After doing several fantasy football mock drafts this year, one thing has really stood out: halfback is a very thin position. It's hard to find an every-down back that doesn't have to worry about losing touches to a fellow committee member. The mid-round running backs appear to be a critical area for any team with championship aspirations.
That said, there are several running backs that are currently ranked in a position that makes them a 'trap' pick. For various reasons, these five running backs are guys to drop down your draft board a little bit and try to get them a little later than their projections would suggest.
Even if he plays, is Matt Forte worth a second rounder?
Matt Forte has been a solid HB choice for fantasy owners for the past four seasons, especially in PPR leagues. He's rushed for at least 900 yards in all four seasons, and had he not gotten hurt he'd have broken 1,000 in three of them—he finished three yards short in 12 games last season. He has played all 16 games in three out of four years. He's also broken 450 receiving yards in each of his seasons.
With stats like those, he's clearly got the talent to be taken in the second or even the first round of a ten-team league. So why should you stay away from him?
The most obvious reason is his contract situation. Forte wants a new deal; the Bears want him to sign his franchise tender. But unlike most holdouts that are going on this off season, Forte actually has a little bit of leverage. He was a major part of their offense, and figures to be their feature back for years to come.
His abilities, as his stats show, are that of a top-tier back. Any team that wants to run the way the Bears do need a talented every-down back.
Unfortunately for Forte and his fans, the Bears don't seem to realize this and contract talks are reportedly not going well, meaning Forte is a likely holdout for at least training camp and possibly beyond. Any missed time hurts his value, especially if his holdout cuts into the regular season.
But there's more. The Bears made several free agent acquisitions that could cut into Forte's numbers.
The most threatening addition is fellow HB Michael Bush, a power back who figures to cut into Forte's goal-line and short-yardage carries. What's worse is that Bush did very well filling in for an injured Darren McFadden in Oakland last year, which means that the Bears should feel pretty confident with Bush in the event of a prolonged holdout. Not good signs for Forte's stats.
The other two additions to worry about are looking to grab some of Forte's receptions for themselves. In the off-season the Bears traded for Jay Cutler's old favorite target, Brandon Marshall, as well as spending a second round pick on Alshon Jeffery, a wide-out from South Carolina. Both should take away from Forte's targets in the passing game, which is usually the stat that separates him from other HBs.
Forte is currently ranked 17th by ESPN. I'd try to grab him in the 25-29 range.
Is it worth it to bet on a strong recovery from Charles?
Jamaal Charles put a major snag in many fantasy owners' plans when he went down in week two with a season-ending ACL injury.
A first-round pick in most leagues last year, Charles was coming off two very productive fantasy years. But since his injury, his fantasy stock has fallen considerably, as ESPN has him sitting at the top of the third round.
Given that his injury was sustained very early in the season, many people feel Charles will be fully recovered by the time this season rolls around and consider him to be well worth an early third or late second-round pick.
But there's cause for hesitation: Peyton Hillis.
Hillis was a very productive power-back two years ago in Cleveland and figures to be a big part of the Kansas City running game. With a defensive-minded head coach in Romeo Crennel it is very possible that the Chiefs will move more towards a possession-based running game by committee, and they will almost certainly give Hillis the goal-line carries. Couple those lost carries with the Chiefs likely working Charles back in slowly, and his early season stats will almost certainly take a hit.
Even if Charles regains his form, the presence of Hillis probably drops him from being a first-round pick. Adding in the risk of a shaky start and problems recovering from a major knee injury, Charles seems like a risky pick in the early rounds.
ESPN has Charles 23rd. I would either wait till the early to mid-30s on him, or make sure I have a backup plan ready for the start of the season.
Trying to bounce back from injury, is Fred Jackson due for a drop in carries?
Fred Jackson was considered a solid pick last year, a dependable back who wouldn't light it up but wouldn't let you down.
He was on pace for career numbers before a fractured leg shut him down for the season in week 11. Concerns bouncing back from a major leg injury should be enough to make a potential fantasy owner hesitant, but there's more that could cause concern for Fred Jackson's stat line.
Politically speaking, Fred Jackson might not be the choice in Buffalo.
The Bills' management team spent the ninth overall pick of the 2010 draft on C.J. Spiller, a highly regarded HB out of Clemson. Since that time, Spiller has been named the starting back, lost his job to Jackson and then regained it last season when Jackson went down.
Based on what he's done so far, Spiller appears to be a bit of a bust, which could prompt a change in the way Buffalo distributes carries.
It's been clear since Spiller was drafted that Buffalo would love for him to work out as the starting back. The problem has been that he hasn't performed up to par and Jackson has just outperformed him at every turn. But Jackson's injury allowed Spiller to be the starter for an extended stretch last season and he didn't do too poorly.
Spiller has at least earned the right to make this backfield a committee, and he could possibly get a few extra carries thrown his way just because management wants to keep him from being viewed as a bust.
Jackson is currently going 33rd in ESPN. I'd take him a little later—say, 38th—and make sure he's not going to be my primary back.
Roy Helu looks poised to break out, but his coaching staff might slow him down.
As previously mentioned, this is a pretty thin year for running backs.
This has led to a lot of hype surrounding Roy Helu, the presumed starter for the Washington Redskins. In limited action last season he put up 640 yards, which is pretty respectable. And it's easy to get excited about his future when you look at the past halfback production from Mike Shanahan.
But that's precisely the reason I'm hesitant to take him. Shanahan loves to have a revolving door of HBs, riding the hot hand and believing in his system over the actual talent of the back. This doesn't bode well for Helu if he doesn't get off to a fast start, especially since Tim Hightower continues to linger as an ever-present shadow, waiting to swoop in and take all the carries for himself.
Helu is currently going 39th in ESPN. I'd wait till around 49th to go for him unless it's a luxury pick.
With AP down, can Gerhart step up?
This one is a little different than the rest, as I'm not advocating you to let him drop a bit before taking him. I'm just cautioning against the inevitable climb Gerhart will make up the draft boards when people realize Adrian Peterson really won't be back for the start of the year.
Every mock I've done people have been grabbing AP earlier than ESPN ranks him, which is fine except when that puts him in the third round, which seems optimistic given he's coming off a major injury. That will probably cost him a few games of productiveness even if he rushes himself back, and he also lost Steve Hutchinson, a huge part of the offensive line.
This seems to indicate that, if and when AP is ruled out for several games, people will jump on Gerhart, who hasn't been bad when filling in for AP. The problem is Gerhart lost Hutchinson too, and he has to play for a team that won't be winning that much.
It's one thing for AP, arguably the best HB in the league, to put up numbers on a bad team. It's another entirely for Gerhart to do it.
ESPN has him 80th. I'd prefer later, but if you're short on HBs he's not a bad option there. Just don't go any earlier.