Running backs no longer dominate the top of fantasy drafts as the game evolves toward explosive passing attacks. The dual-threat PPR machines in Christian McCaffrey and Austin Ekeler still maintain top-end value, but overall running backs are dropping further down draft boards creating interesting sleeper options in the mid-to-late rounds.
Below are my 2023 fantasy football running back sleepers. You can also read my 2023 running back rankings if you haven’t already.
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Fantasy Football Sleepers: Running Backs
Javonte Williams, Denver Broncos
The outlook is surprisingly bleak in many expert rankings for a potential workhorse running back in Javonte Williams. He certainly carries risk, coming off an ACL/LCL/PCL tear early in the 2022 season. In the four weeks Williams played before the injury, he reached double-digit PPR points just once on the back of 11 receptions in week one.
The Broncos offense sputtered all season long in Russell Wilson‘s first Denver campaign, but a coaching change to Sean Payton should make improvements. Denver added veteran backup Samaje Perine as the next tailback option, signaling they believe Williams should be ready to go at the beginning of the year.
Williams may struggle out of the gate, but his upside is massive for an offense that wants to run the football. If Wilson can regain his Seattle form, the Broncos should be much improved in the scoring totals giving plenty of touchdown potential to Williams’ expectations. He could easily be a top-10 running back at this time next year.
James Cook, Buffalo Bills
Fantasy owners have been waiting for the Bills to find a feature running back since LeSean McCoy left town. The hopes of Devin Singletary taking a step forward were finally dashed this offseason with his departure to Houston. That leaves James Cook and newly acquired Damien Harris as the primary backs in this high-powered attack.
Cook has far more upside in PPR leagues with his pass-catching abilities, but he provides a spark in the running game as well. In limited action as a rookie last season, Cook had five different games with at least one 20-yard run. Harris had just one in 2022.
If Josh Allen can build a rapport with Cook, the targets should grow substantially for the youngster. Barring another veteran running back joining the Bills, Cook has the opportunity to be a breakout star for fantasy owners. He’s the perfect mid-to-late-round running back lottery ticket in fantasy drafts.
James Conner, Arizona Cardinals
Look, I get it, there is not a lot of excitement in a 28-year-old running back on likely the worst team in the NFL. Conner may not be a long-term solution for the Cardinals’ rebuild, but Arizona failed to bring in any reasonable competition with 2022 sixth-round pick Keaontay Ingram as the main backup on the depth chart.
Conner was surprisingly solid for fantasy owners down the stretch last season. From weeks 10-17, Conner posted double-digit fantasy points in each game with four top-5 running back weeks. He caught nearly four receptions a week in that span and tallied 58 targets in 13 games overall in 2022, his highest target total since 2018.
There are few workhorse running backs back left in the NFL, but Conner appears set to hold that moniker for at least one more season. At the draft price outside the top-20 running backs, Conner could easily wind up as a bargain that creeps into RB1 territory by season’s end.
Rookie Running Back Sleeper
Kendre Miller, New Orleans Saints
Remember when the Saints last drafted a third-round running back with two veteran backs on the roster? Alvin Kamara came into training camp in 2017 with Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson ahead of him. The Saints quickly pivoted to the youngster as a primary backfield weapon and he has been a fantasy superstar ever since. Kendre Miller was drafted #71 overall in this year’s draft, just four spots later than Kamara.
Miller is coming off a knee injury which kept him from testing at the combine. He exploded in 2022 for over 1,500 scrimmage yards and 17 touchdowns to help TCU reach the national championship game. He breaks tackles and can provide some home run potential.
The Saints added veteran Jamaal Williams during the offseason who surprisingly led the NFL with 17 rushing touchdowns in 2022. Kamara may still have another year or two of solid production left in the tank, but has been unreliable due to injury and suspension. Miller may see the field early if Kamara misses time and should have the opportunity to bring value to fantasy owners as a late-round dart throw.