Henry injury (or missed time with COVID-19) as avenues to a strong projected workload.
LeSean McCoy, Tampa Bay
Sigmund Bloom: The Bucs very smartly signed McCoy for cheap before camp so that they would have veteran depth if Ronald Jones II flames out and an experienced reliable back on passing downs if Dare Ogunbowale isn't ready for a big passing down role. Tom Brady is very good at finding his checkdown, and he can take advantage of good protection in the backfield. McCoy gives the Bucs a shorter path to realizing the value of those skills and could end up being the most valuable player in this backfield.
Lamar Miller, New England
Jason Wood: Many colleagues are highlighting Damien Harris, as I did back in June. While I still think Harris could offer value, Lamar Miller is now the best sleeper in New England. There's as good a chance Miller fails to make the 53-man roster as he ends up a fantasy value. But, Miller has been a steady fantasy commodity throughout his career. He has two top-10 finishes, two more top-20 finishes, and was RB22 in 2018 in just 14 games played. He was set to lead the Texans backfield last year before a preseason ACL tear. He's had a full year to rehabilitate and history has been kind to backs returning from ACL injuries as surgical and rehabilitation processes have been perfected. With Sony Michel looking questionable, at best, to start the season, Miller would be the ideal fit on first and second down while James White handles third-down duties.
Dare Ogunbowale, Tampa Bay
Justin Howe: Tom Brady has no shortage of dynamic targets at his disposal, and there are big things projected for the likes of Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, and Rob Gronkowski. But we've all seen over the past half-decade just how crucial James White was to Brady in New England, registering 315 catches over the last 5 years. And the only current Buccaneer who projects into that role is Ogunbowale, who led the Tampa Bay backfield last year with 46 targets and 35 receptions. Even as a third-down back only, Ogunbowale offers FLEX potential from the very last round of most fantasy drafts.
Devine Ozigbo, Jacksonville
Sigmund Bloom: Ozigbo slipped through the Saints grasp when the Jaguars claimed him last year and now the undrafted running back is getting a chance to show what he can do in camp after Ryquell Armstead missed time on the COVID list. Ozigbo could figure into the backfield mix if the Jaguars decide they want to get a longer look at the backs behind Leonard Fournette with Fournette set to hit free agency next year and possibly on the trade block around the deadline.
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.