Unlike the quarterback spot most of the running backs will fall into the sleeper category. The main difference between the two is that a higher percentage of freshman running backs will play right away. The learning curve isn't quite as steep for running backs, and a bunch of impact freshmen is the norm.
Running Back Keepers
We’ll kick it off again with the keepers. The list is short, as there are just a few talented backs that we see having a bigger impact in 2010 than 2009. It should come as no surprise to fantasy owners that a back from Cal tops our keeper list. I was presented a first-hand look at Shane Vereen in last season’s opener as he turned the corner on the Michigan State defense for an 81-yard score, sealing the victory for the Bears in the fourth quarter. Vereen has the ability to keep the string of top college fantasy football running backs coming out of Berkeley alive (J.J. Arrington, Marshawn Lynch, Justin Forsett and Jahvid Best). Vereen also has some upside in 2009 as Best's insurance policy.
Jermie Calhoun takes a hit in the overall rankings because of a projected lack of PT this season. But if you are talking from a pure keeper standpoint he is in the conversation with Vereen.
Running Back Sleepers
Calling guys like Mark Ingram, Daniel Porter and Baron Batch sleepers would be a cop-out. Ingram is a 2008 sleeper turned fantasy starter. And any fantasy owner that has been paying attention knows the shifty back from Louisiana Tech should see an increase in carries. You could maybe give some leeway to Batch, but he’s on everyone’s radar. When we talk sleepers, we are digging deep into the talent pool for non-household names.
Mikell Simpson is not an unknown, but he may have been forgotten about coming off a broken collarbone that cost him nearly all of the 2008 season. Where Simpson’s value really becomes apparent is in PPR leagues.
While Jim and Brian look to 2008 stats to predict another abysmal year for the Washington Huskies, I’m all-aboard the Husky fantasy bandwagon. One of those reasons will be the return of running back Chris Polk. The other is obviously quarterback Jake Locker. With both healthy we should have a very nice cooperative relationship, one that leads to a more explosive offense.
Harrison Jeffers is an intriguing one. His speed and ability out of the backfield was the talk of the spring. This prompted one of the spring's more memorable quotes, compliments of Tech coach Mike Leach. When asked what Jeffers was doing to get under the skin of Tech defenders this spring, Leach responded with “getting yards." We are firmly in the Baron Batch camp, but Jeffers could be an option in Big Twelve-heavy leagues.
The rest of the sleeper list is a hodgepodge of relative unknowns from small schools. But they have to run the ball too. Undrea Sails, John Mosure, Darius Terry, Tonny Glynn, Brynn Harvey, Leonard Mason and Lamon Muldrow will all go undrafted in 2009, and with good reason. A wait and see approach should be taken with all. But I bet when all is said and done two or three of these backs will be on fantasy rosters. Keep them in the back of your mind when that third round draft pick turns into a bust.