29 Undervalued 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.

They gave us 29 names. That's a lot.

If you want all of the players, keep on reading. If you just want the runaway top vote-getter, it was James Conner with eight. And the next highest on the list was David Johnson with four.

NOTE: We know all these different opinions can be a lot. And certainly, not everyone agrees on everything.

If you want to cut straight to the chase and get our "Bottom Line" for where we project every player right down to the last yard, you can see that here. That's our Bottom Line and where we plant the Footballguys Flag for all these players.

If you'd like to see more detail about how the staff sees different players, here is every wide receiver who was mentioned and the reasons why.

Player Receiving 8 Votes

James Conner, Pittsburgh

Phil Alexander: The Steelers' offensive line is aging but still one of the best in the league. Mike Tomlin has a history of riding a single running back for as long as he has the option. And we've seen Conner finish as one of the best running backs in fantasy already. Even in a lost season for Pittsburgh, Conner was the RB9 in PPR leagues after eight games in 2019 before injuries tanked his second half. Ben Roethlisberger's return and better luck in the health department can boost Conner back inside the top-5 fantasy running backs.

Sigmund Bloom: Conner has been a fantasy RB1 when he has started with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, and he was able to stay afloat in fantasy value despite poor quarterback play. His durability is obviously in question, but his drop in ADP from the first round in 2019 is too much. He can be your second RB1 as an RB2 or your RB1 after getting advantages at other positions for as long as he holds up.

James Brimacombe: The Steelers offense was a mess last season as they were playing with second and third-string quarterbacks and the rest of the offense just never could take off because of it. Conner missed six games in 2019 and still collected 725 total yards and seven touchdowns and finished the RB33. With the hopes of Ben Roethlisberger back to full health, the Steelers offense as a whole will see a big increase, and hopefully, Conner can see his numbers like the 2018 season where he finished as RB6 with 1470 total yards and 13 touchdowns in 13 games.

Andrew Davenport: It is a reasonable reaction for fantasy drafters to be worried about Conner's health. He hasn't finished either of the last two seasons without an injury and it's fair to start wondering if he can hold up under a workhorse level of touches. But pushing him down the board as far as he's going is an overreaction. With Ben Roethlisberger returning to the offense Conner is in almost the same situation he was entering 2019 where he was being talked about as a top of the draft possibility. His risk is baked into his ADP - in fact, he's fallen so far that now he presents tremendous value if he can stay on the field for 12+ games for the Steelers. Snatch him up and enjoy the discount.

Jeff Haseley: Conner has some injury/health risk to him, but it is baked into his draft position. The Steelers are projected to be a top offense with the return of Ben Roethlisberger and the strength of their growing talent at wide receiver. Conner has shown he can be a double-digit touchdown scorer with 50+ receptions in the past. If he does it again or comes close, he will be one of the better draft steals.

Ryan Hester: There's little to add that the masses here haven't said about Conner already other than to say that Pittsburgh's skill guys are being selected as though a quarterback with abilities somewhere between Ben Roethlisberger and Mason Rudolph were leading this offense. But as far as we know from reports, Roethlisberger is healthy. Take the Pittsburgh guys at a discount. Injury and a teammate overtaking him are more likely to tank Conner's prospects than Roethlisberger's health. Injury can be discounted because we face that risk with every fantasy pick. And while Pittsburgh's other backs offer a variety of skills, none offers as much versatility in one player as Conner has.

Dan Hindery: The Steelers offense has proven it can support a fantasy RB1 when Ben Roethlisberger is healthy. In fact, Conner finished as the RB6 in 2018 despite missing three games. Unlike many teams, the Steelers prefer to ride a single workhorse back. Conner should be that guy. If so, he will easily outperform his current ADP. It is also easy to grab Benny Snell late as an injury handcuff and lock up the Steelers backfield.

Matt Waldman: If you read my work throughout the spring and summer, you know that I've been touting him as the biggest value among early-round players, period. Last year when Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster battled injury and Ben Roethlisberger was gone for most of the year, Conner's yards after contact accounted for 57 percent of his rushing yards because as good as his offensive line is, a subpar passing game allows opponents to focus on stopping the run as a priority. In 2018, a healthy Conner, Roethlisberger, and Smith-Schuster made a big difference for Conner and the offensive line's production as a top-10 fantasy option who averaged a broken tackle at an elite ratio of one per every 10.8 attempts. Conner is healthy, an excellent receiver, and will be the feature back. He's going to be a top-10 fantasy RB.

Player Receiving 4 Votes

David Johnson, Houston

Andrew Davenport: The question that needs to be asked before drafting David Johnson is: can he outperform Carlos Hyde? It is hyperbole to think he can't. Johnson has had a couple of injury-plagued seasons and the fantasy community is stuck on the way Johnson looked last year while battling lower-body injuries. The Texans will try to justify their trade for Johnson by giving him at least the number of touches that Hyde got (255). That makes Johnson's floor 1,100 yards and 250+ opportunities. If the Texans decide to get him 40 catches to go with his rushing load he can easily outperform his draft slot. Enjoy the skepticism about Johnson and enjoy the value as he's usually one of the last running backs on the board who can call himself a workhorse.

Ryan Hester: This selection is as much due to what Houston feels about Duke Johnson Jr as it is a singing-of-praises for David Johnson. Last year, Carlos Hyde clearly led Houston's backfield. If David Johnson is treated the same way, he'll do much more with the work than Hyde did.

Andy Hicks: David Johnson had trouble fitting in under Kliff Kingsbury in Arizona. Houston saw a franchise back worth chasing and in one of the more ludicrous trades of recent memory he ends up as the engine room for the offense in Houston. Bill O’Brien will want this trade to work so it would be wise to expect Johnson to be used heavily in all facets of the offense. There are very few three-down backs in the NFL right now and one like Johnson at his best is an RB1 if he plays 16 games. He has proven to be an elite fantasy producer in the past for a coach that wants to use him and while he is a risk, he should easily be worth the investment

Sigmund Bloom: David Johnson could return to form this year, but there's a healthy amount of doubt, reflected in his ADP. If that doubt is warranted, Duke Johnson Jr is poised to get more touches, especially in the red zone and passing game. Johnson wasn't a consistent fantasy contributor last year, but he had RB2/Flex level weeks in PPR leagues, and a small bump in opportunity could make him a solid RB2. We know he can still play, and the Houston targets should be more spread out with DeAndre Hopkins gone to Arizona. Johnson is too cheap to pass on just to see if David Johnson is washed up or not in the first few weeks of play.

Players Receiving 3 Votes

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