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Value Plays: Running Backs

Footballguys staff members look for 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.

Player with 6 Votes

Le'Veon Bell, Steelers

Sigmund Bloom: Even though I'm not convinced that Bell was the right pick for Pittsburgh in the second round, I am convinced that he'll be the starter sooner than later. Bell should get 250+ touches this year, including goal-line carries, so he's a good value as an RB3 or even RB4 in the eighth round. Isaac Redman is slated to be the third-down back, but if Bell starts hot, he could take over that job, too. There's too much upside at a scarce position here for Bell to be falling this far in early drafts. He should be going two to four rounds earlier than he is right now.

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.

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. The team also signed LaRod Stephens-Howling this season, but the former Cardinal isn't a threat to Bell's playing time. He's around more to give Bell a break, which he may need pretty often if the team works him like they're saying they will. His talent isn't among the NFL elite, but opportunity alone will make a viable RB2 this season – not a player who will finish on the fringe of RB2/RB3 territory as his current positional ADP would suggest.

Stephen Holloway: Le'Veon Bell should be a good fit for the Steelers as he has the skill-set of a power back, but is also a quality receiver. The backfield is crowded this off-season, but if Bell can pick up the play book and protect his quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, he should take the lead. Jonathan Dwyer was pedestrian leading the team a year ago with only 156 carries for 623 yards and should be easy to replace.

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 walks 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.

Jason Wood: The Steelers were once synonymous with a power rushing attack, but are no longer threats to run it down opponents' throats. Last year the Steelers were woeful on the ground, finishing 26th in rushing yards, 27th in rushing TDs and 28th in yards per rush. The team knows it must re-find the balance it had when Pittsburgh was competing for Super Bowls earlier in Mike Tomlin's coaching tenure, and that paves the way for rookie Le'Veon Bell to make an instant impact.

Player with 5 Votes

Steven Jackson, Falcons

Stephen Holloway: Steven Jackson has been a work horse for the Rams, getting around 300 touches per year, but has scored 6 or less TDs the last four seasons. He moves on in free agency to the Falcons and should be more productive (especially scoring TDs) with less carries. There has been a lot of talk about involving Jackson in the passing game. With his 406 career receptions, this seems like a solid plan. With Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez out on routes, Jackson should have a lot of one on one encounters with linebackers, which he will often win. A true twist of fate might be that the past few years Jackson has run behind a poor offensive line in St. Louis and they look to be improved this season while the Falcons lost two key members of their very good line from last year and could struggle early to replicate success.

Chad Parsons: Steven Jackson finally found a home outside of St.Louis and replaces Michael Turner, who has lived off of high volume and goal line opportunities as he physically declined the past couple of seasons. At a minimum, Jackson will see a significant uptick in touchdown opportunities and advantageous looks in an offense that can challenge a defense with three top passing game targets. For fantasy teams that can grab Jackson as a second running back, or a first one after snagging an elite receiver, they will be in a position of power through the first two-to-three rounds of a draft.

Jeff Pasquino: Steven Jackson is a great pick as a RB2 with big upside this year. His move from the Rams to the Falcons is a classic "win-win" for both Atlanta and Jackson. The Falcons replaced a broken down Michael Turner with a veteran with plenty left in the tank, while Jackson gets to wind down his career on a Super Bowl contender. Jackson has plenty of tread left on his tires and can rack up 1,500+ total yards this year, especially with the Atlanta passing attack keeping defenses honest. The only thing that was holding Jackson out of stud RB1 discussions last year was a lack of touchdowns, something that should be easily fixed as a Falcon.

Jeff Tefertiller: Steven Jackson moves to Atlanta to carry the ball often in the pass-oriented Falcons attack. The holes were there for Michael Turner last year, even though he did little with the opportunity. Expect more from Jackson. In addition, his stellar receiving ability will only help the fantasy production.

Jason Wood: Sometimes things are simple. Steven Jackson is better than Michael Turner in every regard. He's healthier; he has more strength, more explosiveness, and is an infinitely better receiver. Considering a washed up Turner finished as RB17 last year, I don't see how anyone can credibly argue against Jackson pushing for high end RB2 numbers if not low end RB1 numbers. Turner's limitations kept him off the field for more than 50% of the Falcons snaps, that won't happen with Jackson.

Players with 4 Votes

Montee Ball, Broncos

Will Grant: The question marks in Denver surrounding which running back is going to finish the season as #1 have pushed most of them down the draft chart in the minds of many fantasy owners. Ball is just a rookie, but he could still finish the season as the top back in Denver. I like ball to top 1000 yards from scrimmage and if he can vulture a couple TDS, he'll be well with 7th or 8th round pick you'll spend to get him.

Adam Harstad: Last year, Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno quietly combined to put up top 12 stats. This year, they'll be battling just to make Denver's roster. Ball's not a lock for anything, but he's looking like the frontrunner for carries, and even a chance at locking up Denver's starting running back is well worth the investment at the end of the 8th round.

Jeff Haseley: The only thing I see keeping Montee Ball from seeing the field this year is if he fails to learn pass protection. If/when he gets the green light from Peyton Manning and coach Fox, he will become a must start fantasy back. Even untalented backs can find success in the Denver running game - or better yet a Peyton Manning-led offense. Ball has talent and will be a big fantasy contributor once he earns the right to be in the backfield.

Bob Magaw: Montee Ball is reminiscent of former rookie RB contributors Edgerrin James and Joseph Addai while on Peyton Manning's watch with the Colts, in terms of the opportunity he is presented with and the work ethic and professionalism with which he is seizing it. He “gets it“. John Elway has already stated the former Wisconsin star reminds him of Terrell Davis. Despite understandable concerns based on head coach John Fox's ominous history with rookie running backs, Manning recently noted that Fox won't bring Ball along slowly. While lacking elite explosiveness and breakaway speed, he has a very well rounded and complete game. Ball didn't get to be one of the most prolific scorers in collegiate history (in great company with Barry Sanders) without a nose for the end zone, and the Broncos have a dangerous passing attack that should put him in position to score with regularity in 2013.

Bryce Brown, Eagles

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 hurt… watch out.

Jeff Pasquino: Chip Kelly comes in to Philadelphia this year and will be installing his version of the Oregon Duck offense, but it will be very dependent upon what personnel he has to work with for his first NFL season. One thing that is for sure is that he will want to run the ball quite a bit, and that means big production numbers for both LeSean McCoy and second back Bryce Brown. At Oregon, Kelly ran the ball 685 times, 545 by non-quarterbacks, in comparison to 373 pass calls. It stands to reason that even if McCoy sees a ton of work, there will be plenty of touches left over for Brown to be a very relevant RB3 with upside this season.

Matt Waldman: The most talented running back on the team might be Brown; not McCoy. If Brown becomes a more refined player within the next two years McCoy could be expendable if not for a Chip Kelly offense that hopes to run the ball 500-600 times and make two running backs viable producers due to the up-tempo scheme. I think Brown's size, power, receiving skills, and breakaway speed gives him a chance a 1000 yards on 200-220 carries. This will require a great deal of efficiency that seems like a lofty expectation, but if Kelly's offense works as it did at Oregon, there will be a lot of defensive breakdowns that make it possible.

Chris Ivory, Jets

Sigmund Bloom: Yes, yes, it's the Jets, but Shonn Greene turned the Jets feature back job into RB2 numbers last year. Ivory is more talented than Greene, so his track record of durability problems is balanced by the high ceiling presented by his always excellent performances when he got a decent amount of touches in New Orleans. Ivory falling to the eighth or ninth round is absurd in a year with so few quality fantasy options outside of the top 25 backs.

Andrew Garda: This Jets offense is a mess with quarterback issues, problems at wide receiver and will depend on a strong running game along with a good defense to stay in games. Ivory has tremendous talent and a propensity for injury, but is going to be a guy who will have a lot of opportunity in the coming year.

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. He should vastly out-produce his current ADP of 98th player off the board (37th running back taken).

Jason Wood: Ivory has played fewer than 25% of his team's snaps thus far in his career, so it's a leap of faith to think he can step into a lead back role in New York. Yet, given the state of the Jets offensive line and the fact Shonn Greene finished a respectable 15th last year among fantasy RBs, Ivory is a compelling sleeper. Make no mistake; Ivory has all the tools needed to thrive in a full-time role. The main question is whether he has the durability. At his current ADP, it's well worth risking a pick to find out.

Players with 3 Votes

Giovani Bernard, Bengals

Andrew Garda: Bernard is quite simply a better and more fully rounded back than BenJarvus Green-Ellis. While Green-Ellis will definitely be a part of the offense, Bernard gives the team far more punch on the ground and will take over the bulk of the carries by mid season.

Andy Hicks: Giovani 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. Pay attention to news out of training camp and preseason, as Bernard could easily see his ADP rise should he pick things up quickly.

Stephen Holloway: Giovani Bernard was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the second round. He is compact at 5'-8” and 202 pounds and has quick feet. He has good patience and vision and is a very good receiving back with 92 catches for 852 yards in his two seasons at North Carolina. He is definitely more explosive than the Bengals' previous starting running back Ben-Jarvus Green-Ellis. He should be involved from the get-go for the team and could command the lead role before the season ends.

Reggie Bush, Lions

James Brimacombe: What Bush showed last year in Miami was that he can be a lead back at an NFL level. Now heading to Detroit with an offense even more dominant then what was in Miami, Bush has potential to continue to outperform his draft position and can be a PPR giant.

Ryan Hester: 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. Mikel Leshoure is still there to share the backfield, but Bush's playmaking skills will result in him being on the field much more often than Leshoure. 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: Reggie 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 the 3rd.

Lamar Miller, Dolphins

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.

Will Grant: Miller is only in his second year with the Dolphins, but he should easily be the top back from Miami by the time the season is over. While Daniel Thomas is still in the mix, Miller should be able to pass him on the depth chart by the time the season starts. Miller catches the ball well out of the backfield and while he won't replace Reggie Bush touch for touch, he should be a lot better than the 5th round pick it will take to land him.

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.

Players with 2 Votes

Chris Johnson, Titans

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.

Eddie Lacy, Packers

Andy Hicks: Eddie Lacy is the type of runner Green Bay has needed since Ryan Grant finished as a RB1 in 2009. As long as Lacy is over his fitness concerns he has the skill set to be a dominant back that will allow Green Bay to control the clock. Lacy will get carries and touchdowns and can easily be a RB2 in his first season. Obviously he has competition in Johnathan Franklin and DuJuan Harris, but Lacy will be the man if he proves his fitness.

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. 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 33rd running back off the board - he has plenty of upside potential from there.

Stevan Ridley, Patriots

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.

Jeff Tefertiller: Stevan Ridley is a steal at RB18 off the board. The Patriots will run the ball more this season. Ridley has produced solid fantasy numbers in the past and will continue to do so. As a cheap RB2 in the third round, the New England ball carrier will get the touchdowns and surpass 1,000 yards again.

David Wilson, Giants

Ryan Hester: Wilson's ADP isn't being driven by his skill and talent. If it were, he'd be going much higher. What's holding Wilson down is the presence of Andre Brown and the memories of last season when Wilson's Week 1 fumble put him in Tom Coughlin's doghouse for weeks. What should be remembered, however, is how Wilson showed flashes of brilliance at the end of the season – particularly against New Orleans when he rushed for 100 yards and two touchdowns and returned a kickoff for a third touchdown. Giving Wilson the ball 15-20 times per game gives the Giants their best chance to win games. Picking him is risking that he avoids fumble issues in the preseason, but the reward makes that risk justifiable. In running back committees, I'll take the electric playmaker over the more deliberate (and potentially safer for his NFL team) runner. Fantasy football dreams are made with big plays, and Wilson can make them.

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.

Players with 1 Vote

Ahmad Bradshaw, Colts

Stephen Holloway: Ahmad Bradshaw remains severely undervalued even following his signing with Indianapolis, probably because many doubt his health due to the time it took for him to be picked up. Bradshaw is only 27 years old, has a career rushing average of 4.6 ypc and is known to be an excellent blocker. Even while missing six games over the past two seasons, he has finished at RB20 and RB16. Bradshaw should play a lead role for the Colts and provide nice value as a late running back selection.

Michael Bush, Bears

Will Grant: Bush is going in the 13th round as of now, but the Bears plan to use him as part of a RBBC with Matt Forte. While Forte will be the guy who carries the ball the majority of the time, Bush should still see plenty of short yardage and goal-line carries. With a new offensive line, Bush should have no trouble posting more than the 500 yards from scrimmage and five TDS that he did last season.

Matt Forte, Bears

Jeff Haseley: I fully expect Marc Trestman's offense to feature plenty of Matt Forte both as a rusher and receiver. Forte's receiving ability on an offense that will utilize him early and often has my full attention. He can be a Top 6 back if he makes due on his goal line carries. His involvement in the offense alone should be enough to warrant a Top 10 finish.

Frank Gore, 49ers

Andrew Garda: Gore has had only two seasons during his eight-year career where he did not break 1,000 yards despite being injured frequently early in his career. He's got two straight years of being healthy now and is a vital part of the Niners' offense. On top of that, with Michael Crabtree out for at least most of the season, he'll find himself an even bigger part of the offense.

Ronnie Hillman, Broncos

Mark Wimer: While rookie Montee Ball is being talked about a lot, reports out of Denvers' OTAs 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 137 overall (51st running back off the board currently).

LaMichael James, 49ers

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.

Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars

Jeff Tefertiller: Maurice Jones-Drew makes for a great fantasy RB2. He should be healthy by training camp and could finish in the top few ball carriers this season. The absence of a passing threat should only put more emphasis on the running attack.

Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks

Adam Harstad: There's currently a bit of risk hanging over Marshawn Lynch's head; the NFL has yet to rule whether Lynch will be suspended for a DUI charge in 2012. Lynch's court date is set for June 21st, so we should know for sure after that whether he will miss any time. Still, Goodell has been much more lenient on player suspensions recently, and Lynch is a fantastic gamble at the end of the first round as he's coming off of back-to-back top 5 fantasy finishes.

LeSean McCoy, Eagles

Sigmund Bloom: McCoy is excited about the Chip Kelly offense, and you should be excited about his fantasy prospects. The Eagles are likely to run about as many plays as any team in the league, and if Kelly's record at Oregon is any indication, the majority of them will be running plays. McCoy could be the biggest beneficiary from an offensive tempo that keeps defenses off-balance and gasping for air. He is turning 25 this summer and just entering his prime. He could be a legitimate steal in the second half of the first round if everything comes together.

Daryl Richardson, Rams

Heath Cummings: Everyone seems to either be excited about Zac Stacy or Isaiah Pead in St. Louis, and they always seem to forget 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. 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.

C.J. Spiller, Bills

Jeff Haseley: I believe we are about to witness one of the better running backs in the game take center stage for the Bills this year. C.J. Spiller does more per touch than people realize. Last year he averaged 6.0 yards per carry and 10.7 yards per catch. It's safe to say those touches will increase now that he is the primary back in an offense that suits him perfectly. I would not rule out 2,000 yards of total offense. When word came out that he would stay in for goal line carries it solidified my thinking that he is on the brink of taking the league by storm.