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2007 Fantasy Football Sleepers - Running Backs
Huddle Staff
August 9, 2007
Quarterbacks | Running Backs | Wide Receivers | Tight Ends

David Dorey's Running Back Sleepers

Brandon JacobsBrandon Jacobs, NY Giants
The departure of Tiki Barber thrust Jacobs into the starting role and conventional wisdom has it that he is just a miscast fullback who will falter and share with Reuben Droughns. True enough, Jacobs is huge at 6’4” and 260 pounds. And he also just ran a 4.45/ 40 in the off-season and ran a 4.5 as a rookie at the combine. Droughns only clocked a 4.6 when he was a rookie. So you have Jacobs who is familiar with the offense and already was a good scorer for the last two seasons now taking over in a Coughlin offense that is ran by Kevin Gilbride. The Giants have one of the softest rushing schedules of any NFL team this year and Jacobs is set for a big season. Droughns is the one that was a miscast fullback (and actually was one prior to his magic season in Denver) and he only came over in exchange for the disappointing wideout Tim Carter. Coughlin likes his rushing game and was instrumental in making Barber go from being an oft-injured, average back to the star we have seen the last three seasons – those three years also being career best marks for Barber. This is a running offense and Jacobs is the guy here.

DeAngelo Williams, Carolina
The first round rookie didn’t do all that much last year but he only had five games with more than 10 carries after being one of the all-time most productive NCAA backs when he played for Memphis. The offense in Carolina imploded last year and the old offensive coordinator Dan Hennings largely stuck with DeShaun Foster. This year Jeff Davidson is installing a new scheme that mirrors the one that Williams had in college. Foster has never proven to be anything more than a mediocre back who gets injured more often than not but Williams will finally get his shot this year. What will also be new is the use of the running backs more as a receiver and Williams has already looked good in that capacity. Forget the Panther’s 2006 season (as they too are trying), this will be a better offense that will finally make use of Williams abilities. While Hennings stood beside Foster during his injury-marred seasons, he is gone and Davidson takes over. It’s a clean chalkboard this year and Williams will get his name on top.

Jerious Norwood, Atlanta
The Falcons brought in new head coach Bobby Petrino from Louisville this year and with him a power rushing game and inventive offense.  In the span of only a couple of months, Petrino has seen his starting quarterback Michael Vick likely gone for the season with legal problems and now Warrick Dunn will miss most or all of training camp after needing back surgery. The Falcons stood pat on bringing in any new running backs in both free agency and the NFL draft which included both Kolby Smith and Michael Bush who played for Petrino in college. Norwood now stands rather alone as the starter there until Dunn returns but the aging, injured and diminutive Dunn is hardly a good fit for the new rushing attack. On the fast track in the Georgia Dome playing in an offense that will need to be balanced without Vick there, Norwood has a very nice situation to exploit.

Scott Boyter's Running Back Sleepers

Deuce McAllister, New Orleans
He's definitely overshadowed by Reggie Bush, and lasted until Round 6 in The Huddle's latest mock draft. There's no way he's the No. 26 running back. McAllister finished the season with 136, 111 and 108 yards in three of his last four games. He'll sneak up on a lot of opponents this season. Make sure you sneak him onto your roster.

Thomas Jones, NY Jets
Freed from the shackles of a frustrating last two seasons in Chicago and sharing the spotlight with Cedric Benson, Jones will bust out with the Jets and show everyone that he can be The Man. Is he Round 1 material? Probably not. But if you can't get a Rudi Johnson, Willis McGahee or Ronnie Brown as your No. 2 RB, make sure you jump on Jones.

Tatum Bell, Detroit
Bell will see the lion's share of carries in Detroit (sorry about that, couldn't resist) as Kevin Jones slowly continues his recovery from a devastating foot injury. With a potentially spectacular group of receivers (Roy Williams, Calvin Johnson and Mike Furrey) distracting defenders, Bell should see plenty of running room. And he's another player itching to prove he's got a lot left. Try to get Bell as your No. 3 running back.

Brent Clement's Running Back Sleepers

Thomas JonesThomas Jones, NY Jets
Jones is a workhorse running back, yet some are giving him the Tiki Barber treatment, of no respect. Jones is the perfect compliment to the Jets offense, and is a foundation piece for this franchise, yet few give him this respect on draft day. Jones is a durable runner, who fights for yards after contact and rarely coughs up the rock, which are all benefits for fantasy owners.

Jerious Norwood, Atlanta
Norwood is a taller, faster Warrick Dunn, who can take the rock to the house on any given play.  The fact Dunn is shelved this preseason, and could miss time in the regular season, is only an added bonus for Norwood owners. Keep in mind the coaching staff in Atlanta is new, and doesn’t have any loyalty to previous starters.  If Dunn doesn’t show what he can do this preseason, he may never get the starting job back from Norwood.

Julius Jones, Dallas
Few outside of Dallas know the mind games Bill Parcells played on Julius Jones.  If Jones fumbled,  he may not play again that game.  If Jones didn’t hit the hole Bill thought was there, he would be benched in favor of Marion Barber. Well folks,  Bill Parcells is long gone, and Julius Jones is the superior runner to Marion Barber.  The fact the new coaching staff is allowing these two to fight for the job in training camp, is a positive sign. This is clearly Jones job to lose. Barber is a 3 yards and a cloud of dust runner, while Jones is elusive and explosive, and runs with power to finish runs. Don’t let the situation in Dallas a year ago fool you.  Jones is the real deal, and is in a contract year.

Michael Courter's Running Back Sleepers

Thomas Jones, New York Jets
The anger Jones harbored against the Bears after they made Cedric Benson the fourth overall pick in the 2005 Draft was turned to gratitude when Chicago dealt him to the New York Jets this past off-season.  Jones instantly becomes the backfield man for a young, rising Jets team in dire need of a productive, veteran tailback after using a piecemeal of rookies and average joe’s in 2006.  Jones will reap the benefits of a youthful, dynamic offensive line led by 2006 first round picks, Nick Mangold at center and D’Brickashaw Ferguson at left tackle.  More good news for Jones, he replaces the erratic and unpredictable QB play of Rex Grossman with the smart and steady veteran leadership of Chad Pennington, which will keep defenses honest and foster offensive time of possession, providing Jones with arguably the best fantasy football opportunity of his career.

Julius Jones, Dallas
Thomas Jones’ brother will be undervalued in many fantasy drafts after two straight seasons of statistical decline, which is a big part of what makes him a sleeper of great promise this year. The two most important developments for his 2007 season?  The addition by subtraction of Bill Parcells finally bowing out after a disasterous comeback attempt in Big D and major improvement along the offensive line.  The Big Tuna seemingly did everything he could to erode Jones’ confidence with questionable game-plans and the unnecessary promotion of Marion Barber in a co-running back approach.  Jones superior talent, matched with significant upgrades along the offensive line designed to bolster the running game, primarily led by enormous Leonard Davis (6-6, 354) at right guard, will allow him to emerge as the No. 1 back in the Cowboys offense.  Watch Jones exploit the newfound seams in opposing defensive lines en route to an enjoyable bounce-back season in 2007.

Adrian Peterson, Minnesota  
His No.7 overall selection in the 2007 Draft dismisses any notion that the rookie back will play second fiddle to backfield incumbent Chester Taylor this season.  Peterson, a breathtaking blend of size, speed and power, steps into an ideal situation for a first year running back.  His primary competition, the veteran Taylor, has a troubling history of breaking down physically, even in a carry-sharing environment.  The Minnesota offensive line boasts the most powerful left side in the league with LT Bryant McKinnie and Pro Bowler Steve Hutchinson, and the Vikings will lean heavily on the running game in an effort to help inexperienced Tarvaris Jackson reduce mistakes and help him manage games more effectively, making Peterson a high value mid-round fantasy pick.

Bob Cunningham's Running Back Sleepers

Thomas Jones, NY Jets
The system is ideal for him.  Jones proved last year with Chicago that he can handle a full load, and the Jets are giddy to get him.  Coach Eric Mangini is innovative, but he still likes running the ball effectively to set up everything else. Look for No. 1 back-caliber stats.

Travis Henry, Denver
His career is hard to figure.  He has essentially been productive whenever he’s been anointed the top guy in a running attack.  And arguably the best place to be that guy is for coach Mike Shanahan at Denver.  I realize he barely qualifies as a sleeper because some analysts have him as a top 10 back going into the season.  I think he could very well end up in the top five.

Marshawn Lynch, Buffalo
Almost every year, there’s a rookie who far exceeds expectations and gains instant stardom, combining excellent raw skills with a coach willing to give him the rock on a regular basis.  Enter Lynch.

Joe Levit's Running Back Sleepers

Thomas Jones, NY Jets
I love the enthusiasm and vigor I have seen from Jones the last two seasons in Chicago. He gets it now that you have to play with passion on every down to excel in the NFL. The Bears may get decent stats from Cedric Benson, but I like the upside of Jones better, and Chicago certainly lost an emotional leader. If you can score Jones in a draft’s third round, don’t hesitate.
Kevin Jones, Detroit
Jones is a risk, to be sure. No one really knows when or how well he will heal completely from his Lisfranc foot injury. That said, he began to play very well under Martz last year, catching enough passes per game to make him a significant fantasy threat. He can reprise that role this year, and since you can draft him after many other backs, you will have a steal on hand if he pans out.

Marshawn Lynch, Buffalo
The Bills are set to let Lynch on a mob of defenders right from the start. He has been getting publicity about receiving out of the backfield too. Don’t let that push you into drafting him too high, but he is still being undervalued in drafts. He won’t share too many carries, though Anthony Thomas might vulture a few goal-line reps.

Kevin Ratterree's Running Back Sleepers

Deuce McAllister, New Orleans
I got McAllister in an early draft at the end of the 4th round.  Considering the questionable situations of running backs drafted in the same neighborhood as Deuce, he sure looks like a solid guy to target to me.  He proved last season he could come back from injury.  He is on a great offensive team.  There is plenty to go around for both Bush and McAllister.  I think he is a solid # 2, or a killer #3.  And in some drafts, that is possible.  Not a true sleeper, but I just think a bit undervalued.

Brandon Jacobs, NY Giants
This is the guy you draft instead of McAllister if you want to go for the home run.  The team he plays for may not be all that good, but I think this guy could be "this years Gore."  High risk.  High reward.  For some reason I feel good about his chances.

Jerious Norwood, Atlanta
While the situation in Atlanta as a whole may not be so great, I still have a lot of optimism for Norwood.  Dunn is fading and they seem to have no other options at this point, so it seems Norwood is going to get his shot.  I traded for Norwood a couple of months ago in a dynasty league, and I am confident in him now than I was then.  His price is creeping up quickly with Dunn's injury situation, so he isn't quite the bargain he was a month ago.  But I think this guy has the potential to put up Westbrook type numbers, and I want him on my team.  

Leon Washington, NY Jets
Leon is a shifty speedster and is a great open field runner and receiver.  I love the guys that can take it to the house any time they touch the ball, and Leon is that kind of player.  Granted, the Jets paid big bucks for Thomas Jones, but Washington is still going to be very involved in this offense, and should the 29 year old Jones go down at any time, this guy could put up some nice games.  Probably not big enough to sustain a starter role for any extended time, but then again, we thought that about Westbrook too.  A real nice 4th or 5th RB that you can snag in the 11th round in PPR leagues, where he may be particularly undervalued.

Ron Dayne, Houston
Oh lord, what has become of me?  Ok, here is the deal.  We have been trying to write off Dayne for years.  He just isn't going away though.  And to top it off, last season he put forth a respectable effort for the Texans.  The Texans signed Ahman Green, but it doesn't matter.  Fate will once again push Dayne into the starting lineup at some point.  I know it.  I accept it.  I'm not going to fight it any more.  I will draft him in deep leagues accordingly.  At the very least, Green is likely going to need to be spelled regularly, and maybe Dayne will rack up some cheap touchdowns in goal line duty.

Paul Sandy's Running Back Sleepers

Thomas Jones, NY Jets
Jones is one of fantasy football’s most underappreciated running backs. Over the last two seasons, he’s averaged about 1,400 yards and 8 TDs. Yet he continues to be drafted in the third round of many drafts. Now that he’s with the Jets, I’m expecting even greater fantasy success. New York has a young, up-and-coming offensive line, a proven offensive system and some talented weapons in the passing game to take pressure of Jones. I’m predicting about the same yardage for Jones, but double-digit TD production.

Tatum Bell, Detroit
Bell is a player who I have been burned by in the past, so it’s with a heavy heart that I recommend him here. Reports out of Lions training camp indicate that he is far and away exceeding offensive coordinator Mike Martz’s expectations. With Kevin Jones on the physically unable to perform list, Bell is a near lock to start on opening day. Most of the average drafts I’ve seen have him being selected with around the 70th-75th pick (Round 5-6) . . . way too low for a starter in this offense. It’s worth noting that Bell has averaged a beefy 6.1 yards per carry on artificial turf in his career. He’ll play 10 games on it this year, so look for a handful of 40+ yard runs.

LenDale WhiteLenDale White, Tennessee
White got some bad press during the offseason because he was reportedly out of shape and overweight. As a result, his value is in the gutter at this point. A few things to point out. White is getting the majority of the reps with the first team offense during training camp. Rookie Chris Henry has really had trouble holding onto the football and doesn’t appear to be much of a threat. Chris Brown is a veteran, but hasn’t proven he can stay healthy. Looking back at last year, Travis Henry put up 1,200+ yards and seven TDs in this offense. White is a more talented rusher who, if he keeps his attitude in check, can exceed Henry’s production.

Darin Tietgen's Running Back Sleepers

LaMont Jordan, Oakland
My gut tells me that the Oakland Raiders are going to surprise some people this season, especially on defense. They have an athletic linebacking corps, led by Kirk Morrison and Thomas Howard. They have a solid pass-rush, led by Derrick Burgess and will be supplemented by rookie sleeper Quentin Moses. The backfield is pretty solid, with the emerging Michael Huff leading the way. This is the long-winded way of saying that the Raiders will put a ton of emphasis on improving their run game as to “shorten the game” and let their defense hold off the opposing offense.  What this means is that a Raider RB has to emerge, right from the get-go. It’s not going to be the Raiders’ free agent pickup, Dominic Rhodes; Rhodes is suspended for the first four games in ‘07 (and Week 5 is Oakland’s bye week). It won’t be the shifty but diminutive Justin Fargas; Fargas does not have the size nor the skill set to be an every-down back in the NFL. Rookie Michael Bush will eventually make a fantasy impact, but it’s highly unlikely it will be this season. That leaves LaMont Jordan.  Jordan was considered to be a major free-agent signing prior to the 2005 season. His ‘05 season was pretty solid, but his ‘06 campaign was basically a huge bust. So why dub him a sleeper for ‘07? Well, I pretty much already outlined it. We know he has talent (see 2005) but will be undervalued due to his sub-par 2006 season. The fact the Raiders will be competing on defense lends itself to formulating an offense that relies on a strong run game. New HC Monte Kiffin is certainly an offensive mastermind, but he’ll most likely key on the run with an unreliable pass game.  I’m not saying Jordan is going to be a top-tier fantasy back or even a RB1 in most league formats (as many thought he would be at some point). I’m betting he will be a very solid flex back, especially in leagues that give a point per reception. Add in the fact that he would LOVE to get off to a hot start in the first four weeks of the season to relegate Rhodes to pure backup duty. If Jordan’s not putting up decent to solid stats to start the season, you might have to cut bait. But again, it’s these kinds of chances that you must make to make a splash in fantasy football.

Lorenzo Booker, Miami
Booker is a proto-typical “third down back”, who will certainly get chances in the Miami offense to spell Ronnie Brown. In fact, he could get more than just third-down chances, as the Fins employed the RBBC when Ricky Williams was around and it seemed to work alright. Booker has plenty of speed and talent and the Dolphins didn’t draft him to simply sit the bench and wait for a Brown injury. With the right matchup, Booker could be a decent flex RB in larger leagues. If Brown tweaks an ankle and is out for a week or three, Booker could step right in and produce. He’s definitely a solid “handcuff” pick to Brown owners.

DeDe Dorsey, Indianapolis
DeDe Dorsey, how’s THAT for a football name. DeDe? As goofy as it sounds, this 5′10″, 194-pound runner from little-known Lindenwood College could steal some carries from Addai this year. HC Tony Dungy has said that he plans on using the two-back system despite the departure of veteran RB Dominic Rhodes. I wouldn’t draft Dorsey with hopes he will get Rhodes-like numbers, but should Addai go down with an injury (and he DOES have an injury history following him from LSU) in his first full-time work in the NFL, it is most likely going to be Dorsey (who’s most familiar with the complicated offense) that would get the carries.

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