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Running back sleepers who could help win your fantasy league

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Why—and which—late round running backs can win your league.

NFL: Washington Redskins at New England Patriots Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Last year the many of the finest, and several of the not-the-finest (read: moi) fantasy minds spent all summer and fall pumping out article after article, tweet after tweet, podcast after podcast espousing the glorious discovery of a surefire, new way to dominate your league: Zero-RB.

Zero-RB is built on the idea that running backs get hurt, running backs often depend on volume instead of immense talent, and that as the season goes on, we’ll find stud running backs who seemingly come out of nowhere. So, instead of spending a lot of fantasy draft capital on a highly volatile, perhaps replaceable position like RB, spend up on the more stable position, wide receiver, early.

By the time draft season rolled around, there was little doubt that the running back position, more precisely, the work-horse running back role was, if not completely archaic, simply too prone to injury in today’s NFL to be relied on. Drafting the sure-thing wide receivers became the savvy play. So savvy a play, that everyone started doing it, pushing high-quality running back talent down to the depths of the likes of which I’d never witnessed.

After a down year for several big name receivers, and an astoundingly healthy year for a lot of the big-name backs, Zero-RB seems to have gone the way of letting people in when they use their blinkers, or enjoying a sandwich made with bread, delicious, carb-y bread.

We’ve all decided to either ignore our transgression, or at least plead guilty to a bout of unexplainable group think, much like we’re all bound to do when our grand-children ask about us about Tinder or the great IPA obsession of the twenty-tens.

But, as much as we might like to forget our mistakes (I’m looking at you politics), we cannot forget that our obsession with Zero-RB was founded in sound logic and built on solid statistical analysis. Running back was, and still is, the most volatile position in fantasy sports. It isn’t that Zero-RB was a bad strategy, we just forgot that if everyone is doing Zero-RB the against the grain advantage shifts to taking RBs early.

Now that the fantasy community has again shifted to taking all manner of running back early and often, Zero-RB is once again the ‘do the opposite’ (a term I first heard discussed by the great Matt Waldman) approach. And in the spirit of embracing this do-the-opposite approach, here are a few later round RBs that could win your league.

Dion LewisTennessee Titans

ADP: RB 25

We saw what Lewis could do near the end of last year. Now, Dion’s with a new team, a team hell-bent on moving away from the intentionally stone-aged offensive scheme. With offensive coordinator Matt LeFlaur (former Shanahan disciple, last year’s Rams offensive coordinator) calling the shots on offense, I’m expecting big things out of the Titans O this year.

The only thing in Lewis’s way is Derrick Henry. Henry is a huge dude with amazing top-end speed. But, Henry doesn’t seem to have great vision, and if you don’t clear a big path and give him plenty of time to pick up speed, he’s not going to get you much. Even if Henry ends up getting more work than he did last year, Lewis will still end up the top-scorer, by far, for the Titans runners.

Jordan WilkinsIndianapolis Colts

ADP – RB 56

Wikins is a rookie out of Ole Miss who’s showed patience and burst. Looking competent at running back in the SEC has gotten a lot of guys paid and rightfully so. Wilkins isn’t flashy, he doesn’t have a ton of highlight reel runs, but Wilkins has an NFL body and skill set, and he’s just been drafted by a team who’d planned on starting Marlon Mack before Mack was injured… again.

The runway is clear for Wilkins to step in to the leading role in Indy. With Andrew Luck once against healthy, and a with a price-tag of just-about-nothing, don’t leave your drafts without Jordan Wilkins on your squad.

Jeremy Hill – New England Patriots

ADP – Undrafted

I know everyone is in love with Rex Burkhead, and Burkhead is fine. But, he’s just fine. Burkhead has also never played more than 12 games in a season.

Sony Michel appeared to be in the dog-house before his latest knee problem. James White, also just fine, does one thing and only one thing (fairly well), and Mike Gillislee didn’t end up dressing much after pounding in 3 TDs in the season opener.

Jeremy Hill flashed early in his career, then seemed to run in to a wall. We’ve seen in the past, though, that a stint with New England can do wonders for guys who we thought were washed up. Hill is nearly a perfect fit for that narrative, and his cost of absolutely nothing, Hill is the Patriots back to draft and stash.