With the NFL regular season rapidly approaching, fantasy football players everywhere are brushing up on the latest rankings, hoping to find the right blend of players capable of winning a league championship.
One of the most important parts of building said team is identifying breakout players who can be had in the latter stages of a draft. At no position is this more imperative than running back. If you're able to successfully identify one or more of those players, there's a good chance you'll make a deep run in your league's playoffs.
This year's crop of running backs features an attractive mix of under-the-radar options, including the three players we'll look at right now.
Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati Bengals
Barring any major problems in training camp, Jeremy Hill has the skill set to jump right in as the Bengals' No. 2 running back, ahead of veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
The 21-year-old Hill averaged 1,078 yards per season in two years at Louisiana State University, including a 1,401-yard, 16-touchdown effort in his final season with the team. He ranks as the 49th-best fantasy running back according to ESPN.com, and Yahoo has his ADP set at 124.5, placing him in the 12th or 10th round in 10- and 12-team leagues, respectively.
Hill's value as the Bengals' No. 2 back is somewhat underrated by his fantasy rankings.
New offensive coordinator Hue Jackson figures to have a run-happy approach to play-calling, which should provide Hill with plenty of opportunities to strut his stuff. In addition to that, his ability to hold on to the ball, combined with his solid 6'1", 235-pound frame, figures to make him a top pick to vulture goal-line touches from the team's No. 1 back, Giovani Bernard.
Hill also receives the ball well out of the backfield. Though that looks great on a resume, it's difficult to imagine him getting too many reps as a receiver given Bernard's extraordinary playmaking ability while catching the ball out of the backfield.
Hill isn't likely to accumulate high yardage totals this season, but his potential to steal important goal-line carries from Bernard makes him a must-have for the 2014 season.
Marcus Lattimore, San Francisco 49ers
Marcus Lattimore was in a tricky situation with the San Francisco 49ers. The 22-year-old entered camp as one of five running backs vying for carries this season, but with Kendall Hunter out for the 2014 season and LaMichael James dealing with a recently dislocated elbow, the door is open for Lattimore to work his way up the depth chart.
At this point in his football career, Lattimore's injury history is well-known. In fact, he's still on the team's non-football injury list.
If Lattimore is able to come off the NFI list and get some reps with the second team, he could challenge the club's 2014 second-round pick, Carlos Hyde, for the spot as the 49ers' No. 2 back come opening day.
The team's No. 1 option, veteran running back Frank Gore, has been solid for most of his career. Lattimore, as a member of the South Carolina Gamecocks, showed promise as both a runner and a pass-catcher, averaging 4.8 yards per carry and 14.2 yards per catch in his only full season with the team (2010).
His No. 211 ranking on ESPN.com's top 300 fantasy options suggests that he could be had as late as the 17th round in 12-team standard leagues, and maybe slightly earlier in PPR formats. Should Lattimore remain healthy—which could be a big if—he can emerge as a legitimate No. 2 option and a guy you need to target.
Roy Helu, Washington Redskins
Remember that time you drafted Alfred Morris early in your 2013 fantasy draft? Me too.
Morris was supposed to take over as a true RB No. 1 for fantasy owners last season, but he instead turned in a 1,275-yard, seven-touchdown performance after wowing his owners in 2012.
This year, new head coach Jay Gruden figures to instill a more pass-heavy offensive approach, making Morris and his below-average receiving ability a scary pick given his ranking as the 12th-best fantasy back, according to ESPN.com.
Because of this, you need to target his backup, Roy Helu.
Helu isn't likely to take any carries away from Morris in the rushing game, but he'll get his share of touches as well as plenty of goal-line opportunities should the offense find itself in the appropriate situation.
Which running back has the best fantasy potential in 2014?
Oh, and that pass-heavy offense the Redskins figure to feature, Helu should play a big part in that as well. The 25-year-old has shown solid pass-catching skills in the past, averaging 7.7, 6.4 and 8.1 yards per catch in 2011, 2012 and 2013, respectively.
Those rankings suggest that Helu could be had anywhere near the 10th or 11th round in your draft. If that's the case, you need to pick him.