DS Sleepers

5 PPR RB Sleepers (and 1 bonus deep sleeper)

By Jared Smola 8:08am EDT 8/1/19

In a perfect world, we’d stack our roster with a bunch of workhorse 3-down backs. But unless you’re playing with your Aunt Jo and 10 of her friends, that’s not realistic.

As you move deeper into your PPR draft, you should be targeting RBs who catch the ball. That might seem obvious, but check this out:

Last season, a RB carry was worth an average of .63 PPR points. A RB target was worth 1.56 PPR points -- nearly 2.5x more than a carry.

Targets are the lifeblood of fantasy production in PPR leagues. Here are guys 5 guys, all going in the 12th round or later of PPR drafts, that we project for more than 45 targets this season. (And keep reading for a bonus deep sleeper!)

Dion Lewis, Titans

We’re buying into Derrick Henry in a workhorse role this season. But that doesn’t mean Lewis is without PPR value.

Henry has totaled 39 catches across 3 NFL seasons. That followed 17 grabs in his 3 seasons at Alabama. The guy hasn’t been a significant part of his team’s passing game in a long time.

Even during his massive 4-game run to close last season, Henry totaled just 3 targets.

Lewis, meanwhile, racked up 16 targets and 14 receptions over those 4 games. That was part of a 59-400-1 receiving line last season. Only 9 RBs tallied more catches; only 16 had more receiving yards.

Pro Football Focus ranked Lewis 21st in their receiving grades among 88 RBs who saw 10+ targets last year. Henry ranked 77th.

So while Henry figures to soak up a big chunk of the carries, look for Lewis to remain Tennessee’s primary pass-catching back. And it’s not like this will be a dominant Titans squad playing with leads early and often. Their 2019 win total is set at 8.

And if Henry goes down, Lewis turns into something close to a feature back. Behind him on the depth chart: David Fluellen, Jeremy McNichols and Alex Barnes. Henry, of course, is currently sidelined with a strained calf.

Lewis is a screamin’ value at his 14th-round, RB56 ADP.

Chris Thompson, Redskins

Fantasy owners are over Thompson. A 9th-round pick in PPR drafts last summer, his ADP is now sitting in Round 15 as the 61st RB off the board.

That follows a 2018 season that saw him miss 6 games for the 2nd straight year. Thompson still racked up 41 catches in his 10 outings but ranked just 46th among RBs in PPR points per game, largely because he scored only 1 TD.

That was Thompson’s worst year among the past 3. He ranked 11th among RBs in PPR points per game in 2017. And in a 16-game 2016 campaign, Thompson finished 28th at his position in total PPR points.

Durability is a legitimate concern here — but that’s more than baked into his current price tag. Thompson is still just 28 and has enjoyed a healthy offseason so far.

"I feel totally different than last year," Thompson said early in training camp. "I played through pain [all] of last year. There was not one game where I felt like myself."

While Derrius Guice and Adrian Peterson will handle the majority of carries in Washington this season, neither guy brings anything special in the passing game. Guice totaled 32 receptions over 3 years at LSU; Peterson has only once topped 40 catches in a season and has averaged just 1.4 catches per game across the last 5 years.

Throw in a weak WR corps, and Thompson has every opportunity to capture a big passing game role again this season.

Nyheim Hines, Colts

Hines looked like a strong pass-catching back when he entered the league as a 4th-round pick last year. (In fact, we highlighted him in this article last summer.) He played both RB and WR across his 3 seasons at North Carolina State, cranking out 89 grabs and 10.5 yards per catch. Then the 5’8, 198-pounder blazed a 4.38-second 40 time at the Combine.

He exceeded expectations as a rookie, finishing 8th among all RBs with 63 catches and 15th with 425 receiving yards. Pro Football Focus ranked him 10th in their receiving grades among 40 RBs who saw at least 30 targets.

Now, it must be pointed out that a big chunk of Hines’ production came in the 4 games Marlon Mack missed. He averaged 7.3 carries and 8.5 targets in 4 games without Mack, scoring as the RB11 in PPR points per game. In the other 12 games, Mack averaged just 4.7 carries and 3.9 targets and scored as the RB59.

Note, though, that the Colts went 10-2 in those 12 games with Mack. Positive game script helps early-down guys like Mack and hurts passing-game specialists like Hines. The Colts should be good this year, but expecting them to go 13-3 or 12-4 is optimistic.

Even Hines’ 3.9 targets per game with Mack last year equates to a full season total of 62, which would have ranked 17th among RBs. We currently project Hines for 56 targets — but he still comes out 39th in our PPR rankings. That’s 13 spots ahead of his ADP.

Duke Johnson, Browns

Johnson is coming off his least productive season as a pro. His 40 carries and 201 rushing yards were career lows. So were his 62 targets, 47 catches and 429 yards.

Even still, Johnson finished 38th among RBs in PPR points. That’s a whopping 25 spots higher than his current ADP of RB63.

Johnson has been asking out of Cleveland all offseason, but the Browns have hung on tight. That tells us that they still value what he brings.

And they should. Few RBs have been better in the passing game than Johnson since he entered the league in 2015. His 9.2 yards per catch is good for 6th among 46 RBs with 100+ targets over the past 6 seasons. Johnson ranks 4th in that group in yards per target. His finishes among RBs in Pro Football Focus’ receiving grades: 9th, 17th, 4th and 12th.

Johnson produced as a top-30 PPR RB in each of his first 3 seasons, including an 11th-place finish in 2017.

The question for 2019 is whether he can get back up somewhere close to the 149 touches he averaged across those first 3 seasons. He totaled just 87 touches last year.

Perhaps new OC Todd Monken gets Johnson more involved. Maybe former-OC, now-HC Freddie Kitchens wisened up this offseason and realized Johnson needs the ball.

But here’s the crux: Johnson is a proven asset in the passing game who’s finished top 38 among RBs in PPR points in all 4 of his NFL seasons. There’s no reason not to take a shot on him at his 15th-round ADP.

Jalen Richard, Raiders

If things go according to plan for the Raiders, 1st-round rookie Josh Jacobs will play on all 3 downs this season. That’d leave Richard without much fantasy value.

But Jacobs is no sure thing. It’s not like we’ve never seen a rookie RB struggle in pass protection. And Jacobs ranked just 29th in this year’s RB class in Pro Football Focus’ pass-blocking efficiency.

Richard is certainly capable of handling passing-down duties if needed. Only 5 RBs racked up more receiving yards last year; only 6 tallied more catches. Richard ranked 6th in yards per target and 2nd in yards per route run among 40 RBs who saw 30+ looks. He finished 8th in that group in Pro Football Focus’ receiving grades.

We’ll monitor Jacobs’ usage in the passing game. Richard might be waiver-wire material by October. But in the midnight rounds of your PPR draft, last year’s RB29 in points is worth a shot.

* Bonus Deep Sleeper: Tony Pollard, Cowboys

Alfred Morris might wind up being the Ezekiel Elliott handcuff. But Pollard is certainly the more exciting player — and might hold PPR value even alongside Zeke.

The Memphis product shared a backfield with Rams rookie Darrell Henderson over the past 3 years. That limited Pollard to 139 carries. But it didn’t stop him from compiling 104 catches for 1,292 yards (12.4 YPC) and 9 TDs. Pollard also flashed his open-field ability with 7 kick-return TDs. The 6’0, 210-pounder clocked a sub-4.4-second 40 time at his Pro Day and earned a 72nd percentile SPARQ score.

Shortly after the Cowboys took Pollard in the 4th round of this spring’s draft, COO Stephen Jones made a tepid comparison to Alvin Kamara.

“It’s a little unfair -- he’s certainly not at that level, don’t get me wrong – but a little Kamara to him, as to how he complements Ingram down in New Orleans,” Jones said.

If Pollard has half the rookie season Kamara did, it’d be a rousing success. We’re not even betting on that, barring an extended holdout from Elliott. But the point is that Dallas sees Pollard as an explosive, moveable chess piece.

The rookie is worth monitoring closely this preseason and could be worth a late-round pick in deep PPR drafts.

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