Ahead of the Curve: Deep Running Back Sleepers

Ken Kelly

cunninghamAhh, football season is back. After putting in a ton of work this off-season (as if there is one around here), the DLF team is excited to finally have Sundays full of NFL action again. We produced over 600 articles without football this year, so you can imagine we’re chomping at the bit here.

Over the past few months, we’ve been focusing heavily on sleepers and prospects in order to keep you ahead of the curve. Early next week, sites are going to be littered with waiver wire articles on players to pick up like Julius Thomas and Marlon Brown.  Followers of DLF not only knew of these players, they likely already had them on their rosters. In short, they’re not sleepers to us any longer and haven’t been for some time. After all, we focused on Thomas as a spotlighted player back in June and then again as one of our Summer sleepers back in July. Our own Chad Scott focused on Brown as part of his Mining for Paydirt article earlier this week.  In fact, he predicted Brown would have exactly four catches, 65 and a touchdown, which HE DID!  Some of the waiver additions on the mainstream sites will certainly be comical to the community here. Now, I’m not saying we hit on every player we mention because we don’t.  However, you subscribe to DLF and follow all our content in order to be ahead of the pack, not with it. Our job is to give you as much information as possible in order for you to manage your teams effectively.

With that concept in mind, there are a few running backs out there who merit roster spots in deep dynasty leagues. While none of them expect to see any early action, they could become significant contributors if the cards fall the right way. It’s important you take some time to become familiar with these players and their situations now instead of later – this is a great time for you to pick some of them up if you have some dead weight on your team and are looking for a deep running back prospect or two

Cierre Wood, RB HOU

The battle to be the RB3 in Houston behind Arian Foster and Ben Tate came down to Dennis Johnson, Ray Graham, Deji Karim and Wood. In the end, Wood won out with a solid, but unspectacular preseason. While most running backs buried that deep on the depth chart don’t merit much roster consideration, Wood is the exception. We all know Foster has been relied on heavily (maybe too heavily) over the past few seasons and Tate is in a contract year. It’s not too hard to connect the dots here. Let’s say Foster can’t really return to form and continues to regress. Let’s also say Tate either gets hurt again or walks during free agency. It’s conceivable to think the Texans could have a new starter at running back soon. While that could just as easily come from the next NFL Draft, that offensive scheme is fantasy gold. If Wood gets a shot in the near future, he’s someone who simply shouldn’t be on waivers.

Jordan Todman, RB JAX

Another player to keep tabs on is Jordan Todman of the Jags. He burst on to the scene when Justin Forsett was injured this preseason and produced 163 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries through three preseason games, good for an average of over eight yards per carry. While many preseason stats can be thrown out the window, remember Todman did it against mostly first team defenses since he was the lead runner with Forsett and Maurice Jones-Drew on the shelf. Todman has spent time with the Chargers and Vikings, but looks to have found a home with Jacksonville. At the very least, he’s a serious threat to Forsett to be MJD’s backup and fantasy handcuff. If MJD was to miss time, Todman would produce much more excitement in dynasty circles than Forsett would. He should be a player to seriously consider stashing as a deep roster project.

Michael Cox, RB NYG

Cox was nearly Mr. Irrelevant at the 2013 NFL Draft, being picked at #253 out of 255 possible selections. Perhaps that gave him a chip on his shoulder as he reportedly worked extremely hard in camp and really surprised the coaching staff. With the injury to Andre Brown, Cox has to battle Da’Rel Scott for playing time behind new workhorse David Wilson. Both Cox and Scott merit consideration in deeper dynasty leagues as Wilson remains unproven at the position. He should at least return kicks to start, so watch his explosiveness closely. If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the years it’s that talented running backs always get a chance. Perhaps Cox will get his sooner rather than later.

Bobby Rainey, RB CLE

It was a bit of a surprise when the Baltimore Ravens let Rainey go during their final cuts. After all, that left them with only Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce at running back. He’s shown some great pass catching skills and was really impressive last preseason before spending the year on the Ravens practice squad, then landing on injured reserve. After being cut by Baltimore, the Browns pounced on him, then cut Brandon Jackson and the aforementioned Dennis Johnson (who they had also claimed off waivers from Houston). With only the unimpressive Chris Ogbonnaya ahead of him on the depth chart, you can see a direct path to meaningful playing time if Trent Richardson was to get hurt. Rainey landed in a great spot and merits a place on deep dynasty rosters.

Benny Cunningham, RB STL

We may have saved the best for last with Cunningham. After signing on with the Rams after going undrafted from Middle Tennessee State, he earned a roster spot after a stellar preseason where he gained 123 yards on 20 preseason carries. Zac Stacy was a hot name who was likely being overdrafted in rookie drafts this Summer as Cunningham has actually looked much better. While you can’t just take the preseason numbers at face value, Stacy only rushed for 68 yards on 23 carries. Cunningham doesn’t have much experience (he had only 336 career carries in college), he’s been productive with what he’s received at every level. When Isaiah Pead returns from injury, it’s going to be very interesting to see what happens on the depth chart. St. Louis has a big pair of shoes to fill that used to belong to Steven Jackson and any player on the roster will have a chance to stake their claim to the job. The Rams could cut Cunningham to make room for Pead on the roster, but if they don’t, that’s going to speak volumes. Right now, Daryl Richardson, Pead, Cunningham and Stacy look like the four best running backs they have. Are you supremely confident in ranking those in order of talent and skill at the moment?  Me neither.

While it’s easier to see these players blow away at a moment’s notice, one or more could hit and become this year’s great running back pickup. We know someone will emerge from the depths of obscurity this year and become a fantasy factor the position since it seems to happen every year. Putting your money on one or more of these players wouldn’t be a bad bet at all.

Note: Feel free to freely make comments on this post as they won’t show up on our home page. We have them locked down as we did with our Summer sleeper series.

ken kelly