Patriots RB Stevan Ridley
With preseason play beginning and the start of the 2013 NFL season just over three weeks away, now is the time when fantasy football enthusiasts everywhere are conducting their yearly drafts.
It's no secret that securing two or more stud running backs in a fantasy draft can pay dividends all season long. A good running back offers both week-to-week consistency and high-scoring potential, important traits for any great fantasy player.
The best way to get an edge on your opponents is to draft a top-shelf running back outside of the top two rounds.
Every team will draft a stud RB in the first couple rounds, but not all will find that mid-round gem.
Separating the players with real potential to the ones that are generating unwarranted preseason hype can be the difference between a championship run and a failure to make the playoffs.
Here's a look at two players who could make similar leaps and offer value at their current average draft position.
Stevan Ridley—New England Patriots
Though he's already a highly-regarded player, Ridley isn't receiving the respect he deserves in fantasy drafts.
His average draft position has been somewhere in the middle of the third round in 12-team leagues, after injury risks like Trent Richardson and Maurice Jones-Drew.
Last season, he rushed for 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns. Those numbers stand to rise quite a bit this year.
The Patriots' passing game is a shell of what it was last year and Ridley will be one of the main beneficiaries.
Aaron Hernandez was released, Wes Welker left in free agency and Rob Gronkowski's health is a major question mark, leaving Ridley as one of the only sure things left in head coach Bill Belichick's offense.
Touchdown Stevan Ridley. #Patriots just went 80 yards without throwing a pass— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) August 9, 2013
Don't be surprised at all to see a big jump up from the 290 carries the talented third-year back received last season.
With the No. 1 offensive line in the league, according to Rotoworld's Evan Silva, and a quarterback in Tom Brady that will force opposing teams to respect the pass, Ridley's situation is perfect for a breakout year.
Ridley proved to be in top form in the preseason opener, too, running for 92 yards and a touchdown on just eight carries.
He's a top-tier running back going at the price of a second-tier guy. Grab a consensus top-10 player in round one and Ridley in round two and you'll be in fine shape all season long.
The more I look at Stevan Ridley, the more he screams great RB value. Double digit TDs again, if catches go up slightly, sheesh.— Shane P. Hallam (@ShanePHallam) May 11, 2013
Giovani Bernard—Cincinnati Bengals
Giovani Bernard doesn't have the upside that Ridley does, but he's more of a bargain at his current average draft position at the beginning of the 12th round.
Bernard is stuck behind BenJarvus Green-Ellis on the Bengals' depth chart, but the rookie is easily the more talented runner of the two.
Green-Ellis plodded his way to 3.9 yards per carry and just six touchdowns last season, and the Bengals didn't draft Bernard in the second round for him to sit on the bench.
Bengals' running back coach Hue Jackson said that Bernard could "be an every down player," and he showed off his skill-set in totaling 44 yards and a touchdown on 13 touches in his preseason debut.
Bengals RBs coach Hue Jackson endorses rookie Giovani Bernard as an "every down player" http://t.co/vrP1Kq2Z2j— NFL: AroundTheLeague (@NFL_ATL) July 5, 2013
Given he'll have to share the ball with Green-Ellis, Bernard's upside is capped for this year, but there is no reason why he still can't become an every week No. 2 fantasy running back early in the season.
Draft Bernard any time after the eighth round and consider it a steal.
Average Draft Positions via Yahoo! Sports.