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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 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.
Here is the player who received the most votes:
And here are all of the payers mentioned and the reasons why.
Player Receiving 6 Votes
Malcolm Brown, Miami
Phil Alexander: Brown's usage with the starters in Miami's first preseason game stamped out notions Myles Gaskin will operate as a bell cow this year. The Dolphins prioritized Brown in free agency ahead of investing draft capital in a young running back, and we've seen him spoil the breakout chances of more exciting runners in the past by earning the trust of his coaching staff. The most likely role for Brown is in clock-killing and goal-line situations, which gives him weekly standalone value as part of a committee, and there's upside if Gaskin gets injured again.
Andrew Davenport: The Dolphins' backfield isn't made up of guys with much draft capital or large salaries. Gaskin is, of course, the highest-drafted Miami running back, but Brown fits the mold of a player Brian Flores was looking for when he brought Jordan Howard to town last year. That didn't work out, but Brown showed enough in Los Angeles to hang around as a valuable contributor for a couple of years. The Dolphins are taking a shot that he can help them as well and have spoken openly of using a committee in their backfield. None of the guys he's competing with are exceptional, so Brown should carve out a role and could even end up as the goal-line specialist. Brown is being drafted late like a handcuff, but his fantasy value could be standalone in a committee in Miami.
Pat Fitzmaurice: It's mandatory to move this guy up draft boards now that the Dolphins have signaled that Brown will play a significant role. Our own Matt Waldman has been warning people that Brown's presence will put a major dent in Myles Gaskin's fantasy value since Brown is the sort of jack-of-all-trades running back coaching staffs love. Brown's ceiling is pretty limited, but he has become an appealing safe-floor play, especially in larger leagues.
Andy Hicks: Malcolm Brown survived for six years with the Rams as an undrafted free agent. In the last two years, he managed five touchdowns and was solid as a runner. The depth chart in Miami is weak. The other runners are either late seventh-rounders or undrafted as well. We do not get certain production from running backs late in a fantasy draft. We look for upside and opportunity. Brown is already seeing time as a starter in the preseason and is much better value than the expected starter Myles Gaskin.
Troy King: Brown will be utilized in short-yardage situations and on the goal line. He will be considered a “touchdown vulture.” He is a bigger-bodied back compared to Gaskin and Ahmed. The only area Myles Gaskin struggled with last year was goal-line conversions. Brown is also great at pass protection, which will translate to getting more snaps.
Chad Parsons: Brown is one of the select deep sleepers who may not even require an injury on the depth chart to be the team's RB1 to open the season. Brown is a sturdy veteran with a more prototypical frame than Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed. At a minimum, Brown will be a meaningful element of a committee and fueled to fantasy starter consideration with a Gaskin injury.
Players Receiving 4 Votes
Chuba Hubbard, Carolina
Victoria Geary: Christian McCaffrey played an average of 92% of snaps per game in 2018 and 2019. After his injury-riddled 2020 season, it remains to be seen if the coaching staff adjusts their mindset on McCaffrey's workhorse usage. With Mike Davis leaving in free agency, Hubbard has the potential to carve out a role worthy of some solid FLEX weeks and is an excellent stash as the backup to the best running back on draft boards this season.
Ryan Hester: A fourth-round rookie being Christian McCaffrey’s clear backup suggests more about McCaffrey’s secure workload than Hubbard’s potential. But in the event of another injury to fantasy football’s top pick, Hubbard would inherit nearly the same role. While inexperienced at the NFL level, Hubbard has the skill set to make plays on every down.
Chad Parsons: While Hubbard slid in the NFL Draft to Day 3, his profile is a sturdy one to project potential NFL starts with strong upside. Christian McCaffrey returns from injury and the injury-away role, which produced an impact 2020 from Mike Davis, has Hubbard as the betting favorite. Rodney Smith is a deep sleeper as the incumbent, plus Trenton Cannon and Reggie Bonnafon have also spent more time in Carolina than Hubbard. However, Hubbard's profile and upside dwarf any other non-McCaffrey back on the roster.
Jason Wood: Christian McCaffrey is the No. 1 overall fantasy pick again this year despite missing the majority of last season. Mike Davis -- the definition of journeyman -- was an every-week fantasy starter in McCaffrey's absence. Imagine what a young, talented, fresh-legged tailback like Hubbard can do with the same opportunity?
Ty Johnson, NY Jets
Victoria Geary: The New York backfield remains a huge question mark, and Johnson has a chance to emerge as the early season starter. He averaged 4.7 yards-per-carry and tallied 104 yards against the Raiders in Week 13 when given a starting role. It is worth noting that Johnson started the first preseason game and garnered 11 total touches, totaling 33 yards on the ground and catching both of his targets through the air. Though 28-year-old running back Tevin Coleman was signed in free agency, he averaged under two yards-per-carry last year and struggled to stay healthy and on the field. Rookie Michael Carter is expected to take over this backfield at some point, but Johnson is a good last-round target that could provide FLEX value early on.
Jordan McNamara: Ty Johnson has failed to consolidate a starting role thus far in his career, but he has a great opportunity in 2021 with the New York Jets. There is no clear established RB1 while Johnson has worked with the first-team offense with rookie Michael Carter. We project Carter to lead the team in carries, but with only 41% of the running back carries, amongst the lowest for the projected leaders in the league. Johnson has the perimeter speed capable of producing a Raheem Mostert-lite type of breakout in New York's version of the Shanahan offense.
Chad Parsons: Johnson showed well in Detroit, a previous NFL stop in his young career, and has a quality combination of size and speed. Johnson was the RB1 in the rotation for the Jets' opening preseason game and ahead of rookie Michael Carter of note. Tevin Coleman looms as the potential RB1 to open the season but has hardly been a picture of health when faced with a meaningful workload in his career. Johnson is a sleeper candidate for significant work early in the season with minimal buzz surrounding this depth chart outside of Carter in dynasty and some redraft circles.
Jason Wood: Ty Johnson was an afterthought in most fantasy managers' minds as they perused the Jets depth chart. Tevin Coleman is the veteran addition who comes in fully comfortable in Mike LaFleur's system. Michael Carter is the highly-touted rookie. And La'Mical Perine is the incumbent. Yet, with three weeks until the season, it's Ty Johnson sitting atop the depth chart. He got the start in the first preseason game and has looked great all summer. Johnson has a low floor, but at his ADP, he's a compelling value.
Players Receiving 3 Votes
Devontae Booker, NY Giants
Jeff Haseley: If the case history of running backs recovering from an ACL injury from the previous season are accurate, Barkley may have to deal with a compensatory injury that sidelines him. Whether that's a hamstring, calf muscle, abdominal strain, quad, it could result in missed time. We've seen it before with other backs coming off a severe knee injury. If that happens, Booker is next in line for the Giants and would assume a flex option role at worst if the situation arises.
Andy Hicks: Susceptibility to injury at the running back position is high. Saquon Barkley went down last year. If that were to happen again in 2021, the depth chart looks clear for Devontae Booker to be the main back. Booker struggled with the Broncos as a raw prospect but finally figured it out with the Raiders in 2020. If given a chance, he may lack the upside you would like but will offer bottom-end RB2 production, especially with Barkley possibly missing the start of the season.
Jordan McNamara: Saquon Barkley may miss the beginning of the season and is not expected to be given a full workload until October. This is a good opportunity for Devontae Booker to get some spot starts early in the season. Adding Booker late in the draft gives you an opportunity for an early impact along with an injury-away role when Barkley settles back into form.
Phillip Lindsay, Houston
Jeff Haseley: At 5-foot-8 and 190 pounds, Phillip Lindsay won't be a workhorse back, but he can still carve out a role, especially if David Johnson fails to meet expectations. Houston's offense may be a liability, but I can see them scrambling for high-percentage, shallow-target passes, especially in the second halves of games. That all points to an increase in dump-off passes. Who better to catch them than Lindsay, who is an excellent receiving back. He has always been an overachiever, trying to prove his worth. He may do it again in 2021.
Jordan McNamara: Phillip Lindsay has an opportunity in the Houston offense, drawing the starter role in the offense in the first preseason game. Lindsay has not offered the same receiving skillset as David Johnson but could see an extended opportunity as Houston auditions running backs for 2022 and beyond.
Jason Wood: Lindsay was unceremoniously cast aside in Denver and landed in Houston -- arguably the league's worst team. He has the likes of David Johnson, Mark Ingram II, and Rex Burkhead vying for touches, too. But Lindsay was nearly as good on a per-snap basis as Melvin Gordon III in the Mile High City and has youth on his side relative to his Texans peers. If Houston is in full rebuild mode, wouldn't it make sense to give the youngest back in the committee a long leash to see if he warrants a multi-year extension?
Players Receiving 2 Votes
Giovani Bernard, Tampa Bay
Ben Cummins: Bernard has dual-threat capabilities, and his strength is as a pass-catcher. That’s significant considering the Buccaneers went out of their way to bring him in to make him Tom Brady’s pass-catching running back. Brady has long favored throwing to the running back as he’s lasted this long in the NFL by getting rid of the ball at an extremely fast rate. Neither Ronald Jones II nor Leonard Fournette is a good pass-catching running back. Bernard has a locked-in role in this backfield.
Pat Fitzmaurice: Ronald Jones II is a terrible pass catcher. Leonard Fournette is a more competent pass catcher than Jones, but that's not saying much. Bernard is an accomplished pass catcher who quickly endeared himself to Tom Brady and is likely to play the same role James White played for New England from 2015 to 2019. At a minimum, Bernard will be fantasy-relevant in PPR leagues, and he's probably just one injury away from being an every-week fantasy starter.
Tevin Coleman, NY Jets
Phil Alexander: Rookie Michael Carter is the upside play in the Jets backfield, but it wouldn't be shocking if Coleman opened the season as New York's primary back on early downs. We're at the point in Coleman's career arc where we can safely dismiss the possibility he'll break out in a featured role. But his familiarity with the Jets' new coaching staff from their time together in San Francisco should give Coleman an early leg up on youngsters Carter, Ty Johnson, and LaMichael Perine. Absent injury to a team's current starter, Coleman has a much stronger chance of turning in startable weeks than other backs drafted in the same tier.
Andrew Davenport: It isn't a coincidence that Coleman ended up in New York with a former 49ers coach calling the shots. The presence of rookie Michael Carter has to be part of the equation, but his draft capital is fourth round, and there is room for both guys to play. Putting a lot of faith in Coleman isn't a great idea, but he's the starting running back right now and is being treated as though he's a handcuff. Coleman has been almost free in drafts all summer, and the preseason rotation of backs in New York has confirmed that he'll come out of the gates as the starter and be a great value if he can stay on the field this year.
Rashaad Penny, Seattle
Ben Cummins: Reportedly healthy, for now, Penny projects as the RB2 in an offense that loves to remain balanced, is insinuating they’ll be more uptempo under new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron, and that is led by future first-ballot Hall of Famer Russell Wilson. There is significant upside here, and it’s why I’m interested in Penny for the first time in his career. He likely won’t hit, but I’m not investing much in him anyway. If things do break right, though, the former first-round pick could be a significant game-changer for fantasy managers.
Andrew Davenport: The knee injury suffered at the end of 2019 is still having a ripple effect as Penny didn't play much last year, and he's already had a cleanup procedure during this calendar year. But, the actions of the team say quite a bit. Their depth chart is mediocre, and they didn't move to sign anyone in free agency. When Penny got hurt, he was coming off a two-game stretch where it appeared the Seahawks were ready to use him as a complement to Chris Carson. He posted 29 carries, 4 receptions, 236 total yards, and 3 touchdowns in those two games. Watch Penny's health closely, but he looks fine for the moment and has the inside track for the No. 2 job in Seattle.
Rhamondre Stevenson, New England
Pat Fitzmaurice: Fantasy managers have fallen in love with Najee Harris, largely because he's a bigger back with pass-catching skills. Meanwhile, Rhamondre Stevenson, another big dude with receiving ability, can be had at the end of drafts. He's scored four touchdowns in two preseason games and looks like he belongs. Stevenson is listed at 6-foot-0, 227 pounds on the Patriots' website but played at over 230 pounds at Oklahoma (and maybe close to 240). He had 18 receptions in just six games in his final college season at Oklahoma, averaging 11.7 yards per catch. And, man, this guy is a load to bring down. Ask the Florida Gators, whom he trampled for 186 rushing yards in last season's Cotton Bowl. This is a flyer worth taking.
Jason Wood: The Patriots always have an elite rushing attack, but Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels don't care how many players it takes to get to their end goal. It's been a long time since the Patriots had a reliable, every-week fantasy star in the backfield, but that doesn't mean it can't or won't happen. Stevenson has a big mountain to climb, but when you're digging for gold in the final rounds of a draft, I'll take a powerful rookie runner on a run-heavy team with marginal talent ahead of him on the depth chart.
James White, New England
Ben Cummins: Rex Burkhead is no longer on the Patriots, leaving James White as the clear-cut receiving back in New England. Now, it’s important to note Rhamondre Stevenson was incredibly productive in his senior year at Oklahoma and is currently tearing up the preseason. He’s a name to monitor in his own right. However, he’ll need to earn relevant regular season playing time before White’s locked-in role is affected. White has caught 364 passes over the past six years, and if Mac Jones takes over for Cam Newton, White’s pass-catching upside should increase since Jones is a pinpoint, accurate passer. Admittedly, making start/sit decisions with White in redraft leagues will be a headache. However, that migraine should be mitigated by the fact the cost to acquire White is free. He’s a no-risk investment that has the potential to boom should the stars align. We’ve seen it before.
Andy Hicks: Out of the backs on the 2020 roster for New England, only two saw more than eight receptions. The departed Rex Burkhead and veteran James White. It was expected White would go as well, but the absence of any other pass-catching back means White will see plenty of work. He will be a nice fantasy backup week to week, and if injuries hit should get you a few points every week.
Darrel Williams, Kansas City
Justin Howe: Clyde Edwards-Helaire should further tighten his grip on this backfield, which leaves the reserves devoid of standalone value. But winning in fantasy involves staking claims here and there. With some running back handcuffs going as high as the single-digit rounds, Williams is also essentially free. And he's the top handcuff in the planet's most explosive offense. An injury or demotion to Edwards-Helaire - both of which happened last year - would put Williams in the weekly mix for RB2 volume and touchdown opportunity.
Chad Parsons: Le'Veon Bell is gone from 2020, and Damien Williams' opt-out last season turned into a free agent exit. Williams is left of the incumbents with a consistently managed due to durability, Jerick McKinnon, the notable addition. While Williams lacks the flash of McKinnon's best moments of his career, Williams has shades of Alfred Blue, an all-around solid veteran who has more NFL appreciation than fantasy acclaim.
Players Receiving 1 Vote
Salvon Ahmed, Miami
Jeff Haseley: Myles Gaskin may be the opening day starting running back, but it seems like this is a wide-open opportunity where the best man wins. Salvon Ahmed had two games last year with over 12 carries. In fact, he had 21 and 23 carries in those games, with a rushing touchdown in each. In the other game, with at least 12 carries, he had 5 receptions. Ahmed is essentially free in redraft leagues. Think of him as a late-round pre-emptive waiver add that you don't need to spend any bid money on.
Kalen Ballage, Pittsburgh
Ryan Hester: This is more of a conditional selection because it's based on another Pittsburgh back either falling down the depth chart or being cut. Ballage has looked the part in camp while Benny Snell nursed a multi-week injury. Snell adds no value on special teams, so if he can't beat out Ballage, he could find himself on the outside looking in after final roster cuts. If that happens, Ballage would be one Najee Harris injury away from being a featured back.
Matt Breida, Buffalo
Jordan McNamara: Matt Breida drew first-team work in the first preseason game, with Zack Moss injured. Breida had a strong stretch in 2018 before disappointing in 2020. Breida offers a more explosive element to the Buffalo offense than either Devin Singletary or Zack Moss, which could be attractive to the Buffalo offense that has struggled to get production from the position the past two seasons.
Darrynton Evans, Tennessee
Pat Fitzmaurice: Derrick Henry holds the deed to the Titans' backfield, but there might be room for Evans to contribute as well, and the second-year back could become immensely valuable if anything happened to Henry. A third-round draft pick in 2020, Evans is an explosive playmaker with 4.4 speed and pass-catching chops. He's somewhat slightly built at 5-foot-10, 203 pounds, yet he handled 255 carries in his final college season at Appalachian State, rushing for 1,480 yards and scoring 23 touchdowns. Evans missed half of his rookie season with a hamstring injury, and now he's dealing with a minor knee injury that's keeping him out of preseason games and off the radar.
Wayne Gallman, San Francisco
Andy Hicks: Following the injury to Saquon Barkley, Wayne Gallman demonstrated he was a more than capable running back in the NFL. Signed for basically nothing in free agency by the 49ers, he fits their system well. Opportunity will be the problem. Raheem Mostert has trouble staying on the field, and the rookie Trey Sermon is no sure thing. Gallman can probably be taken on the waiver wire, but if he gets action will not disappoint.
Justin Jackson, L.A. Chargers
Justin Howe: It was surprising to see the Chargers do so little to their running back room, adding only late-round rookie Larry Rountree III to the mix. Rountree doesn't look like a special talent, and Joshua Kelley was atrocious last year (3.2 yards-per-carry) when asked to serve as the stabilizing complement to Austin Ekeler. Jackson has not only survived camp healthy thus far - he's likely locked down the majority of that role for as long as he's upright. Jackson has long battled his own body but has always flashed dynamism (5.6 career yards per touch). Expectations should be set quite low, but there are few better volume dice-rolls in the final 2-3 rounds of a draft.
Xavier Jones, LA Rams
Andrew Davenport: When Cam Akers went down for the season, everyone assumed the Rams would sign someone to bolster their running back room. But that hasn't happened, and it may not. The odd thing is, the conversation around who might play behind starter Darrell Henderson died rather quickly. But right now, Jones is the next man up, and it is unlikely that Los Angeles will hand Henderson 300 touches. Someone will soak up time in the Rams backfield this year, and Jones is the top candidate right now. It's a long shot, but the payoff is big if Jones cements his current spot on the depth chart.
Jerick McKinnon, Kansas City
Phil Alexander: After missing the 2018 and 2019 seasons entirely, it appeared doubtful McKinnon had much left to offer an NFL team. But when injuries to Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman forced McKinnon into the 49ers lead-back role early in 2020, the 28-year-old veteran acquitted himself well. Through four weeks, McKinnon ranked as the RB11 despite only starting two games. Unfortunately, he quickly wore down under the heavier-than-expected workload. He had only 21 touches over his next four games before a stinger suffered in a Week 10 start effectively ended his season. McKinnon's roster spot in Kansas City is still not guaranteed, but he's the most experienced player in the Chiefs running back room, as well as the most athletic. It's easy to envision him carving out a role in the league's most dynamic passing game and re-entering the low-end RB1 conversation if forced into starting duties.
Qadree Ollison, Atlanta
Justin Howe: Recent camp reports have pegged Ollison as the likely No. 2 and direct handcuff to Mike Davis. True, the Falcons' RB handcuff slot isn't quite as attractive as when guys like Tevin Coleman were worth a draft pick. But Davis is an unconventional lead back: 2020 brought his first season with more than 112 rushes, and it came in his age-27 year. If Ollison further tightens his grip on the role, he'll deserve a look as an RB5 on deep benches.
Cordarrelle Patterson, Atlanta
Jeff Haseley: Is it possible? Could we finally see Cordarrelle Patterson become fantasy-relevant? Atlanta's stable of running backs isn't too promising, thus giving Patterson a glimmer of hope. He is a versatile back capable of making plays all over the field. At 6'2, 216 pounds, he has the size to produce. Make him one of your last picks and if he doesn't pan out, move on. That's the joy of a late pick. Better to take a chance now than have to fight waiver claims for him later.
Boston Scott, Philadelphia
Justin Howe: Many are assuming Miles Sanders is facing some dip in his 2021 workload. Eagles coaches keep talking up the committee approach, and some beat writers are expecting a near-timeshare between Sanders and... blank. If there's fire under that smoke, it'll be worth scooping up the most likely candidate for No. 2 late in drafts. Rookie Kenneth Gainwell has seen his ADP rise steadily while Scott, who's handled 190 NFL touches and sits higher on the depth chart, usually still comes free.
Damien Williams, Chicago
Ryan Hester: After opting out of the 2020 season, Williams might be an afterthought. But he shouldn’t be discounted. He put up multiple RB1 stretches in Kansas City, including consecutive postseasons in which he was among the most dynamic players in the league’s most dynamic offense. He’s behind David Montgomery, but all backs selected this late in drafts are behind someone. And Williams would slot into at least a two-down role in front of Tarik Cohen, who can safely be considered a specialist rather than a workhorse at this point in his career.