9 PPR RB Sleepers

The number of viable RBs in PPR leagues has spiked the last 2 seasons. Check it out:

The number of RBs to average more than 10 PPR points per game vacillated between 32 and 39 for 13 straight seasons from 2002-2014. The last 2 years? 45 and 41.

Perhaps it’s a 2-year fluke. More likely is that the combination of an increasingly pass-happy NFL and the continuation of specialized backfield roles has created more pass-catching RBs that we can plug into our PPR lineups.

Last year, guys like Bilal Powell, Ty Montgomery, Darren Sproles and James White all went late in drafts or undrafted altogether — then caught 40+ balls and averaged double-digit PPR points per game.

Here are 9 guys — all going in the 10th round or later in recent PPR drafts on — who could do the same in 2017.

Duke Johnson, RB, Browns

Johnson was flying off the board in the 5th or 6th round of PPR drafts last summer. That was an aggressive price for a guy who’s always projected as more of a complementary piece than workhorse.

Johnson filled that complementary role nicely last year. His carries sunk from 104 in 2015 to 74. But he boosted his yards per carry from 3.6 to 4.9 to finish with 366 rushing yards — just 13 fewer than 2015.

More importantly, Johnson saw exactly 74 targets for the 2nd straight season. After turning in a 61-534-2 line as a rookie, he posted a 53-514-0 last year. Only 5 RBs caught more balls; only 3 tallied more receiving yards. Johnson ranks 4th in catches and 3rd in receiving yards among all RBs over the past 2 seasons.

The Browns return the same backfield in 2017, and Johnson should play a similar role behind lead back Isaiah Crowell. It’s worth noting that Crowell out-targeted Johnson 34 to 27 over the 2nd half of last season. But Johnson still hauled in 19 balls during that stretch — a full season pace of 38.

We currently have him projected for 52 grabs this season, 5th most among RBs. Johnson comes in at #34 in the PPR rankings. He’s coming off the board at RB39 in the 10th round of recent drafts.

James White, RB, Patriots

White is surprisingly lasting into the late 10th round of PPR drafts. Folks are probably scared to invest in the usually unpredictable Patriots backfield. But White seems relatively secure in the team’s pass-catching RB role.

New England handed White a 3-year extension in April, despite a year remaining on his previous deal. That came after a 60-catch 2016 season and an epic 14-catch, 3-TD outburst in the Super Bowl win over the Falcons.

White benefitted from Dion Lewis’ absence for a big chunk of last season. But note that he out-targeted Lewis 6.0 to 3.6 in the 10 games Lewis played. Lewis, by the way, remains without an extension from the Pats and is set to hit free agency next offseason.

Consider White the odds-on favorite to handle New England’s pass-catching RB role in 2017. That spot has produced a 40+ catch RB in 5 straight seasons and 10 of 17 overall under HC Bill Belichick.

Alvin Kamara, RB, Saints

Kamara needs to prove reliable in pass protection — something he struggled with in college — in order to earn the pass-catching role in New Orleans. But the team appears to want him in that spot, making an aggressive move to trade up and grab him with the 67th overall pick of this spring’s draft.

That followed a rocky college career for Kamara. But he boasts some of the most exciting tape among this year’s RB class. He averaged 6.2 yards per carry across the last 2 seasons at Tennessee. And, most importantly, he racked up 638 yards and 7 TDs on 74 catches — a strong 9.2 yards per catch. Kamara also tested as an 83rd percentile athlete at this year’s Combine.

Landing the pass-catching job in New Orleans would give him PPR upside into the top 35. That role in HC Sean Payton’s offense has produced an average of 61.9 catches per season. The lead pass-catching RB has posted at least 42 grabs in all 11 years under Payton and topped 70 catches 5 times.

Just 16 RBs reached 42 catches last season. They all ranked among the top 34 in PPR points. Kamara is going 44th at his position in recent drafts.

Darren Sproles, RB, Eagles

No active RB has more career catches than Sproles’ 525. He also leads the position with 4,583 receiving yards and 30 TDs.

The big pass-catching production has spanned 3 different teams: the Chargers, then the Saints, and now the Eagles. He’s tallied 147 catches, 1,202 yards and 3 TDs across the last 3 seasons in Philly. The catches and yardage rank 7th and 6th, respectively, among RBs over that time. Sproles’ PPR finishes as an Eagle: 25th, 29th and 24th.

Yet there’s Sproles going 48th among RBs in recent PPR drafts. His rushing volume will probably take a hit from last year’s career-high 94 carries. But there’s little reason to expect his passing-game usage to change.

Free-agent addition LeGarrette Blount arrives with just 46 catches across 7 NFL seasons. Donnel Pumphrey caught 99 balls in 4 years at San Diego State and might be Sproles’ eventual successor. But don’t bet on the 4th-round rookie usurping the still-effective veteran this season.

Giovani Bernard, RB, Bengals

Bernard has been a forgotten man in fantasy drafts, hanging around into the 14th round. It has, of course, been a rough 9 months for him. He went down in November with a torn ACL. Then he watched the Bengals spend a 2nd-round pick on RB Joe Mixon.

So Bernard won’t regain the role that made him a top 17 PPR RB in each of his first 3 NFL seasons. But he won’t completely disappear, either.

Bernard has been 1 of the game’s top pass-catching backs since arriving in 2013. His 187 catches rank 5th among RBs over that span. He sits 4th with 1,671 receiving yards and 11th with 6 TDs. And among 28 RBs with 100+ grabs over the last 4 seasons, Bernard ranks 6th in yards per catch and 7th in yards per target.

So, if healthy, expect him to maintain a pass-catching role — despite the addition of Mixon. As big of a talent as the rookie might be, he remains completely unproven as a pro.

We have Bernard projected for 2.73 catches per game this year, which would be a career low. But he still checks in at #39 in the PPR rankings. He’s at RB54 in ADP.

Chris Thompson, RB, Redskins

The addition of 4th-round rookie Samaje Perine shouldn’t impact Thompson’s role as Washington’s pass-catching back. Perine never topped 15 catches at Oklahoma, totaling 40 grabs across 3 seasons.

Thompson, meanwhile, was solid in his role last year. He hauled in 49 of 62 targets for 349 yards and 2 scores. All 4 marks ranked top 15 among RBs. They propelled Thompson to a 28th-place PPR finish, despite a modest 68-356-3 rushing line.

“I think Chris Thompson's role is big," HC Jay Gruden said this spring. "When you're talking about third downs, that's the most important down in football. There's nobody better as a third-down back in my opinion than Chris. He's got a huge role on this football team.”

There’s even room for Thompson’s volume to climb a bit in 2017 with 214 targets freed up by the offseason departures of WRs Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson.

Shane Vereen, RB, Giants

Vereen’s 2016 was wrecked by a twice-torn tricep and a concussion. He made it through just 3 games unscathed. In those, though, he totaled 31 carries, 13 targets and 8 catches.

That followed a 2015 that saw Vereen compile 59 catches on 81 targets across 16 outings. Both marks ranked 5th among RBs. His 495 receiving yards were good for 6th at the position. And he scored 4 times through the air. Vereen added 260 yards on 61 carries to finish 26th in PPR points.

Vereen had proven himself as a strong pass-catching back even before then, totaling 99 receptions across his final 24 games with the Patriots. He sports a strong 9.1 career yards-per-catch average, including an 8.4 mark in New York the past 2 years.

Vereen took a $1 million pay cut this offseason but will still make over $2 million with the Giants in 2017. Fully healthy, he’s a good bet to regain a significant pass-catching role. Lead back Paul Perkins totaled a decent 80 catches in 3 college seasons but corralled just 15 of 24 targets last year.

Don’t bet on another 59 catches from Vereen, especially after the Giants added WR Brandon Marshall in free agency and TE Evan Engram in the 1st round of the draft. But he could reach 40, which would make him a big value at his current RB64 ADP.

Charles Sims, RB, Bucs

Flash back to 2015. Sims hauled in 51 of 70 targets for 561 yards and 4 TDs. His 11.0 yards per catch ranked 2nd — behind only David Johnson — among 35 RBs who caught 30+ balls. He also averaged a strong 4.9 yards per carry and finished 16th at his position in PPR points.

And that all came alongside Doug Martin’s big 288-carry, 33-catch campaign.

Last year didn’t go as smoothly for Sims. He missed 9 games with knee and shoulder injuries. He sputtered to 2.9 yards per carry.

But Sims remained effective in the passing game. He snagged 24 of 32 targets for 190 yards and 1 score. That’s a 16-game pace of 55 catches and 434 yards. Those marks would have ranked 5th and 7th among RBs.

Tampa’s backfield is more crowded now than it was a year ago. Martin returns, although he’ll open the season on a 3-game suspension. Jacquizz Rodgers is back after joining the team last September and performing decently in spurts. Jeremy McNichols was added to the mix in the 5th round of the draft.

But Sims still looks like the team’s top pass-catching back. He sports a career 10.0 yards-per-catch average as a pro and racked up 203 grabs across 4 college seasons.

The best part about Sims: he’s practically free, with an ADP sitting in the 16th round.

Jalen Richard, RB, Raiders

You might find Richard in our general Sleepers article next month. He’ll be in for a big role this year if the 31-year-old Marshawn Lynch doesn’t work out in Oakland.

But we’re talking PPR sleepers here, so let’s look at Richard’s pass-catching upside. He ranked 2nd among Raiders RBs last year with 39 targets, 29 catches and 194 receiving yards. The guy who led the backfield in those marks, Latavius Murray, is gone.

While Lynch will serve as the lead ball-carrier this season (assuming there’s gas left in the tank), he won’t dominate passing-down work. Lynch has only once reached 40 catches and finished with fewer than 30 in 7 of his 10 seasons. Oakland would be wise to limit his snap count, anyway.

So there should be even more targets for the Raiders’ secondary RBs in 2017. And the team appears to prefer Richard in that role. He out-targeted DeAndre Washington 39 to 23 last year.

Richard has a shot at spot-start PPR value — in addition to big upside as a Lynch handcuff.