The term sleeper gets thrown around far too freely in realm of fantasy football. Some columnists will give you a list of the 6th through 12th best fantasy running backs from the previous year and call them sleepers because they are not 1 through 5. Others will look at the rookies with the best chance to start and call them sleepers. Anyone can do that. I saw a “sleeper” list that had Shonn Greene, Ryan Matthews and Beanie Wells on it, WOW way to go out on a limb! In order to be a sleeper, by my definition, they have to be players who are not in the top 15 at their position and there must be a compelling reason that they might be productive this season when they have not been in the past.
So, that being said, here are some fantasy running backs that I actually do consider sleepers.
Kenneth Darby St. Louis Rams
Steven Jackson is one of the last remaining fantasy running backs that can still be considered a featured back. He is also a guy who can’t seem to make it through a season healthy. This could give Darby the opportunity to shine in the resurgent Rams offense (said with extreme sarcasm, even if Bradford is the real deal, it will be a couple of years before things click). Whenever a work horse running back like Steven Jackson has a reputation as an injury risk his back up is always a good late round scoop, Darby (or whomever emerges as the RB2 in St. Louis) is no exception.
Bernard Scott, Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals transitioned last season into a power running team. Benson is going to get piled on this season and like Steven Jackson CedBen is one of the few featured backs left in the NFL. If he goes down, the offense will run through Bernard Scott. He averaged 4.3 Yards Per Carry last season in limited action but has great speed and can take it the distance. In addition, the acquisition of Terrell Owens and Matt Jones might actually revitalize the Bengals passing offense giving a shifty runner like Scott even more room to move.
Chester Taylor, Chicago Bears
Chester Taylor was a very productive fantasy running back but had his job snatched away in Minnesota. This was not because he was bad, it was more because Adrian Peterson is really really good, like scary good. Matt Forte, the incumbent in Chicago, had an off year last year and although he is poised for a bounce back year, he will have a short leash. If Forte slips again early one look for Taylor to be the beneficiary.
Michael Bush, Oakland Raiders
I know what I said, “Oakland is a wasteland where once promising fantasy performers go to die”. I still believe that but, with the arrival of Jason Campbell, the Oakland offense might actually be stabilized. I know that Jason Campbell is not held in the highest esteem when it comes to fantasy football quarterbacks, but remember, he has had 8 different offensive coordinators in his remarkably short career. He also outperformed some fantasy quarterbacks that are getting some really good pub, Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan. If Jason Campbell can get some comfort, this could lead to the emergence of a couple of wide receivers with great potential like Chaz Schilens and Louis Murphy. Ultimately this could result in some running room for Michael Bush. Darren McFadden was drafted high and had some great expectations but Michael Bush has been the more productive and consistent runner.
Larry Johnson, Washington Redskins
Grandmama has had a couple of off years and he was run really hard in KC but he has had a little break and look decent down the stretch in Cincinnati last season. I am not saying that Johnson is going to return to his 2005 fantasy production, but Shanahan does have a history of getting the most out of his running backs. Portis appears to be losing steam as the golden boy in DC and Willie Parker is rumored to be holding on by a thread. This could be the break Larry Johnson needs to become relevant in the ranks of fantasy football once again.