The is no more desired commodity than a “sleeper” running back. … What? Hyperbole, you say? OK, fine, we’ll qualify: nothing more desired outside of the top-tier RBs. That make you feel better, you cheeky stickler?
As we have mentioned before, “sleeper” is an outdated term, so think of these more as “undervalued” — since we don’t necessarily believe they can be team-turning components, but we do think they can dramatically outperform their draft position.
For that, particularly with running backs, we have to look deep in the draft. … Or do we? We keep finding one option available in Rounds 6-7 that we find amazing. Can you name him? He came on late last season. By late, we mean he wasn’t a legitimate fantasy factor until Week 12 and beyond. But once he assumed the lead role, he was a stud. And that run of impressiveness continued throughout the playoffs. Figured it out?
Wait … no fair. You saw the picture attached to this article. You cheating son of a … Well, actually, hard to blame you for that. But yes, you’re right, it is Raheem Mostert.
The 49ers had the second-most rushing attempts and percentage of rushing plays of any team last season (only the Ravens had more, and they have a running quarterback). By year’s end, Mostert was San Francisco’s guy. And when he got the job, he was better and more consistent than Tevin Coleman, and Mostert stayed on the field – unlike Matt Breida (now with the Dolphins) or Jerick McKinnon (who has yet to take a live snap with the 49ers in two years because of injury).
In the five games late in the year in which Mostert was the lead back, he averaged 5.92 per carry, scored six touchdowns and added another receiving. In Coleman’s eight-game stretch when he saw the largest workload (he started several others in which different backs got more work), he averaged 3.9 yards per carry and scored six TDs (plus one receiving).
So Mostert wins for productivity in yards per carry, and has a slight edge in TDs, with the same number in fewer games. But also consider this: Mostert scored in each of his six games in a primary role. Coleman scored four TDs in one of his eight games and zero in four others.
Considering the efficiency difference compared to Coleman, and McKinnon’s inability to stay heathy, we envision Mostert being the key component in one of the league’s top run-oriented offenses. And we can sometimes get him after the fifth round? We think you can safely say, among the Madman’s normal collection of dozens of teams, Mostert will be one of, if not the most prolifically owned on our fleet of rosters.
Yet he isn’t the only RB asset to find in rounds later than they should. Also be on the lookout for Breida around the eighth round. We don’t expect much from Jordan Howard in Miami, so if Breida can stay on the field, we like his upside.
Austin Ekeler is an amazing jitterbug. But small-frame RBs normally have a hard time posting consistent fantasy results from year to year. Consider us a bit skittish on his prospects. For comparison, think back to the brief run Justin Forsett had as the Ravens feature RB in 2014-15. They are of similar size (5-foot-8, 195 pounds for Forsett; 5-10, 200 for Ekeler). Forsett followed up a huge 2014 season with a hugely disappointing fantasy outing the following year, despite maintaining his role as the focal point of the running game.
We expect some bumps and bruises for Ekeler, and Justin Jackson should be there to absorb some added workload if that does occur. Though a bit taller (5-11), Jackson is similar weight (around 200). But he also has fewer miles on his wheels. We prefer Jackson to rookie Joshua Kelley, because, as we’ve discussed, we don’t like rookies in the No-Offseason Season of COVID.
Speaking of prioritizing veterans/experience over rookies: Kerryon Johnson and Marlon Mack are being undervalued, though they likely will begin the season as the primary RBs. If they perform well, they are likely to keep that job. Being usurped by rookies D’Andre Swift or Jonathan Taylor, respectively, is not guaranteed.
Similarly, we might not expect great things from Adrian Peterson, but we do expect him to get most of the carries in Washington. And his draft cost is pennies – he can be had in the final few rounds in most leagues.