Five PPR Running Back Sleepers for 2021

Mike Davis Ed0C5142
Source: Icon Sportswire

Leagues aren’t usually won on draft day, but if you can find some late-round running backs that hit, you may find yourself lifting that fantasy trophy at the end of the year.  With how fast running backs get drafted these days, finding the right sleeper might take some research and some luck.  However, if done correctly, a 0 RB draft strategy might not be a terrible plan.

There are plenty of rookies, handcuffs, and potential split carrybacks that are worth a shot in the late rounds.  Often, people overlook players who were drafted in later rounds or who switched teams in the offseason.  It never hurts to stack late-round running backs in hope of finding a gem.  Let’s take a look at some sleepers based on their ADP.  The following ADPs come from our 12-team PPR mock draft.

Mike Davis – Atlanta Falcons

Mike Davis is one of those guys who “quietly” changed teams this offseason.  As a backup to Christian McCaffery, it didn’t really make big headlines when Davis moved on to a new team.  Davis rushed for a career-high 642 yards and 6 touchdowns as the main back when McCaffery went down.  He also caught 59 passes for 373 yards and 2 touchdowns.  

Davis is 28 years old and never has had been the lead back for a team but made a statement in 2020.  Now Davis should be the starter for Atlanta, who has struggled to run the ball in recent years.  Todd Gurley probably won’t be resigned, leaving Davis as the main back.  The only other player of note is Cordarelle Patterson.  Davis is currently being drafted in the beginning of the 7th round but should get the work many top-tier backs are getting.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he begins to slip later as the summer goes on.

Jamaal Williams – Detroit Lions

Playing second fiddle to Aaron Jones throughout his short career, Jamaal Williams has finally moved on.  Williams now goes to a Detroit Lions team that just released Kerryon Johnson, opening up a nice spot behind 2nd year back D’Andre Swift.  Williams rushed for at least 460 yards in each of his first four seasons and caught at least 25 passes.  Williams was a nice change of pace back in Green Bay and easily has the potential to fight for carries in Detroit.

D’Andre Swift showed promise before a concussion derailed his season.  There were some rumors that the concussion had some lasting effects on Swift, which is never a good sign for career longevity.  Swift failed to eclipse the 100-yard mark in the last 4 games back from injury.  That opens the door for Williams, who you can currently nab in the 10th round.  He could move up in ADP if news comes out that he will split carries with Swift, but as of now, he is a solid sleeper pick who is a dual-threat back that could lead the backfield if Swift underperforms.

Marlon Mack – Indianapolis Colts

Marlon Mack has consistently been undervalued as a fantasy running back, and this year will be even worse.  Mack was lost for the season in the first game, opening the door for widely hyped rookie Jonathan Taylor.  Now Taylor didn’t disappoint, rushing for 1169 yards and 11 touchdowns.  He also caught 36 passes for 299 yards and 1 touchdown.  Mack wasn’t far behind in 2019 as the lead back, rushing for 1091 yards and 8 touchdowns.  Now as a Wisconsin fan I am a huge Taylor guy, but you can’t (or shouldn’t) ignore the fact that Taylor rushed for half of his yardage in the final 5 games of the season.  If he was on your fantasy team you may have forgotten how bad he was in the middle of the season.  

Now do I think Mack comes back and takes the starting role again?  Not necessarily.  The Colts also still have Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins, who both have played vital roles in the offense. That said, Mack should have an opportunity to be a part of a 1-2 punch in the Colts’ offense in 2021.  If Taylor underperforms, Mack should see more carries.  Mack is going in the middle of the 11th round, and as a solid runner who should get ~1/3 to ½ of the carries, he could easily be a solid 3rd or 4th option on your fantasy team.

Michael Carter – New York Jets

The Jets are a bit of a “land of misfit running backs” right now, with Lamical Perine being listed as the top back on the depth chart.  They also have Tevin Coleman (who hasn’t found a home since Atlanta) and Ty Johnson.  Michael Carter was a 4th round draft pick in 2021 but landed in a solid spot that could give him a chance to lead or be a big part of a bad offense.  Carter was a good college running back who was overshadowed by fellow Tarheel Javonte Williams.

Out of all the rookies being drafted in the later rounds, Carter has probably the best chance to break through as a true sleeper/gem (obviously not including Najee Harris or Travis Etienne here).  Drafting rookie RBs is always a big risk, but if Carter falls a few more rounds (he’s currently going in the 12th round, before fellow RBs Tevin Coleman and Lamical Perine), he is a prime late-round moonshot. Obviously based on camp we will probably hear who is leading the pack by the time fantasy drafts come around, but if you draft super early, Carter is worth the shot.

Chuba Hubbard – Carolina Panthers 

So I liked Chuba Hubbard coming out of college, but obviously, NFL scouts weren’t that impressed.  Hubbard went in the 4th round of the NFL draft but landed in a solid spot with the departure of Mike Davis.  Now being behind workhorse Christian McCaffery might not seem great, but the Panthers might need to take a step back from pounding him into the ground.  McCaffery suffered numerous injuries in 2020 and probably can’t go much longer at this pace.  The Panthers may need to bring in a backup to take some of the work, and that backup could be Hubbard.

Now Hubbard will have to battle in the summer to make the roster and to take the backup role, but if he lands it, he will be a huge handcuff/backup for fantasy teams.  We all know how much work the Panthers’ backfield gets, so if Hubbard gets a piece of it you will be a happy fantasy player.  Hubbard is going in the 13th round, which isn’t bad for a guy who may get more work than McCaffery owners want to admit. 

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