It can be argued that the running back position has become a non-stop carousel around the NFL. Every season there are massive free agency pickups, electric rookies battling for the starting job, and a few blockbuster trades that effectively relocate seasoned veterans to teams with a void. The 2023-24 NFL season is no different. With the Pre-season underway, analysts and fans alike are already singing the praises of the league’s blue-chip running backs…but what about the ones that aren’t being talked about enough?
5 Sleeper Running Backs to Keep an Eye on This NFL Season
With Dalvin Cook gone to the Jets, Alexander Mattison now gets the chance to be the lead back for the Minnesota Vikings. A 3rd round pick in 2019 out of Boise State, Mattison has shown flashes of talent in his tenure as the rock-solid second-string back. While his 1,670 rushing yards in four seasons don’t necessarily stand out, the games in which he took over as the lead back due to Cook’s injuries certainly do. In the five NFL games that Mattison has had 20 or more carries in, he has rushed for at least 90 yards in each and has averaged 4.6 YPC collectively. He has shown that he is capable of a more significant role and should not be overlooked this season.
From the Philadelphia Eagles to the Carolina Panthers, not quite the upgrade Miles Sanders was probably hoping for, but a great opportunity nonetheless. With the departure of Christian McCaffrey and D’Onta Foreman, the rebuilding Panthers were left with a large void at running back. With Sanders now at the helm, he has a chance to prove that he deserved the longevity that the Eagles denied him. Having already rushed for nearly 4,000 yards in his four seasons in the NFL, Sanders should play a prominent role in the new-look Panthers offense (if he can stay healthy, of course).
The Detroit Lions‘ decision not to re-sign Jamaal Williams after leading the NFL in rushing touchdowns last season was a bit of a head-scratcher. A goal-line menace and more than competent 3-down back, Williams possesses the all-important combination of speed and power. With a new home with the New Orleans Saints, Williams should have plenty of touches now that star running back Alvin Kamara is suspended for the first six games of the season. Look out for Williams to provide the bulldozer mentality that made the Kamara and Mark Ingram duo so lethal a few seasons ago.
There have been so many changes within the Tampa Bay Buccaneers‘ offense over the past few seasons that it is almost hard to keep up with them all. One of which, is the recent promotion of second-year running back Rachaad White to starter. White rushed for nearly 500 yards in his rookie campaign and showed a lot of athleticism in the process. One of the main reasons White landed on this list is because there is a lot of uncertainty about the Bucs’ quarterback play this season, which undoubtedly will mean the rushing attack will need to be relied on heavily in critical situations. Can White take this opportunity and run with it? There is certainly reason to believe so.
Where there is lightning, there is thunder. No running back group have embodied this motto more than the New England Patriots in recent years. With an emphasis on fresh legs and a strong committee approach, the Patriots will look to Rhamondre Stevenson and newly signed Ezekiel Elliott to keep that strategy in effect. Ezekiel Elliott has already proven himself in recent years with the Dallas Cowboys, but perhaps a change of scenery is what the doctor ordered. Look for Elliott to play with a chip on his shoulder this season after many counted him out following a string of down years.
As the 2023-24 NFL season gets underway, it would be wise to keep an eye on these five sleeper running backs. Alexander Mattison, Miles Sanders, Jamaal Williams, Rachaad White, and Ezekiel Elliott are all expected to be significant contributors and will likely be fantasy studs by the end of the season. Can these five sleeper running backs stay healthy enough to capitalize on the opportunities given to them? We will soon find out.
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