By the Numbers: Fantasy Football's 10 Most Undervalued Running Backs

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By the Numbers: Fantasy Football's 10 Most Undervalued Running Backs
(Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Consider it fantasy football’s summer spectacular sale.

This week: fantasy running backs at discount prices!

The five best values at quarterback and the 10 best values at wide receiver flew off the shelves last week. A few of the best values were going well into the double-digit draft rounds.

Talk about a deal!

Same thing goes this week for the best on-sale running backs.

The 10 running backs below represent the best value for fantasy owners come draft day based on a couple of factors.

1. Situation: These guys are the No. 1 option—or should be—on their team. That means they should get the rock in crunch time and near the goal line. Plenty of opportunity.

2. Average draft position: For the opportunities these guys should get, they are being criminally under-drafted. Jerious Norwood, for example, is one overworked running back’s injury away from being a fantasy stud. Should he be going in the double-digit rounds? Absolutely not.

The average draft positions (ADP) for each of the players listed below were taken from two of the leading mock draft sites, Fantasy Football Calculator and Mock Draft Central. ADP current as of July 13, 2009.

 

Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders

2008 stats: 499 rushing yards, four touchdowns, 285 receiving yards
Fantasy Football Calculator ADP: 48.4 (Round 4.12)
Mock Draft Central ADP: 53.77

Drafted too high last year in most drafts, McFadden’s value, considering the team for which he plays, has normalized. That means value for fantasy owners, as he is poised to have a much better season this year.

Dealing with toe injuries almost all of last season, fantasy owners barely got a glimpse of what McFadden can do. This year, uninhibited, McFadden should make fantasy owners proud. He's a solid RB3 with the capability of being a RB2 much of the season.

 

Joseph Addai, Indianapolis Colts

2008 stats: 544 rushing yards, five touchdowns, 206 receiving yards, two touchdowns
Fantasy Football Calculator ADP: 51.4 (Round 5.03)
Mock Draft Central ADP: 44.52

Addai keeps slipping as the Colts’ rookie running back Donald Brown keeps rising. I say keep it going. The further down the draft board Addai falls, the better for the owners who select him.

We are talking about a running back taken in the top half of most fantasy football drafts last year going into middle round territory this season. Sure, there are reasons to be down on him—injuries, time share, etc.—but Addai still is a young running back in command of the job and now with an urgent reason to fight harder for it.

 

Derrick Ward, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2008 stats: 1,025 rushing yards, two touchdowns, 384 receiving yards
Fantasy Football Calculator ADP: 50.9 (Round 5.03)
Mock Draft Central ADP: 48.96

Finally getting his chance at a starting gig, Ward may have only a few more noticeable fantasy seasons left in the tank. But his legs are fresh compared to others his age (28), including one of his new teammates—Earnest Graham.

Ward will be the feature back, but I would not be surprised to see a timeshare develop in Tampa Bay throughout the course of the season. Regardless, Ward appears to be the most talented back on the roster and will get his opportunity to shoulder the load this season.

 

Cedric Benson, Cincinnati Bengals

2008 stats: 747 rushing yards, two touchdowns, 185 receiving yards
Fantasy Football Calculator ADP: 69.8 (Round 6.10)
Mock Draft Central ADP: 78.85

Benson finally began to look like an NFL running back near the end of last season. While his job is by no means safe, there is no one currently on the roster who will immediately threaten his playing time.

If the Bengals’ passing game gets back on track with the return of Carson Palmer, that could help open more running lanes for Benson. This is his year to cement his position as Cincinnati’s starting running back for the next few seasons, and it could be a decent one for fantasy owners who draft him as a RB3/4.

 

Jamal Lewis, Cleveland Browns

2008 stats: 1,002 rushing yards, four touchdowns, 178 receiving yards
Fantasy Football Calculator ADP: 80.3 (Round 7.08)
Mock Draft Central ADP: 93.95

Not that Lewis is without serious concern this year. The wheels appeared to fall off last season. But was that a result of being on a bad team or Lewis finally breaking down? Still too early to tell, in my opinion.

For the spot Lewis is being taken, he represents a decent value. Consider that he is the starting running back on the Browns and the guys behind him have done very little in the NFL to warrant a serious threat.

Can Eric Mangini do for Lewis what he did for Thomas Jones, if only for one year?

 

Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens

2008 stats: 454 rushing yards, 273 receiving yards
Fantasy Football Calculator ADP: 82.6 (Round 7.11)
Mock Draft Central ADP: 133.55

Baltimore’s backfield is a hot mess. Between Rice, Willis McGahee, and Le'Ron McClain, knowing who will tote the rock a majority of the time any given week is anyone’s guess. But of all three, Rice appears to be in line to be the next feature back—or close to it—in Baltimore. He can run, catch, and block.

McClain would be a dynamic threat as a fullback. McGahee appears to be the odd man out, just another piece of the backfield puzzle for the time being. A strong training camp and preseason, and this job could be Rice’s to lose.

 

Julius Jones, Seattle Seahawks

2008 stats: 698 rushing yards, two touchdowns, 66 receiving yards
Fantasy Football Calculator ADP: 87.5 (Round 8.03)
Mock Draft Central ADP: 109.07

Jones was expected by some fantasy owners to be a beast in Seattle last year. Finally out of the confines of Dallas and away from touchdown vulture Marion Barber, Jones was poised to become a breakout fantasy running back. That never materialized, and he had trouble staying on the field.

Fast-forward to the present: Jones is being written off by just about every fantasy owner out there. Now is the time to take a chance on him as a later-round running back. The dividends could be decent if this offense rebounds from last season’s effort.

 

LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles

2008 stats: N/A
Fantasy Football Calculator ADP: 94.3 (Round 8.10)
Mock Draft Central ADP: 108.46

Are fantasy owners—particularly those of Brian Westbrook—not concerned with Westy’s status for 2009? Apparently not based on McCoy’s ADP. If there is one no-doubt fantasy handcuff this year, it has to be McCoy. Westbrook is no spring chicken, but a fighter nonetheless. He will play when his body lets him. And when—not if—his body breaks down this year, McCoy will step into a prolific situation.

 

Fred Taylor, New England Patriots

2008 stats: 556 rushing yards, one touchdown, 98 receiving yards
Fantasy Football Calculator ADP: 140.6 (Round 12.09)
Mock Draft Central ADP: 119.81

There is no place like New England for dinosaur running backs. Problem is, there are plenty of backs to go around. Between Taylor, Kevin Faulk, Sammy Morris, Laurence Maroney, and whoever else Bill Belichick taps to run the rock, there will be plenty of competition.

However, Taylor is a veteran workhorse that can be trusted with the ball between the 20s. If he establishes a presence in that capacity, Belichick will rely on him in crunch time. That equals goal-line opportunities, something Taylor saw little of last year in Jacksonville.

 

Jerious Norwood, Atlanta Falcons

2008 stats: 489 rushing yards, four touchdowns, 338 receiving yards, two touchdowns
Fantasy Football Calculator ADP: 133.9 (Round 12.02)
Mock Draft Central ADP: 163.25

Norwood could be the biggest steal of fantasy drafts. If the curse of 370-plus carries does affect Michael Turner negatively, Norwood could be in for significant playing time. Of course, fantasy owners have heard this before about Norwood, which is probably why so many are down on him. The talent obviously is there; he just needs—again—the opportunity.

 

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