Fantasy Football RB Sleepers: Does James White Boast Value Alongside Dion Lewis?
- Every fantasy owner wants to be the genius who picks the right late-round running back. From James White to DeAndre Washington, here are eight of the best options.
The Staples Series of the SI/4for4 Fantasy Football Draft Kit will cover the three labels fantasy owners have come to know and love over the years: breakouts, sleepers and busts. In this installment, SI’s Michael Beller and 4for4’s John Paulsen give their sleepers at running back position.
James White, RB, Patriots (ADP: Round 9)
White’s role in the Patriots’ running game is minimal, but his role in the passing game is what’s important to the fantasy community. Based on White‘s stats before and after Dion Lewis returned from injury last season—3.7 catches for 32 yards and 0.33 touchdowns per game without Lewis,3.4 catches for 32 yards and 0.33 touchdowns in the nine games (including playoffs) leading up to the Super Bowl—White’s passing game remains unaffected by Lewis. Of course, White had a monster performance in the Super Bowl, turning 20 touches (14 catches) into 139 yards and three scores. In early drafts, White’s ADP has hovered around 40, making him a fantastic value in PPR formats if he indeed hangs onto his job. —John Paulsen
Jamaal Charles, RB, Broncos (ADP: Round 11)
Last season was a lost one for Charles. Unable to completely recover from the torn ACL he suffered in 2015, Charles was limited to three largely ineffective games before packing it in for the season. But don’t forget, the last time we saw Charles healthy he was his usual dynamic self. In that 2015 season, he totaled 541 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns in about four and a half games before tearing his ACL against the Bears. Yes, he suffered his second significant knee injury and crossed the age-30 threshold since then, but Charles still has some good football left in him. The Broncos won’t tax him with a starter’s workload, instead figuring out ways for he and C.J. Anderson to complement one another. That’s good news for those who invest in a player who likely can’t handle the volume he once commanded. Charles still carries an RB2 ceiling, but you won’t need him to be to turn a profit at his draft-day price. — Michael Beller
Duke Johnson, RB, Browns (ADP: Round 12)
Johnson’s 2016 season is universally viewed as a disappointment, but, statistically speaking, it was almost identical to his 2015 rookie campaign that excited the fantasy community. Barring an injury to Isaiah Crowell , Johnson isn’t going to be Cleveland’s lead running back. On the bright side, is there any reason he can’t be the Browns version of Tevin Coleman to Crowell’s Devonta Freeman? Sure, Cleveland’s offense is nowhere near as explosive or efficient as Atlanta’s, but the comparison works. Johnson is an adept receiver out of the backfield, and head coach Hue Jackson is already talking about lining him up more as a receiver this year, with the possibility of turning him into the team’s primary slot receiver. In two seasons, Johnson has caught 114 of 146 targets for 1,048 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Remember, too, that he did that mostly out of the backfield, and that Cleveland’s passing game was a trainwreck last year. Should Cody Kessler or Deshone Kizer get most of the starts for the Browns this year, there’s reason for optimism that the offense will be competent. — MB
Terrance West, RB, Ravens (ADP: Round 12)
West managed 1,010 total yards and six touchdowns on 227 total touches in 2016, even while splitting time with Kenneth Dixon for the last half of the season. Dixon’s out for the year after meniscus surgery, but the team brought on DannyWoodhead—who missed all but two games last season with a torn ACL— to play on passing downs. Looking at Woodhead’s stats from his last three seasons, one can think that West will see a similar workload as last year, whenhe finished as theRB23 in PPR andRB24 in standard.Woodhead has averaged 10.6 touches per game in his last 21 games, and when that’s factored into Baltimore’s offense (Ravens’ running backs had 441 touches last year),it will leave approximately 270 touches for other Baltimore running backs. Coach JohnHarbaugh has said repeatedly this offseason that he’d like to run the ball more, and with Woodhead in town, West could see some of those additional carries. —JP
Thomas Rawls,RB , Seahawks (ADP: Round 13)
This is just as much a bet on Rawls, the player, and the possibility that Eddie Lacy flops in Seattle, asit is one on his price . It’s hard to have a great feel for Rawls, given what we’ve seen from him the last two seasons. No one can deny how great he was filling in forMarshawn Lynch two years ago, before a broken ankle ended his season. Rawls was largely ineffective last year, but he dealt with leg injuries most of the season, including a fractured fibula. As such, we haven’t seen him fully healthy since he was doing his best Lynch impression back in 2015. With that in mind, and with the last two years of the Lacy experience in Green Bay still so fresh, it’s hard to square the difference in theirADPs . Lacy may have a leg up at the start of training camp, but Rawls will have every opportunity to win the job, and he’ll be involved in the offense no matter what. Additionally, Lacy played just five games because of an ankle injury of his own last year. Rawls will be just 24 years old when the season begins. —MB
Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Buccaneers (ADP: Round 14)
At the absolute minimum, fantasy owners who draft Rodgers are getting three starts out of him. At the most, they’re getting a year-long starting running back in what should be an excellent offense. It’s hard to price him any higher than his 14th-round ADP given the distinct possibility that he’s a short-term starter, but that price is more than fair given the potential payoff. The Buccaneers offense didn’t lose a thing when Rodgers took over as the starter after injuries to Doug Martin and Charles Sims last season. Across a three-game stretch in the middle of the year, Rodgers racked up 324 yards and a touchdown on 75 carries, good for 12.8 points per game with his legs alone. Just as importantly, the Buccaneers didn’t alter the offense, but simply installed Rodgers in the typical lead back role. This is a classic low-risk, high-reward move, with the bonus of giving fantasy owners a guaranteed payoff for the first three weeks of the season. — MB
Joe Williams, RB, 49ers (ADP: Round 14)
San Francisco GM John Lynch has openly questioned RB Carlos Hyde’s fit in Kyle Shanahan’s outside-zone running scheme. Enter: Williams. At Shanahan’s request, the team traded up in the fourth round to draft the rookie out of Utah, who gained 1,332 yards in his final seven games at Utah, including a Rose Bowl stadium record for a college running back with 332 rushing yards in a win over UCLA. As a handcuff, Williams is worth a late-round pick, but there’s the added bonus that he has a legit chance to win the starting job outright due to his fit in Shanahan’s system. — JP
DeAndre Washington, RB, Raiders (ADP: Round 18)
At 31 years old, Marshawn Lynch is no spring chicken, and he struggled with both injury and effectiveness in 2015, appearing in just seven games for the Seahawks. Given the high quality of Oakland’s offensive line, savvy fantasy owners should look to Lynch’s potential replacements for late-round value. There is, however, some debate about who will be the lead back if Lynch were to go down. Will it be Washington (7.4 touches per game in 2016, 24 touches in the two games that Latavius Murray missed), or Jalen Richard (7.0, 20)? It’s likely that the Raiders will utilize some sort of a committee, though we believe that Washington has the clear edge as a rusher.— JP