Are you feeling bold? Everyone likes to find the next trendy sleeper in the middle rounds of drafts, but what about those fliers you take with your last couple picks? When a fantasy manager hits big late, the value returned is massive and can be the difference between being a playoff team and having your season end early—plus, the bragging rights are fun too.
Let’s take a look at a quartet of running backs that have the potential to have a significant impact on your fantasy team if things break right. To qualify as a deep sleeper, the player must have an ADP outside of the top 200 in PPR formats (meaning they’re undrafted in most leagues).
Adrian Peterson, Washington To-Be-Determineds
ADP: 207, RB63
Washington’s backfield situation is a fantasy nightmare right now. Derrius Guice is the most talented and sought-after player with RB2 potential, but has an extensive injury history. Injuries haven’t done Bryce Love any favors, either. Rookie Antonio Gibson is a wild card, albeit an exciting one. Peyton Barber, J.D. McKissic, and Josh Ferguson all seem like depth injury insurance for Guice and Love. That leaves ol’ reliable, Adrian Peterson, as the potential lead back.
Peterson was a serviceable fantasy option last season. He had nearly 900 rushing yards and five touchdowns, finishing as the RB35 in PPR formats and RB27 in standard leagues. He’s not a player you’ll ride week in and week out as a flex, but in the right matchup in games in which Guice is inactive, he’ll have the volume to flirt with RB2 potential. Ask yourself, are you betting on 16 games from Guice in 2020? I didn’t think so.
Jaylen Samuels, Pittsburgh Steelers
ADP: 237, RB68
The return of a healthy Ben Roethlisberger will provide a tremendous boost to all of the Steelers’ offensive players. While wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster will likely get the biggest bump, don’t forget about pass-catching running back Jaylen Samuels. James Conner is the starter, but his injury history is concerning (sensing a theme in this article yet?). Samuels will have some sort of role when Conner is on the field, but if the former Pitt Panther is out, Samuels will be on the field for nearly every third-down opportunity and in Pittsburgh’s hurry-up offense.
When Roethlisberger was his quarterback during the three-game stretch Conner missed from Weeks 14-16 in 2018, Samuels averaged 18 touches per game. That resulted in 328 total yards and a touchdown, ranking as the RB11 in PPR formats. That sort of upside still exists and Conner has missed nine games over the last two seasons.
Chris Thompson, Jacksonville Jaguars
ADP: 255, RB72
We’re a far cry from that 2017 season where Chris Thompson ranked as the RB10 (minimum five games played) in average fantasy points per game in PPR formats (15.1). He finished as the RB24 that season in total PPR points despite only playing 10 games. That followed up a season in which he finished as the RB30 in total points. Unfortunately, he’s played only 21 games in the two seasons since then, finishing outside of the top 48 RBs in both 2018 and 2019. However, there’s a glimmer of hope for 2020.
Thompson recently signed with Jacksonville and is reunited with his former head coach, Jay Gruden, who is now the Jaguars’ offensive coordinator. Starter Leonard Fournette was healthy last season, but that appears to be the outlier dating back to his college days at LSU. Thompson won’t be the guy if Fournette misses time, but he could get the majority of the work on pass-catching downs. Considering how often the Jaguars will be trailing in the second half of games, there could be plenty of volume for Thompson and plenty of trust from his play-caller.
Dare Ogunbowale, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
ADP: 293, RB82
This one is a bit of a dart throw, but hear me out. Tom Brady loves checking down to his running backs. James White, Dion Lewis, and Kevin Faulk all saw significant work as pass-catchers out of the backfield. Who’s going to be that guy for the Buccaneers in Brady’s first year in Tampa? It’s not really Ronald Jones’ game—although head coach Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich will surely give him opportunities to improve—nor is it rookie’s Ke’Shawn Vaughn’s specialty. Enter Dare Ogunbowale.
Ogunbowale served in that pass-catching, third-down role last season. He wasn’t productive enough to warrant a spot on fantasy teams, but he might be with Brady looking his way. There’s a very real scenario where Ogunbowale gets eight or nine targets in Week 1 and everyone starts scrambling to add him off the waiver wire. If you have the bench space and are willing to roll the dice, why not get ahead of the crowd? You’ll know pretty early on whether this is a role carved out for Ogunbowale or one of the other backs on Tampa’s roster.