2023 Fantasy Football Running Back Sleepers

by Michael Tomlin
2023 Fantasy Football Running Back Sleepers

Running back sleepers usually end up deciding leagues. That is why the 2023 Fantasy Football Running Back Sleepers are vital to have in your research.

With the blossoming of Zero-RB strategic drafting into the prevalent philosophy, finding running backs later in drafts is even more imperative to your Fantasy Football roster.

Just look at current Average Draft Position (ADP). There are currently eight pass catchers and four running backs going in Round One. Only nine backs are going in the first two rounds.

That means at least three teams, probably more, will have a Zero-RB start. You will need to hit on at least one non-starting level drafted back to succeed.

All of the ADP data for the 2023 Fantasy Football running back sleepers is for half-PPR leagues and is current as of July 8th, 2023.

2023 Fantasy Football Running Back Sleepers

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Samaje Perine, Denver Broncos – ADP: 104.0, RB37

This one is easily the most obvious. He will also be the most prevalent on “sleeper” lists this year. It still does not change the fact he is being drafted too low.

Going as RB37 means that you would think at least FOUR other secondary backfield options are better than Perine. That would combine with thinking every single primary backfield option is better. I disagree on both counts.

First off, why are we so certain that Javonte Williams (currently going two rounds sooner and eight spots higher at the position) is going to be 100%? Will he even be ready for the start of the season?

Even if Williams is back, we are looking at a guy with more than 20 carries in a game just once in the NFL and twice more in college. He is not a workhorse.

Moreso, Sean Payton does not employ a workhorse type of backfield. Each of his last five seasons in New Orleans the secondary option received more than 11 touches per game. The only year the primary had more than 18 touches per game was his last year with Kamara and absolutely nothing until Mark Ingram was picked up. Ingram still got almost 13 touches per game.

In Perine’s career, if he has at least 11 touches he averages 14.8 PPR Fantasy Points per game. That would have slotted him as RB7 last season. That is obviously his ceiling and the more likely outcome is less, but to get a guy with high-end RB1 upside in the ninth round is larceny.

Elijah Mitchell, San Francisco 49ers – ADP: 125.0, RB43

Mitchell is another enticing late-round pick that somehow brings the tantalizing upside along with a solid weekly floor.

I would argue that Elijah Mitchell is the best handcuff in the league. Seriously, what other running back currently going in the top ten at the position has not only a singular player to take his spot but someone that has proven they can do it?

Christian McCaffrey has not been a picture of health the past three years either. CMC has missed 24 games since 2020.

The thing is, I think Mitchell might have a floor of production each week even if McCaffrey is healthy. In the five games that both McCaffrey and Mitchell played together, McCaffrey only had five more rushing attempts. Take out the game Mitchell left early and it is only a one-carry difference.

Obviously, CMC will completely hoard the pass game work of the backfield. There is a reason he is the top running back on the board.

But I know Kyle Shanahan and company have bigger aspirations than McCaffrey dominating Fantasy Football. They have a Super Bowl or bust mindset. They need McCaffrey healthy in January, so I can see Mitchell getting 12-15 carries a week, which in that offense should be good enough for an RB3 at an RB4 price.
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Jerick McKinnon, Kansas City Chiefs – ADP: 130.0, RB44

Just go back to my 2023 Fantasy Football Blind Resumes. Since then, McKinnon has fallen even further down the draft board and I just do not understand why.

McKinnon is the back that Patrick Mahomes trusts the most in both blocking and receiving. This is like the inverse of the previous backfield in San Francisco.

McKinnon will dominate the receiving work, while Pacheco will eat up the carries to try and keep McKinnon fresh. The difference is the guy with the higher upside (you know, catching the ball from the best football player on the planet) is going later.

Only four backs had multiple weeks as the top-scoring running back last year. Austin Ekeler, Josh Jacobs, and Nick Chubb are the obvious ones. McKinnon is the other. And you can get him when people are taking defenses and kickers.

Roschon Johnson, Chicago Bears – ADP: 156.0, RB50

DeWayne McBride, Minnesota Vikings – ADP: 261.5, RB76

Of all of the 2023 Fantasy Football Running Back Sleepers, these two are the biggest boom-or-busts. They are in similar situations with completely different backgrounds, but possibly the same under-valued disrespect.

Roschon Johnson legitimately could be one of the best overall running back prospects in years and we just do not know it because the absolute best prospect was in the same backfield. At Texas, Bijan Robinson averaged seven yards per touch and scored every 15 touches. Johnson averaged six yards per touch and scored every 17 touches.

Johnson flashed big-play ability but did not get enough workload to boost his overall averages/totals by big runs like Bijan.

Now, he enters a backfield shrouded in mystery of who will lead it in production. An underrated rookie in an unknown timeshare is something worth rostering, especially this late in the draft.

McBride had a ton of production, but was at the polar opposite end in school/competition. He enters a backfield that has Alexander Mattison and…. Nothing else. Mattison has looked great in fill-in duties. However, we are talking about a guy that has just five career games with more than 14 carries and never had more than 10 touts two weeks in a row.

Both guys have the ability to be the second-best rookie running back. Both could also end up dropped off your roster by Week Three. Possibly even both of those could happen. But this late in the draft you have to go for some big swings.
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Gus Edwards, Baltimore Ravens – ADP: 206.0, RB64

Only four running backs in the history of the NFL with at least 500 carries have averaged more than 5.1 yards per attempt. Jamaal Charles paces the field at 5.4 yards per carry. Tied for second at 5.2 yards per carry are Jim Brown, Nick Chubb… and Gus Edwards.

I get it, it is easy to forget about Edwards. The guy has played in just nine games with 87 total touches the past two seasons. But do you know who has played even fewer games in the same time frame? The back we all are assuming will make this huge breakout, drafting him in Round Four, J.K. Dobbins.

I don’t see how Dobbins can have more health optimism than Edwards. Should Dobbins miss time, Edwards is the only back currently on the roster with any sort of juice.

Even if Dobbins is healthy, Edwards has Flex appeal. In the games that both players played entirely, it was a 56%/44% split between the two running backs.

In the six-game healthy stretch (not counting the weird game when Lamar Jackson went down early) Edwards averaged 12.3 carries for 67 yards and half a touchdown per game. That averages double-digit Fantasy Points per game, solely from rushing. As your last pick in the draft, you can do worse.

Deuce Vaughn, Dallas Cowboys – ADP: 265.5, RB80

Okay, so this is by far the deepest of my 2023 Fantasy Football running back sleepers. It has the possibility of aging the worst as well.

Should Dalvin Cook, Ezekiel Elliott, or another veteran back sign with the Cowboys then this will be null and void except for the deepest of leagues and dynasty setups. But here in the second week of July and training camp merely days away, Dallas has not signed anyone.

As it stands now, Deuce Vaughn is only battling unproven Malik Davis and already-washed Ronald Jones for the secondary backfield work behind Tony Pollard. Speaking of Pollard, are we sure his workload is going to increase? In 65 career games, Pollard has a grand total of three instances with more than 15 carries.

Last season, Dallas gave 462 carries to its running backs. All but 38 of those carries were centered on two players. So, even if Pollard takes a 25% increase in carries, that would still leave 220 rushing attempts up for grabs.

Vaughn has shown he can handle the rock. He rushed for almost 3,000 yards the last two seasons at Kansas State while adding over 800 more in the air. If he gets the opportunity, he will make the most of it.

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