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DS Sleepers

7 RB Sleepers for PPR Leagues

By Jared Smola 2:07pm EDT 7/23/16

We looked at the changing RB landscape earlier this offseason and found that the guys lower in the final rankings are producing more fantasy points. It’s 1 result of the proliferation of committee backfields. Touches are being spread to more RBs, creating more usable fantasy options.

We’re looking at those committee types here. Guys who probably won’t lead their backfields in touches or fantasy points, but who will see enough action — especially in the passing game — to at least be spot-start options in PPR leagues.

Bilal Powell, RB, Jets

Matt Forte is the favorite to lead Jets RBs in touches and fantasy points this year. But don’t sleep on Powell.

He hauled in 47 of 63 targets for 388 yards and 2 TDs last season. His 74.6% catch rate and 8.3 yards per catch ranked near the middle of the pack among RBs who saw at least 40 looks. But the team’s other RBs — Chris Ivory, Zac Stacy and Stevan Ridley — combined to average just 6.5 yards per.

Powell was especially impressive down the stretch, with a 32-299-2 line from Week 11 to 16. No RB caught more balls or tallied more receiving yards over that span.

The Jets clearly liked what they saw from Powell, inking him to a 3-year, $11.25 million deal this offseason. That’s just $0.75 million less than Forte received over the same 3-year term. That suggests this could be closer to a backfield by committee than a clear starter/backup situation. Forte turns 31 in December, so it’d be wise for New York to not overwork him.

Powell will again be operating in OC Chan Gailey’s RB-friendly offense. He helped both Powell and Chris Ivory to career highs in catches last year. Gailey has now had 2 RBs reach 30 grabs in 3 straight seasons as a play-caller.

Even without an injury or drop-off in Forte’s play, Powell could see enough action to be a bye-week or spot-start option in PPR leagues. And if he takes over as the lead back, he’d turn into a weekly starter with high-end RB2 upside.

C.J. Prosise, RB, Seahawks

Seattle is probably 1 of the last teams that comes to mind when searching for PPR sleepers. The ‘Hawks have ranked among the bottom 5 in pass attempts in 4 straight seasons. No RB has topped 37 catches in any of those years.

But this is an evolving offense. The Seahawks have a stud QB in Russell Wilson. Over the last 2 years, they’ve traded for TE Jimmy Graham, spent a 3rd-round pick on WR Tyler Lockett and re-signed WR Doug Baldwin to a lucrative 4-year extension. This certainly looks like a team that’s building up its aerial attack.

Prosise should help that cause. The WR-turned-RB tallied 55 catches, 824 yards and 3 TDs over his final 2 seasons at Notre Dame. He’s a ready-made passing down back on a team with a big need in that area. RB Thomas Rawls totaled 11 catches in 4 college seasons and

mustered just 9 as a rookie last year. RB Christine Michael has 4 total receptions in his first 3 NFL campaigns. And rookie RB Alex Collins never topped 13 grabs in any of his 3 seasons at Arkansas.

HC Pete Carroll has already praised Prosises route-running and pass-catching abilities. The rookie is a good bet to immediately take over as the receiving back in a highly efficient passing game that might see a healthy bump in volume this year.

DeAndre Washington, RB, Raiders

We know nothing about Washington as an NFLer, which obviously adds uncertainty to his 2016 fantasy outlook. But we do know that he was a productive pass-catcher in college. He totaled 124 grabs across 4 seasons at Texas Tech, including 30+ in each of his last 3. Washington averaged 8.8 yards per reception and scored 4 times through the air.

We also know that Latavius Murray has been mediocre in the passing game. Last year — his 1st as a starter — he caught a decent 77.4% of his targets but mustered just 5.7 yards per. That ranked 31st among 32 RBs who saw 40+ looks.

It’s certainly possible that Washington quickly emerges as Oakland’s top pass-catching RB. GM Reggie McKenzie has already labeled him a complete back, and Washington saw 1st-team reps this spring.

In a passing game lacking proven commodities beyond Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, Washington could be a key component in Oakland’s 2016 offense.

C.J. Spiller, RB, Saints

Maybe Spiller is cooked. He’s endured a variety of lower-body injuries and has seen his yards per carry sink in 3 straight seasons. He hit a career low with 3.1 yards per attempt last year.

But maybe Spiller is right when he said that his August knee injury played a big role in his disappointing 2015. HC Sean Payton noted this June that Spiller looked noticeably different.

At his current 19th-round price tag, it doesn’t cost much to find out if Spiller has at least 1 more useful season in his legs. Fantasy folks were so excited about his potential in the Saints’ high-powered offense just a year ago that he was being drafted in the 5th or even 4th round.

Upside remains if Spiller is healthy. The Saints have ranked among the top 10 in passing yards and TDs in all 9 seasons with HC Sean Payton and QB Drew Brees. Their RBs have averaged a total of 139 catches per season over that span. Mark Ingram figures to maintain a prominent pass-catching role in 2016, but there’s enough to go around for Spiller to also be busy.

Darren Sproles, RB, Eagles

It feels strange to call Sproles a “hidden gem,” but a 16th-round ADP makes him exactly that.

This guy has ranked among the top 29 RBs in PPR points in 7 straight seasons. Yet he’s currently being drafted as the RB57.

Folks seem to be writing Sproles off because of:

  • early-offseason rumors that he was on the chopping block
  • the addition of rookie Wendell Smallwood

The Eagles kept Sproles, though, at a $3.5 million salary. That’s a significant chunk of change that helps his chances of playing a significant role this season.

As for Smallwood, he’s a 5th-round rookie who might not be NFL-ready coming from West Virginia’s spread offense. At minimum, he needs work in pass protection.

Sproles remains the favorite for passing-down work this year. And insider Jimmy Kempski considers him a very good fit for an offense that plans on using its backs heavily in the passing game.

Shaun Draughn, RB, 49ers

Carlos Hyde has proven very little as a pass-catcher. He totaled 34 receptions in 4 seasons at Ohio State and never topped 16 in a single year. Through his first 2 NFL seasons, he’s caught 23 balls in 21 games and averaged just 5.3 yards per.

Perhaps there’s untapped potential there. But it’s just as likely that Hyde settles in as something closer to a 2-down back.

New Niners HC Chip Kelly has already shown a willingness to deploy a passing-down specialist in his backfield. Darren Sproles caught 55 and 40 balls, respectively, under Kelly in Philadelphia the past 2 seasons. That was despite the presence of LeSean McCoy and DeMarco Murray, a pair of capable pass-catchers.

Draughn is no Sproles. But he did catch 27 balls last year, with 25 of those coming in his 6 starts. That’s 4.2 per game. Draughn also tallied 24 catches for the Chiefs back in 2012 — his only other season with significant action.

The passing-down back in San Francisco this season could be a valuable spot. Although Kelly prefers a run-heavy attack, that’ll be tough to execute if the Niners are as bad as most expect. Vegas has them projected for just 5 wins, 2nd lowest in the league.

Chris Thompson, RB, Redskins

Matt Jones heads to training camp as the favorite for feature-back duties in Washington. But the backfield is far from settled.

As a rookie last year, Jones struggled with fumbles and averaged just 3.4 yards per carry. He was more effective in the passing game, corralling 19 of 25 targets for 304 yards (16.0 YPC) and 1 TD. That’s a small sample size, though, especially for a guy who totaled just 19 grabs in 3

college seasons.

The Redskins might opt to keep Thompson involved as a passing-down back. He was good there last season, hauling in 35 balls for 240 yards and 2 TDs in 13 appearances. Then he caught 8 balls for 89 yards in Washington’s playoff loss to Green Bay.

Thompson is still recovering from January shoulder surgery. And he might not even be guaranteed a roster spot after the team drafted RB Keith Marshall, so don’t go crazy moving him up your PPR rankings. But a strong summer would make him a nice target in deep PPR leagues, especially best-ball setups.

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