Fantasy Football: 5 Late-Round Running Backs to Target
Nowadays, sleepers can be hard to come by with so much information available to fantasy football players. But every year, a couple of late-round draft picks prove themselves to be worthwhile fantasy assets.
Each of these running backs is going extremely late in drafts -- or even undrafted in some cases -- based on Fantasy Football Calculator's half-PPR ADP, and they have difference-making upside. When you're in the final rounds of your drafts, consider taking a shot on one of these players instead of wasting away a bench spot on a second quarterback or taking a defense before your final round.
Matt Breida, San Francisco 49ers
ADP: 10.05 (RB 48)
With Jerick McKinnon now at risk of starting the season on Injured Reserve, it opens the door for Matt Breida to cement himself as one of the top options in the San Francisco 49ers' backfield. Last year, Breida posted one of the most under-the-radar seasons as he recorded a top-25 running back finish in half-PPR leagues despite missing two games (and being banged up in a few others). Not only was he a productive fantasy running back, Breida was also efficient with his work as he finished as the 14th-ranked running back in terms of total Net Expected Points (NEP).
Our metrics aren't the only evidence of Breida's efficiency, though. Breida averaged an outstanding 5.3 yards per carry, seventh out of 72 running backs with at least 50 carries. His receiving prowess shouldn't be discounted, either, as he didn't drop a single pass out of the 27 on-target throws he saw.
If you're worried about Breida having to compete for snaps with other running backs on the team, think again. Last year the 49ers had two running backs on the field for nearly half of their snaps, per Sharp Football Stats, far and away the highest rate in the league. In 2017, San Francisco was a close second (behind only New England) in percentage of plays with at least two running backs (33 percent).
Finally, Breida's consistency in his production is key to his value if he continues to get steady work in Shanahan's offense. Out of the 14 games he played, he produced at least 12 half-PPR points in seven of them. Similarly, in the nine games in which he recorded double-digit carries, he averaged 13.1 half-PPR points. His RB48 ADP is nearly in line with our projections as we have him ranked at RB45, so grab him before his price rises.
Dion Lewis, Tennessee Titans
ADP: 13.07 (RB 56)
Dion Lewis is in a similar situation to Breida as the Tennessee Titans' incumbent starter, Derrick Henry, continues to deal with a calf injury, keeping him out of full practice. Subsequently, this potentially makes Lewis one of the best backs available late in fantasy football drafts.
Should Henry's injury keep him out for multiple games, Lewis has very little competition for touches behind him on the depth chart. Undrafted free agent David Fluellen and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers fifth-round pick Jeremy McNichols figure to take on some of the work, but their pedigree (or lack thereof) shouldn't worry Lewis owners.
It is well known that Lewis poses more of a threat in the receiving game than as a true runner. Last year, Lewis finished with 59 receptions and 400 receiving yards, which contributed to a Reception NEP of 21.04, good enough for 19th among all running backs. Additionally, his 88.06 percent catch rate was third-best among running backs with at least 20 receptions. Henry is no threat to take receiving work away from Lewis as Henry has totaled only 46 targets combined over the past three seasons.
If the Titans plan to run the ball as much as head coach Mike Vrabel has talked about, someone will need to give Henry some rest, and that someone will be Dion Lewis. While not fantastic, Lewis has been a capable running back, averaging 4.3 yards per carry over the course of his eight-year career. As our 50th-ranked running back, drafting him as the RB56 gives you some potential value.
Gus Edwards, Baltimore Ravens
Last year, rookie Gus Edwards burst onto the scene after Alex Collins went down with a foot sprain that took him out the last six games of 2018. But apparently people are now just casting Edwards aside because of the presence of veteran free agent Mark Ingram and rookie draft pick Justice Hill. Still listed as the second running back on Baltimore's depth chart, Edwards offers fantasy owners more than the current marker is giving him credit for.
If you take Edwards' stats over the last seven weeks of the season and extrapolate them to a 16-game pace, he would have finished with 280 carries for 1,495 rushing yards, and 5 touchdowns. That would have put him at RB16 on the season, which is outstanding for a player with very little receiving upside. Additionally, among running backs with at least 50 carries, Edwards finished second in Rushing NEP per carry (0.17). Similarly, Edwards had a 46.23 percent Rushing Success Rate -- the percentage of his carries that increased Baltimore's expected point total -- finishing third among that same group of running backs.
Unfortunately Edwards doesn't offer the same receiving ceiling that other backs have. In the 11 games he played last year, he caught just two passes on two targets -- not great for someone you want to fill in as a workhorse running back. Despite his lack of receiving, Edwards still finished as the RB15 from Week 11 through Week 17, when he was considered the leading running back in Baltimore.
Lamar Jackson was the quarterback for each of the seven games that Edwards started, so it bodes well for him that Jackson will continue to be the starter in 2019. Not only that, but Ingram will also be 29 years old entering the year, putting him at higher risk of injury and potentially thrusting Edwards back into his primary running back role.
All in all, Edwards is a worthy late-round dart throw who could pay off in a big way if he stays ahead of Hill on the depth chart.
Ryquell Armstead, Jacksonville Jaguars
In the first two seasons of his NFL career, Leonard Fournette has played 21 total games. Due to several leg injuries and off-the-field issues, Fournette missed three games during his rookie season. Last year, his season was cut in half due to a nagging hamstring injury in addition to another one-game suspension.
In April, the Jacksonville Jaguars spent a fifth-round pick on Ryquell Armstead to be a safety blanket in the event that Fournette misses time again. Though Armstead currently sits behind Alfred Blue on the depth chart, Blue is currently dealing with an ankle injury that took him out of Jacksonville's latest preseason game.
Armstead is the same kind of ground-and-pound running back as Fournette, and he doesn't offer much in the passing game as he had only 29 catches in his four-year college career. However, he demonstrated that he's a capable running back as he posted 1,098 rushing yards -- on an average of 5.2 yards per carry -- along with 13 rushing touchdowns in his senior year.
The big key in Armstead's value will be Fournette's ability to stay on the field. According to Sports Injury Predictor, Fournette has a 56.8 percent chance of injury this season. If Fournette went down for an extended period of time, Armstead could be in line to see a major share of the workload.
Dexter Williams, Green Bay Packers
If you're looking for a free, under-the-radar back, look no further than the Green Bay Packers' sixth-round pick, Dexter Williams. Through most of the offseason, Packers head coach Matt LaFluer has preached that he will use a running back by committee approach, almost certainly opening up some opportunity for Williams to spell starters Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams.
LaFleur said running back is one of the more violent positions in the league with the punishment those players absorb. He believes a committee approach is the most effective regarding Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams. #Packers
— Michael Cohen (@Michael_Cohen13) February 27, 2019
Not to mention, both Jones and Jamaal Williams have dealt with hamstring injuries to start training camp, giving Dexter Williams the chance to take some first-team reps in their absence. In last Thursday's preseason game against the Houston Texans, Williams took advantage of this opportunity. In Green Bay's second preseason game, Williams paced all Green Bay running backs in rushing attempts (14) and rushing yards (62) on his way to accumulating a team-high 80 yards from scrimmage, certainly helping his cause.
In his four years at Notre Dame, Williams' efficiency was through the roof as he averaged an astounding 6.3 rushing yards per attempt. Unfortunately, he hasn't been as prolific in the passing game and has struggled with drops, potentially putting his roster spot in jeopardy. However, should he figure that out and earn himself a spot on the depth chart behind Jones and Williams, he wouldn't be too far away from seeing time in what should be a potent offense.