2012 Running Back Sleepers
The Win My Fantasy League team discusses running back sleepers for the 2012 fantasy football season.
Mikel LeShoure – I have been very high on LeShoure since he got drafted last year. Yes, his torn achilles tendon would be a major red flag if not entering a less obstructed backfield picture than last year. Jahvid Best has been dealing with concussion issues and the word retirement has been bandied about when discussing Best. LeShoure is the power back an offense like the Lions desperately needs and though I was a big Kevin Smith fan coming out of college LeShoure is and was a superior talent. I have LeShoure ranked a lot higher than some of my colleagues simply because I believe in him as an every-down back and do not believe Best will play in all 16 games. LeShoure must serve a two game suspension but has the talent to finish in the top-25 despite playing in only 14 games. I do understand no one should draft him in the top-25 but my rankings are based strictly on where I think the running back will finish the year amongst other running backs and not where they should be drafted in fantasy drafts. Based on ADP there are only a few other running backs I ranked lower that I feel may finish ahead of Leshoure and they all happen to be fellow second year backs. LeShoure is a 1,000 yard back in the making and at 72 yards rushing per game he will hit 1,000 for the season. LeShoure will also unquestionably be the goal-line back further buoying his value. LeShoure is clearly the most talented back the Lions have and at his current ADP he has a chance to be this years ADP MVP. I have drafted him in every redraft league I am in and own him in 85% of my dynasty leagues. LeShoure is a beast at 6’0, 227 lbs, I am all in.
Shane Vereen – Shane Vereen is currently being drafted as the 55th running back off of the board and with Stevan Ridley’s fumbling becoming an issue, he could have a chance to start. Vereen is already looked at as the Pats back to own in PPR leagues, and now the sophomore who was drafted a round ahead of fellow sophomore Ridley may get his chance to take the reigns of this offense. Vereen is going undrafted in Yahoo! leagues and is available in 88% of leagues polled.
Vereen seems like a decent flex option with RB3 upside for PPR leagues. I have been consciously avoiding Ridley due to his higher ADP and the Patriots seemingly inevitable dreaded RBBC approach. Vereen on the other hand is being drafted late enough to be an ADP value this season. Vereen may end up with the most touches in this backfield.
Ryan Williams – Ryan Williams was drafted for the feature back job in Arizona. Mind you that was before a torn patellar tendon cost him his whole rookie season, but with Beanie Wells coming off an ACL injury they are on equal footing once again. Williams has every-down skills and once he is off his snap count should take the job and run. Wells will still be a good bet for 6+ TD’s but should be the lesser back in this committee. Williams is currently going off the board as the 47th running back off of the board and as the 55th back in Yahoo! drafts. Williams is a high upside flex option who can health permitting finish the season as an RB3 and maybe even a low-end RB2.
Mark Ingram – I believed in Mark Ingram’s 1,000 yard, 10 TD potential last year and a year removed with Ingram looking healthy, confident and more decisive, my feelings haven’t changed. Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas remain in the picture but the Saints did not trade up for Ingram for him to languish on the sidelines when healthy. His role will continue to grow over the course of the season. He is strong, explosive and has better hands than anyone thinks. When deemed ready Ingram will be handed the feature role.
Donald Brown - Brown has been an underachiever his entire career. I don’t see that happening in 2012. This is the first season in which Brown is considered a featured running back and will see the majority of the touches from the backfield for the new-look Colts’ offense. Against the Steelers Monday night Brown showed that he is ready. In PPR leagues, Brown has even more value with his pass-catching abilities and speed. A lot of fantasy owners are underestimating Brown’s potential which could result in a Draft Day steal for you.
Kevin Smith - I don’t really trust anyone in the Lions’ backfield, but Smith is the one who I think will end up being the back to have on your fantasy team in 2012. Smith has had injuries of his own since making a splash in the NFL his first two seasons. However, Mikel LeShoure is coming off a torn achilles and Jahvid Best seems to be made of peanut brittle.
Most people don’t realize that in seven games in 2011 Smith racked up more than 500 yards from scrimmage and seven total touchdowns (four on the ground, three through the air). If Best can’t get over his nagging injuries and if LeShoure struggles, Smith will definitely be a sleeper candidate this season, and maybe more than that, especially in PPR leagues.
Ryan Williams – Williams suffered a devastating torn patellar tendon in 2011 before he even had a chance to prove himself in the NFL. This year looks to be different for the sophomore running back. Fellow Arizona running back Beanie Wells is coming off a career year, but is also coming off a knee surgery he had nine months ago.
Williams was impressive in the Cardinals’ second preseason game against Oakland, carrying five times for 25 yards and a touchdown. I really like the potential Williams possesses if he can stay healthy and he’s definitely a high-end sleeper in my book. His value greatly increases in PPR leagues due to his speed and versatility.
Michael Bush - If the Bears’ game against the Redskins is any indication of how they’ll use the running game in 2012, then I see Bush as a great sleeper pick this season.
Matt Forte is one of the best fantasy running backs in the game, but he could be ceding some goal-line carries to the more powerful Bush. Just against Washington Bush had five carries for 21 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Bush also has increased value in PPR leagues. While taking over for Darren McFadden for the Raiders in 2011, Bush caught 37 passes for 418 yards and a touchdown.
The fact that Forte has struggled with injuries last season (he played in 12 games) also gives me more confidence that Bush is a sleeper pick for fantasy owners in 2012. I wouldn’t be surprised to see at least 700 total yards and six or seven touchdowns from Bush.
Written by Win My Fantasy League Senior Sports Writer/Fantasy Sports Analyst Raju Byfield (Rizzla).