Fantasy Football Draft Strategy 2013: Underrated Running Backs to Target Early

Maxwell OgdenCorrespondent IIIAugust 26, 2013

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 30:  Darren Sproles #43 of the New Orleans Saints runs the ball against the Carolina Panthers at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 30, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The Panthers defeated the Saints 44-38.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Contrary to what's happened in the NFL, the running back position continues to reign supreme over the fantasy football world.

With the ability to pick up points in a variety of manners, the position has become the most important for fantasy owners—even as the number of true workhorse backs has diminished on the field.

The question is, which of this year's underrated running backs should you be targeting early?

Certain stars are coming off of injuries and have thus been forced down draft boards, as their health plays an undeniable role. Others have world-class production, but their name value isn't as well-recognized as one might believe.

One way or another, the following running backs shouldn't be dropping as far as they are.


Ahmad Bradshaw, Indianapolis Colts

ADP: 73.5

Age: 27

2012 Season Statistics: 

14 GP; 221 ATT, 1,015 YDS, 6 TD; 23 REC, 245 YDS

When it comes to Ahmad Bradshaw, the only thing separating him from being recognized as one of the truly elite running backs in the NFL is good health. He's missed six games over the past two seasons, and foot injuries are the key to his woes.

Running for 1,015 yards and six touchdowns on an average of 4.6 yards per carry in 14 games during the 2012 season should be enough to prove his value.

Bradshaw now makes the transition to Indianapolis, where the Colts haven't had a reliable running back since Edgerrin James left in 2006. Andrew Luck will air it out quite often, but the Colts gave Vick Ballard and Donald Brown a combined 319 carries in 2012.

Expect Bradshaw to top 200 in 2013 and produce at a level significantly higher than his average draft position of 73.5, per ESPN, suggests.

Bradshaw's ability to run both between the tackles and break outside will offer Indianapolis an offensive element that they've been without for years. Keep in mind, Luck spent his college career with star runners in Stepfan Taylor and Toby Gerhart.

Don't think for a second that Luck will undervalue the presence of a high-quality running back who can catch the ball out of the backfield.


Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars

ADP: 27.8

Age: 28

2012 Season Statistics: 

6 GP; 86 GP, 414 YDS, 1 TD; 14 REC, 86 YDS, 1 TD

Maurice Jones-Drew was once a perennial contender to go first overall in fantasy football drafts. Last year, however, he played just six games due to injury, and the concerns are reflected in his average draft position of 27.8, per ESPN.

The concerns are rational, but let's not be foolish—if you can get Jones-Drew outside of the top 10, it's a steal.

Prior to 2012, Jones-Drew played in 16 games in four of his first six seasons, seeing the field in 14 and 15 in the other two, respectively. What this displays is that, despite carrying an extremely heavy workload, health has never been an issue.

Overreacting to one injury is ill-advised.

In 2011, Jones-Drew ran for 1,606 yards and eight touchdowns, catching 43 passes for 374 yards and three scores. In 2013, Jones-Drew's role won't be any less significant as the Jaguars commit to Blaine Gabbert as their quarterback.

If anyone views that as a move to a pass-heavy offense, please check your football knowledge.


Darren Sproles, New Orleans Saints

ADP: 46.4

Age: 30

2012 Season Statistics: 

13 GP; 48 ATT, 244 YDS, 1 TD; 75 REC, 667 YDS, 7 TD

If you play in a point-per-reception league, there is no excuse for allowing Darren Sproles to fall to his average draft position of 46.4, per ESPN. During the 2012 NFL regular season, Sproles was first among running backs and 21st overall with 75 receptions.

The most impressive part? He missed three games.

Sproles is the best receiving running back in the NFL, and no matter who you name, it isn't even close. He's one of Drew Brees' favorite targets and, in 2013, Sproles will continue to top 70 receptions and enter the end zone in a versatile manner.

If you're in a PPR league, why wouldn't you want him on your roster?

Sproles only ran the ball 48 times for 244 yards and a touchdown, but in 13 games, he had 75 receptions for 667 yards and seven touchdowns. He averaged 7.4 yards per touch during that time, going for 5.1 per carry and 8.9 per reception.

Not too bad for a player who's going after the likes of Eddie Lacy and David Wilson.