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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 and identify players that should outperform their draft position.

Player Receiving 4 Votes

Carlos Hyde, San Francisco

Phil Alexander: Hyde's ADP hasn't fully rebounded after he was slandered by beat writers as a poor fit for Kyle Shanahan's zone blocking scheme during OTAs. Concerns about his fit with Shanahan were always overblown for a player with Hyde's pedigree. What he may lack in vision, Hyde more than makes up for with power, explosiveness, surprising short space quickness, and the ability to shed arm tackles. He's not tied to a great offense or offensive line, but those things were also true last season when Hyde finished as the RB9 on a per game basis. Hyde -- who caught 82% of his targets in 2016 -- figures to see an uptick in his receiving stats under Shanahan as well. He may not have been a value when his ADP was in the second round, but Hyde's clear RB1 upside makes him a potential steal at his current ADP.

Chris Feery: Carlos Hyde isn’t receiving much love in fantasy circles this year. The 49ers have a new head coach in town in the form of Kyle Shanahan, and the club spent a fourth-round draft pick on running back Joe Williams. Those two factors have combined to help depress Hyde’s ADP, but that’s a mistake in my book. He’s reported to camp in phenomenal shape, and early indications point to him still being the lead dog in the 49ers backfield. While it’s clearly a rebuilding year in San Francisco, there’s value to be found - courtesy of the Shanahan offense. Hyde is currently going off the board behind heavily-hyped rookie running backs, but I’ll go with a veteran with something to prove instead of hoping a prospect pans out. Hyde’s in line to make some noise for the 49ers, and he makes for a fine RB2 selection for your fantasy squads.

Stephen Holloway: Hyde had mixed results through his first two seasons, but played well a year ago, even though he still missed games because of injury. Off-season rumors had him being cut, but he remains at the top of the 49ers depth chart. The coaching changes should improve the overall offense in San Francisco and if Hyde can keep the starting job, he will likely produce above his ADP. He averaged a career high 4.6 YPC in a dismal offense and scored nine touchdowns.

Ari Ingel: He’s a very talented back, but new head coach Kyle Shanahan has questioned his fit in his offense, which is a concern and a bit curious since he is a good zone runner, although he ran mostly inside zone last year and Shanahan mixes between inside and a lot of outside zone. Last season he was 4th in yards after contact 7th in missed tackles forced per attempt. In fact, 662 of his 988 yards came after contact. However, the 49ers drafted intriguing rookie Joe Williams, who they traded up to get and whom they may feel is a better fit for this scheme. However, Williams has looked lost in camp so far and has serious questions regarding his pass catching and pass protection abilities, while Hyde has been dominating as a runner and pass catcher. 49ers beat writer, Kevin Jones, recently reported that Hyde has been one of the standouts at camp and insider Adam Caplan reported that Hyde is the teams unquestioned lead back. If you are betting on talent, then Hyde makes for a solid RB2 on a team that has no problem employing two RBs like we saw in Atlanta last year. Hyde also reported to camp in great shape and at his lowest weight since entering the league, it seems as if Hyde got the point and is ready to rock. He played all 10 starter snaps including the passing downs in the first pre-season game.

Player Receiving 3 Votes

Danny Woodhead, Baltimore

Ryan Hester: Steve Smith has retired, and Dennis Pitta was released. Only new arrival Jeremy Maclin has displayed the skill set required to make catches in the middle of the field at short and intermediate distances. Enter Woodhead, a free agent signing who has registered 80 and 76 receptions in the last two seasons he has finished, making him a dark-horse candidate lead this team in receptions. Since my last vote for Woodhead in this space, Kenneth Dixon has been ruled out for the season, which only makes Woodhead’s opportunity grow. He’s a huge steal with a realistic 50-catch floor and 80-catch potential. Remember, Joe Flacco finished just one pass attempt behind Drew Brees for the league lead in 2016, and Baltimore has led the NFL in pass attempts the last two seasons.

Jeff Pasquino: Joe Flacco has had to throw a lot of passes for the Ravens over the past few years, but Baltimore enters this year with a lot fewer options than last season. Gone are Steve Smith at wide receiver and now tight end Dennis Pitta has been lost to a third hip injury that may cost him his career. The path for Woodhead to be utilized in large amounts in the Ravens’ passing game was already there, but the suspension of Kenneth Dixon for the first four contests only increases Woodhead’s value.

Daniel Simpkins: Even with his average draft position rising, Woodhead remains a value. He may not be much of a between-the-tackles option, but he doesn’t have to be. Baltimore utilized its runners in the passing game second only to New Orleans last year. Woodhead has not topped 500 rushing yards since 2010 but has finished with over 70 catches and 600 receiving yards twice in that span. In 2015, that was good enough to finish as the third best running back in points per reception formats. He was on his way to similar numbers before he was injured last year. Kenneth Dixon may have been a wild card that would have cut into Woodhead’s role, but Dixon underwent season-ending surgery after suffering a meniscus injury. Accounts from training camp tell us that Woodhead is healthy and has been an important cog in Baltimore’s offensive clockwork. If his role stays intact throughout the season, Woodhead will lead many of his owners to championships.

Players Receiving 2 Votes

Mark Ingram, New Orleans

Stephen Holloway: Ingram is a very interesting prospect this year. For his first three seasons in New Orleans, he missed a lot of games (11) and generally underperformed. He only had 356 carries over his first three seasons and even worse, had only caught 24 passes. His fourth season was his best by far, but he still fell short of 1,000 yards rushing. The Saints did not pick up his fifth-year option and most thought he was one step from being released. However, the Saints gave him a new contract in 2015 and he again played well, and even though he missed four games his owners became more frustrated at his lack of use than his performance. Ingram was even better last year but again had only 20 carries in one game. This season, the Saints added Adrian Peterson in free agency and drafted a talented rookie in Alvin Kamara. Ingram will again be in a running back committee, but he has always been in one. He has finished as RB15, RB15, and RB10 in the past three seasons, where he rarely had 20 carries in a game. He has turned into a solid receiver averaging 48 catches per season for the last two. He is still in an RBBC, but his ADP is well below his most recent three seasons. He should have the best value in his career in 2017.

Jason Wood: The Saints coaches don’t love Mark Ingram. And that’s always a concern. But Ingram’s current ADP misprices the risk versus reward. Adrian Peterson is being over-drafted, which helps explain why fantasy owners are under-drafting Ingram. Peterson is an all-time great, but he is old, was ineffective the last time we saw him, has never been a good receiver, and history is not on his side (i.e., older backs changing teams after time off). Ingram has ranked 15th, 15th and 10th in the last three seasons, in spite of being used less frequently than fantasy owners expected. He’s an excellent receiver (96 receptions for 724 yards and four touchdowns in the last two seasons) and a proven short-yardage hammer. He’s coming off a 10-touchdown season where he averaged 5.1 yards per carry. Yet, he’s being drafted as an RB3. It makes no sense.

Ty Montgomery, Green Bay

Ryan Hester: After being converted to a running back in the middle of last season, Montgomery had two 10-reception games when Green Bay was passing nearly every down out of necessity due to injuries in the backfield. But even after the team began using him in a more traditional running back role, he had five games with three or more receptions and had a 162-yard rushing performance in Week 14 at Chicago. Montgomery’s only barriers to fantasy success are pass protection and two rookies drafted in the middle rounds. He’s working on his pass blocking, and unlike last season, he’ll have a full offseason program at the running back position, including gaining weight to help with his blocking. Any piece of an offense like Green Bay’s is good for fantasy football. And Montgomery seems to be one of the most overlooked.

Jeff Pasquino: Running backs produce fantasy numbers based on opportunity and touches, and Montgomery offers a ton of both based on his status as the top running back for the Packers heading into this season. Montgomery is a converted wide receiver who is still learning how to read his offensive line and set up blocks as a rusher, but he clearly knows how to run after the catch in open spaces. With Aaron Rodgers getting him involved on offense early and often in every contest, I see a lot of upside for Montgomery in 2017.

Thomas Rawls, Seattle

Phil Alexander: At worst, Rawls is going to split base down carries with Eddie Lacy, yet he's still routinely available near the double digit rounds. We're still only one season removed from Rawls leading the NFL in running back success rate, and only one playoff game removed from Rawls destroying the Lions for a 27-161-1 rushing line. If Lacy gets hurt (again) or struggles with his weight (again), a healthy Rawls still has RB1 potential.

Jeff Haseley: The Seahawks have used Rawls as their starting running back in preseason, not Eddie Lacy. Rawls has shown some promise with Seattle in the past and now that he is healthy again, he may be the best option for their running game. As a pick in the 13th or 14th round, Rawls represents great value.

Terrance West, Baltimore

Jeff Haseley: Last year, in a shared role, West had 193 carries and over 1,000 yards of rushing/receiving offense with 6 touchdowns. This year, he will assume the starting running back role with assistance from Danny Woodhead as the team's top receiving back option. West is being drafted after the likes of Paul Perkins, Eddie Lacy, and Samaje Perine, who are far from sure-thing fantasy options.

Jason Wood: Kenneth Dixon is out for the year. Javorius Allen is fighting for a roster spot. Kyle Juszczyk calls San Francisco home. Danny Woodhead is now a part of the roster, true, but his role is exclusively as a receiver out of the backfield. Barring a late preseason trade, Terrance West is assured of a significant workload as the team’s bell cow on first and second downs. The 4th year back out of Towson isn’t a world beater, but he has shown an ability to handle 18-20 carries. Baltimore wants to run a balanced offense, and West should deliver low-end RB2 value if he stays healthy.

Players Receiving 1 Vote

Ameer Abdullah, Detroit

Jason Wood: The injury history is concerning, but all signals point to Abdullah getting one more chance at the Lions lead role. In spite of missing 14 games last year, the Lions passed on veteran free agents this offseason. They also passed on drafting viable alternatives. The Lions ranked 30th in rushing yards and 26th in touchdowns last season; they NEED to be more efficient on the ground. They didn’t bring in anyone to compete with Abdullah. The general manager and coaching staff have also said all the right things. Abdullah won’t be a workhorse. Theo Riddick plays a key role in receiving packages, and Zach Zenner has a role in short yardage. Abdullah has explosiveness and dynamism that makes him a fantasy commodity even if he only touches the ball 12-15 times per game. If Abdullah stays healthy in the preseason, his ADP is going to skyrocket. Justifiably.

Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati

Stephen Holloway: Bernard is coming off an ACL injury that put him on IR after week 11 of last season. His much lower 2017 ADP is due to the expectation of a slow return to health, reduced athleticism based on that injury and also the potential impact that Joe Mixon, drafted in the second round will have on Bernard's usage. Bernard has always had good burst, shiftiness, and quick feet. He has previously shared the running back duties in Cincinnati with others, mostly Jeremy Hill. Bernard has always been prominent in the passing game as he averages 3.4 catches per game played over his four seasons. I suspect that he will maintain that role as the chief target among the running backs and will continue to get rushing carries. As long as he is healthy, he will be a bargain in 2017.

Rex Burkhead, New England

Justin Howe: Burkhead is the latest Patriot back to see his value soar, but this one is backed by solid, contemporary evidence. With Mike Gillislee missing gobs of preseason time, Burkhead has looked as close to a featured back as the Patriots offer. He's dominating the ball when on the field and even looks poised to steal some targets from passing-down specialist James White. Burkhead has been a bottom-of-draft flier all draft season, but he's starting to become a no-brainer just beyond Round 10. In this offense, there's ever-present potential for high volume and strong touchdown opportunity. RB2 New England backs carry more value in best ball drafts, where we don't need to project big weeks on the spot, but Burkhead's versatility bucks that a bit. He could lead the team in snaps on a weekly basis - something we couldn't project for the likes of White, LeGarrette Blount, Shane Vereen.

Tevin Coleman, Atlanta

Andy Hicks: Tevin Coleman has formed a nice combination with Devonta Freeman in Atlanta, but he had less than 150 touches in 2016 and his fantasy ranking received a big boost by registering 11 touchdowns. Coleman also has an injury history in his short time in the NFL and it is hard to see him ever being elevated to a long term RB1. What he has, however, is a magnificent points-per-touch ratio and has the upside to be worth an investment. At his current price, he should easily be value given that he missed three games last year and finished the season ranked in the middle of RB2s.

Melvin Gordon, LA Chargers

Justin Howe: Shockingly, drafters all over the place are pulling Gordon with second-round picks. I realize he's not the most dynamic back out there - in fact, he's yet to show much dynamism at all through two seasons. But what he has shown are several aspects that point to top-5 overall upside and strong insulation from the risk of busting. For one, Gordon is catching tons of passes out of the backfield - actually, 41 over last year's 10 full games after Danny Woodhead left the lineup. The Chargers have added absolutely nothing of note to their backfield, which is packed with very limited reserves, so it's hard to expect Gordon to catch fewer than 50-55 balls. All told only three backs (David Johnson, LeVeon Bell, and Ezekiel Elliott) project to even approach him in terms of week-to-week volume, and with Elliott suspended, that kind of usage is even rarer. Those managing to lock down Gordon's own outstanding volume a half or a full round later is grand larceny. And let's not forget about his touchdown outlook, which also nestles among the fantasy draft board's elite. Some are balking at the idea of Gordon again notching double-digit touchdowns, but to me, it seems like a near-certainty. There was nothing particularly fluky there: in 2016, only four players received more touches from inside the 10-yard line than Gordon's 30, which came across just 12.5 games. Simply put, he's a three-down bell cow with no real competition for any aspect of his game, and he's on the short list to lead the league in touchdowns. And right now, I'm prioritizing him on the same level as the top tier of wideouts, putting him in play for a mid-Round 1 pick in terms of value. Luckily, at the moment, we're able to get him for significantly less.

Frank Gore, Indianapolis

Matt Waldman: He’s old, I get it. For a running back, he’s been old for a while now. He’s also been slow for a running back since, oh…entering the league after sustaining two ACL tears at Miami. In fact, there are past and present NFL defenders with guilty consciences for thanking God that Gore suffered those two injuries as a collegian because if he arrived in the NFL fully intact, he might be one of the best ever. Due to those injuries that cost him his speed, Gore is “only” the standard that NFL coaches use to teach young runners how to read and set up blocks. He was “only” the No. 12 fantasy RB on a banged up Colts offense. The recent and repeated praise for Robert Turbin is a sign that Marlon Mack has much to learn about pass protection and inside running. I’m not counting on another RB1 performance from Gore, but his ADP is too low.

Todd Gurley, LA Rams

Chad Parsons: Gurley stands to benefit the most from the recent acquisition of Sammy Watkins. With a true vertical threat - plus the acquisitions of Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods to Tavon Austin - the Rams have revamped their pass game stable in a single offseason. Gurley, despite 2016 being a massive disappointment to expectations, still logged 25% of his games with 16+ PPR points and 56% of 12+ PPR points. His floor is a mid-RB2 and upside to return to strong RB1 status.

Derrick Henry, Tennessee

Chad Parsons: Henry outside the top-30 running backs is a glaring value. Owners can already have two, if not more, running backs rostered with Henry one of the highest upside mid-round backs available. Henry showed well as a receiver as a rookie and was in the flex conversation even with DeMarco Murray healthy and the clear No.1 option last season. Henry is poised to carve more of a role and possesses upper RB1 projections any week Murray is out of the lineup.

Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati

Jeff Haseley: One of the key factors in Jeremy Hill's outlook this season is that he's in a contract year which means he will be looking to make a difference. This season will be an interview for his next contract, so you can imagine his interest in performing well will be high. He is being drafted anywhere from the 12th to the 16th round in drafts, which is a value. Invest little as an RB4 or RB5 and wait for the return. There's virtually no risk, with nothing but reward. If he fizzles out, trade him in for the best free agent available.

Rob Kelley, Washington

Andy Hicks: Every year fantasy owners look to running backs taken in the middle rounds of the NFL draft to be the savior for their running game. It rarely works. For every Jordan Howard, there are countless Kenneth Dixons. The rookie running back has uphill battles to learn a complex NFL offense and overcome issues that forced them into the middle or late rounds of drafts in the first place. The existing back who has proven their mettle has the advantage and that is the case with Rob Kelley in Washington. Samaje Perine will get all the buzz and will probably be drafted first, but Kelley demonstrated in his 9 games starting that he is a more than capable back that should outperform his draft slot significantly.

Eddie Lacy, Seattle

Andy Hicks: This is the year that Eddie Lacy’s career could go either way. Out of the league or back to the form from his first 2 seasons. Lacy obviously remains a high-risk pick, but the upside is much higher than his current draft position. If you pair him with Thomas Rawls then you should safeguard your investment, but focusing purely on Lacy, he has always performed when on the field. In his 5 games last year he averaged over 5 yards a carry and the year before had three 100 yard games when Green Bay wasn’t really interested in running the ball. There is no doubt that Seattle will want to run the ball, and often. They have depth at the position, but the lead runner will be Lacy. Don’t let him fall too far in your draft.

Marshawn Lynch, Oakland

Matt Waldman: I love how the trendiest people I know are labeling Lynch a trendy pick. The only think trendy about Lynch’s prospects is the fact that a high percentage of backs over the age of 30 with fantasy starter seasons have been players from the past 5-7 years. The back issue that Lynch has was exacerbated in 2015 by a hernia injury. Lynch is healthy and his Raiders teammates have been impressed with his burst in practice, his work ethic in the weight room, and his leadership on and off the field. Lynch has not missed a single practice this summer. The idea that he’ll only earn Latavius Murray’s 196-touch workload sounds preposterous to me but if it turns out to be true, Lynch is a superior player to Murray in every way and I will expect a superior yardage and touchdown output from him. It means, he’s a top-12 fantasy back in 2017 and a value at his current asking price.

Doug Martin, Tampa Bay

Matt Waldman: An immense talent with an up-and-down career due to weight gain and PED issues, when Martin is right—something we have usually seen during the spring—he’s a fantasy RB1. This year, he’ll be serving a three-game suspension, but he has also been the clear No. 1 RB for the Buccaneers this spring and all reports indicate that he has righted his approach to the game since the initial violation. Charles Sims is a quality contributor, but Martin is a better all-around back with a lot of tread left. He’ll be a strong value as a low-end RB2 who could deliver high-end RB1 production in a balanced offense with emerging talents.

Bilal Powell, NY Jets

Justin Howe: Far be it from me to recommend a Jet, but Powell has the potential to be their entire offense in 2017. And even on a pathetic offense, that means something. Last year's Jets offense was a garbage fire itself, and Powell averaged an eye-popping 23.6 PPR points over the final 4 weeks. That came thanks to a whopping 25.8 touches per game - wild numbers, sure, but doable again if ancient Matt Forte misses time and/or gets shut down. Even with Forte healthy, Powell is clearly the superior back at this point and a solid bet to take at least half the workload. With nothing but question marks at receiver and a host of quarterbacks who'll struggle to push the ball downfield, Powell has a perfectly plausible path to 175 rushes, 60 receptions, and a high-end RB2 finish in PPR leagues.

C.J. Prosise, Seattle

Daniel Simpkins: Prosise got hurt in his rookie year, but before that he had a large share of the passing down work. At 220 pounds, Prosise is more than a scatback. He demonstrated prowess between the tackles and in catching the football before his injury last year. Though Seattle has demonstrated they prefer to use a committee approach since the departure of Marshawn Lynch, there’s a chance for an enlarged role if Eddie Lacy and Thomas Rawls get injured. Both Lacy and Rawls have struggled with multiple health issues throughout their careers, so if one or both go down, Prosise could be called upon to do more. As it stands, catching 60 balls may not be too lofty of a projection for Prosise.