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Undervalued RBs

Read the introduction to this series if you haven't yet.

Donald Brown - IND ADP: 70 overall, RB 26 4 votes

Aaron Rudnicki - The Colts offense last year without Peyton Manning was pretty miserable but one positive they got out of it is that their former 1st round pick started to look like an effective running back. He averaged 4.8 yards per carry despite having very little talent around him. The QB position will get a significant upgrade with the addition of Andrew Luck, and none of the other backs on the roster appear ready to push Brown. He's looked good in the preseason and will likely be handed a feature back role. Feels like a steal to get him after several committee backs are going.

Chris Smith - Brown quietly had a very good season in 2011, playing on a terrible Colts team. With rookie sensation Andrew Luck now under center, the Colts will want to establish a credible rushing attack and Donald Brown appears to be headed for a surprisingly effective season. Many fantasy owners still see him as a bust but he is elevating in his fourth season and could be quite effective in 2012.

Matt Waldman - Great players have confidence that rarely wavers when they are on the field. However good-to-very-good players can have lapses of confidence that force them to second-guess more often when confronted with challenges on the field. I think Donald Brown has the talent to be good or very good in this league and midway through the 2011 season, he demonstrated the confidence to execute plays without hesitation. The fourth-year running back has the speed, acceleration, pass catching skills, and ball security (one fumble in his three-years in the NFL) to perform like a high-end RB2. I also like Brown's decision-making when he's playing with the confidence he had at the University of Connecticut and I'm seeing that kind of confidence manifesting on the field. The worst case scenario is that Brown is the lead back in a Colts committee, which already gives him an edge over backs like C.J. Spiller, Chris Wells, and Roy Helu, who are all getting drafted ahead of him in most leagues. The best case scenario is that he's the feature back and earns the vast majority of touches, which could make him a better value than a back like Michael Turner, who is the 42nd player off draft boards compared to Brown's standing as the 80th player off the board.

Jason Wood - Over the last five years, the 31st ranked fantasy RB has averaged 126 points in non-PPR leagues. There are a lot of ways for Brown to exceed that mark. New head coach Chuck Pagano anointed Brown the starter early in his regime, and said he felt Brown could be an every down back. Brown has done nothing in camp to dispel that notion, and none of the other backs on the roster have pushed Brown for playing time. I can easily see Brown with 1,100-1,200 total yards and 5-7 touchdowns, which would average out to 151 fantasy points at the mid-point. That would rank Brown more in the RB20-RB22 range --he's a steal right now.

Marshawn Lynch - SEA ADP: 22 overall, RB 11 3 votes

Sigmund Bloom - Lynch was projected as a late first/early second-round pick before his arrest, but the fear of a suspension has pushed him down to the mid-third round. Take advantage of the fact that the fantasy community still fears Roger Goodell even though all signs point to no suspension for Lynch because of his DWI arrest this season, if ever. Lynch was an easy top 5 fantasy running back when he got on track in the second half of 2011, and he is looking fast and explosive in camp again this year.

Steve Holloway - Marshawn Lynch was definitely the key for the Seahawks' offense in the second half of the season last year. In the team's last nine games, he had six games where he topped 100 yards and two more with 86 and 88 yards. He scored nine TDs in those nine games. He has dropped down the ADP lists because of his poor off-field judgment, but if he can escape suspension, he will reward owners who draft him around his current ADP. Even if he misses a couple of games, he should approach last year's 1,400 total yards from scrimmage and 13 TDs.

Matt Waldman - The only reasons Lynch is going off draft boards as the 31st back is the DUI charge and those with a bias about his new contract. There's a lot of anecdotal evidence of players underperforming after awarded a new contract. Lynch's maturity and wisdom off the field have affected his career, but the Seahawks running back earned his new contract and by all accounts has worked harder than ever in the offseason to maximize his quickness behind a young offensive line that is finally healthy and poised to make the next step forward. The DUI is the biggest concern, but it appears less likely that Lynch will even be disciplined until 2013 if he's convicted of the charge. If the case goes to trial early in the year and Lynch is found guilty, there are still some gray areas with the NFL disciplinary policy and the nature of the charges that keep the suspension at a minimum if the rules call for one at all. I'm taking the chance on Lynch before I would pull the trigger on Darren Sproles, Jamaal Charles, Ryan Matthews, Trent Richardson, or Steven Jackson despite the fact that those five backs are generally leaving the draft board before him.

Doug Martin - TB ADP: 46 overall, RB 20 3 votes

Steve Holloway - Rookie Doug Martin is an all-around solid running back who was drafted into a really nice situation. The Buccaneers have an improved offensive line and added Vincent Jackson to their receiving corps. There is no doubt that Martin does several things much better than LeGarrete Blount, particularly pass blocking and receiving out of the backfield. With Blount currently injured, Martin should see abundant opportunity early in what should be a much improved Buccaneer offense. He remains a bargain at his ADP, even though it has steadily moved upward through the pre-season.

Bob Magaw - One of the consensus two RBs available in the 2012 draft with a three down skill set (an increasingly vanishing rare breed), unlike the far higher, top three overall selection Trent Richardson, Martin arrives on a team with more offensive firepower and surrounding talent. Compared by some scouts to Ray Rice, he was hand picked by Rice's former Rutgers HC Greg Schiano. The more favorable intersection of talent AND opportunity makes Martin more likely than higher profile starting rookie RB Richardson to out produce his current fantasy standing.

Jeff Pasquino - Whenever a rookie running back gets taken in the first round, you have to take notice. Martin was regarded as a Top 3 tailback entering the 2012 draft, and now he lands in an ideal spot to come in and hit the ground running. LeGarrette Blount will quickly be passed on the depth chart as Martin becomes the feature 3-down back. Martin represents solid value with Top 15 running back upside considering that he will be on the field so often even in his first year.

Jacquizz Rodgers - ATL ADP: 125 overall, RB 44 3 votes

Sigmund Bloom - Michael Turner has lost a step that he might not be able to afford to lose. Rodgers has looked dynamic in the preseason, and he can also be an excellent weapon as a receiver out of the backfield. Rodgers also just fits better in the more wide open new look Falcons offense. He's the perfect RB4 pick in the 9th/10th.

Jeff Haseley - Michael Turner has not looked good in the preseason and is in danger of losing more touches to Rodgers in Dirk Koetter's new, more distributive offense. Rodgers has been featured in the Falcons offense in the preseason and I believe he can have a very Sproles-like impact this year. 40-50 receptions is not out of the question.

Ryan Hester - New offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has made no bones about the fact that he wants to see Rodgers utilized more this season. Michael Turner has never been a receiving threat, and - as he showed in Jacksonville with Maurice Jones-Drew - Koetter likes his backs to be multi-talented. Rodgers should be a "lite" version of 2011 Darren Sproles, who had 87 carries and 86 receptions. That ratio may skew more toward the ground game for Rodgers, but that many touches would make him fantasy-relevant. If Turner had to miss time, his ceiling would rise even higher.

Kevin Smith - DET ADP: 78 overall, RB 30 3 votes

Heath Cummings - Smith was absolutely outstanding in 2011, and will be the unquestioned number one back when the season starts due to Jahvid Best's health and Mikel LeShoure's suspension. LeShoure gets a lot of pub because of his potential but he has done nothing in the league. Give me Kevin Smith as a low end RB2 or the best RB3 in the league. Smith makes a great addition for those that take Ryan Mathews early.

Jeff Haseley - Smith had a great 2011 season, when he was healthy. Jahvid Best may never see the field again and Mike Leshoure is trying to come back from a serious knee injury. My gut says Smith will be a big part of the Lions offense this year. He's a great value at his current ADP.

Ryan Hester - Smith is being drafted as if Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure will be on the active roster Week 1 and Leshoure won't be suspended two games to begin the season. While Detroit is clearly not a run-first team, Smith has displayed an ability to make plays in the receiving game as well. In the team's second preseason against Baltimore, Smith got "starter's treatment." He touched the ball a handful of times on the team's first drive and was removed from the game before the rest of Detroit's starters in favor of a team of backups. The Lions are very are that he's their best option at running back - and might be for an extended period of time.

Ryan Williams - ARI ADP: 102 overall, RB 39 3 votes

Jeff Pasquino - Ryan Williams lost all of his rookie season due to a knee injury, which opened the door for Chris Wells to dominate touches for Arizona last year. Now that Williams is back and ready to go, look for at least a split backfield and more likely a lot more for Williams than Wells from both a touch and production perspective. Williams was a top three running back in the NFL Draft last year so do not let one lost season due to injury cloud your judgment -- Williams has a ton of upside and now he has the inside track to the starting job in Arizona.

Aaron Rudnicki - The main question with Williams is clearly his health as he tries to fully recover from a devastating injury last year. His main competition for the starting job has his own injury issues to deal with, however, so if Williams can stay on the field he should be able to play a big role in the Cardinals offense this year. Indications in the preseason suggest the talented player is ready to go so if you trust modern medicine and his knee to hold up, take a shot on this player and it could pay off in a huge way.

Mark Wimer - If he comes back from last year's ruptured patella tendon with his explosiveness intact, Williams could push Chris Wells into a support role during 2012. The move of Williams up the depth chart appeared to be happening as of the opening of training camp - Williams was running with the first team while Wells was on PUP. Williams has moved up my draft board with a solid cameo in the second preseason game (5/25/1 rushing), though Wells is expected to test his knee in the third preseason contest. I think Williams is the guy who has the starting job come September. How often can you get a starting running back at 41st back off the draft board? Williams is a steal right now.

Ahmad Bradshaw - NYG ADP: 38 overall, RB 19 2 votes

Heath Cummings - I really like Bradshaw's chances of starting off hot. His only competition for carries comes from rookie David Wilson, and it's hard to believe that Wilson will be up to speed in week 1. Injuries have to be part of the reason for Bradshaw's lower ranking, but I'll bet on the 26 year old's foot ahead of the older guys like Steven Jackson and Darren Sproles who have better ADPs right now.

Marc Levin - With Brandon Jacobs gone from New York, Bradshaw is primed to take over the feature back role and rush for double digit TDs. Assuming he stays healthy, which is a reasonable thing to worry about with Bradshaw, his floor would be in the 40 catch/1200 total yards/10 TD range. That is great value for a late 3rdround running back.

Reggie Bush - MIA ADP: 50 overall, RB 21 2 votes

Jeff Pasquino - Reggie Bush had his best rushing season ever in the NFL last year for Miami, averaging five yards per carry and topping 1,000 yards on the ground. His touchdowns (six) and receptions (43) were a little more modest than you would want from a top running back, but the Dolphins have said that they want to use him more, especially as a receiver. With a young quarterback in Ryan Tannehill about to take over, playmakers with speed will be valuable. Daniel Thomas, the backup to Bush, also has not shown much which elevates Bush to a stable starting tailback.

Aaron Rudnicki - Bush was very impressive last year and finished just outside of the RB1 range even in non-PPR leagues. This year, the team around him certainly looks like it's going to struggle so he might have difficulty matching his rushing numbers from last year. However, the Dolphins have the league's worst group of receivers and it stands to reason that they will be playing from behind early and often. That all points to Bush being the focal point of their offensive attack and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him get back to the days of 70 or 80 receptions if he can stay healthy.

Peyton Hillis - KC ADP: 73 overall, RB 27 2 votes

Sigmund Bloom - We've already seen Thomas Jones get over 250 touches during Jamaal Charles's top five season in 2010. Hillis can do a lot more with those touches than Jones did, and he is reunited with Brian Daboll. Daboll oversaw Hillis's top five season, also during 2010. Hillis is playing on a one year "prove it" deal, and the Chiefs should be more than competitive enough for him to have solid RB2 numbers, which is tough to find in the 7th round.

Ryan Hester - The last season Hillis was healthy - 2010 - he was among fantasy football's best running backs. His offensive coordinator was also run-heavy Brian Daboll. This year, both Hillis and Daboll are reuniting in Kansas City. Jamaal Charles is also there and looks healthy, but this backfield should have enough touches to feed two fantasy-starter-worthy RBs. The team has said that it wishes to rush the ball at least 500 times this year. If healthy all year, Hillis and Charles should be close to a 50-50 split on about 420-450 of those. That's plenty enough for a healthy Hillis to be an RB2. Don't forget about his pass-catching ability as well.

Fred Jackson - BUF ADP: 31 overall, RB 15 2 votes

Mark Wimer - Fred Jackson was among the top fantasy running backs during 2012 until he suffered a broken leg. C.J. Spiller showed that he is a legitimate NFL back while Jackson was out, and the team has been open about their intentions to share the work fairly equally this year. However, I think the Bills' offense is on the rise, and there should be plenty of work to go around - and I like Jackson to make a big impact during his time on the field. I think he's an awesome bargain at 17th running back off the board.

Jason Wood - Fred Jackson was a top 3 fantasy RB last year in every scoring format before getting hurt -- he ranked as the #1 fantasy back in many leagues. The injury shouldn't be a concern; a broken fibula isn't chronic or recurring. Chan Gailey isn't going to reinvent the wheel, the Bills are only going to fulfill preseason expectations by running the ball early and often -- the passing game would be exposed if Ryan Fitzpatrick was asked to carry the day. Jackson is a great receiver, he's decisive at the point of attack, and we already know he can thrive in this system. What's not to like? Actually, what's not to love?

Steven Jackson - STL ADP: 23 overall, RB 12 2 votes

Mike Brown - This is some kind of a joke, right? The ultra-reliable Jackson is being taken after the likes of Adrian Peterson (recovery from torn ACL), Ryan Mathews (fractured collarbone), Trent Richardson (knee surgery), Jamaal Charles (recovery from torn ACL), DeMarco Murray (recovery from ankle surgery), etc, etc. I mean, here we have a guy in Jackson who IS his team's offense, who is all but a lock for 300+ rushes not to mention a bevy of receiving yardage, still in the prime of his career, with no notable offseason injuries to speak of, and working with a coach who loves to run his backs non-stop (see: George, Eddie). And he can be had in the third round after a plethora of question marks? What's not to love about this?!? Grab Jackson, pencil him in for 1500 total yards and 10 touchdowns, and pat yourself on the back for picking up the ball that everyone else is dropping.

Jason Wood - In a year when everyone is complaining about the lack of proven, healthy workhorse running backs, people seem to be forgetting about Steven Jackson. He's being drafted 14th as though he's a player on decline. Yet, he's only 29 years old, and is coming off a season ranked 11th among fantasy RBs. Why would a guy coming off an 11th ranked season regress when his new head coach is a guy named Jeff Fisher? Fisher is notorious for running his starter into the ground. Jackson could easily see 300-330 carries this year -- Eddie George did (and he was never as explosive as Jackson). I love Jackson as an RB2 option in the 3rd or 4th round -- money in the bank.

Stevan Ridley - NE ADP: 76 overall, RB 29 2 votes

Marc Levin - In the last five years, "the lead back" for the New England Patriots, from Benjarvus Green-Ellis to Lawrence Maroney and Kevin Faulk, has finished at least in the top-30 for fantasy running backs. Green-Ellis finished as a top-24 running back each of the last two years. Ridley looks like he has the inside track to the Patriots' lead back role this year. The best part is that Shane Vereen is also available for good value if you want to hedge your bet on Ridley. That would solidify the Patriots' lead back, and a reasonable shot at a top-24 fantasy back.

Chris Smith - Ridley is a big, talented running back and it appears he will emerge as the top running back in New England. He has a chance to be a top-12 running back depending on how well he does and what percentage of the work he earns. He is a still in the 7th round of fantasy drafts.

Shane Vereen - NE ADP: 151 overall, RB 52 2 votes

Heath Cummings - Stevan Ridley is the favorite to win the starting role in week one, but Vereen will be heavily involved, especially in the passing game. With an ADP in the 140s and Ridley's history with fumbles, I'd definitely take a flyer on Vereen at least two rounds before he's being drafted.

Mark Wimer - Shane Vereen didn't get a lot of work during 2011 due to lingering injuries, but he's seen a lot of work during preseason and looks set to claim a fair proportion of the work in New England. In particular, Vereen has looked good on screen plays. I think he's a good flex option with possible fantasy RB #2 upside - he's a wild value at 54th running back off the draft board.

David Wilson - NYG ADP: 104 overall, RB 40 2 votes

Andy Hicks - Those putting all their eggs into the Trent Richardson or Doug Martin basket are relying on a rookie to help them win. If they are prepared to wait and look a little later in the draft they'll find a rookie who will be much cheaper and will put up good stats. Ahmad Bradshaw has always shared the workload and with his foot problems unlikely to get better, Wilson may find himself as a productive fantasy back sooner, rather than later.

Matt Waldman - I've been preaching caution with David Wilson since I studied his game in great depth last winter. The rookie from Virginia Tech has tremendous physical skills. I haven't seen balance from a back of his size since I've watched Walter Payton play. Combine that with Wilson's burst, long speed, and lateral agility, and he's capable of thrilling teammates and fans when the ball is in his hand. However Wilson had not refined his running style to match the talent of top defensive players in the college or NFL game while he was at Virginia Tech. He was used to being the most physically talented player on the field and outrunning defenders to the edge or reversing the field to make big plays. Like Reggie Bush, C.J. Spiller, LeSean McCoy, and Jamaal Charles, Wilson opted for the home run attempt too often, which resulted in big losses and turnovers. His first preseason game was a perfect display of his bad habit. Wilson has told the media that he has learned a valuable lesson about taking what the offensive line gives him so he doesn't create negative plays in a constant effort to attempt the big play. It just might be the case of Wilson saying all the right things, but he has shown enough in the past two weeks that he is earning first-team reps. According to the media there is strong speculation that Wilson has rocketed up the depth chart and earned the No.2 spot. If that's the case, I think Wilson is too talented for the Giants to keep off the field and the rookies standing as the 98th player taken in fantasy drafts is about to look about 30-40 spots too low.

LeGarrette Blount - TB ADP: 122 overall, RB 43 1 vote

Chris Smith - Blount has been written off by most fantasy owners and football fans but he is young, talented and still listed as the Buccaneer's starting running back. In all honesty this looks like a running back by committee approach in 2012 which means Blount will have value and Martin likely will be overpriced.

Michael Bush - CHI ADP: 99 overall, RB 38 1 vote

Marc Levin - Michael Bush has been anointed the goal line back for the Chicago Bears. Moreover, the team seems determined to limit Matt Forte's carries to keep him fresh and avoid injuries. Bush has shown he can produce when given opportunities, and Forte was known to vanish in games last year, even before his season tailed off due to injury. Owners who are able to draft Bush at his current ADP are likely to be rewarded with an RB3/4 who will pay dividends for owners in the red zone.

Rashad Jennings - JAX ADP: 117 overall, RB 42 1 vote

Aaron Rudnicki - This is obviously depends on what happens with the Maurice Jones-Drew contract situation. Jennings missed last year to injury but has been impressive during the preseason and it looks like he could be filling in as the Jaguars starting RB for awhile. The Jaguars don't appear willing to give in to Jones-Drew's demands and even if he did report, there's probably an increased risk of injury due to the missed practice time. Either way, Jennings could be one of the biggest value plays of the year.

Darren McFadden - OAK ADP: 9 overall, RB 5 1 vote

Mike Brown - Footballguys co-founder Joe Bryant is fond of using the phrase "things move quickly around here". That has never been more evident than this write-up. When we ran the first series of over and undervalued players earlier in the summer, McFadden was on my overvalued list. I didn't want any part of a guy coming off as serious an injury as that, and with all of the injury history to boot. Fast forward a few months, and I suddenly can't get enough of him. He looks as good as he has ever looked, and seems poised to have that magical season. Every once in awhile, the stars align and a running back puts up once in a lifetime numbers. This season, that seems to be the case for McFadden. Michael Bush has left town, the passing game is good enough to take some pressure off but not so good that it'll dominate the offense, and the Raiders appear committed to building the offense around McFadden. He has a really good shot at finishing the year as RB1, yet can be had at the back end of the first round. All those of you who were planning on drafting Ryan Mathews? This is your new guy.

Willis McGahee - DEN ADP: 54 overall, RB 23 1 vote

Jeff Haseley - The Broncos have been glowing about how well McGahee has looked in camp and preseason. I would not be surprised to see him reach 200-250 carries this year. In a Peyton Manning-led offense, he should have plenty of opportunities for TDs.

Rashard Mendenhall - PIT ADP: 136 overall, RB 47 1 vote

Steve Holloway - Rashard Mendenhall has been a key cog in the Steelers' offensive game plan for the past three seasons. A year ago, his production dropped off as he only had 228 carries for 928 yards after rushing for 2,382 yards the previous two seasons. He is not expected to play until late September or early October, but he is already off the PUP list and earlier than most expected. He could provide a spark for your fantasy team down the stretch if he recovers sufficiently from his knee surgery.

Adrian Peterson - MIN ADP: 19 overall, RB 9 1 vote

Andy Hicks - Adrian Peterson is making an excellent recovery from his knee injury and until discouraging news is received, he should be counted on to continue his excellent career to date. 10+ TDs in every season, a 4.8 yards a carry career average and a dynamic threat in all facets of the game. As a precaution you may need to add Toby Gerhart, but Peterson is such value right now that you can be strong across the board.

Evan Royster - WAS ADP: 149 overall, RB 50 1 vote

Sigmund Bloom - Yes, Shanahan backs beware and so on, but Royster is currently a 12th/13th round pick. Have you looked at the players available there? With Roy Helu having achilles tendonitis in both legs and Tim Hightower coming back from a torn ACL, Royster is the starter in a potentially explosive running game by default. If he hits, massive value. If he doesn't, you cut him for a waiver wire flavor of the week without remorse.

Jonathan Stewart - CAR ADP: 69 overall, RB 25 1 vote

Mike Brown - It's not a sexy pick, and it's not one that is going to win the whole league for you. But it is a great value pick. Depending on your scoring system last season, Stewart probably finished right around RB25. This year, he's going off the board at RB26. But his role in the offense is growing, as evidenced by his receptions increasing from eight to a whopping 47 last year! Furthermore, it is highly unlikely that Cam Newton will run for that many touchdowns again this season. If he's not running them, then most likely someone else is. Enter the guy who totaled twenty rushing scores over his first two seasons. Stewart is the person most likely to handle those extra duties, and should add anywhere from 3-5 additional rushing scores to his ledger this year. A few extra touches, a few more scores, and a general maintenance of his productivity means his stat line has nowhere to go but up (and his ranking along with it).

Daniel Thomas - MIA ADP: 144 overall, RB 48 1 vote

Andy Hicks - Daniel Thomas can be had very late in drafts and considering the play he showed when fully fit last year is an absolute steal. Those remembering the plodding back of latter 2011, should flash back to weeks 2 and 3 when he rushed for 107 and 95 yards. After that he played on an injury that hampered him significantly. Fully fit, those who are patient should reap the rewards on Thomas this year. Reggie Bush is never going to be a full time starter at the position and opportunity will be there in 2012 for Thomas to shine.

Michael Turner - ATL ADP: 36 overall, RB 17 1 vote

Mark Wimer - Even though the Falcons are becoming a more pass-oriented team, they still plan to feed Turner the ball around 70% of the available carries - he should be a solid RB2 even in PPR leagues thanks to his central role on the Falcons' rushing attack. I think he's underrated this year in fantasy circles. Even given the aerial show by Matt Ryan and company during preseason, Turner will still get his carries to close out games once Ryan and company have put things out of reach for the opposition.

DeAngelo Williams - CAR ADP: 89 overall, RB 34 1 vote

Steve Holloway - DeAngelo Williams finished as running back #29 last season, even while he had 7 games with single digit carries. I suspect that the Panthers' backs will score more TDs this season as Newton's rushing TDs drop back to a more reasonable level. Williams, although getting a little older has never been overused in this career and still has quickness and strength. He will likely be more of a factor in the passing game than a year ago when he caught only 16 passes, averaging a career low one catch per game.

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