As we continue through the 2016 NFL preseason and the rosters of all 32 teams begin to take shape, a number of players will start to surface as fantasy football sleepers.
Identifying sleepers is paramount in fantasy football as the stars typically perform as expected. Thus, it’s the guys who fill out your roster who tend to be the difference between a disappointing campaign and championship glory.
With that in mind, here’s a look at the top-five fantasy football sleepers (in no particular order) at running back as we speak.
Chris Ivory – Jacksonville Jaguars
Chris Ivory shocked the masses in 2015 with the New York Jets, tallying 1,287 total yards (1,070 rushing, 217 receiving) and eight total TDs (seven rushing, one receiving) while averaging a solid 4.3 yards per carry. For reasons unknown, many fantasy football players are expecting NFL sophomore T.J. Yeldon to get the majority of carries in the Jacksonville Jaguars backfield, but this simply won’t be the case.
Ivory is the No. 1 running back on Jacksonville’s depth chart and head coach Gus Bradley is wise enough to realize his young offense needs Ivory’s veteran leadership. Not to mention the fact that he carries far more upside in the short-term.
Ivory is garnering more attention in many fantasy football expert rankings of late, but is still being underrated overall. He carries tremendous value for the company he is currently being lumped in with, and should be taken over guys like Danny Woodhead and Rashad Jennings in standard settings every single time.
Bilal Powell – New York Jets
Speaking of the New York Jets, Bilal Powell had an impressive campaign of his own last season, and is developing into an interesting fantasy football sleeper. In 11 games, Powell compiled 313 rushing yards over 70 carries (4.5 yards per carry) with one TD on the ground, and added a respectable 47 receptions for 388 yards and two TDs in the pass attack.
Don’t let the fact that Bilal has the veteran Matt Forte ahead of him on New York’s depth chart assuage your temptation for rolling the dice, as there are plenty of touches to go around. And at 30-years-old, Forte will be given a fair amount of plays off in favor of Powell in order to keep him fresh all season. Thus, it’s fair to assume Powell could obliterate value in the late rounds.
Derrick Henry – Tennessee Titans
It’s clear the whispers that were vociferous in nature in regards to Derrick Henry being a bust in the NFL were terribly exaggerated. Henry is a gargantuan human being (for a running back), yet has the athleticism of someone half his size. And as evidenced in the video above in which he carries grown men with him into the end zone during his first preseason game, the combination of Derrick’s size and speed has the potential to make him incredibly dangerous at this level.
While I totally understand that DeMarco Murray is going to get the lion’s share of touches for Tennessee, make no mistake: The Titans are going to use Henry early and often this season, particularly in the red zone and on the goal line. Take a flyer on Henry and thank me at the end of the season.
Giovani Bernard – Cincinnati Bengals
Fantasy football sleepers can oftentimes be found on teams that the majority of NFL fans simply don’t know enough about/see much of. Clearly, the Cincinnati Bengals aren’t one of the league’s premier franchises, and fall into that category.
The Bengals will once again heavily feature both Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard this season, but there’s reason to believe they will have a short leash with Hill after he struggled to move the chains in 2015. Bernard will be a major factor in PPR leagues due to his prowess for production in the pass attack (49 receptions, 472 receiving yards last season) but also projects to be put into more scoring situations and should be targeted in standard settings in 2016.
Justin Forsett – Baltimore Ravens
Injury and ineffectiveness devastated Justin Forsett in 2015. In 11 games, Forsett tallied just 641 rushing yards and two TDs. This made him one of the biggest busts of the fantasy football season.
Just a year prior, in 2014, Forsett finished with 1,266 rushing yards and eight TDs on the ground to go along with 44 receptions for 263 receiving yards. If Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh is indeed correct about Justin returning to his 2014 form, Forsett is one of the biggest sleepers in the NFL.
Javorius Allen and Terrance West might get some touches here and there, but Justin will be Baltimore’s bell cow. Take Forsett over guys like Jay Ajayi and Charles Sims every time.
[Photo by Frederick Breendon/Getty Images]