Sleeper Spotlight: Three Underrated and Underdrafted Running Backs (Stacy, Hillman & Ellington)

by Will Overton

After a couple of brief years where the dominant thought shifted a bit we are back to the thinking that fantasy owners need to go running back early and often, if not back to back in the first two rounds. The reasoning behind this is that we’re told the depth just isn’t there at running back this season, which there is a case for.

This is why guys who may be perceived as going too high like Matt Forte and Chris Johnson, going in or near the second round, are going when they are. Inevitably though every year we have a few guys who fly under the radar and end up being top 20 backs. So while there may not be depth on the surface, it always shows up, it’s just a matter of finding those late round steals.

Last season it was Alfred Morris and to a lesser extent it was Stevan Ridley who was drafted in every league, but never much higher than the 75 – 90 range. Now the question is who will it be this season. I’ve got a few names of guys being drafted outside the top 100 overall right now who could finish the season as top 20 running backs.

Zac Stacy – St. Louis Rams: I’m not crazy about this one, but someone has to get the job in St. Louis. Right now the guy we’re told is the leader in the clubhouse and the guy being drafted the highest is Daryl Richardson. I’m just not sold on him yet, he had moments last season, but he faded late in the year with just 24 yards on 16 carries in the last five games. He also never crossed the goal line as a runner or receiver.

Stacy isn’t great, he isn’t a future hall of famer, probably not even a pro bowler. However he is a good between the tackles runner who runs with authority. Stacy also, despite being a rookie, is also more NFL ready than the other I think. Lastly, he’s the bruiser back of the group, almost a smaller Peyton Hillis type.

The upside of Stacy right now is that I think even if he isn’t the lead back, he ends up being a short yardage and goal line back. Richardson isn’t made to run between the tackles or at the goal line. Stacy looks to be made for just such a thing. What if he only runs for 500 yards, but gets 7 – 8 touchdowns? There’s value there and guys like Michael Bush who do the same thing without the same upside are being drafted higher.

Ronnie Hillman – Denver Broncos: I get it, I know when the Broncos drafted Montee Ball and I know how good he was in college. I can to a point understand why everyone is ignoring the announcements that Ronnie Hillman is the starter right now. It wouldn’t surprise me if Ball gets the most carries week one, and if I had to bet on it I would bet he is the leading carrier at the end of the year.

How long are we going to ignore Hillman though and just assume the Broncos are blowing smoke? In order to build up Montee Ball fantasy football “experts” are belittling the talent of Hillman. The guy is talented and if he starts he will make a splash in fantasy land and way outplay his 130 ADP.

Hillman has bulked up this offseason to 190 pounds in order to better run between the tackles and pass block, He’s done it, from what we’re told, without losing the explosiveness and elusiveness that made him exciting as a rookie last season. Hillman is actually more of a homerun threat than Ball and I think he could still turn himself into a threat as a pass catcher. If I had to choose a Broncos back to bank on, it’s Ball, but Hillman is going like 9 – 10 rounds later. Don’t sleep on this guy.

Andre Ellington – Arizona Cardinals: Who knows what’s going to happen with the Arizona Cardinals and their running back situation. That’s why I’m talking about a guy who isn’t owned in pretty much and leagues except the deepest of them so far.

Ryan Williams was supposed to get another chance to win the starting job, but he has a knee injury that may well keep him from making the team, let alone winning the starting job. Rashard Mendenhall has moved into the starting role now, but he is coming off an injury riddled season and he’s already fighting through knee tendinitis.

Enter into the scene, Andre Ellington, who wasn’t even the Cardinals first running back selected, but might make the biggest impact. At the very least I think Ellington is going to be a third down back because he can run block, catch passes and he’s really explosive. Mendenhall is a one dimensional runner, Ellington is the perfect complement to what he does well and he may be more than that. If nothing else he’s probably a third down back, at best he wins the job and runs with it. It’s certainly worth a flier for your last pick.

Which late round running back sleepers are you looking at this year? What do you think of these three guys?

Make sure to check out all of our 2013 preseason rankings:

Draft Day Decisions: Three Late Round Tight Ends To Target
Breakout Candidate: Could The Cardinals' Rob Housler Emerge As A Viable Fantasy Option?

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