When it comes to identifying deep sleepers at running back, most of the candidates have either just entered the NFL or did so within the last few years. As teams consistently demonstrate, opportunity matters as much as ability, and finding a traversable path to a good role can make a world of difference.
Just as the term “sleeper” has changed meanings over the years, so has the related term “deep sleeper.” To many, the latter now means what the former once did: an off-the-radar player with the potential to become relevant in fantasy.
Rhamondre Stevenson, New England Patriots
The New England Patriots have proven historically fickle when it comes to committing to a running back. That dynamic most recently led to the quick rise and fall of former first-round pick Sony Michel, and the same could happen to expected 2021 starter Damien Harris. If that occurs, fourth-round pick Rhamondre Stevenson, a well-built powerhouse back from Oklahoma, could realistically emerge as the new primary back. His current ADP places him outside the top 50 at the position in fantasy.
Joshua Kelley, Los Angeles Chargers
For several years, the Los Angeles Chargers have leaned on a multi-tailback approach on offense. That doesn’t seem likely to change with Joe Lombardi, a former New Orleans Saints assistant, taking over the reins as offensive coordinator. While Austin Ekeler holds the primary role in the timeshare, the Chargers will also split him out wide, leaving someone else alone in the backfield. Second-year pro Joshua Kelley has a chance to take that role and, if Ekeler should miss time again, could become a lead back.
Malcolm Brown, Miami Dolphins
Malcolm Brown flashed on numerous occasions with the Los Angeles Rams but could never unseat the team’s higher-drafted running backs for the full-time job. He now joins the Miami Dolphins who rotated between Myles Gaskin, Patrick Laird, and Ahmed Salvon throughout the 2020 season. A strong training camp and preseason could put Brown in position to become the lead back and, even if he fall short, the injury history of his backfield mates suggests he could end up with the job at some point anyway.
Tarik Cohen, Chicago Bears
Though David Montgomery will serve as the lead back for the Chicago Bears, Tarik Cohen should see plenty of touches in a complementary role. Cohen’s skills as a receiver make him an option in the slot and a receiver out of the backfield, and he will still handle some carries as a traditional running back. If the Bears offense takes a leap when Justin Fields eventually takes over at quarterback, Cohen could become one of the primary beneficiaries.
Qadree Ollison, Atlanta Falcons
Mike Davis has the inside track to the starting job with the Atlanta Falcons, and he appears likely to hold it barring a late addition or injury. However, injuries do occur, and Qadree Ollison offers decent size for the position and has the skills required to run the wide-zone offense new head coach Arthur Smith will install. He could fall into a good role at some point during the upcoming season.