Fantasy Football 2013: Underrated Running Backs Worth Reaching for Early

Maxwell OgdenCorrespondent IIISeptember 2, 2013

SAN DIEGO, CA - AUGUST 29:   Frank Gore #21 of the San Francisco 49ers warms up before a preseason game against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on August 29, 2013 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

If you haven't already, stop putting it off and set up your fantasy football team. The 2013 NFL regular season is right around the corner, and your time is running out to build your dream fantasy team.

Before you take part in a draft, do yourself a favor and avoid the overly valued system of player rankings—feel free to take a gamble on the running backs whose skill exceeds their average draft position.

Running backs are the players who often carry fantasy football teams, as they have the capacity for the most weekly production. When it comes to drafting running backs, the focus is on picking the stars while they're still available.

In 2013, however, some of the true stars are being obscenely undervalued. Regardless of why, the best possible approach is to latch onto the facts and go with what you know.

In this case, what we know is that the following players will outplay their rankings.


Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers

ADP: 23.7

Age: 30

Experience: Ninth season

2012 Season Statistics:

258 ATT, 1,214 YDS, 8 TD; 28 REC, 234 YDS, 1 TD


Frank Gore is a 30-year-old running back with a history of injuries. As a result, you may be inclined to let him slide to his average draft position of 23.7. The truth of the matter is, once you get past the running backs in the mid-20s, the star power is all but gone.

That's exactly why, if the stars align, Gore is worth reaching for.

In standard leagues, Gore topped 10 points in 11 of his 16 appearances during the 2012 NFL regular season. Despite changing quarterbacks during the middle of the season, Gore also topped 15 points in seven separate outings.

With players such as Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham injured, expect Gore to return to his ways as a star receiver, as well.

There's no question that quarterback Colin Kaepernick will run the football, but Gore has actually played better with the read option. He scored at least one touchdown in all three of his postseason games in 2012, topping 90 yards in each outing and 100 in two.

During the regular season, Gore averaged 12.0 points per game with Kaepernick under center in standard, non-point-per-reception leagues. That's especially impressive considering he had just six carries in Week 16 when San Francisco lost by 29 points.

Something tells us that won't happen too often in 2013, so make sure you take Gore as your No. 2 running back if you're looking for consistency.


Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans

ADP: 24.2

Age: 27

Experience: Sixth season

2012 Season Statistics:

276 ATT, 1,243 YDS, 6 TD; 36 REC, 232 YDS


During the 2012 NFL regular season, Chris Johnson earned the ire of countless fantasy football owners. He tallied eight total fantasy football points during the first three weeks and posted a goose egg in Week 5.

And then there are the facts people forget to mention.

During his "down season," Johnson ran for 1,243 yards on 4.5 yards per carry and caught 36 passes for 232 yards. If that's not enough, Johnson averaged averaged 4.9 yards per carry during his final 13 games and 5.1 in his final 11.

And he did all of this with one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL and an equally inconsistent quarterback position.

In 2013, the Titans boast one of the most dramatically improved offensive lines in the league and are expected to have consistency under center with Jake Locker. No player will benefit more than Johnson, who will remind the world that Adrian Peterson isn't the only big play waiting to happen.

Johnson is still a top-10 fantasy football player, and you can get him at 24.2. Why wait for someone else to come to their senses?


Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars

ADP: 27.7

Age: 28

Experience: Eighth season

2012 Season Statistics:

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


Maurice Jones-Drew battled injuries in 2012, playing in just six games and instantly receiving the label of an injury-prone star. Had he remained healthy, we likely wouldn't be having this conversation right now.

Instead, Jones-Drew's current average draft position is 27.7. Don't make the mistake of allowing him to fall into another owner's hands, thinking that he's guaranteed to be there.

Jones-Drew is fantasy football gold, especially in point-per-reception leagues. He caught at least 40 passes in all but one season from 2006 to 2011 and topped 1,300 yards rushing in every year from 2009 to 2011.

Oh, how quickly we forget.

Jones-Drew will be a force for the Jacksonville Jaguars, as their passing game simply isn't strong enough to do much but hand it off to their featured back. Without a second-string runner to cut into his carries, that means Jones-Drew will both run between the tackles and cut out for screen passes.

Jacksonville has an improved receiving corps, but if anyone thinks they'll turn to Blaine Gabbert before they do Jones-Drew, they're just plain wrong.


Stevan Ridley, New England Patriots

ADP: 22.6

Age: 24

Experience: Third season

2012 Season Statistics:

290 ATT, 1,263 YDS, 12 TD; 6 REC, 51 YDS


Stevan Ridley broke out in 2012, running for 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns on an average of 4.4 yards per carry. He topped 15 points in seven separate outings and 10 points in nine, but consistency wasn't present in a pass-happy New England Patriots offense.

With the Patriots receiving corps all but destructed, Ridley will be turned to on a more consistent basis in 2013 and will provide superstar-caliber production. Again.

Ridley is the Patriots' goal line running back, and that will be a critical truth with Aaron Hernandez no longer with New England and Rob Gronkowski recovering from back surgery. With a cast of rookie receivers, that means the Patriots are far less likely to pass out of goal line sets.

Even with Tom Brady, they should be.

Ridley has risk, but few players offer as much reward as the former LSU Tigers star. While young runners Doug Martin and Trent Richardson are rewarded for their efforts, it seems as if Ridley is receiving less attention with minimal reason for such evaluation.

The Patriots aren't allergic to the run, and in 2013, Ridley will continue to break out as a star.