NFL Fantasy: Week 4 sleeper running backs

What if I told you one of these guys will outgain Kareem Hunt in Week 4? I’d be lying, that’s what. But these guys will do pretty well!

Let me start off by telling you how I define a sleeper running back. A sleeper has to be someone you didn’t see coming. Usually, that means it is not a lead running back who might have a better week than average. It is not the guy who just ran for 150 yards off the bench. He was a sleeper last week. I share that because I am seeing the sleeper picks of some of my peers and they leave me thinking, “Duh!”

Chris Carson should have a good week. He is not a sleeper anymore. Joe Mixon was a sleeper last week. No more. Bilal Powell is a sleeper if Matt Forte is out. What? That’s a handcuff and an obvious one at that. Real sleepers have to really surprise someone when they appear in the top 20 NFL fantasy points tally. Kind of like these guys:

Best Bet: Andre Ellington, Arizona Cardinals (vs San Francisco)

Andre Ellington appeared on my Week 4 waiver wire recommendations for his potential to take over as the lead back in Arizona. If you picked him up, start him this week. I don’t think he will be the lead rusher. In fact, if Bruce Arians loses faith in Chris Johnson, he might give Kerwynn Williams a shot at that role first. But Arizona has a situation that will propel Ellington into the fantasy leaderboards this week.

The Cardinals have a quarterback who wants to throw for another 300 yards Sunday. But John Brown remains limited by his quad. JJ Nelson is slowed by injuries. Tight end Jermaine Gresham’s sore ribs kept him off the practice field, too. Jaron Brown has not proven reliable with a couple of drops. Other than Larry Fitzgerald, the only healthy and reliable receiver is coming out of the backfield in Andre Ellington.

Ellington looked like the fastest player on the field Monday night. He feels good, and he is confident that good health will let him be the star he was projected to be out of college. His attitude is great. His coach loves him. He already got more snaps than starter Chris Johnson last week.

On top of that, the Cardinals’ offensive line is still looking for answers. As long as their problems continue, Palmer will look for check down help… in the form of Andre Ellington. Put him down for 110 total yards and a touchdown in Week 4.

Chris Ivory, Jacksonville Jaguars (at NY Jets)

Jacksonville will pound the ball all day in New York, ignoring that fact that just last week the Jets made Jay Ajayi disappear. The bulk of the attack will come from Leonard Fournette, but Ivory will get a few more than his usual 9-10 touches in this game because of the increased load on the starter.

For Ivory, this is a homecoming game. Every touch he gets is a potential reminder that the Jets shouldn’t have let their 2015 Pro Bowl running back go. Ivory was a crowd favorite in New York and the atmosphere will have him running harder than ever. He will almost certainly break a big play and score this week against his former teammates. Doug Marrone, a former coach of Jets’ rival Buffalo, might even give him an extra carry if he needs it.

Elijah McGuire, NY Jets (vs Jacksonville)

Matt Forte is not likely to play Sunday against the Jaguars due to a toe injury. Bilal Powell is being highly touted as a worthy play in his absence and that might be true. However, the Jets are committed to a running back by committee, even if that committee only has two players on it.

Furthermore, I am not convinced that Powell gets the bulk of the carries Sunday. If the Jets can be counted on for any one thing, it is to do the one thing that makes little sense. New York won a game last week. They don’t want to make that mistake again as they vie for the 2018 top draft pick.

McGuire lost a fumble last week but otherwise has shown good speed and agility. If he gets 15-18 touches, he is almost certain to break one at some point. He could have a surprising stat line by the end of the day and a place on the NFL fantasy leaderboard.

About last week…

The good news is that my good bet, Duke Johnson had a good game. In fact, he exceeded my expectations with 104 yards and a touchdown to finish as the RB-9 for the week. In case you picked him up, he is a must-start this week as DeShone Kizer’s most trusted receiving target.

My best bet helped the New Orleans Saints finish as a D/ST-1 last week, failing me with only 61 total yards and an RB-37 ranking. And my long shot was longer than I expected. Charcandrick West got touches, which was half the battle. Unfortunately, it had been so long since he had the ball in his hands, he forgot what to do with it and got tackled for no gain… twice.

I’m still feeling good about this weeks’ picks. If you need some NFL fantasy questions answered before you can feel good, send them to us at [email protected]. We’ll post answers every Wednesday in our Mailbag post!

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Pat Opperman

Pat recently retired from real life to watch sports and write. Look for references to games and events from ancient times as memories of an earlier Age of Sport tend to pop into his head.