2019 Fantasy Football Running Back Sleepers: Seven Heaven

by Dennis Sosic
2021 Fantasy Football Week 17 IDP Waiver Wire

Welcome Fantasy freaks and geeks as we continue our 2019 Fantasy Football coverage by providing Fantasy owners with running back sleepers to target in your drafts or auctions.

As I mentioned in my Running Back Position Preview, the running backs position is the most critical in Fantasy football. Every owner is looking for running backs during drafts and throughout the season.

Every Fantasy owner should know the elite running backs to select, but what about the late-round selections? Which running back will blow away their draft position? Who are the running back sleepers?

I came up with seven sleeper running backs to help Fantasy owners feel like heaven. Find out who and why and a whole lot more as we dive in the 2019 Fantasy Football Running Back Sleepers: Seven Heaven

2019 Fantasy Football Running Back Sleepers

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D'Onta Foreman, Houston Texans

D'Onta Foreman is currently listed behind current starter Lamar Miller on the Houston Texans running back depth chart. Miller had 210 carries for 973 yards-4.6 yards per attempt-along with five touchdowns in 14 games last season. Miller, who hasn't had a 1,000-yard season since 2016, is in his last of a four-year deal he signed back in 2016. He is a solid back but not a game-changer.

Foreman was projected to have a promising future after being drafted in the third round, 89th overall, by the Texans in 2017. The 22-year-old Foreman seems to finally be healthy after an Achilles injury has hindered his first two seasons. Before his injury in 2017, Foreman played in a total of 10 games where he rushed the football 78 times for 327 yards, with a 4.2 yards per carry average.  Last season, Foreman played in the regular season finale as he made seven rushes and caught two passes, including one of his two receptions being a touchdown.

The fact that they waited until the seventh round to draft a running back and didn't pursue a veteran back only further demonstrates the potential the Texans view in Foreman.

The 2019 Outlook

Foreman was electric in OTA' with the Texans, and his running backs coach Danny Barrett was impressed:

“He’s light-years ahead of where he was last year at this time, coming off the injury and everything. I still think he’s continuing to work hard. I think he’s had a good offseason to date …  and improve on the little things and trying to get back to that form in which we saw prior to me coming into here, which was the 2017 season, his first year.”

The Texans offense is loaded with weapons and the running back in this offense can be quite profitable. Foreman is a somewhat forgotten name in Fantasy circles. However, if you are a Lamar Miller owner, Foreman is a must-own. Otherwise, Foreman is the type of low-risk, high-reward selection that propel Fantasy owners into their playoffs.

Darrell Henderson, Los Angeles Rams

Let's call this the Todd Gurley effect! As I wrote in my Running Backs Preview, the Los Angeles Rams were scared enough about Gurley's knee issues that they went ahead and selected running back Darrell Henderson in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Many NFL fans were caught by surprise by the selection.  However, the writing was on the wall with the soap opera concerning Todd Gurley's health in the NFC Playoffs and the Super Bowl.

Darrell Henderson will play a crucial role in the Rams' offensive success this season. Henderson finished his final college season at Memphis in 2018 with 1,909 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns.

The 2019 Outlook

The best-case scenario for Gurley and the Rams is that he is healthy enough to take on a lesser, consistent workload. The arthritis condition will not go away. It will continuously get worse. How much worse is what all Rams and NFL fans are concerned about.

The carries will be there for the rookie running back regardless. As a backup to Gurley, he will siphon carries to give him a break. If Gurley's condition becomes gradually worse, you got a massive piece of a Fantasy pie which everyone wants.

Henderson is currently going off the board at RB34, which could escalate as more Todd Gurley news becomes available. Do not be afraid to take the plunge on Darrell Henderson early. Fantasy owners will be glad they did.

Kareem Hunt, Cleveland Browns


Every NFL fan knows the Kareem Hunt story. He has been suspended eight games this season for a despicable February 2018 incident in a Cleveland hotel. The Kansas City Chiefs cut Hunt in late November after the video surfaced. The Cleveland Browns signed the local Cleveland product in February this year.

Are fantasy owners faced with a dilemma about Kareem Hunt? How much is one month of Kareem Hunt worth to you? Hunt will primarily be available for the last month of the Fantasy regular season and then your playoffs. Hunt is an explosive play-maker who has averaged 110.5 scrimmage yards per game-third-most among all players. He was having an outstanding 2018 season, posting 824 rushing yards on 181 carries with 26 receptions for 378 receiving yards and 14 total touchdowns. Hunt is a Fantasy stud.

The Cleveland Browns are projected to be offensive firepower this season, led by franchise quarterback Baker Mayfield. Most importantly, in regards to Hunt, the Browns possess an elite RB1 in Nick Chubb. Chubb rushed for just under 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns even though he didn't take the starting role until Week 7.

The 2019 Outlook

Chubb has a firm grasp on the featured back role on the Browns.  He is a likely late first-round or early second-round selection in Fantasy drafts this year. ALL Chubb owners should make a priority to take Hunt as the handcuff to Chubb.

Hunt is going off the board at RB39. Those owners who selected Chubb earlier in their drafts cannot wait to choose Hunt and might even have to take him earlier than expected. Hunt will get touches in his return. He can be a difference-maker in a lot of Fantasy leagues this season. I believe that Duke Johnson will get traded by the trade deadline, therefore opening up playing time for Hunt in conjunction with Chubb. Hunt's upside will provide flex appeal for Fantasy owners and will be on many championship rosters this season.

Ronald Jones, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had an explosive offense last season. They were No.3 in total offense and No.1 in passing attack, and now Tampa Bay signed offensive guru Bruce Arians to be their head coach. His play-calling and being recognized as a "quarterback whisperer" is precisely what Jameis Winston needs in his prove it season. Can Winston take advantage of his coaching style and mantra, "no risk it, no biscuit"?

However, the Tampa Bay running game was abysmal last season. Their 95.2 rushing yards per game ranked 29th, and they were second-to-last in yards-per-carry (3.9). The Buccaneers have finished in the bottom ten in rushing yards over the past three seasons.

The Bucs thought they had their solution to their anemic running game when they drafted USC Ronald Jones in the 2018 NFL Draft. However, Jones face-planted any hopes in his rookie season. He averaged an embarrassing 1.9 yards per carry. He appeared in nine games with zero starts. Jones looked lost out there, and we didn't see the burst and penchant for big plays that he was known for as a Trojan.

Veteran running back Peyton Barber led the team with 871 yards and five scores. Regrettably, he proved that he could not carry the full load as his production dropped as his carries increased.

On the positive side, Jones will get a fresh start with a new offensive system with Arians and new offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich. Arians and Leftwich are smart enough to implement a run game that plays off Jones' strengths. Additionally, Tampa Bay did not draft a running back in this year's draft so Barber and Jones will each get a shot at the featured back in this offense. Lastly, Arian brought in veterans Andre Ellington and Kerwynn Williams via free agency, who played for Arians in Arizona but are nothing more than possible fill-in backs.

The 2019 Outlook

Ronald Jones has every opportunity to be the featured back in Tampa's offense. He will need to take a significant step forward to play up to his draft potential. All indications this spring is that Jones is an entirely different player.

Arians praised Jones and his work ethic and that he has shown improvement with his ability to catch passes out of the backfield. Bleacher Report’s Maurice Moton names Ronald Jones as the one player on the verge of a breakout after OTAs.

Initially, Arians and Leftwich will need to see Jones emerge in camp and preseason before giving him a more significant share of the carries. Jones had the pedigree in college, and he started his pro career with a hamstring injury that slowed down his progression. Now completely healthy and playing in an offensive system more conducive to his style of play, Jones looks to break out and be the featured back that Tampa drafted in 2019.

Jaylen Samuels, Pittsburgh Steelers

Jaylen Samuels proved his value to the Pittsburgh Steelers last season when James Connor was injured. In three starts, the 2018 fifth-round pick compiled 223 yards rushing on 42 carries, a 5.3 yards per carry average (including 142 yards on 19 carries against the New England Patriots). He also generated two seven-catch games last season.

His success could lead the Steelers to institute something that they have never done under head coach Mike Tomlin. The Steelers could run an RB committee. The injury concerns surrounding James Conner shouldn't be taken lightly. The Steelers are looking for creative ways of utilizing multiple backs. Samuels is a dual-threat with skills as a third-down back and can be lined up virtually anywhere on the field.

The 2019 Outlook

Head Mike Tomlin mentioned the committee approach during OTA. While it was a small sample size for Samuels, the Steelers need to take advantage of his pass-catching ability especially with the current question marks at the wide receiver position for the Steelers. Furthermore, the Steelers are implementing plans that incorporate both backs playing together.

Samuels will look to build upon last year with new running backs coach Eddie Faulkner, who was Samuel's position coach at North Carolina State. Samuels was listed as a tight end all four years in college and even qualified as one in some Fantasy leagues last season. Moreover, his versatility brings him more snaps and touches in the Steelers offense. Samuels has secured the passing situation role out of the backfield. With James Conner's injury history, he is more than just a handcuff. He is a Fantasy sleeper to be a running back that you could use weekly in your lineups.

Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles

The Philadelphia Eagles concentrated on improving a rushing offense that finished as the 28th-ranked rushing attack. They were led by a free agent running back Josh Adams, who rushed for only 511 yards last season. The first step to rebuilding their running attack was to acquire running back Jordan Howard for a 2020 sixth-round pick in a trade with the Chicago Bears.

Howard is a physical back who is not flashy or a reliable pass catcher, but he can beat up a defense and excels in short yardage situations.

In addition to Howard, the Eagles selected Miles Sanders with the 51st overall selection in the second round. Sanders replaced Saquon Barkley at Penn State for his junior season. He ranked top 10 in forced missed tackles (47) and runs resulting in a first down or a touchdown (38). ]

Howard is going to receive a bulk of the Eagles’ carries, at least to start 2019 season. Sanders should eventually steal playing time away from Howard. He was able to impress during the team's rookie minicamp last month. Unfortunately, Sanders did not participate in Philadelphia's mandatory minicamp due to a hamstring issue.

There are a few concerns for the rookie running back. He fumbled five times in 2018 and ten times in 38 career college games. He also has minimal experience in pass protection and as a receiver, although he did flash the ability in workouts that he could be a force.

The 2019 Outlook

His missed time during OTA's has resulted in a falling ADP to RB39. Sanders and Howard will split carries, but what degree? Sanders should get the ball plenty enough to make a Fantasy impact that results in him jumping into the RB20-RB25 range. The expectation is that Sanders will fill in a change-of-pace role with the Eagles. His 2019 season should like 800-900 total yards and 6-8 touchdowns.

Ito Smith, Atlanta Falcons

The Atlanta Falcons will look different as we head into the 2019 season. Dirk Koetter returns to Atlanta to rekindle his role as offensive coordinator. The Falcons were the NFL's fourth-best passing offense last season; however, they were also the fifth-worst rushing offense. The new offensive staff talked about creating a more balanced approach, and their inability to run the ball effectively contributed to their 7-9 record.

There were a few other factors that were instrumental in the poor showing in the running game. The Falcons were missing their lead back Devonta Freeman after week 2. Additionally, their offensive line was one of the worst in the league last season.

Last season's leading rusher Tevin Coleman took over the lead back role when Freeman went down with the injury. However, Coleman decided to take his talents to San Francisco. Rookie running back Ito Smith stepped into Coleman's role last season. He rushed for 315 yards and four touchdowns. He demonstrated the ability to catch the ball and pulled in 27 receptions on 32 targets for 152 yards. According to Pro Football Focus, Smith did not record a single dropped pass last season.

The 2019 Outlook

The Falcons concentrated around building the line around six-time Pro Bowl center Alex Mack. Atlanta signed guards James Carpenter and Jamon Brown. Both linemen are enormous and bring power to the interior of their line. Additionally, they drafted Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary who are projected to occupy the right side of the Falcons offensive line.

The reasonable expectation is that Ito Smith will take over Tevin Coleman's role in the one-two punch of the running game in 2019. Based upon Coleman's past usage, Smith will gather close to 200 touches in his new role. The offensive line improvements will raise expectations. Therefore, the projection is that Smith accumulates 900 total yards and five touchdowns in 2019.

Currently, Ito Smith is being drafted as the RB48 and involved in a timeshare with Devonta Freeman. Given Freeman's injury history of only playing 16 games total in his last seasons, Smith could be in line for a considerable jump in touches as a handcuff to Freeman. Smith is a sneaky draft pick in deeper leagues and a must-own for Freeman owners.

Want to see where these players rank at their position for this upcoming season? Take a look at the latest updated version of the Fantasy Six Pack’s staff 2019 Fantasy Football Rankings. 

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