Fantasy Football 2014: Running Backs Who Will Provide Fantastic Value

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Fantasy Football 2014: Running Backs Who Will Provide Fantastic Value
Tony Dejak/Associated Press

With football season now just days away, it's a busy time for fantasy football drafts.

Being able to walk away at season's end as a champion requires not only drafting the elite players, but also finding great value in your draft selections.

Here are three running backs who provide excellent value for the upcoming fantasy football season.

 

Ben Tate, Cleveland Browns

Richard Lipski/Associated Press

After three successful seasons to start his career backing up Arian Foster in Houston, Ben Tate has finally found a starting gig elsewhere with the Cleveland Browns.

He's never reached the 1,000-yard plateau, but he's averaged at least 4.3 yards per carry in each of his three professional seasons, per ESPN.com. Last season also saw the Auburn product set career highs in both receptions and receiving yards.

As Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal points out, Tate's competition is comprised solely of rookies:

That led to him being the front-runner to be named the team's three-down back, per Scott Petrak of The Chronicle Telegram, leading Yahoo Sports fantasy expert Brad Evans to declare that Tate's been shooting up his draft board:

Then there's the fact that the Browns' quarterback situation is far from convincing, with Brian Hoyer being handed the starting job despite lackluster numbers this preseason. Rookie Johnny Manziel wasn't that much better:

Johnny Manziel vs. Brian Hoyer Preseason Head-to-Head Stats
QB Completions Attempts Completion Rate Yards TD INT
Johnny Manziel 30 59 50.8 296 2 0
Brian Hoyer 24 44 54.5 261 1 1

NFL.com Game Logs

That could mean Tate will not only see a high number of touches as the Browns try to move the ball downfield, but he'll also see opportunities in the red zone if Cleveland doesn't feel confident that Hoyer can finish off touchdown drives through the air. Keep in mind, none of Cleveland's other three running backs are more than an inch taller or five pounds heavier, per the Browns' depth chart.

Furthermore, if the passing game does struggle, Tate could be asked to assist the passing game more often from the backfield. That provides extra yardage through the air for Tate and becomes especially handy in points-per-reception leagues.

Throw in All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas leading the offensive line, and you have a recipe for a lot of touches and plenty of success for Tate in 2014.

2014 Prediction: 280 attempts, 1,120 yards, 7 touchdowns, 40 receptions, 200 yards

 

Chris Johnson, New York Jets

Chris Szagola/Associated Press

Chris Johnson—or CJ2K, as he likes to be known—may be five years removed from his 2,000-yard campaign and may still be battling Chris Ivory for touches with the New York Jets, but he's a great value pick, especially as a flex option to be had in the mid-to-late rounds.

Keep in mind, this is a running back who has still hit 250 rushing attempts and the 1,000-yard plateau in every season since 2008, as Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News highlights:

The fact that he's moving from a Jake Locker-led offense to an offense led by quarterback Geno Smith should also indicate that he will continue to rack up touches.

His preseason has also been encouraging up to this point, as he averaged over 4.5 yards per carry on 23 attempts in the three preseason games he played.

Johnson is also confident that he can return to top form and put up the kinds of numbers he did in his peak years of 2009 and 2010:

And just like Tate, Johnson could be an option out of the backfield for New York as well. Johnson has only had one season where he's caught fewer than 40 passes and just two seasons where he's had fewer than 250 receiving yards, per ESPN.com. CJ2K could very well end up as a terrific backup option to Eric Decker and Jeremy Kerley for youngster Geno Smith.

A talented and experienced offensive line shouldn't hurt, either.

According to the Jets' official depth chart, the starters up front include All-Pro and Pro Bowl center Nick Mangold, veteran Super Bowl champion Willie Colon, Pro Bowl tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Super Bowl champion Breno Giacomini.

With history and talent on Johnson's side, don't be surprised if he turns heads and ends up as one of this year's fantasy steals.

2014 Prediction: 265 attempts, 1,100 yards, 6 touchdowns, 45 receptions, 275 yards

 

Andre Ellington, Arizona Cardinals

Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

The third tailback that should provide tremendous value to fantasy owners this year is Arizona's sophomore, Andre Ellington.

In his rookie season out of Clemson, Ellington ran for 5.5 yards per carry, tallying 652 yards and three touchdowns on just 118 attempts, per ESPN.com.

He spent 2013 splitting carries with Rashard Mendenhall, who retired this offseason.

Now Ellington is poised to pick up most of the carries, with Arizona preparing him earlier this preseason to assume all the first-team snaps, per Rotoworld:

A recent report from Paola Boivin of the Arizona Republic, along with a look at the Cardinals' official depth chart, also indicates that he should be the first-string, every-down back in 2014.

And just as any good value running back would, Ellington provides extra production out of the backfield as a receiver as well.

Last year, he nearly reached the 40-reception mark and had 371 receiving yards out of Arizona's backfield, per ESPN.com.

With another year under his belt and increased playing time, there's no reason to believe Ellington can't easily surpass his numbers from last season.

Prediction: 250 carries, 1,200 yards, 7 touchdowns, 50 receptions, 425 yards, 1 touchdown

 

You can't go wrong by taking Adrian Peterson or LeSean McCoy if you're lucky enough to land one of the first picks in your league's draft. For the rest of the fantasy football world, though, there's still plenty of value left to be had at the running back position.

Snatching up players bound to break out in 2014 like Tate or Ellington, or finding those underrated yet consistent veterans like Johnson, could go a long way in helping you claim fantasy football glory by season's end.

 

Follow Jon Reid on twitter, @JonReidCSM.

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