For many fantasy leagues, the day of reckoning is almost here: Draft Day. It’s the only time all season owners have a vast and deep player pool to tailor their roster.
So in an effort to help owners maximize the value of each pick, based off the latest draft results from FantasyPros.com, we’ve identified several running backs owners are assigning too much value and others they are overlooking during drafts this year.
Several factors must be considered when selecting a running back. Namely, the number of rushing attempts or snaps they are expected to get as the No. 1 or No. 2 option for their team, as well as their offensive line and the other skill players providing support.
Too often owners focus on what a player has done in the past, rather than hone in on what they could do in the near future. Countless owners around the country learned this the hard way when it came to former Dallas Cowboy DeMarco Murray last season. After three solid, but oft-injured years, many owners passed on Murray despite the Cowboys stellar offensive line and quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Dez Bryant keeping defenses honest with the passing game. Murray responded by leading the league and fantasy in rushing to earn a fat new contract with Philadelphia.
Don’t be the owner who makes the same mistake this year, and look into our five overrated and five underrated running backs heading into the 2015 fantasy season.
Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers (ADP No. 3 overall)
On top of missing the first two weeks due to a suspension, Bell seems highly unlikely to repeat his masterful performance of 1,361 yards and eight touchdowns with 83 receptions for 854 yards and three more scores in 2014. This year he has consistent veteran DeAngelo Williams behind him, which offers Pittsburgh more options to preserve Bell later in the season and into the postseason if necessary. Remember, Bell had to miss the Steelers Wild Card matchup with Baltimore because of a nasty knee injury sustained in the final regular season game last season. Bell received 290 rushing attempts last season, a number that should only go down with Williams now in town. Bell’s still a top 10 back, but at No. 3 overall the likes of Jamaal Charles and Matt Forte are stronger options.
Latavius Murray, Oakland Raiders (ADP No. 40)
Murray’s entering his first year as the Raiders No. 1 rusher, but it seems fantasy owners are judging him solely off one incredible half he put up against Kansas City. Murray dashed off for 112 yards and two touchdowns on only four attempts, but from there he only averaged more than four yards a carry in one of Oakland’s next four games. He’s certainly a talented back who’s in sole control of the starting spot, but the Raiders can also turn to pass-catching back Roy Helu. Murray’s job is more secure with Trent Richardson’s release, but the running back platoon system most teams are now employing suggests Helu will get a fair amount of snaps and targets. The loss of starting right tackle Menelik Watson to a ruptured Achilles also casts doubt over the Raiders offensive line.
Todd Gurley, St. Louis Rams (ADP No. 54)
For starters, Gurley faces a tremendous battle for carries. Tre Mason was impressive last year and he’s the starter, with Benny Cunningham and Isaiah Pead right behind Gurley on the chart. Going further, the Rams have a young offensive line and added four rookies in the offseason. And, Gurley is only nine months removed from the ACL tear that cut his final season at Georgia short. ESPN reports St. Louis could even sit Gurley for the first week or two.
The Rams were right to take him in the draft this year, but that kind of injury needs more than a year to fully heal. At No. 54 there are better options like fellow rookie and Jaguars back T.J. Yeldon, as well as the Giants Rashad Jennings, or the Bengals Gio Bernard to select over Gurley.
Darren McFadden, Dallas Cowboys (No. 105)
Forget the recent report that Dallas considers McFadden the best of their three-back rotation. Yes, the Cowboys have a tremendous offensive line, but that doesn’t erase McFadden’s injury-laden career. Last year was the first time he appeared in a full 16-game slate, and it was a contract year. Before that he missed 29 of a possible 96 games his first six years in the league. But even if we remove McFadden’s injury history, Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar each stand to take away carries at a moment’s notice.
Most owners would take McFadden as their RB2 or RB3, but there’s far better backs being selected after him at No. 105 overall, like the Giants Shane Vereen, the aforementioned Steelers Williams, and even the Chiefs Knile Davis.
Melvin Gordon, San Diego Chargers (ADP No. 34)
This pick seems to have more to do with San Diego acquiring left tackle King Dunlap and left guard Orlando Franklin via free agency, and not necessarily Gordon’s talent. There’s no question he has the makeup to be a very good to great back in his career, but at No. 34 overall Gordon’s an unproven back being taken far too high. Gordon’s exact ADP of 34.3 is the same as Washington’s Alfred Morris, the back who’s rushed for more than 1,000 yards every year he’s been in the league. Owners could even grab a higher-end receiver like Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins or Philadelphia’s Jordan Matthews, rather than risk taking a rookie running back in the third or fourth round.
Justin Forsett, Baltimore Ravens (ADP No. 23)
We discussed before how Forsett probably won’t repeat his outstanding work from last season, but in a PPR league and considering he has very little competition for the role, Forsett’s underrated. Owners are leaning too much on the Bengals Jeremy Hill (No. 16 overall) and his blazing rookie year, especially when they remember Gio Bernard is still around to vulture touchdowns and snaps. C.J. Anderson (No. 12) could be pulled any time with Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman right behind him in Denver. And LeSean McCoy (No. 18) has a poor offensive line in front of him in Buffalo.
Forsett only has to contend with Lorenzo Taliaferro, and guard Marshal Yanda is entering a contract year as one of the best offensive lineman in the league.
Frank Gore, Indianapolis Colts (ADP No. 30)
At age 30 Gore was supposed to hit the career wall two years ago, but he’s still riding a four-year stretch of 1,100 or more yards and only has three-year back Dan Herron behind him on the chart. Gore also hasn’t missed a game in four years or a start in three. Indy’s offensive line, generating only 3.9 yards a carry last season, does have to step up but they also had Trent Richardson taking 159 out of 415 total rushes last year. The Colts lost only one starter from 2014’s line in Gosder Cherilus, and look to have stability at center after going through three players at the position last year with Khaled Holmes now taking over. And quarterback Andrew Luck provides Gore far more support than Colin Kaepernick ever did in San Francisco. New Orleans’ Mark Ingram and Miami’s Lamar Miller are both going ahead of Gore, but that’s a major oversight by owners this season.
Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers (ADP No. 47)
With DeAngelo Williams now gone, the only player capable of taking carries away from Stewart is quarterback Cam Newton. Fozzy Whitaker showed flashes last year but only appeared in 10 games, while Jordan Todman served very well as a pass-catching back for Jacksonville last year with 25 receptions and gained 5.8 yards a carry. However its Todman’s first year in Carolina and Stewart’s been a premier back for years now. Rookie Cameron Artis-Payne could see some time, but would require at least two injuries to see the field for a meaningful amount of time. Full back Mike Tolbert could steal some red zone carries, as could Newton, but Stewart’s the every down starter owners crave each season.
At No. 47 overall, Stewart’s seeing the likes of Arizona’s Andre Ellington and even teammate and tight end Greg Olsen go ahead of him in drafts. But a back of his caliber still on the board in the fifth round must be taken ahead of a tight end or brittle running back who’s battling for his starting spot.
C.J. Spiller, New Orleans Saints (ADP No. 77)
Spiller is sort of in the same situation he faced in Buffalo. Mark Ingram is the RB1 and Spiller will likely serve as the do-it-all/receiving back for Drew Brees, much like he did in Buffalo beside Fred Jackson. Spiller did have arthroscopic knee surgery in mid-August, but he’s expected to be back for Week 1, and with Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills gone he’s going to have a big role in the offense.
In a PPR league, Spiller could be a total steal in the seventh or eighth round as his ADP suggests. Owners are taking Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin (No. 76) over Spiller, despite the Bucs offensive line being very young, and their banking on Green Bay receiver Davante Adams (No. 75) to seamlessly take over for the injured Jordy Nelson.
With the way the Saints offense is structured (think Darren Sproles a couple years back) Spiller should excel. He’s averaged 31.6 receptions for 239 yards throughout his career, and in three out of five years he’s averaged better than 4.6 yards a carry. As an RB2 or flex play Spiller’s a solid sixth or fifth round pick.
Alfred Blue, Houston Texans (ADP No. 98)
Houston’s No. 1 back Arian Foster has been recovering from groin surgery since early last month, and owners are still taking him at No. 58 overall, 40 picks before the Texans new starter Blue. The initial timetable for that surgery usually requires three months, but even if Foster can cut that down to two months and return by October that’s more than a month of production lost by fantasy owners.
Not to mention the chance for re-injury is very high for a player required to take punishment on every play. Blue is healthy and could build on his average to good rookie year of 528 yards and two touchdowns off 169 attempts. He also caught 15 out of 18 targets for 113 yards and a touchdown, and the Texans could expand his role even more.
And until Foster returns, the likes of Jonathan Grimes, Chris Polk, and rookie Kenny Hilliard don’t represent much of a challenge to Blue unless he gets hurt too.
Owners, on average, are even taking New England kicker Stephen Gostkowski at No. 93 overall, five spots before a starting running back in Blue.