a solid season. The 5-11, 220-pound rookie is unlikely to do much as a pass-catcher, but we know Seattle wants to run the ball, and Penny has the goods to deliver even behind a suspect offensive line. Chris Carson could also be a sleeper pick if he wins the starting job to begin the year, but it seems likely that Penny will take the lead back role before the season ends. (UPDATE: Penny is dealing with a broken finger that will likely keep him out for the rest of the preseason. While he may be ready for Week 1, he might have trouble overtaking Carson early in the season. So, that's a stock up for Carson who will have the first chance to win the starting job.)
Ronald Jones II, Buccaneers. Jones seems destined to emerge from the Bucs RB logjam and see regular touches at some point this season. He ran for at least 987 yards in all three seasons at USC, averaging 6.1 yards per carry and scoring 42 total touchdowns. At 5-11, 208 pounds, Jones has decent size and should be able to handle 15-plus touches per game. He's unlikely to do much as a receiver, but he'll still have value when and if he gets a job. Peyton Barber is a better early-season sleeper, but Jones still has long-term value.
Royce Freeman, Broncos. Freeman has good size (6-0, 229 pounds) and could immediately step in as Denver's goal-line back. He scored 64 total TDs (plus one passing) in his four-year career at Oregon, going for at least 16 rushing touchdowns in three of four seasons. Devontae Booker and De'Angelo Henderson both will be involved in Denver's backfield -- and both also have some sleeper appeal -- but it's easy to imagine a scenario where Freeman breaks through to become the lead back early in the season. If nothing else, he'll likely have value most weeks as a TD-or-bust guy in standard league.
PPR RANKINGS: Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | Top 200
Samaje Perine, Redskins. In the wake of Derrius Guice's season-ending ACL tear, the Redskins are going to need someone to step up in their backfield. That could be Perine. The second-year man from Oklahoma had a couple of 100-yard games as a rookie and has pretty good vision. It's also notable that most of his action last season came behind a makeshift offensive line that was dealing with injuries. Perine may not have the same playmaking ability as Guice, but he is probably going to win the lead back role as the offseason goes along. (UPDATE: Adrian Peterson is now the favorite for the lead-back role to open the season, but Perine still looms as a potential sleeper later in the year.)
Kerryon Johnson, Lions. The Lions traded up to get Johnson in the second round of this year's draft, so it's clear they valued him, but after also signing LeGarrette Blount in the offseason, Johnson's role is TBD. Last season's SEC Offensive Player of the Year ran for 1,391 yards and scored 20 total TDs, and at 6-0, 213 pounds, he should be big enough to handle a feature back role if given one. But with Blount still dangerous near the goal line and Theo Riddick returning as a top receiving back, Johnson will have to earn a bigger role. If he does, he could be the lead back Detroit has seemingly been searching for since Barry Sanders retired.
Sony Michel, Patriots. We're all just guessing when it comes to the Patriots (except for Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski). Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead, and James White are still in the Pats backfield, but after drafting Michel in the first round this year, it would appear he's in prime position to eventually take over "lead back" duties (if there is such a thing in New England). The 5-11, 214-pound rookie averaged 7.9 yards per carry while scoring 16 TDs his senior season at Georgia, and for his career, he averaged 6.1 ypc while proving to be a capable receiver. The skill set is there, but opportunities might be inconsistent, especially with White seemingly locked into the "receiving back" role and Burkhead likely handling things around the goal line.
8 QBs | 16 RBs | 19 WRs | 9 TEs | 6 D/STs | One from each team
D'Onta Foreman, Texans. If healthy, there's a good chance Foreman will take over as Houston's lead back at some point this season. The "if healthy" part is the key, as Foreman ruptured his Achilles' in Week 11 last year. His status for training camp is still up in the air. Foreman looked good before his injury last year, averaging 4.2 yards per carry and scoring twice in the game in which he was injured. He likely won't be used much in the receiving game, but as a pure runner, a healthy Foreman figures to be more effective than Lamar Miller and have plenty of value in Houston's dynamic offensive attack. (UPDATE: Foreman is likely to start the season on the PUP list and will miss the first six games if that happens. Still, Foreman carries value as a late-round stash or as a waiver wire pickup after the first month of the season.)
Corey Clement, Eagles. Clement played well in limited duty last season, averaging 4.3 yards per carry and 12.3 yards per reception. He could easily slide into the "Darren Sproles" role (even though Sproles is healthy and back with the Eagles) and should also get more carries with LeGarrette Blount gone. Considering Blount ran 173 times last year (including 31 times inside the red zone), Clement's ceiling is higher than you might think, especially when you remember that Jay Ajayi is far from a sure thing as the "lead back."
Matt Breida, 49ers. Jerick McKinnon is being paid like "The Man" in San Francisco, but Breida shouldn't be overlooked. He finished last season with back-to-back solid games, running for 146 yards and a score on only 23 carries. He'll undoubtedly play behind McKinnon early in the season, but we know that a Kyle Shanahan offense can support two relevant fantasy backs, as we saw with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman in Atlanta. Fellow second-year runner Joe Williams, who missed all of last season due to an ankle injury, will also be in the mix for touches, but if Breida can maintain his lock on the No. 2 role early in the season, he could be poised for big things later on. (Update: With Jerick McKinnon tearing his ACL in preseason, Breida has a chance to break out as a starter if you can hold off Alfred Morris and San Francisco's other backups early in the season.)
Chris Ivory, Bills. We really wish we had more foresight and could figure out a better sleeper candidate than Ivory if LeSean McCoy winds up facing a lengthy suspension (which absolutely could happen). But the 30-year-old Ivory is the current handcuff in Buffalo, and none of the other current backups (Taiwan Jones, Marcus Murphy and Travaris Cadet) have run for even 100 yards in a season. Could it be rookie Keith Ford? Maybe, but now we're just throwing darts. Ivory ran for over 1,000 yards with the Jets in 2015, but in the two seasons since with Jacksonville, he managed only 821 yards while averaging 3.8 and 3.4 yards per carry, respectively. Because of his potential as a "starting running back," Ivory has some value, but this situation could get weird fast if McCoy is suspended.
DRAFT STRATEGY AND RANKINGS TIERS:
Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | D/ST
Nick Chubb, Browns. Chubb was a monster right from the start in college, but a knee injury suffered as a sophomore slowed him down, and sharing the backfield with Sony Michel also limited his overall numbers. Still, he finished his four-year career at UGA with 4,769 rushing yards, 48 total TDs, and a 6.3 yards-per-carry average. He'll be in a committee to start his pro career in Cleveland, where Carlos Hyde figures to see early-down work and Duke Johnson Jr. will get the call on passing downs. Chubb will get chance to earn playing time, though, and the 35th-overall pick could overtake Hyde at some point this season. If nothing else, he'll be a valuable handcuff.
Aaron Jones, Packers. Jones averaged 5.5 yards per carry and posted two 100-yard games as a rookie last year, but a knee injury suffered in Week 10 halted his momentum. The Packers crowded backfield (Jamaal Williams, Ty Montgomery) combined with Jones missing the first two games of the season for violating the league's substance abuse policy has his ADP lower than it should be. It's tough to predict what will happen in Green Bay's backfield, but Jones has as good of a chance as anyone of emerging after Week 2. Take advantage and stash him.
Bilal Powell, Jets. Originally we had Elijah McGuire as the top sleeper option for the Jets, but a fractured foot could sideline him for the start of the season. With McGuire out of the mix for the time being, Powell will reestablish the primary receiving back in the Jets offense and will be the primary handcuff to Isaiah Crowell. Considering that Powell ran for over 700 yards last year and scored five times, he's worth adding as he could make an impact if Crowell is slow out of the gate.
Jordan Wilkins/Nyheim Hines, Colts. This might be a new "Thunder-and-Lightning" duo. Wilkins (6-1, 217 pounds) ran for 1,011 yards and nine TDs in his final season at Ole Miss, while Hines (5-9, 197 pounds) posted 1,113 yards and 12 TDs in his final season at NC State. Hines also proved to be an adept pass-catcher, totaling 89 receptions in his three-year college career. With Marlon Mack and Robert Turbin returning as Indy's top two options at RB, there's a good chance Wilkins and/or Hines will get a chance to earn playing time at some point this year. Obviously, Wilkins profiles as more of a "lead back", but as we saw last year with Tarik Cohen, sometimes the receiving backs like Hines get a chance to shine earlier in the season. Both are worth stashing if you have the roster space.
Kalen Ballage, Dolphins. Ballage will start the year behind last year's breakout Kenyan Drake and ageless wonder Frank Gore, but the 6-3, 230-pound bruiser could be at least a goal-line back sooner rather than later. He didn't really impress as a runner at Arizona State (4.4 yards per carry), but he was actually a solid receiver, catching 44 balls his junior season. If given the chance, Ballage could be a valuable fantasy contributor.