2021 Fantasy RB Sleepers: 14 High-Upside Running Backs To Draft & Stash, Including A.J. Dillon & James White
Quinn Harris/Getty Images. Pictured: Packers’ A.J. Dillon.
- On the hunt for sleeper running backs to target ahead of your next fantasy football draft before the 2021 NFL season kicks off?
- Our trio of fantasy analysts -- including Sean Koerner, the No. 1 draft ranker of 2019 -- identify their favorite fantasy RB sleepers.
Editor’s note: The following story was written before the news of J.K. Dobbins’ ACL tear broke, so Gus Edwards’ ADP has changed.
Worried that you’re making a snap decision about your fantasy team’s depth at running back? Don’t worry, our trio of fantasy football analysts have your (full)back. Okay, we’ll stop with the puns now — but there’s nothing punny about these excellent RB sleeper options you shouldn’t put to bed (last one, sorry) before your draft. Players are listed below with their ADP as of Aug. 26, according to Bestball 10s.
RB3 and RB4 Sleepers
Sean Koerner: A.J. Dillon RB33 (Packers), Zack Moss RB39 (Bills), Gus Edwards RB44 (Ravens), Latavius Murray RB47 (Saints)
I love the versatility and value each of these players bring. These four backs are all players that go in the same range while offering a high floor/ceiling combo. A lot of these backs’ end-of-season value will come down to their health and the health of the other RBs on their team. Even if their teammate’s remain healthy for all 17 games, all of these players will likely provide a good value return at their ADP, making them a solid investment.
Dillion, Moss, Edwards and Murray should all provide RB3/flex value at times and help out when your fantasy squad is dealing with injuries and bye weeks. And there’s only upside if other backs on their teams miss time.
Chris Raybon: A.J. Dillon RB33 (Packers)
Jamaal Williams averaged a 45% snap rate as the Packers No. 1 back last season. Aaron Jones has never averaged more than 14.8 carries in a season.
Dillon flashed as rookie, averaging 5.3 yards per attempt, including 3.57 yards after contact. That ranked seventh of 79 RBs with at least 40 carries, according to PFF.
The 2020 second-round pick has the rare combination of standalone flex value with monster RB1 upside should Jones go down.
Raybon: Michael Carter RB38 (Jets)
The fourth-round pick is easily the most talented back in the Jets backfield. Ty Johnson and La’Mical Perine are left over from the previous regime, while offseason acquisition Tevin Coleman was barely able to crack the lineup when new Jets head coach Robert Saleh was on the 49ers last year, logging only 28 carries in eight games. I talked more about why I like carter in a previous roundtable.
Samantha Previte: Gus Edwards RB44 (Ravens)
This is sort of a dead zone for running backs, but Edwards truly stands out among this group. He finished as RB35 through 16 weeks in half PPR last season with more competition in the Ravens backfield from Mark Ingram. He is one of the highest-valued handcuffs in my opinion because he is one major injury to J.K. Dobbins away from having RB1 potential and he has standalone value. Edwards scored six touchdowns last season and I think he’ll finish higher than his current ADP.
RB PPR Sleepers
Previte: Nyheim Hines RB43 (Colts)
Hines was third in catches last season among running backs, behind only Alvin Kamara and J.D. McKissic. He reeled in 63 of 76 targets (83% catch rate) for 482 yards and four touchdowns, finishing as RB21 in half PPR and RB16 in full PPR.
I know it’s looking like Carson Wentz is trending toward a Week 1 return, but it’s not as though we thought this offense was going to be super pass-friendly regardless of which QB is under center. If anything, this could work to Hines’ advantage. If his workload stays the same year-over-year, he should effortlessly return on investment at his ADP.
Previte: James White RB51 (Patriots)
White is another obvious PPR sleeper target, especially if we see a switch to Mac Jones under center. Jones has significantly more arm strength than Cam Newton — admittedly a low bar — but isn’t super accurate with deep passes. I think Jones will be better for this offense as a whole and could inject some life back into the team. White’s receptions dropped to just 49 last year with Newton as his QB and he finished as RB51 through 16 weeks in half PPR. That said, he has been the team’s third-best pass catcher for the last two years and was the second-best pass catcher in 2018. I think we will see an increase in targets this year and subsequent production in a Jones-led offense.
Koerner: James White RB51 (Patriots)
With Rex Burkhead gone and Cam Newton looking like he might lose New England’s starting job to rookie Mac Jones sooner rather than later, White provides some exciting upside for a Patriots team that needs to see some solid improvement this season. Bill Belichick was on the outside of the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and had to watch his former star quarterback win a Super Bowl ring without him last year — it’s safe to expect some things to change in New England even if this team isn’t a real contender in 2021. If Jones starts 8+ games, White might even be undervalued at his ADP.
Koerner: Giovani Bernard RB58 (Buccaneers)
Don’t overlook Bernard in PPR formats this season. Speaking of James White, Bernard could fill a similar role for Tom Brady as White did back in New England. My only caveat here is that the Bucs might not provide a ton of trailing game scripts this year.
Deep RB Sleepers Who Could See Value As Season Progresses
Previte: Chuba Hubbard RB52 (Panthers)
Hubbard is another super high-valued handcuff for Christian McCaffrey. We saw Mike Davis seamlessly step into this role, finishing as a top-12 back when McCaffrey was out last season. Hubbard could vie for RB2 production if anything were to happen to McCaffrey.
Previte: Darrynton Evans RB63 (Titans)
Evans is a super high-valued handcuff for Derrick Henry this season and is being drafted as RB76 according to FantasyPros ADP in half PPR. He would stand to see significant carries if Henry were to miss any time.
Koerner: Salvon Ahmed RB65 (Dolphins), Malcolm Brown RB68 (Dolphins)
Brown and Ahmed are both going way too low considering just how volatile Miami’s backfield situation could be this season. Myles Gaskin should begin the year as a workhorse back, but after that? The coaching staff loves Gaskin, but you have to remember that Brian Flores is from the Belichick coaching tree where running back by committee is the norm. Flores is also more than willing to bench players when they struggle (See: Tua Tagovailoa in 2020), making these two more than worth taking a flier on.
Raybon: Jaret Patterson RB88 (Washington)
This is deep sleeper/zero RB territory, but Patterson is worth a last-round pick after what he’s done this preseason. The undrafted free agent has rattled off 111 yards on 26 carries with four missed tackles forced, and caught 7-of-7 targets for 55 yards. He also busted off a 37-yard kickoff return. If Antonio Gibson were to miss time, it would likely be Patterson — not receiving specialist J.D. McKissic or short-yardage specialist Peyton Barber — who would take over as the RB1.
Koerner: Larry Rountree RB92 (Chargers)
A sixth-round pick out of Missouri, Rountree is rookie I encourage you to keep an eye on. He looked great in his preseason debut against the Rams, seeing eight carries for 63 yards. Rountree sits behind Joshua Kelly and Justin Jackson (who could be a 53-man roster cut casualty) on L.A.’s depth chart, but Austin Ekeler leaves room for an early-down back and goal-line back to have fantasy value. Rountree could easily take over that role at some point this season.