Athlon continues its release of the 2010 college fantasy draft kit with a look at running back sleepers.
It’s never easy defining sleepers. Is a sleeper a player who is ranked after No. 25 or is it someone who isn’t ranked? An owner playing college fantasy football for the first time may consider someone like Georgia's Washaun Ealey a sleeper. However, a veteran of many college fantasy leagues and probably wouldn’t consider Ealey much of a sleeper. Anthony Allen will shoulder a full workload for the first time in his career at Georgia Tech and is currently ranked No. 19 in our rankings. Is it fair to call him a sleeper? Probably not, but you get the picture. Defining sleepers isn't easy.
With that in mind, this list takes into account each fantasy owner has a different knowledge set when it comes to college football. Don’t take a sleeper as your first running back in 120 leagues, but consider taking these passers as a RB3 or RB4, in hopes they can be a starting option this year.
Alvester Alexander, Wyoming – With no proven backups, Alexander will be forced to shoulder much of the rushing attack this year. As a freshman last season, he rushed for 640 yards and seven scores, including 137 yards in a breakout performance in the New Mexico Bowl. The Cowboys return three starters up front and should be better in the second season of Dave Christensen’s offense, giving Alexander an opportunity to rush for 1,000 yards.
Brandon Bolden, Ole Miss – Houston Nutt has a major rebuilding project ahead on offense. Ten starters are gone, including quarterback Jevan Snead, running back/wide receiver Dexter McCluster and four starting offensive linemen. With a new quarterback taking over, expect the Rebels to feature the rushing attack more and Bolden figures to be the main benefactor.
Larry Caper, Michigan State – The Spartans sorely missed Javon Ringer last year, but Caper flashed potential in the second half of last season. Caper didn’t score a 100-yard effort last year, but only twice managed more than 15 carries. Assuming Caper gets 175-200 carries this year, he should be a solid RB2 or RB3.
C.J. Cox, UNLV – New coach Bobby Hauck wants to implement a physical rushing attack, which should leave the door open for the running backs to have more fantasy value. Cox had only 173 yards and one score last season, but with more opportunities, deserves a look in deep leagues.
Michael Dyer, Auburn – Even though the Tigers have two options ahead of Dyer on the depth chart – Mario Fannin and Onterio McCalebb – it’s hard to imagine this highly-touted freshman sitting on the bench all year.
Andre Ellington, Clemson – Clemson will miss C.J. Spiller, but Ellington and junior Jamie Harper aren’t short on talent. Ellington rushed for 491 yards and four scores last season and with a full workload this year (175 to 200 carries), don’t be surprised to see 1,000 yards and 10 scores.
Robert Elliott, Mississippi State – With junior college transfer Vick Ballard in the mix, there is no guarantee Elliott begins the year as the starter. However, the Bulldogs have one of the top offensive lines in the SEC and last season’s production from Anthony Dixon – 1,391 yards and 12 scores – makes Elliott one to take a risk on in the mid-to-late rounds of fall drafts.
Lyle Fitte/Lennon Creer, Louisiana Tech – New head coach Sonny Dykes wants to pickup the tempo on offense, but the Bulldogs won’t abandon the run. Creer, a Tennessee transfer, will compete with Fitte (a former receiver) for playing time. A split in carries wouldn’t be surprising, but Fitte must prove he has the durability to hold up under a full season at running back.
Jewel Hampton, Iowa – Is Hampton fully recovered from an ACL tear? If he’s healthy and wins the starting nod in the Hawkeye backfield, 1,000 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns is a reasonable projection.
Kendrick Hardy, Southern Miss – V.J. Floyd and Desmond Johnson are atop the Southern Miss depth chart, but don’t forget about Hardy. This redshirt freshman was a big recruit coming out of high school and it’s only a matter of time before he rises to the top of the depth chart.
Derek Lawson, Arkansas State – Reggie Arnold is out of eligibility, after rushing for 3,933 yards in his career. Lawson rushed 56 times last season for 244 yards, but collected 695 yards and four scores in a reserve role in 2008. Assuming the Red Wolves’ new offensive scheme doesn’t change too much about the rushing attack, Lawson is an excellent gamble as a RB4 or RB5.
Princeton McCarty, Idaho – DeMaundray Woolridge is gone, leaving McCarty and Deonte Jackson to shoulder the workload. McCarty was Idaho’s No. 2 leading rusher last season, with 680 yards and three scores. Woolridge’s departure opens up at least 100 carries, but McCarty must overcome four new offensive line starters in 2010.
Sam McGuffie, Rice – McGuffie sat out last season after transferring to Rice from Michigan. In his freshman year at Michigan, McGuffie ran for 486 yards and three touchdowns and caught 10 passes. McGuffie won’t be a 25-30 carry a game back, but will be a solid all-around threat.
Tre’ Newton, Texas – Colt McCoy is gone, leaving the Longhorns looking for a new offensive identity this season. Although sophomore quarterback Garrett Gilbert is a rising star, the Longhorns want to feature the rushing attack more this season. Newton finished spring practice as the starter, but in order to be a productive fantasy player, he needs to hold off a gaggle of options behind him.
Isaiah Pead, Cincinnati – Brian Kelly is gone, but the Bearcats won’t slip far on offense. New coach Butch Jones will keep a similar offensive scheme in place, but with more running from Pead. The junior rushed for 806 yards on only 121 attempts last season and should crack the 1,000-yard barrier.
Moise Plancher, South Florida – Skip Holtz and the new offensive staff has implemented a two-back scheme and plans on establishing the run in 2010. Plancher rushed for 581 yards and five scores on 129 attempts last year, but could push 200-230 rushes in 2010. More attempts for Plancher should equal an increase to nearly 1,000 yards.
Tauren Poole, Tennessee – Even with five new offensive line starters, don’t rule out Poole from rushing for 1,000 yards this year. New coach Derek Dooley plans on a run-heavy attack, making Poole a nice mid-to-late round sleeper.
Bobby Rainey, Western Kentucky – Rainey was one of the few bright spots for Western Kentucky last season, rushing for 939 yards and six scores. Rainey’s best games came down the stretch last season, rushing for 144 yards against Florida Atlantic and 134 against UL Monroe. Four starters are back on the offensive line, but with a new head coach comes a change in scheme. After coming close to 1,000 yards last year, Rainey should reach that mark in 2010 and eight to ten scores.
Robbie Rouse, Fresno State – Rouse served as the backup to Ryan Mathews last season, rushing for 479 yards and four scores. The sophomore has the WAC’s best offensive line to run behind this year, but isn’t the biggest back and must prove he is durable enough to handle 200 carries.
Da’Rel Scott, Maryland – One year after rushing for 1,000 yards, Scott was limited to seven contests due to injury and only 85 carries. Scott should be 100 percent this season, but will run behind a revamped offensive line. If the line holds together, Scott should be a steal in the mid-to-late rounds.
Michael Shaw, Michigan – Four running backs tallied at least 42 rushing attempts for the Wolverines last season, clearly indicating the offense lacked a go-to back. Shaw rushed for only 185 yards and two scores last season, but if he proves to be Michigan’s No. 1, with the history of Rich Rodriguez and producing quality rushers, he could be a steal in the late rounds of drafts.
Martin Ward, Marshall – Ward had an impressive showcase when Darius Marshall was injured late last year. In the final three games, Ward rushed for 268 yards on 48 attempts and scored three touchdowns. With Marshall declaring early for the NFL Draft, the starting job is Ward’s to lose.
Morgan Williams, Toledo – The Rockets should be one of the MAC’s best offenses this year, and Williams will be in line for 175-225 carries. As a freshman in 2008, Williams rushed for 330 yards and three scores in a late November matchup against Miami, but spent last season as a backup to DaJuane Collins and totaled 444 yards and two scores. With the starting nod all to himself, look for Williams to shine in 2010.
Aaron Winchester, Western Michigan – Brandon West finished his Western Michigan eligibility as the NCAA record holder for most career all-purpose yards, leaving Winchester with big shoes to fill. At 5-foot-6, Winchester doesn’t possess ideal height, but the Broncos should be solid up front with four starters back and there will be plenty of rushing opportunities up for grabs.
Ronnie Wingo, Arkansas – Wingo has the most upside of any back on the Arkansas roster, but there’s also a crowded depth chart competing for carries – Broderick Green, Dennis Johnson and Knile Davis. Will Wingo’s talent win out this year or will the Razorbacks turn to another committee approach?
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