ESPN Double Team

Fantasy Football Sleepers – HB’s

The holiday season is upon us. The NFL season is just one month away and it is officially crunch time for fantasy football.

Each week, the experts at the ESPN Double Team will be telling you which sleeper picks you need to draft to propel your team to fantasy glory.

These are not the players which will be league leaders. These are players which will play crucial roles in bye weeks and when starters have unfavorable match-ups.

They are the season saviors which come in unexpected packages.

This week, the ESPN Double Team takes a look at Sleeper HB’s.


Ben Tate – Cleveland Browns


Brace yourself, because Ben Tate may actually be a viable fantasy option this season.

After years of being, at best, a handcuff back in the Houston Texans offense, the talented but all-too-often injured Tate finally has the lead role in Cleveland.

Last season, when Arian Foster went down with injury, Ben Tate stepped up, running for 771 yards and 4 touchdowns.

Then he too went down with injury. Again.

That’s the thing about Ben Tate: he’s a very talented and versatile back, but he’s made out of dry twigs held together with chewed bubble gum and old Band-Aids.

If Tate is able to stay healthy, he should see solid production in Cleveland. Something to the tune of 200 carries, which was the pace of then Cleveland halfback Willis McGahee (before also having to be carted off the field).

And it wouldn’t be ridiculous to assume he’d get just as many carries, as McGahee was averaging just 3.7 yards per attempt.

Strike that. It was actually 2.7 yards per carry. AND HE WAS STILL ON PACE FOR 200 ATTEMPTS!

Tate, meanwhile, has a career average of 4.7 yards per carry (4.3 the last two seasons), which bodes well for his fantasy future as the unquestioned, go-to man in the backfield.

Yeah…about that.

Rookie Terrance West has been a standout at the Browns’ training camp and team practices. West could give Tate a run for his money (get it? Run for his money? They’re both halfbacks. Man, I make this look easy).

At the very least, West poses a legitimate threat to convert the Browns’ backfield into a two-headed snake, stealing carries away from Tate. And for good reason.

During his three years as a Townson Tiger, West ran for an astounding 4,854 yards and 84 touchdowns, on way to a career 6.1 yards per carry.

And if durability is an issue for Tate, West is something akin to Ben Grimm.

WARNING: Buckle your socks to your person as they are about to be blown off.

In his last season with the Tigers, West rushed 413 times for 2,509 yards and 41 touchdowns.

Firstly, that’s a touchdown every 10 attempts.

And that is just 8 attempts shy of Tate’s career total.

For now, it looks as if Tate still has the starting job locked up and should see a majority of the carries. He’ll be a bargain in the later rounds.

But make sure to keep an eye on the looming West threat, as he may revert Tate back to handcuff-only status.


Montee Ball – Denver Broncos

Denver Broncos vs Baltimore Ravens

Last season, the Denver Broncos’ running back carousel was responsible for many fantasy owners’ frustration and misery.

If you drafted Knowshon Moreno, you loved the amount of carries and receiving targets but screamed into a pillow about his lack of redzone carries.

If you drafted Montee Ball, you adored the goal line carries but pulled your hair out over his six carries a game.

If you drafted Ronnie Hillman, you had to burn down your house, fake your own death, change your name and cut your face to escape the embarrassment (it’s the only way to be sure).

Consider the carousel ride closed, as Montee Ball has bought the amusement park and patented the rights to the Denver backfield.

Moreno took his talents to South Beach and Hillman refuses to grip the football. This leaves Ball as the go to guy for the high powered Denver offense.

The former Badger saw only 120 attempts in his debut season. There were only a couple games where he was able to explode, but on the whole he was statistically impressive.

Ball racked up 559 yards and 4 touchdowns (and two fumbles, both lost). For those keeping track at home, that’s 4.7 yards per carry while crossing the goal line every 30 carries.

It is very understandable why fantasy owners would be wary of grabbing Ball who sits in the backfield with Peyton Manning. The logic is sound. Of course an offense with Manning is going to pass, throw, and other verbs that don’t mean run.

But fantasy football is not about logic; it’s about passion.

And logic.

In 2013, Manning targeted feature-back Knowshon Moreno 74 times for 548 yards and three touchdowns.

Adding Ball’s last season totals to just half those of Moreno, Ball would have:

- 240 attempts for 1078 yards,

- 64 catches for 693 yards,

- and 11 total touchdowns.

So long as Ball can hang onto the…ball…and continue to be the better pass blocking halfback, expect to see a consistent No. 2 on your roster who you can find hiding in the mid- to late rounds.


Toby Gerhart – Jacksonville Jaguars


Life can be hard when you’re playing second fiddle. It’s downright tragic when you’re second fiddle to Adrian ‘All Day’ Peterson. But so is life for Toby Gerhart.

Or at least it was.

This offseason saw Maurice Jones-Drew leave the Jacksonville Jaguars to pursue success in Oakland (that poor, poor man).

Enter Gerhart, usurping Jones-Drew’s throne in Jacksonville to the tune of $10 million over 3 years.

That’s first fiddle money.

The only issue with Gerhart is he’s never been seen playing football, a work hazard when backing up AD.

During his four years in the league, the Stanford product as only amassed 274 carries. There were 9 halfbacks who had at least 276 touches just last year. His career touchdown numbers are a lack luster as well, crossing the goal line just 5 times in 4 years. In four years, he’s managed just 1,305 rushing yards.

By the way, that last line should read “he’s managed an impressive 1,305 rushing yards.”

Why? Because at a mere 274 attempts, Gerhart averages 4.7 yards per carry.

For perspective, LeSean McCoy has a career average of 4.8. All Day’s number? An even 5. That’s good company.

Just last year, Gerhart averaged a mind-blowing 7.9 yards per carry.

That’s a better average than Drew Brees’ yards per attempt. Passing.

Granted, his averages are inflated due to his being on the field mostly during passing plays. But he still has a career average of 4.4 yards against base defenses.

And a low yard per carry average has never stopped the Jags from continuing to run the ball.

Last season, a hobbled Jones-Drew averaged a career low 3.4 yards per carry. But he was still fed very well, nabbing 234 attempts in just over 13 full games played.

The only competition in the backfield for Gerhart is Jordan Todman, who averaged only 3.4 yards per carry last season.

Regardless of whether Chad Henne or first-round pick Blake Bortles is under center, the Jaguars are going to pound the football.

The coaching staff has already stated that Gerhart should expect 20 – 25 carries every game. And considering his career 3.8 yards after first contact average, the staff isn’t just blowing smoke.

Gerhardt could be a star in the making. If he isn’t, he’ll still be a consistent No. 2 halfback for your fantasy squad.


Friday, August 15, the ESPN Double Team breaks down Sleeper WR’s and TE’s.