Note: This piece was originally written on July 15th by Alan Harrison and is one of many unique pieces that can be found in our 2014 fantasy football draft guide. None of this information has been updated since it was originally published.
The definition of a sleeper has drastically changed over the years. Access to the Internet — and instant news feeds such as Twitter — have ultimately provided equal access to relevant cutting edge information to all fantasy football enthusiasts.
The following list of names will sound familiar to you, so you may not consider them a sleeper. However, these guys are a sure bet to outperform their ADPs, and you should target them on draft day.
All ADP data is found in parenthesis (ADP) and taken from FantasyPros.com. All commentary reflects a 12-team league.
Andre Ellington | Cardinals (31)
Sure, Ellington is a household name at this point, but there’s reason to believe that the second-year ball carrier out of Clemson will take the next step and earn a profit for fantasy owners in 2014. The shifty back failed to see the ball often in the early going, but over the final eight regular season games last season, Ellington averaged more than 13 touches per game. Moreover, out of the backfield, Ellington saw four or more targets in 8-of-15 contests. While that may not be the volume some would expect out of their workhorse running back, what Ellington does with the rock once he gets it is what should count the most. On the ground, Ellington averaged 5.5 yards per carry, which lead the NFL among running backs who averaged at least 6.25 carries per game, and found the end zone on three occasions. Through the air, he averaged 9.5 yards per reception, and added another touchdown. According to preseason reports, coach Bruce Arians would like Ellington to earn between 18 and 22 touches a game in ‘14, which will likely spike his value — especially in PPR formats — as long as he can stay healthy.
Pierre Thomas | Saints (90)
There’s been a crowded backfield in New Orleans for the past few years. And although Darren Sproles set sail for another opportunity, the backfield still seems to be congested. Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson (another potential value pick in your upcoming draft) will likely steal touches from Thomas, but there’s no reason to believe that he won’t get his. Currently listed as the third back on the Saints’ unofficial depth chart, Pierre Thomas was recently referred to as the best all-purpose back in the league by his quarterback, Drew Brees. While the high praise from teammates is expected, there just may be some brotherly bias involved. With that said, Thomas surely is a dual threat option for the Saints and is a likely bet to outperform his current. He appeared in all sixteen games last season for New Orleans, carried the ball a minimum of four times per game (he peaked at 19 carries in week five against Chicago), averaged 3.7 yards per carry and scored twice. As a pass catcher, Thomas hauled in 77 passes on the year, averaged 6.7 yards per reception and scored three additional touchdowns. There’s seems to be a lot of unsure running back situations around the league heading into this season, but I’ll take my chances with PT and his impact out of the high flying Saints’ offense.
Carlos Hyde | 49ers (141)
Carlos Hyde becomes the immediate beneficiary of a series of unfortunate injuries that recently decimated the stable of running backs in San Francisco. Hyde quickly finds himself in the second seat, behind only aging teammate Frank Gore, for touches with both Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James hitting the shelf. At Ohio State, Hyde averaged more than six yards per carry and scored 37 touchdowns in four seasons on the ground. A true workhorse. And while he was effective as a pass catcher out of the backfield — Hyde averaged eight yards per carry and scored four times on receptions — he’ll likely see most of his touches on handoffs at the next level. Thrust him into an offense that has some serious high-power potential and Hyde all of sudden becomes a great flier in the middle-to-late rounds of your upcoming draft.
Andre Williams | Giants (166)
Like Hyde, Williams’ value will see a spike in part to the career-ending injury to David Wilson and in part to his ability to, well, carry the pigskin. In four seasons at Boston College, Williams averaged more than five yards per carry and scored 28 touchdowns. Out of the backfield, Williams notched just ten receptions — none of which came in 2013, his best season — so, Williams value appears have a slight edge in standard formats. Rashad Jennings is entering his age 29 season, and is the number one back for the Giants at this time, but he’s approached 200 touches just once in his career. Williams should be a late(er)-round consideration, especially if you’re employing the Zero RB strategy.
Latavius Murray | Raiders (238)
In the offseason the Raiders signed Maurice Jones-Drew and still have the oft-injured Darren McFadden, but the young running back from Central Florida could be a surprise impact back out of Oakland’s backfield. The Raiders snagged Murray in the sixth round of 2013’s NFL Draft thanks to 5.4 average yard per carry and 37 touchdowns on his four-year college resume. He added 50 receptions with an average of 10.4 yards per and six scores as a pass catcher, so Murray could do it all if given the chance. He failed to make an impact during his rookie campaign due to a season-ending injury, but reports indicate he’s healthy again this preseason and ready to make an impact.