2010 Fantasy Football Preview: Sleeper RBs

ST. LOUIS - NOVEMBER 29:  Justin Forsett #20 of the Seattle Seahawks runs with the ball for yardage against the St. Louis Rams during their NFL game at Edward Jones Dome on November 29, 2009 in St. Louis, Missouri. The Seahawks defeated the Rams 27-17.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

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There are twenty running backs currently going in the first four rounds and 19 of them — Matt Forte excluded — are playing in what I refer to as ‘settled’ running back situations. We can move forward feeling pretty certain that these 19 RBs, barring injury, will get enough touches to be productive starting-caliber fantasy running backs.

But this piece isn’t about those guys. It’s about the rest of this year’s RB crop, or specifically RBs going in the 7th round or later: The Sleepers.

Below is a list of a few guys that I’m targeting later in drafts. They enter the 2010 season unproven, or unsettled in their respective situations, or even over the hill. I’ll list them in order of their current ADP at Antsports:

Brandon Jacobs (7.01)
In his worst season in three years, Jacobs finished as 2009’s RB31 on balky knees. He had them scoped in the offseason and says he feels better than ever. He’s just 28 years old and only has 779 career carries, so his mileage is pretty low given his age. Moreover, the Giants have a great offensive line and a solid passing attack to keep defenders out of the box. I’m expecting a bounce-back year from Jacobs, making him a nice RB2 for owners loading up on WRs early or a great RB3 on any roster.

Justin Forsett (7.05)
Pete Carroll has a history of using RBBC, so if he’s in a major timeshare I’m not sure Forsett is even worth his current draft position. But looking solely at his resume, there’s a lot to be excited about. He averaged 5.4 ypc last season, and had a couple of impressive performances against Arizona (22 touches, 149 yards, TD) and St. Louis (22 carries, 130 yards, 2 TD). He was also #6 in Yards After Contact Per Attempt (YCo/Att) which put him in some good company. Forsett’s prospects for 2010 depend less on his ability to beat out Julius Jones or Leon Washington and more on Carroll’s willingness to let him loose.

Clinton Portis (8.10)
It seems like Portis has been around forever, but he’ll be 29 at season’s start and has averaged 4.0+ ypc over the last two seasons. He is reunited with his former coach, Skeletor, and has been drawing rave reviews in camp, largely because he has lost some weight and has had a great offseason. Considering that Larry Johnson is his main competition, I expect Shanny will go with the guy he knows and give Portis the bulk of the work.

Michael Bush (9.06)
Bush averaged 4.8 ypc last year behind a very suspect offensive line. The Raiders have (probably) realized that Darren McFadden would be more productive in a Reggie Bush-type role, so Michael Bush could be something of a poor man’s Pierre Thomas this season. Bush was #2 in YCo/Att with 3.4 yards per attempt, which gives us a glimpse of his pure strength and running ability. If he runs well in preseason, he should be a nice value in the 8th or 9th round. On the whole, the Raiders’ offense should be better with Jason Campbell under center.

Darren Sproles (10.05)
Not in a PPR league? You can probably skip to the next guy. Sproles is a third-down specialist who is very effective in the passing game. He finished last season as RB22 in PPR leagues largely due to his 45 catches for 497 yards. Ryan Matthews has replaced LaDainian Tomlinson, and Norv Turner would be wise to keep the rookie’s load relatively light in the hopes of keeping him fresh. That means a lot of work for Sproles, who is always a threat to break a long gainer. Also, if your league rewards individuals for punt or kick returns, Sproles is a huge threat on special teams as well.

HOUSTON - DECEMBER 13:  Running back Arian Foster #37 of the Houston Texans runs against safety Jordan Babineaux #27 of the Seattle Seahawks at Reliant Stadium on December 13, 2009 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Arian Foster (11.04)
Of everyone on this list, Foster could very well turn out to be the best value if things break his way. Houston’s offensive line is decent, and Foster had a couple of nice games late last season — 19 carries, 97 yards, TD versus Miami and 23 touches, 145 yards, 2 TD against New England — giving him some momentum heading into 2010. His head coach called the 23-year-old ‘mature beyond his years’ and says he’ll be tough to unseat atop the Texans’ depth chart. Meanwhile, rookie Ben Tate ‘has a long way to go’ while Steve Slaton is spending time in camp working on his kick return skills. This points to Foster as the opening day starter. As long as he doesn’t fumble away the job, Foster’s ADP is bound to move into the middle rounds as the preseason wears on.

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