As we broke down last week, running backs are the foundation of every fantasy owner’s team with the top 10 rushers off the draft board within in the first two rounds each and every season. There’s still tons of value outside of stars like Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson and LeSean McCoy, especially in the middle rounds of the draft, but some backs are being taken just a little too high over some better value backs this year.
Let’s take a look at some of the more overrated and underrated running backs for the 2014 season, based off their average draft position (ADP) according to FantasyPros. The distinction of overrated doesn’t mean the player isn’t talented or even capable of playing well this year, but that an owner could find better or equal value in later rounds or with a less-heralded rusher.
But of course pick at your own discretion.
DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys
Averaging out as the seventh RB off the board, Murray’s talent is evident but his health has frustrated owners since he entered the league in 2011. Last year he played a career-best 14 games and totaled 1,121 yards and nine touchdowns, and collected 53 receptions, but his stand-up running style still leaves Murray prone to injury and a first or second round pick is better spent on Cincinnati’s Giovani Bernard, who’s the 10 th back selected.
Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Martin has excellent size (5-foot-9, 223 lbs.) complemented by great power to hit the line, but it seems everyone is focused solely on the 251-yard, four touchdown game he had in his rookie year of 2012. Martin’s second year was limited to six games due to a shoulder injury last year, and the Bucs have said they plan to split carries between he and Bobby Rainey to keep Martin fresh throughout the season. Again this isn’t to say Martin can’t come up big this season, but a back splitting carries right now shouldn’t be considered the 11th back drafted. In a PPR league Martin’s value also decreases since he’s totaled only 61 catches in two years.
Toby Gerhart, Jacksonville Jaguars
Choosing a No. 1 back for a team that will ease their rookie quarterback into the offense seems like a no brainer, especially as the 19th back drafted. Gerhart was stuck behind Adrian Peterson in Minnesota his first four years in the league, and totaled 1,305 yards at 4.7 yards per carry. So the thinking is now that Gerhart has a starting gig he’ll blow up, but there’s more value in proven starting backs like San Francisco’s Frank Gore or the Jets veteran Chris Johnson, and even Detroit’s No. 2 Joique Bell, all being selected after Gerhart.
Steven Jackson, Atlanta Falcons
Jackson’s streak of eight consecutive 1,000-yard seasons was snapped last year after he posted a career-worst 543 yards and 3.5 yards per carry in 12 games. But the signs were there before when his overall numbers started to slowly decline from 1,416 yards in 2009 to 1,042 in 2012 with St. Louis. Injuries are always a concern for Jackson, and at 31 most running backs are in the middle or near the end of their decline. Clearly owners are worried as evidenced by Jackson drafted as the 30th rusher this year. Philadelphia’s Darren Sproles or San Diego’s Danny Woodhead represent better, more consistent production than Jackson.
Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints
Consider no Saints running back has rushed for 1,000-plus yards since Deuce McAllister in 2006, Drew Brees’s first year in the Big Easy. Since then only Pierre Thomas has come close, registering 793 yards in 2009. Ingram has said he wants to play a bigger role in the offense, but unless he can make more catches out of the backfield and find a way to stay healthy, he’ll still hover around 500 rushing yards this season. Owners have largely stayed away, with Ingram the 41st back drafted, but there’s even more value behind Ingram in the Bengals Jeremy Hill, Oakland’s Darren McFadden or Pittsburgh’s LeGarrette Blount.
Alfred Morris, Washington Redskins
Back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons to start his career (along with 20 TDs), and Morris is highly underrated as the 13th overall back selected. He should be in the top 10, though owners might be concerned by new Washington head coach Jay Gruden and how he might use Morris, which is a fair concern. But Morris provides almost as much protection to quarterback Robert Griffin III as the Redskins offensive line.
Andre Ellington, Arizona Cardinals
The speedy and elusive Ellington could emerge as one of the best all-around backs like Charles and McCoy this year, building off a rookie season when he gained 652 yards and three touchdowns at 5.5 yards per carry when he played behind the now-retired Rashard Mendenhall. Now Ellington is No. 1 and as the 15th back selected owners are rating him far too low. QB Carson Palmer and receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd will open up big lanes for Ellington.
Zac Stacy, St. Louis Rams
Sam Bradford’s season-ending injury puts most of the offense on Stacy’s shoulders, which might be a red flag with defenses focusing on him, but as the 14th back off the board he represents much better value than Martin or Houston’s Arian Foster. He’s coming off a solid rookie year of 973 yards and seven touchdowns, though the 3.9 yards per carry and St. Louis playing the third toughest schedule in the league are worrisome, but other than their six division games the Rams face only one top 10 rushing defense in their 10 other games this season, Denver in Week 11.
Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens
On top of his two-game suspension to start the season, Rice’s 2013 stat line really hurt his status with fantasy owners this year. He totaled 660 rushing yards and four touchdowns with 3.1 yards per carry, but he still came up with 58 receptions. Owners might be a little shortsighted, as he’s the 25th back off the board. Rice is still in his prime, could very well return to form as the back who ripped off four straight 1,000-yard seasons.
Pierre Thomas, New Orleans Saints
Thomas has been the most consistent face in the New Orleans running game the last five years, averaging 529.2 yards and 3.2 TDs on the ground, and 46.8 receptions for 359 yards, though he’s only averaged 1.4 receiving touchdowns. However, Darren Sproles departure to Philadelphia greatly opens up opportunities for Thomas to thrive even more out of the back field. As the 31st back selected, Thomas is a steal that late in the draft or could be taken over Indianapolis’s Trent Richardson or New York’s Rashad Jennings.