Last week we kicked off our fantasy football coverage by bringing you our most overrated and underrated quarterbacks and wide receivers, but today we look at perhaps the toughest and most important position — running back.
Entering the season, Yahoo! has seven running backs listed among the top ten overall players including the first six overall (Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy, Adrian Peterson, Eddie Lacy, Marshawn Lynch and Matt Forte, respectively). Traditionally, managers will attempt to draft at least two running backs in the first three rounds and with incredible depth at quarterback this season we could see that trend taken to new heights.
In order to attempt to uncover value at the position, we have decided to compare the Yahoo! expert’s consensus rankings with the odds for each player to lead the league in rushing (via Sportsbook.com). Last season we utilized this same strategy and pinpointed Falcons RB Steven Jackson as a player to avoid, while highlighting Redskins RB Alfred Morris as a player to target.
Jackson entered the season as the 11th ranked running back and the 14th best player overall. However, the veteran back struggled mightily and recorded just 543 rushing yards and 6 touchdowns on a pathetic 3.5 yards per carry (YPC). That ranked Jackson as just the 31st best running back and 95th best player overall.
On the flip side, Alfred Morris rushed for 1,275 yards — good for fourth best in the NFL. Though Morris’ touchdown production (7) was less than optimal, he still finished the season as the 14th best fantasy running back.
Using that same strategy, we have compared Yahoo! Rankings, 2014 rushing odds and 2013 rushing totals to find which players will be offering fantasy value on draft day.
Update: On Wednesday, August 27th, Bovada posted an incredible number of player specific props including an over/under on rushing yards for nearly every starting running back in the NFL. While most of the yardage totals matched up with the odds to lead the league in rushing, there were a few notable discrepancies including Eddie Lacy, Ryan Mathews and Frank Gore.
Yardage O/U (8/28)
Yahoo! Fantasy Rank
2013 Rushing Yards
|Cam Newton||600.5||+15000||7 (QB)||585|
|Colin Kaepernick||550.5||+10000||14 (QB)||524|
|Robert Griffin III||500.5||+15000||6 (QB)||489|
|Giovani Bernard||N/A (1400 rushing + receiving)||+3000||12||695|
|Reggie Bush||N/A (1200.5 rushing + receiving)||+10000||19||1,006|
|Joique Bell||N/A (1100.5 rushing + receiving)||+10000||24||650|
|Rashad Jennings||N/A (1100.5 rushing + receivng)||+7500||20||733|
|Shane Vereen||N/A (1000.5 rushing + receiving)||N/A||23||208|
|Maurice Jones-Drew||N/A (1000.5 rushing + receiving)||+15000||32||803|
Of the two names that immediately appear to be offering fantasy value, one is a familiar face and the other has been a seemingly forgotten man this off-season.
Despite rushing for 2,888 yards in his first two NFL seasons and having a healthy Robert Griffin III in the backfield, fantasy experts seem to be down on Washington’s Alfred Morris. The 220-pound back is just the 13th ranked fantasy running back; however, he is tied with Jamaal Charles for the 7th-best odds to lead the league in rushing. Although Morris isn’t a huge threat in the passing game, he seems like one of the safer bets at the position and could be a great building block in the late first/early second round.
Another undervalued running back is Doug Martin of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Martin first caught fans attention during his rookie season when the Boise State product rushed for 251 yards and 4 touchdowns in a 42-32 victory over the Oakland Raiders. His fantasy point total in this game was a season-high and Martin went on to finish the season with 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns — good for sixth overall in standard Yahoo! leagues.
Unfortunately, Martin’s 2013 season was derailed by injuries as the man known as the Muscle Hamster suffered a torn labrum against the Atlanta Falcons and was put on injured reserve after playing in just six games. While the Bucs did draft a running back in this year’s draft, all reports are that Martin is looking healthy and should be at 100% for opening kickoff.
This season Martin is just the 14th rated running back, but is tied with Matt Forte for the fifth best odds to lead the league in rushing. On top of that, Martin is an exceptional receiver and could offer value to fantasy owners as a pass-catcher. While Martin’s injury last season could give owners pause for concern, his upside is simply too great to ignore.
Other running backs being undervalued include: Patriots RB Stevan Ridley, Browns RB Ben Tate and Ravens RB Ray Rice.
So if these players are being undervalued by the fantasy community, which players are being overrated? We can start the list with one of the top-ranked players in all of fantasy football: Packers RB Eddie Lacy.
Last season Lacy rushed for 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns en route to the 2013 Rookie of the Year award, making him the first Packer to win the award since John Brockington in 1971. However, much of Lacy’s production came with QB Aaron Rodgers sidelined and Lacy’s 4.1 YPC hardly instills confidence.
Still, the Yahoo! experts rank Lacy as the fourth best running back ahead of more proven commodities like Matt Forte and Marshawn Lynch. Oddsmakers clearly take issue with this high ranking as Lacy (+2500) has just the 10th best odds to lead the league in rushing.
Another highly overrated running back was also selected in the 2013 NFL Draft — Pittsburgh Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell. Last season Bell tallied 860 yards and 8 touchdowns in just 13 games, but averaged a paltry 3.5 yards per carry.
Although Bell doesn’t seem to have much competition in the Steelers backfield, one has to think Bell will be replaced if he continued to rush for less than 4 yards per carry. Despite those struggles, Bell is currently the 10th ranked fantasy running back but his odds to lead the league in rushing are tied for 17th with the likes of Andre Ellington and Toby Gerhart (+5,000).
Other running backs to avoid include: Zac Stacy and Bishop Sankey.
Which running backs will you be targeting? Do you agree or disagree with our selections? Make your voice heard by commenting in the section below.