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Updated Value Plays: Running Backs

The Footballguys staff finds value at the running back position

A fantasy draft is all about obtaining the most value with each selection. There is value available throughout a draft, and grabbing it is one of the most important keys to a successful fantasy team. In an attempt to point out this value, we asked our staff to look through the top 150 players and identify players that should outperform their draft position.

Players with 4 Votes

Le'Veon Bell, Pit

James Brimacombe: With Mike Wallace leaving town, the Steelers offense looks to be headed back to the good old days with a ground and pound approach. Bell has little competition to worry about at the position and has potential to be a 20+ touch guy right out of the gate. He has the best opportunity in year one out of all of this year’s rookies.

Will Grant: The Steelers suffered at the running back position last season, and rookie Le’Veon Bell is the answer to their prayers. He may be a rookie, but Bell is easily the best back on the team already and if he can stay healthy, he’s going to be a solid fantasy back. People are avoiding him because he’s been banged up and didn’t play in the first pre-season game. While that is a bit of a risk, it’s early enough in the season where Bell should be 100% by the time the season starts. He will be a solid RB2 for your fantasy team this season.

Ryan Hester: Bell is in a unique situation. Despite being a rookie, he finds himself on a team with very little competition at his position. Coaches have already said that they view Bell as a three-down back, even as a rookie. And with uninspiring talents like Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman behind him, it’s easy to see why. Bell has been impressive by all accounts in training camp, earning first-ream reps and being productive with them. His talent may not be among the NFL elite, but opportunity alone will make a potential high-end RB2 this season – not a player who will finish on the fringe of RB2/RB3 territory as his current positional ADP would suggest.

Bob Magaw: Le’Veon Bell was the second running back selected in the 2013 draft, taken by Pittsburgh after Cincinnati’s Giovani Bernard and ahead of Denver’s Montee Ball and Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy, all in the second round. Bell is expected to walk into what may be the best starting opportunity in his class. After an uncharacteristically weak rushing attack in 2012 (seventh worst 96.1 rushing YPG and just 8 rushing TDs), the Steelers would like to return to their smash mouth roots, if only to field a more balanced offense overall. The team’s desire to run the ball more effectively could also dovetail with the departure of Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Wallace. At 6’2” and 230 pounds with deceptively nifty feet, Bell offers an unusual combination of size and elusiveness.

Chris Johnson, Ten

James Brimacombe: The Titans only continue to add to their already dominant offensive line and with Johnson coming off a couple of so-so seasons he is a set to put up some big numbers. He is falling to late second round or even the third round in a lot of drafts, and is the guy in Tennessee, as there is no one even close to him when it comes to stealing carries.

Heath Cummings: Johnson's reputation still hasn't recovered from his horrendous 2011. Here's the thing about that horrendous season, he finished 16th amongst running backs in standard scoring leagues, and even in higher in PPR. Last year was a bit of a bounce back year as he finished as a RB1 for the fourth time in his five years in the league. That was still done with a very poor offensive line that the Titans spent big money to repair in the offseason. Couple that with a new offensive game plan that will focus on running the ball and I like Johnson's chances of getting back over 1700 total yards with 8+ touchdowns.

Jeff Haseley: The Titans offense looks to be more run-centric this year with Chris Johnson being the primary recipient of rushing duties. I don't buy that Shonn Greene will share carries. I see him as more of a backup/replacement to Johnson. The offensive line has improved dramatically, which will do wonders for Johnson's ability to get into open space. If that happens consistently, Johnson will pile on the yardage.

Aaron Rudnicki: Last year started out pretty awful for Chris Johnson, but he still managed to finish with over 1200 yards on the ground by the time the season was over. The Titans made a couple of huge upgrades to their offensive line with the signing of LG Andy Levitre in free agency and the drafting of RG Chance Warmack. With those guys opening up holes up front and his game-breaking speed, Johnson could be in line for a huge season.

DeAngelo Williams, Car

Heath Cummings: We have literally no idea when Jonathan Stewart may put the pads on, and that has quite an impact on the value of DeAngelo Williams. If Williams is going to get the ball 20-25 times a game, he’s very likely going to finish as a RB2. Yes Cam Newton steals a lot of his touchdowns, but Williams’ current ADP of RB37 reflects someone on the wrong side of a RBBC, not a lead back that may get some touchdowns taken from him.

David Dodds: This has more to do with Jonathan Stewart unable to get healthy over any thing else. Stewart's timetable for recovery continues to slide on his chronically bad ankles. Let someone else wait for Stewart to try and get back on the field. DeAngelo is getting all the 1st team reps and will have the opportunity to smash his current ADP when Stewart fails to secure any significant time.

Jeff Haseley: The interest in DeAngelo Williams is mainly due to Jonathan Stewart's ankle injury woes, but also because I believe Williams can still play at a high level. The Panthers will focus on running the ball more in 2013, which favors Williams, especially given the uncertainty of Stewart's health. Williams may be forced into 200+ carries, which would only be the third time in his career. The other two times, he finished 1st and 14th in the league.

Jason Wood: Convince me Jonathan Stewart is going to be healthy and I’ll rethink my enthusiasm for Williams. But as it stands Williams is being drafted 96th overall and RB37 – which is far too low for a back that appears likely to start for a ball control offense. Williams hasn’t been elite since 2009 but remains healthy and continues to possess the skills we saw on display back then. At his current ADP you’re getting a potential 3-down starter while others are drafting backups that need catastrophic injuries to gain relevance.

Players with 3 Votes

Giovani Bernard, Cin

James Brimacombe: The writing is on the wall for Benjarvus Green-Ellis as he showed very little with his 3.9 yards per carry in his first year in Cincinnati. Bernard was drafted to help this offense that is already on the verge of being something special. He will be used early and often and will help open us the field for Andy Dalton and could be a valuable pass catcher out of the backfield.

Mike Brown: The Bengals didn't go out and draft Bernard so that he could languish on the bench behind the plodding BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Bernard has a nice combination of skills, which perfectly complement what the Bengals are trying to do offensively. The team surrounded QB Andy Dalton with some prime weapons heading into 2013, seemingly to find out if he is in fact the franchise quarterback they hope he is. Bernard has been gaining ground on Green-Ellis all summer long, and seems to be only a matter of time before the feature back job is his.

Andy Hicks: Bernard is the explosive back that can ignite the Bengals offense to another level. He will not get the carries to approach RB1 territory due to the presence of BenJarvus Green-Ellis this year, but as the year wears on and Bernard sees more touches he could be very valuable towards the fantasy playoffs. Bernard could easily see his stock rise should he dazzle in preseason, so pay attention to any changes in his ADP.

Reggie Bush, Det

Ryan Hester: During the last installment of this feature, Bush had an ADP of 30 (RB16). Even having climbed nine spots in the overall ADP ranks, I’m still leaving Bush as a value play. Bush and the Detroit offense is a match made in fantasy football heaven. Detroit is uptempo, has weapons all over the field, and uses its backs in the passing game frequently. In his two seasons with Miami, Bush proved that he can be a full-time starter and handle a starter’s workload. If Bush gets 18+ touches per game in Detroit, he’ll do enough with them to be a top-12 running back in standard leagues. In PPR leagues, the sky is the limit. Bush’s role should be a combination of his duties in New Orleans (where he had 88 receptions as a rookie and 73 more in his second year) and his duties in Miami (where he averaged 221 carries per season in two years). There’s a lot of fantasy gold to be mined here.

Andy Hicks: Bush moves to the Detroit Lions and an offense tailored made to his skill set. The Lions have been craving a back with his skills ever since Jahvid Best suffered his string of concussions. This match made in heaven will be a fantasy winner as Bush will get 200+ rushing attempts, at least 60 receptions and will push 10 touchdowns. Bush will outperform many of those that will be drafted ahead of him and is tremendous value in PPR leagues.

Kyle Wachtel: As an RB1 in PPR formats, Bush’s late second round value is a bargain price. He will fill a similar role as Jahvid Best once did, when Best accounted for exactly 1500 total yards and 7 touchdowns. Bush is also a superior runner to Best and has tallied at least 73 receptions twice in his career, a reception total that is attainable with Detroit. He should also be considered a high-end RB2 in standard leagues.

Frank Gore, SF

Sigmund Bloom: If you are tempted to take a tight end in the first three rounds, the ready availability of Gore in the third round and possible availability in the fourth should encourage you to take the plunge. He might not be a PPR stud anymore, but Gore is still the lead back in a run-heavy offense that will pave highways for him to motor through on a regular basis. He’s a very strong RB2 that you can get for a low RB2 price.

Steve Holloway: Gore finished as RB11 last year averaging 4.7 ypc. San Francisco continues to have an awesome offensive line and the team wants to run the ball often and effectively. Gore had five games last year with over 20 carries and six more above 15. Gore may be spelled at times, but will be productive with his opportunities and has scored 17 TDs over the past two seasons.

Jason Wood: Fantasy owners have lost their minds. Gore is coming off the board 21st among running backs in the 4th round of 12-team drafts. That makes ZERO sense. Gore finished 11th last year (12th the year before), is healthy, runs behind one of the league’s best offensive lines, and has a coaching staff that is committed to a power running game. Gore has ability and opportunity, and a supporting cast and system tailor made for fantasy relevance.

Lamar Miller, Mia

Ryan Hester: Fantasy football success is predicated upon seeing talent in players that your opponents don’t see and finding players that have the opportunity to get a high number of touches to score you big points. Miller has a level of talent that is being looked over by many in the fantasy football community, but his biggest asset may be his opportunity. Miami has said throughout the offseason (in OTA’s and now in training camp) that Miller’s position as the team’s top running back will not be challenged. Miller has the potential and skill set to be a three-down back and a goal line back, and the lack of additional options on Miami’s roster further solidify that. Miller has RB1 upside that can be had late in the third round.

Chad Parsons: Miami has given every indication that Miller will get a long look as the starter. They did not address the position in free agency or spend a high draft pick on likely competition. Daniel Thomas has been anything but impressive through two forgettable seasons. For teams that wait for a second running back or get Miller as a flex play, they will get a high-upside play that could be one of the difference-makers that win fantasy titles this season.

Matt Waldman: Miller is a smooth runner with excellent vision and deceptive power. He’s a breakaway threat who can move the chains and wear down a defense in the right kind of offense. Miller is also a fine receiver from the backfield who was underused in this respect at the University of Miami. The Dolphins have already declared Miller the starter and praised his work ethic to pick up all aspects of the offense. I expect no less than an 1100-yard season with double digit touchdowns rushing-receiving – good enough for top-15 production.

Daryl Richardson, StL

Heath Cummings: I have a feeling Richardson’s ADP is about to skyrocket. Everyone was excited about Zac Stacy or Isaiah Pead in St. Louis, and they forgot that it was Richardson came from nowhere to become a prominent part of the offense in 2012. Stacy may vulture his share of touchdowns, but the starting job will be Richardson's to lose. Reports from OTAs say Richardson has bulked up to try to prove to Jeff Fisher that he can handle the load of a starting running back, and Fisher is going to give him that shot. As a rookie Richardson averaged 4.8 yards per carry and looked electric at times. He's a low RB2 with potential to be even better.

Cian Fahey: Richardson is clearly the Rams' primary option at the running back position and he also proved last season that he can be a quality runner in a variety of situations. His impressive start to the preseason combined with struggles from rookie Isaiah Pead should keep him on course to potentially have more than 200 carries. On 98 last season he had 475 yards and a 4.8 average.

Kyle Wachtel: The second-year runner experienced a successful rookie campaign, totaling 475 rushing yards on 4.8 YPC. He also showed strong receiving ability and is currently positioned to hold on to the starting role for the Rams. He will have a secure role heading into the season - something which cannot be said of the other St. Louis runners - and should at the very least, improve upon his rookie totals with an increased opportunity.

Shane Vereen, NE

Jeff Pasquino: New England has moved on from Danny Woodhead as their scatback receiver of choice, deciding instead to go with the younger (and cheaper) Shane Vereen for this year. Vereen flashed some ability in the playoffs last season, scoring twice on five catches for 83 yards against the Texans. The third year back will be lined up next to Tom Brady on passing downs this season, and now with Aaron Hernandez gone and Rob Gronkowski out with an injury (again), Vereen is going to be featured quite a bit as a receiver out wide. Vereen has excellent PPR value this year as a RB3 with every week starter value.

Matt Waldman: With Aaron Hernandez in jail and complete turnover of the receiving corps, Vereen is one of the most experienced in this Patriots system. A fine receiver from the backfield with better hands, more burst, and more power than Danny Woodhead, Vereen is being used at various positions on the field. He’ll be one of the 3-4 most relied upon weapons in the offense and that should translate to combined yardage totals that make him an underrated RB2 in non-PPR leagues and a potential RB1 in PPR formats at a fraction of the cost.

Jason Wood: In PPR leagues, Vereen is shaping up to be a steal. The Patriots generally finish near the top of the league in rushing yards and touchdowns, and can support two running backs as viable fantasy commodities. Vereen may not displace Ridley as the work horse, but he might supplant the likes of Aaron Hernandez in the versatile move role Bill Belichick loves to employ. Vereen is going to line up all over the field and could be in line for 70+ receptions. Vereen should push for 1,200+ yards from scrimmage and a half dozen TDs with ease.

David Wilson, NYG

Jeff Haseley: I have a feeling the Giants are going to unleash David Wilson in a big way in 2013. Andre Brown may see some carries here and there, but the majority should come from Wilson, who is on the verge of being one of the league's top running backs.

Jeff Pasquino: David Wilson was a stud tailback at Virginia Tech, and once he got rolling as a rookie with the Giants he exploded onto the scene with some enormous games. Now with Ahmad Bradshaw out of the picture, it is down to Wilson and Andre Brown to dictate the New York backfield. Brown may steal goal line touches, but Wilson is the more explosive and dynamic runner and receiver. I expect Wilson to collect 65-75% of the opportunity and production this year as the featured tailback for the Giants this season, with bigger upside in the future.

Aaron Rudnicki: The Giants let Ahmad Bradshaw walk this year because they feel comfortable turning things over to Wilson. He went through some rookie struggles a year ago, but still managed to average 5 yards per carry. While Andre Brown is around to steal some carries and vulture touchdowns, he does have a long injury history and I think there’s a clear talent gap between the two that will become apparent. At this point in the draft, Wilson stands out to me as the best option for a player who can rise up and post RB1-type numbers.

Players with 2 Votes

Bryce Brown, Phi

Heath Cummings: Brown is THE backup running back to own in your fantasy league, especially with this ADP. He finished 39th in fantasy point amongst running backs in 2012. He did so on 115 carries. In Chip Kelly's high volume offense, I could easily see Brown with 150+ carries even if LeSean McCoy stays healthy all season. That should be good enough to put Brown into high-level RB3 territory. As an added bonus, if McCoy does go down you'll have a back that's proven he's capable of RB1 production.

Adam Harstad: Chip Kelly's offense at Oregon was as run-heavy as they come, and he never had any compunction against spreading the work among several different backs. If he remains true to form, Bryce Brown could see enough touches to be a viable flex play even if Lesean McCoy remains healthy. And if Lesean McCoy gets out.

Johnathan Franklin, GB

Mike Brown: While everyone was gushing over Eddie Lacy's talent (and rightly so), Franklin is busy making headway towards a larger share of the running back duties. He's got a very impressive college pedigree, and without the heavy workload that typically accompanies a star college rusher. The Packers want to make a new commitment to the run game this year, which will only help Franklin. But if/when they resort to their passing ways, he could see a lot of action in the passing game as well. The aforementioned Lacy also has some nagging injury concerns that, if they resurface, could make Franklin a stud.

Mark Wimer: Johnathan Franklin is a guy I plan on snagging late in drafts, especially when I put Eddie Lacy on my fantasy teams this year. If Lacy has trouble with his toe (or another injury) or winds up suspended for some reason, Franklin would likely be the next guy up for the potent Packers' offense. There's also the possibility that Franklin wins the starting job outright in training camp...

Ronnie Hillman, Den

Adam Harstad: When John Elway twice referred to Ronnie HIllman as a "change of pace back" this offseason, that could have been the kiss of death for his fantasy prospects. Instead, Hillman has spent the offseason adding bulk without losing speed, and he currently sits atop Denver's depth chart. Yes, there's a lot of risk that he loses the job, but how often do you get a chance to draft the guy atop the Denver Broncos' depth chart as a late RB3 or even an RB4? In the 9th round, Hillman is a gamble worth making.

Mark Wimer: While rookie Montee Ball is being talked about a lot, and Ball does appear to be favored in the short-yardage role, reports out of Denvers' training camp indicate that Hillman is outplaying Ball significantly and that Hillman is getting 75% or more of the touches with the first team. In short, it looks like the starting job may be Hillman's to lose - he's an outstanding value pick at 91 overall (35th running back off the board currently), especially in PPR leagues where his versatility will help earn receptions from Peyton Manning.

Chris Ivory, NYJ

Kyle Wachtel: Ivory must obviously shake the injury bug that has plagued him throughout his football career and already sidelined him during camp with a hamstring injury. However, considering his size (222 pounds), speed (4.48 40-yard dash) and demeanor (angry), he has a great opportunity to breakthrough in the Jets’ run-heavy attack. He should be viewed as an RB2 with greater potential in the and is currently being drafted outside the top-24 backs in the latter portion of the 5th Round, which is terrific value.

Mark Wimer: Mike Goodson's legal woes have opened the door to free-agent signee Chris Ivory, and all signal indicate that Ivory has walked through that door and staked his claim to be the starting running back for this team. With the passing game in turmoil and the wide receivers banged up, Ivory figures to get a lot of work week in and week out for the Jets. The offensive line is a mess in New York, though, so don't get excited and try to plug in Ivory as an every-week starter early in the year. As a flex player/bye-week fill-in, though, he's got value when the matchup is good given his position as 26th running back off the board (#59 overall). If the Jets' line jells during preseason he could move into fantasy starter status.

Ryan Mathews, SD

David Dodds: Sometimes the pendulum swings too far and I believe that is the case this year with regards to Mathews. Last year he was deemed a 1st round pick in fantasy drafts based on his explosive 2011 season. Now after the most disappointing injury-riddled season imaginable, Mathews is now horrible? He defines value this season and is a great buy-low candidate that could greatly exceed his draft position if everything falls right.

Steve Holloway: Mathews is another running back where the potential far outweighs his career production. He also is falling far down in drafts based on his injury history and the Chargers poor offensive play a year ago. For his first two seasons, Mathews averaged a little above 4.6 ypc and already has 111 receptions in only 38 career games. He should again be heavily involved in the offense and has played well thus far in pre-season camp.

Darren Sproles, NO

Sigmund Bloom: Darren Sproles has been a consistent low-end RB1 in PPR leagues for the last two years, but he is still being drafted as a mid-RB2. Sean Payton’s return should only buttress Sproles’ already strong fantasy outlook.

Jeff Pasquino: Darren Sproles is severely underrated as a running back in both PPR and non-PPR leagues. Look no further than just two years ago, when he finished as a fantasy RB1 in a non-PPR league with over 1,300 combined yards and nine touchdowns. Read that again – Sproles was a Top 10 fantasy back in 2011, the last time Sean Payton coached the Saints. Do you think Sproles might be underrated at his current ADP of 16 in PPR? Absolutely. Sproles could easily finish as a Top 10 back yet again in either format, but the PPR numbers can make his value ridiculous (he had 86 catches in 2011).

Players with 1 Vote

Matt Forte, Chi

Mike Brown: The Bears revamped their offensive line this offseason, which should pay huge dividends to both Forte and QB Jay Cutler. Not only that, but they brought in a new offense with head coach Marc Trestman - an offense that loves featuring the running backs in the passing game. Forte is already one of the league's most adept receiving backs, and with a team that wants to protect its quarterback, the short passing game could mean Forte is in line for more work than he has ever seen before.

Mark Ingram, NO

Steve Holloway: Ingram’s lack of production over his first two seasons has led to his drastic fall in ADP. He has better talent than has been shown thus far and is healthier entering 2013. His coach wants to run the ball more often and Ingram should have more opportunities than in his first two seasons. Look for his yards per carry and carries to be career highs in 2013 with him potentially scoring double digit TDs.

LaMichael James, SF

Matt Waldman: What I saw from James in limited time was impressive. His speed, quickness, and vision translated well from what he did in Oregon’s multiple tight end offense to the 49ers multiple tight end looks. There’s a lot of talk about James developing into an option along the lines of Darren Sproles and considering the dearth of refined receiving talent, Kendall Hunter’s Achilles’ injury, and the age of Frank Gore, I think the role for this second-year Oregon back might be more than talk. The fact that James has added weight and looks more like a slightly smaller Ray Rice in dimension doesn’t hurt behind a terrific 49ers line.

Eddie Lacy, GB

Mark Wimer: The Packers have been very open about their desire to balance their offense with more running plays (and more effective results from those running plays). Eddie Lacy was drafted to fill this need, and he'll get first crack at becoming the featured back for the Packers. His toe injury/surgery concerns are being overblown, in my opinion, and his recent hamstring strain is considered a minor concern. Playing on the high-octane Packers attack with the plethora of receiving options on this team, there should be plenty of room for Lacy to roam once he gets past the line of scrimmage. I think he's a sterling value at an ADP of 29th running back off the board - he has plenty of upside potential from there.

Mikel Leshoure, Det

Will Grant: Leshoure was a top 20 fantasy back last season, but when the Lions landed Reggie Bush, Leshoure became a forgotten man. While a top 20 finish is probably not in the cards this season, Leshoure has fallen off the fantasy radar almost completely. He’s not dead. In fact, a 150 touch season is a real possibility for him. Leshoure won’t win a fantasy season for you, but he’s worth a lot more, even if it’s just insurance in case Bush misses time due to injury.

Marshawn Lynch, Sea

Adam Harstad: Lynch began the offseason with the risk of a suspension hanging over his head stemming from a 2012 DUI. Lynch's trial has since been pushed back until after the season, and that threat is now gone. Lynch's draft stock has responded by… staying exactly the same? Coming off of back-to-back top-5 finishes, and with Harvin's injury ensuring he remains the focal point of the offense, Lynch is a no-brainer at the back end of the 1st round or beginning of the 2nd.

LeSean McCoy, Phi

Sigmund Bloom: By all early indications, the Eagles offense will indeed heavily resemble the run-heavy, fast break Oregon offense, and feature the running backs as passcatchers. McCoy scored 20 total touchdowns only two seasons ago. He is a top talent, entering his prime, in one of the best situations in the league. He’s worth a top three pick in PPR leagues.

Darren McFadden, Oak

Steve Holloway: McFadden has been productive on a game by game basis, but has not had consistent success. He has missed games every season, averaging 12.5 games played in his four most productive seasons. This year, the offensive line scheme is much better suited to his talents and he is in the final season of his rookie contract. The team’s new quarterback may need to lean more on the running game giving McFadden ample opportunity for production. He will likely miss some games again, but should be very productive on a game to game basis and he can be drafted fairly late this year for that production.

Ray Rice, Bal

Andy Hicks: Rice is falling to the middle and end of round 1 in a lot of drafts. This is an overreaction to the presence of Bernard Pierce. Rice is one of, if not the best pass catching backs in the NFL, as well as being a dynamic runner. The departure of Anquan Boldin and injury to Dennis Pitta will see him as the prime beneficiary and if you are at the top of your draft, trade down in the 1st and scoop him up to improve the rest of your draft.

Stevan Ridley, NE

Bob Magaw: Stevan Ridley seized the opportunity as feature RB after the departure of BenJarvus Green-Ellis to the Bengals. The former 2011 third rounder improved on his rookie totals of 441 rushing yards and 1 TD, to 1,263 rushing yards and 12 TDs in 2012. Despite (or maybe because of, being frequent red zone visitors) a potent Tom Brady led passing attack, New England topped the NFL in rushing TDs (25). The Patriots may need to rely even more heavily on the ground game in 2013, with the departure of Wes Welker, and the uncertain status of star tight end Rob Gronkowski‘s back injury. Shane Vereen was a 2011 second rounder, but may better fit the profile of a Kevin Faulk-like complementary running back.

Jacquizz Rodgers, Atl

David Dodds: Despite everyone saying all the right things about Steven Jackson, I am not a buyer. Jackson is old for RB standards (30) and has taken a lot of punishment. I see a bigger role for the talented Rodgers this year.

Danny Woodhead, SD

Aaron Rudnicki: The Chargers have the look of a team that is going to be playing from behind rather often this year along with an injury-prone starter at RB. That suggests to me that Woodhead is going to be a key player for them and likely wind up with numbers considerably better than most people are expecting from him. While not the great runner that Darren Sproles was, he can help fill that role and should see plenty of targets.