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Frascella's Fantasy Corner: These are the sleeper running backs you need to draft this year

** Editor’s Note: With injury concerns piling up – Carson Wentz, Michael Thomas, Dak Prescott, Carl Lawson, Travis Etienne and more of the like – savvy fantasy leagues have been holding off on their drafts. But with the pro football season opening up on September 9, we can only hold off for so long. With that in mind, I’ll be rolling out John Frascella’s fantasy football series over the course of the next few weeks. Let’s go! – Aaron Torres

Performing artists always seem to want to reinvent the wheel. They are always looking for a new sound, or new direction or new stylistic influence. As a result, they are often faced with the following question, do I reinvent myself or just give the people what they want?

And, funnily enough, the same can be said within our fantasy football community. We can all try to come up with fresh takes and new angles or analytical analyses. But… what do most fantasy football coaches really wanna know?

Who are the sleepers? Who are the potential busts? So, I’m not being fancy here or reinventing anything… I’m just giving the people what they want! Here are my running back sleepers for the 2021 fantasy football season:

(If you missed it, John released his list of bust running backs on Wednesday. Click here)

Tony Pollard

It seems like this kid has been waiting in the wings for quite some time now, no? Well, “TP” is still just 24 years of age, and my basis for his sleeper status is the amount of carries Ezekiel “Zeke” Elliott has taken in recent years.

Zeke led the NFL in carries in both 2016 and 2018. In 2019, he had over 300 carries. Finally, last year, his workload was scaled back a bit. In his age 25 season, he dropped down to just 979 yards on 244 carries, despite starting 15 out of 16 games for Dallas.

And we’re all familiar with the old adage, “Running backs don’t last very long” or “running backs have a short lifespan.” The Cowboys are certainly aware of that, and again they will look to protect Zeke whenever they can. (FYI, his over/under on DraftKings Sportsbook this season is still 1,100.5 rushing yards.) But the reality is that their bellcow carried the ball 1,413 times over the past five seasons, and no one is invincible in the NFL – particularly at the running back position.

So, looking at Pollard as the RB43 on Fantasy Pros, I gotta like the potential upside I am getting. There are some backup running backs who are exactly that – just interchangeable backups; perennial bench players. But there are others, like Pollard, who just need their opportunity to pop off. Pollard is an electric, versatile young back. If the injury time bomb goes off, Pollard jumps into the backend RB1 conversation.

Kenyan Drake

Last year he was an overrated, potential bust. That’s exactly the way I viewed him heading into the season, and that happened to be the way things played out. Now let’s play the flip side – he has Josh Jacobs ahead of him in Las Vegas, but now we are getting the right pricepoint on Drizzy Drake.

That’s fantasy football for ya folks, in a nutshell – or Business 101, really – sell high and buy low. I didn’t buy any Drake at his high point heading into last season. This year, well, I was honestly surprised by the size of his contract (2 years, $11 million guaranteed with the chance to earn $14.5 mil). Jon Gruden and Las Vegas are taking this young man very seriously.

Let’s take a look at Jacobs in the other corner of this debate: 4.8 yards per carry as a rookie; just 3.9 last year despite 383.3 total yards of offense from Las Vegas per game. This was a wide-open, up-and-down team in high-scoring affairs, yet Jacobs wasn’t able to bust many big ones. This year, Jacobs’ over/under on DraftKings Sportsbook is just 975.5 rushing yards.

That’s the thing about running backs – you just never know how long their tip-top primes will be. I was buying, buying, buying Jacobs all of last offseason. Now, just a year later going into just his third season in the NFL, I am worried that Drake is equal to him between the tackles. Other than the redzone, I could see Drake going shot-for-shot with Jacobs within the Raiders’ offensive attack.

So, Drake becomes a relative sleeper now as the RB39 in Redraft. It’s funny when you consider that I remember him as high as the RB9 heading into last season. Just a year later, things have changed dramatically and we are now getting the proper pricepoint on Drake.

Salvon Ahmed

Here’s my “super” sleeper, you might say. That Myles Gaskin Hype Train is chuggin’ along quite nicely right now. Ahmed seems like a real afterthought as the RB66 in Redraft. You simply cannot beat this value point.

Ahmed, who is currently just 22 years of age, had 85 yards and a TD vs. the Chargers and 122 yards and a TD vs. the Patriots last season. When Gaskin went down, Ahmed was again looked at as an afterthought replacement. Other fantasy pundits labeled him as “small”, “weak” and simply a “change-of-pace” player, but Ahmed ended up being far more physical than anticipated. Sure, he’s only 196 pounds, but he ran with physicality in the redzone. He made no excuses about his size; in fact, he surpassed expectations rather quickly.

Yes, I should at least mention Miami’s acquisition of Malcolm Brown. I happen to think Brown is a good, solid all-around back, but he naturally just took a backseat to Darrell Henderson and Cam Akers with Los Angeles last season. I think he’s in a similar situation, here – if you are the Dolphins, you want to develop a talented 22-year old like Ahmed. This is a committee; but if something happens to Gaskin, I go to Ahmed over Brown.

In Dynasty, wow, Ahmed is the RB58! Odd to see such a youngster this far down. Again, as is often the case with good sleepers, the risk is little-to-none in this spot. Bet against Gaskin while everyone else is betting on him.

John Frascella is a published sports author and Senior Fantasy Analyst for Aaron Torres Online. Follow him on Twitter for all things fantasy football.

Also, make sure to subscribe to John's fantasy podcast, "Pickin' Pigskin Winners" below


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