2021 Running Back Sleepers: Embrace the Timeshare

by Michael Tomlin
2021 Running Back Sleepers

My 2021 running back sleepers are not what the term “sleeper” used to mean. With the information overload that the Internet has provided and the spike in Fantasy Football popularity, there just are not true “sleepers” anymore.

These 2021 running back sleepers are just great values later in drafts that are not getting enough hype. You have probably heard of all of the 2021 running back sleepers before. But they are not the sexy picks to make so people overlook them.

Most of these guys are in timeshares with more glamorous names this year. I think these 2021 running back sleepers can bring you solid production floors most weeks with huge upside should things break right.

The information for the 2021 running back sleepers is up to date as of June 22nd and the Average Draft Position (ADP) is per Fantasy Pros.

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2021 Running Back Sleepers

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Devin Singletary, Buffalo Bills

Devin Singletary is being drafted and ranked as the second back on his own team and I just do not understand it. I firmly believe that Singletary is just a better football player than Zack Moss.

Moss was one of the many over-hyped rookies last year that failed to live up to any sort of expectation. Singletary was better by almost any metric.

Singletary averaged 4.8 yards per carry to Moss’ 4.7 yards per carry. That does not seem significant, except for the fact that Moss averaged 1.8 yards before contact with just 2.4 yards after contact. Singeltary averaged only 1.5 yards before contact and 2.9 yards after contact.

So, Singletary had fewer running lanes and fewer yards before contact, but was significantly better after contact and overall. He is also a better receiving back.

Singletary caught 38 passes last year averaged 7.1 yards per catch. Moss caught just 14 passes for 6.8 yards per reception.

The other argument for Moss is that he was the lead back late in the year. Well in the three-game stretch from Week 14 through Week 16, Moss did have more carries than Singletary in every game. Singletary also out-scored Moss in that stretch in PPR Fantasy Points.

Lastly, and most importantly for both Bills’ backs: Josh Allen regression. While I am not expecting Allen to go back to 3,089 yards and 20 touchdowns of 2019, I do think it is somewhere in between that and the 4,544 yards and 37 touchdowns last year.

The Bills have Super Bowl aspirations, so I think he shoulders less of the load in the regular season. That leads to more touches for the running backs where Singletary will break away with the job to become an RB2.

Gus Edwards, Baltimore Ravens

Fun fact: Gus Edwards had more carries than J.K. Dobbins last season. “But Dobbins took over later in the year!” Did he?

In the playoffs, Dobbins had 19 carries to Edwards’ 18. Over the last four total games, Edwards actually had two more carries. So, someone tell me why Dobbins is being drafted and ranked 80+ spots higher than Edwards?

Some will point to talent, but it is hard to knock a guy (Edwards) that has averaged at least five yards per carry all three years in the league. Edwards also had more broken tackles and broke one every 13.1 carries as opposed to Dobbins doing it every 19.1 carries.

The fact of the matter is Edwards set career highs in rushing yards, receptions, receiving yards, and total touchdowns last season. With Mark Ingram firmly out of the picture, I do think this is a two-headed monster with somewhere close to a 50/50 timeshare.

With that kind of workload, Edwards would be Flex-worthy for a lot of weeks. If Dobbins goes down for any period of time though, then you have an RB1.
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Darrell Henderson, Los Angeles Rams

Henderson is a super popular “sleeper” pick for the position this preseason for good reason. He is a player that can provide you weekly Flex upside, who is also an injury away from being a no-doubt RB1.

Cam Akers is yet another second-year back getting a little too much hype this year. As I wrote in the Los Angeles Rams Fantasy Preview, I do not think I have ever seen a back get so much respect after a 625-yard season.

I mean I get it. Akers was phenomenal in the playoffs. I also remember the 171-yard performance against New England. However, the 21-carry, 34-yard day in Week 17 against the lowly Arizona defense concerns me more than the other games hype me up.

While Akers is definitely the lead back, this is going to be a timeshare. Malcolm Brown and his 134 carries/targets are gone without anyone of note to replace him.

If Henderson gets even fifteen percent of those touches then his production last year extrapolates to double-digit Fantasy Points per game. If he were to pull half of those touches, you are looking at the RB19 from last season.

Most importantly, Matthew Stafford is in town. Stafford has targeted running backs more than 140 times per season, on average. Goff only threw 71 passes their way last season. Henderson will catch 50 balls even if Akers is healthy all year.

As I said with Edwards, Henderson gives you weekly Flex production with elite potential should Akers go down or struggle.
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James White, New England Patriots

Death, taxes and James White being under-rated in Fantasy Football. Look, I get it. Last year was pretty bad for him. But it was bad for the entire Patriots’ offense because of Cam Newton’s play.

One of two things is going to happen this year. Cam Newton will be fully healthy and play better, or Mac Jones comes in and starts. Either way, there will be a ton of passes to the running backs in New England.

Damien Harris and Sony Michel are not receiving backs at all. Rex Burkhead is gone. White could end up with over 90% of all receiving targets and catches for the Patriots’ running backs. Do you know how many targets that was in a down season last year? 129.

Sign. Me. Up. If White gets over 100 targets he will easily be an RB2 in PPR formats. He averages 1.68 PPR points per target over his career, so you can do the math there. Remember, he was RB18 in 2019 and RB7 in 2018. Those years he received 95 and 123 targets respectively.

His receiving numbers alone will warrant him a spot in your lineup every week. When you factor in the third-down rushing he gets then you could have a steal in the double-digit rounds of your draft.

Tevin Coleman, New York Jets

The Jets’ backfield is going to have someone that helps wins leagues this year. No one in the backfield is going in the top 40 at the position or within the first 120 picks by current ADP. Yet, someone will become a back worthy of your starting lineup.

My pick of the group is Coleman. I honestly do not understand why he is being drafted/ranked behind other guys in the backfield. It is the disease of the industry to over-hype rookies so that people can be “first” on “liking” a guy.

The reality of the situation is the other two running backs are fourth-round picks. It is not like the Jets just loved either player if they let them fall to day three of the draft.

I mean I cannot guarantee that Coleman gets a huge role. La’Mical Perine and Michael Taylor could be diamonds in the rough. I just know that Coleman has as good a chance of leading the backfield and if he does, he will produce.

In his last four full seasons, Coleman scored almost nine touchdowns a year. This was in a timeshare with Devonta Freeman, but Coleman was still able to reach the end zone once every 19.6 touches. For comparison's sake, the RB2 last year Dalvin Cook only scored once every 20.7 touches.

The guy can just find the end zone. And there are 278 running back touches up for grabs in the Jets’ offense. Coleman has averaged almost exactly one PPR Fantasy Point per touch in his career. So if he can pull 60% of those vacated touches, you are looking at an RB2 for an RB5 price tag.
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Javian Hawkins, Atlanta Falcons

The popular question this year is, “Who is this year’s James Robinson?” By that, people are looking for that undrafted rookie running back that can turn into Fantasy Football gold. Not enough people are answering with Javian Hawkins.

The single biggest factor in Fantasy Football success is not talent. It is opportunity. I would argue that Hawkins has a better opportunity to produce than anyone outside of the Top 32 running backs.

The only real competition in the Falcons’ backfield is Mike Davis. The same Mike Davis that is a journeyman running back, playing for four different teams in his six-year career. Mike Davis who has only had two career games with more than 16 carries.

People are just assuming Davis takes on this workhorse role in the Atlanta offense. But it is not like he did that last season, getting just 13.5 carries in his games started with Christian McCaffrey out.

The Falcons gave 367 carries to their running backs last season. Even if Davis gets the 13.5 touts per game again, there will be more than 150 carries left to go around.

Lastly, Hawkins is flat-out good. He is easily the best running back that did not get drafted and I would put him closer to the top tier of backs in the class. Go watch his highlights against the Miami Hurricanes’ defense with multiple NFL defenders on it. He put up 164 yards on 27 carries, showing both durability and explosiveness.

The kid is bouncy (explosive as well as off defenders) with big-play potential. I think he ends up taking over the lead role by the end of the season. As your RB6 that you draft you really could not get more potential.

That’s it for the 2021 running back sleepers! Check out the rest of our 2021 Fantasy Football content from our great team of writers!

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