Running backs are keys to a strong fantasy football season, yet navigating the minefield of talent primed to explode and volatile sleepers ready to bust can be a tricky task for any fantasy owner.
It is in the best interest of every owner to attempt to find a few sleepers. The problem is, more often than not, this practice leaves owners with a useless player sitting on the bench.
Take Oakland Raiders running back Darren McFadden, for example. Time after time, including last season, McFadden pops up on lists of players poised to break out. He then turns around and rushes for just over 700 yards and two touchdowns like he did last year.
Identifying the superstars seconds away from blossoming is a tough feat, but identifying the incoming busts is a skill. Here are three running backs guaranteed to bust and sink fantasy teams before they can swim in 2013.
Note: All fantasy rankings courtesy of FantasyPros.com.
Lamar Miller, Miami Dolphins
Player Ranking: 21st RB, 41st overall
Second-year running back Lamar Miller is a hot commodity in fantasy drafts with his only competition being Daniel Thomas, a back with a career average of 3.5 yards per carry through two seasons.
It sounds easy enough for Miller to win the gig in Miami, but that has not been the case this preseason. Instead, offensive coordinator Mike Sherman says the competition is “neck and neck,” per Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald:
Mike Sherman said the running back competition is "neck and neck." If the season started tomorrow, both 26 and 33 would see plenty of snaps.— Adam Beasley (@AdamHBeasley) August 20, 2013
Even worse, Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald writes that Thomas is receiving more reps in practice.
There is plenty to like about Miller. He turned just 51 carries as a rookie into 250 yards and a touchdown with a 4.9 yards-per-carry average that pops off the stat sheet. Add in what appeared to be a favorable situation, and you have a borderline top-20 fantasy back.
Except Miller isn't, by any means. Owners who have already selected him are smacking their collective foreheads. A guy like Green Bay's rookie Eddie Lacy would have looked like a much better pick now, huh?
Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers
Player Ranking: 24th RB, 63rd overall
Here we go again.
Mathews has a high running back ranking because, well, it's hard to figure out why. The oft-injured back is just that—an injury waiting to happen. Some will credit his injuries to freak accidents, but that is not the type of reliability to lean on in fantasy.
We have seen Mathews at borderline full strength. In 2011, he posted 1,091 yards and six scores in 14 games while averaging almost five yards a carry.
Those numbers were great, but issues abound. Not only is health an issue, but the addition of former New England running back Danny Woodhead means Mathews will not see the field as much, especially in passing situations (which there should be a ton of on a mediocre roster that will typically be playing from behind).
With the return of Ronnie Brown and signing of Woodhead, the Chargers are more than hinting at the switch to a multi-back system that’s not so totally reliant on Ryan Mathews. Early as it is in the process, Woodhead would appear to be a highly viable addition as a third-down back, given his combination of blocking and pass-catching skills.
He’s already showing signs in camp of being a go-to guy for Rivers. Woodhead’s height certainly isn’t making it difficult for Rivers to find him, open as the back so often has been.
Mathews may be the starter in spirit, but injuries and a worsening situation say he's nowhere near worth being drafted by his ranking.
Chris Ivory, New York Jets
Player Ranking: 27th RB, 69th overall
Chris Ivory has never played in a full 16-game season. In the last two years he has played in just 12 games total, matching the amount of games he mustered during his rookie year.
Through his three years in the league, Ivory has shown flashes of Marshawn Lynch-esque ability thanks to a physical running style that seeks out contact. That contact is what has ultimately derailed his career to this point and made him an ineffective fantasy option.
Last season Ivory rushed for 217 yards and two scores on 40 carries as part of a deep rotation, which is one reason—the other being his durability issues—the New Orleans Saints were willing to part with Ivory for a fourth-round pick.
Yet for some reason Ivory has a higher rating than both Cincinnati rookie Giovani Bernard and starting St. Louis back Daryl Richardson, both of whom should have much better seasons because they can actually stay on the field and contribute.
Ivory has all the talent in the world, but his body just won't agree. Even if Ivory were to be healthy all year, he has never handled a starting load on his own, and there are guys like Bilal Powell who figure to get playing time as well.
Steer clear of Ivory at all costs.
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