Fantasy Football: Over and Underrated Running Backs

TheFantasyFix.comAnalyst IAugust 13, 2010

Fantasy Football: Over and Underrated Running Backs

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    They sweat, they bleed, they run. No one will ever deny how hard running backs play every day. But from a fantasy perspective, some live up to the hype and some fall flat.

    Every season, we under or overvalue players in the offseason; it’s the nature of the beast.  Whether it is personnel changes around them, scheme changes, or injury concerns, something jumps out and makes us either love or hate a player before the season even begins.

    Earlier this week, we looked at a few of the quarterbacks who I believe are undervalued or overvalued based on their Average Draft Position (ADP).  Today, we’ll consider some running backs whose ADP doesn’t quite match their value.



    (Note that just because I think someone is overrated, doesn’t mean I don’t think they will perform this season.  I just think the cost of drafting them is too high.  Likewise, if someone is underrated, it doesn’t mean they will be the top fantasy scorer at their position, just that they will outperform their draft position.)

    *Average Draft Picks taken from mockdraftcentral.com

Justin Forsett - UNDERRATED

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    Justin Forsett (ADP 113, RB 42)

    Forsett is getting sleeper hype from all angles this offseason, and I’m jumping right on the bandwagon.

    Despite an underwhelming offensive line and a No. 3 spot on the depth chart, Forsett’s chances for a breakout year look promising.  He was the most consistently productive back in Seattle last season, averaging 5.4 yards per carry (YPC).

    Despite his small stature, a heavier workload doesn’t appear to be a problem for Forsett, whose YPC increased to 6.3 in games where he logged at least 10 carries.  His excellent pass-catching skills only add to his value, solidifying him as an excellent flex with upside for RB2 production.

Rashard Mendenhall - OVERRATED

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    Rashard Mendenhall (ADP 11, RB 8)

    Mendenhall’s road to fantasy stardom is not paved as finely as some would have you believe.

    His quarterback is suspended for the first four-to-six games, his right tackle is out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon, his pets’ heads are falling off.

    Okay, the last one isn’t true (as far as I know), but the point remains that the Steelers are having a rough offseason.  Add to that, Mendenhall has consistently had problems with short-yardage and goal-line situations, and his price tag this early seems inflated.

    Although rookie Jonathan Dwyer appears to have drawn the ire of the coaching staff, Mendenhall still doesn’t seem likely to fill the role of the team’s goal-line back.  Ultimately he’s a mid to upper-level RB2 with a RB1 price tag.

Ricky Williams - UNDERRATED

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    Ricky Williams (ADP 69, RB 30)

    Despite putting up more fantasy points than Ryan Grant (ADP 21) and Jonathan Stewart (ADP 31) in 2009, Williams is again going significantly lower than them in 2010 drafts.

    Ricky may be on wrong side of 30 (he turned 33 in May) and competing with Ronnie Brown for touches, but the curious case of Ricky Williams is not one to be ignored.

    He took off, essentially, two full seasons from 2006-2007, and by all accounts, takes tremendous care of himself.   Last year’s stats may be atypical, and I don’t expect him to match that production this season, but he will certainly outpace his draft position.

    As the 30th running back off the board, he is being drafted as a flex player, but should give mid-level RB2 stats with the occasional spikes when Brown misses a few games.  Williams offers a great return on investment with a very reasonable floor.

Ryan Mathews - OVERRATED

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    Ryan Mathews (ADP 17, RB 11)

    I get the hype, I really do.

    He’s a big, strong back, who dominated the college ranks (the WAC isn’t the SEC, but it’s also not high school) and who looks to get the bulk of the carries for an offensive juggernaut in the San Diego Chargers, stepping into the vacated shoes of future Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson.

    He’ll also be playing under Norv Turner, who somehow turned Lamont Jordan into a 1,000-yard back.

    Ryan Mathews will have a solid rookie campaign, but I’m not so sure he’ll take over like some expect. Because of that, he is a risk I am not willing to take this early in the draft.  The mid-late rounds are the time to roll the dice; this early in the draft is all about reliability and minimizing risk.  I’d love to hit a home run in the first two rounds, but my primarily goal is not to miss.

    In the new NFL, with dynamic aerial offenses becoming the standard, I am not investing a second-round pick in an unproven rookie when studs like Reggie Wayne (ADP 17) and Miles Austin (ADP 21) are still on the board.

    Note for PPR leagues: Mathews had 19 total receptions in three seasons at Fresno State, so don’t be surprised to see him replaced by Darren Sproles on passing downs.

Thomas Jones - UNDERRATED

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    Thomas Jones (ADP 90, RB 37)

    Jones is another guy on the wrong side of 30 (he turns 32 next week), who, like Ricky Williams, is playing a few years below his age.

    It wasn’t until his fifth year in the NFL that he surpassed 140 carries in a season.  Now in Kansas City, Jones will likely split carries 50-50 with Jamaal Charles, which is a good thing for Jones’ owners.  Limiting his touches will take an appreciable toll on his yardage totals, but it should allow him to make it through the entire season healthy and fresh.

    Head coach Todd Haley seems high on Jones, and has referred to him as a “beast.”  He won’t be the 1,400-yard, 14-TD back he was in 2009, but he is certainly in a position to vulture enough goal line looks to stay fantasy relevant.  Drafted 37th among running backs, he should finish the season in the top 20-25 at his position, making him a solid RB2.

C.J. Spiller

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    C.J. Spiller (ADP 61, RB 27)

    He’s a human highlight reel with absurd speed and great ability in space.  He reminds me a lot of Reggie Bush, which is both a compliment and a disclaimer.

    Spiller has the same physical build as Bush, largely the same skill set, and a lot of the same limitations to his game.  Also, like Bush, Spiller will be second on the depth chart behind an undrafted running back whose skills are more suited to being an every-down back.

    The Bills will move him all over the field to try and get him the ball, and he’ll take on at least some return duties.  But Buffalo’s offense is one of the worst in the league, which will limit Spiller’s ability to reach the end zone on a regular basis.

    Unless you play in a points-per-reception (PPR) league where touchdowns are devalued, Spiller isn’t worth the price.  The man ahead of him on the depth chart, Fred Jackson (ADP 76) is going two rounds later, and is a much better value.

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    Written by Chris Sheehan exclusively for the www.thefantasyfix.com. Chris is an avid football fan and has been playing fantasy football for over 10 years. Check back for more great articles from him weekly.

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