Fantasy Football 2011: 5 Running Backs to Love This Year with Auction Values
Year after year, it seems like the teams with the best running backs always win. It's the most important position in fantasy football, and trying to overcome deficiencies at running back is essentially impossible. In almost all cases, each team is going to take at least one, if not two, running backs in the first three rounds, and it's important to make the most of those picks.
This list isn't a list of which running backs are the best, but rather which ones provide the best value for where they're being drafted, or for how much people are paying for them in auction.
Since I participate in both snake and auction leagues, I thought I might as well talk about both. Here are three top end running backs who provide great value this year.
5. Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants
Nick Laham/Getty Images
Ahmad Bradshaw has suffered from foot injuries in the past, but from what I'm reading it seems as if he's doing pretty well at the moment. He played all 16 games last season, but he wasn't at full strength most of the time. Bradshaw is only 25 years old, and if he can stay healthy this year he could be a force.
Splitting carries with Brandon Jacobs scares me a little bit, but Jacobs has struggled with his fair share of injuries and, at 29, he's not getting younger. Between his age and his injury history, I can't imagine Jacobs is going to see his carries increase.
Ahmad Bradshaw isn't necessarily built for 330 carries, so allowing Jacobs to take some carries isn't all that bad for Bradshaw, but I do expect the split to go a little bit more in Bradshaw's favor now that he's healthy. Not only does Bradshaw get significantly more carries, but he's also a much better pass-catcher, giving him a little boost.
Bradshaw is currently slated as an early fourth-round pick, but I think he's much better than that. I wouldn't be afraid to pick him in the mid third-round depending on who is left. I definitely think he provides third-round value. I have him in my top 15 for running backs, making him a solid No. 2.
In mock auction drafts that I've been in, Bradshaw is currently going for somewhere around $20. If you can get him for that price, I would strongly suggest doing it. Personally, I would probably go as high as $24 for him. After that, it's up to you. I wouldn't strongly disagree with going higher than $26, but I wouldn't do it.
4. Matt Forte, Chicago Bears
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Matt Forte may not end up being a star, but I think he brings great value to the table at the end of the third round, primarily because of his versatility.
Matt Forte probably isn't going to get to 300 carries, especially in a pass-first offense, but he still brings a lot to the table. Not only is he likely to get 1,000 yards on the ground, but he's going to add another 500 on the ground. That would give him more total yards than both Michael Turner and Rashard Mendenhall last season. These guys are both early to mid second-round picks while Forte is a late third-rounder.
If Matt Forte can score 10-12 total touchdowns, we're looking at a borderline top-10 fantasy back. With the limited options in Chicago's passing game, I can see Forte getting even more touches than he did last season.
Another great thing about Forte is durability, something others at his position have struggled with. Matt Forte has never missed a game in his three-year career and, while injuries are difficult to predict, Forte is a better bet to stay healthy than most.
As far as his auction value goes, I have seen him go mostly in the low 20s and occasionally into the mid 20s. Two running backs considered right above him by most, Peyton Hillis and Darren McFadden, are going in the high 20s and sometimes even getting into the 30s. I like Forte more than either of those guys, and if you want Forte as high as 30, I say go for it.
No matter what your opinion on Forte is, if he's at 21 or 22, and I have gotten him for that much before, you should throw in a bid for him. He's worth the money for that.
3. Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
While Steven Jackson has a reputation of bring injury-prone, he has, to some extent, decreased that reputation over the past two years missing only one game. In his career he's never played less than 12 games once.
In drafting Steven Jackson, you know there's a definite possibility he could miss some games, and you'll probably have to deal with some Qs next to his name at some point, but overall I think he could provide great value.
I really like Steven Jackson this year for a few reasons.
First of all, the Rams offense is going to be significantly better this season. With the improvement of Sam Bradford, and the Rams having a healthy receiving core, the Rams should score significantly more this season, meaning more yardage and red-zone opportunities for Steven Jackson.
Jackson scored only six touchdowns last season. With over 1,600 yards, six touchdowns seems like way too small of a number. If he meets those yardage totals again next season, I have to imagine he scores at least nine times if not more. Not only because of the luck, but also because of the steps I expect the Rams offense to take.
Another reason I like Jackson is because he can catch the ball out of the backfield. I expect Jackson to get quite a few targets this year, and with that his receiving yards will likely go up.
Right now, Jackson is a late second- or early third-round pick, but at this point, I would probably put him ahead of any receiver not named Roddy White or Andre Johnson. I'd also take him ahead of Drew Brees. That would make him a legitimate mid second-round pick.
As far as the auctions go, he's going for around $30, I would say he's worth closer to $35. I might go as high as $38 for Jackson if I missed out on other running back targets.
2. Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons
Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Although Michael Turner is now 29 years old, he is what some might call a "young 29" because he didn't have a big workload in the first four years of his career in San Diego. I expect Turner to have at least one more high quality year if not more.
Last season, Turner was the No. 8 running back in fantasy football. He was third in rushing yards and he tied for fourth in rushing touchdowns. Although Turner doesn't bring much to the table when it comes to receiving, he's extremely consistent in the running game, making him valuable.
Because Atlanta's offense is so heavily based on running, Turner will get his touches. As long as you take Jason Snelling as a handcuff in the late rounds, you shouldn't have to worry. Snelling is capable of producing at a good rate if Turner goes down, but he shouldn't eat into his workload otherwise.
Turner is currently a mid second-rounder, but I would put him ahead of both Frank Gore and Rashard Mendenhall, both of whom are currently being ranked in front of him. I'm not sure if Turner is a first-round pick, but he should go at the top of the second round.
Michael Turner's auction value is sitting in the mid 30s, but I think he's easily worth $40. Top second-round picks are currently going in the low to mid 40s, and I think Michael Turner belongs in that group.
1. Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens
Rob Carr/Getty Images
There are a couple reasons why I really, really like Rice this year.
First, the Ravens cut Willis McGahee. McGahee is a decent running back, but over the last few years in Baltimore he has developed into nothing more than a touchdown vulture. He was never good enough to own in 10 team leagues, but he always stole goal-line carries from Rice. Now, McGahee is out of the way, and Rice is likely to get a chance to get those goal-line touches.
While the signing of Ricky Williams may cut into his touches and yards a little bit, I don't think it will be a huge issue. Rice wasn't built to carry the ball 350 times anyway.
The important things to know are that Williams probably won't take all that many goal line carries from Rice, and Rice is a far better third-down back. Williams may get a couple plays here and there, but I think essentially trading McGahee for Williams helps Rice's value.
Next, the Ravens signed Vonta Leach. Leach is probably the best blocking fullback in the league. Last year he blocked for none other than Arian Foster, the league's leading rusher.
I'm not saying that Leach is going to come in and allow Rice to rush for 2,000 yards, but obtaining a great blocking fullback can't be a bad thing. With Leach leading the way, maybe Rice can get into the end zone in those goal-line situations a little bit easier.
Finally, Rice is entering his contract year. It's no secret that the contract year provides some extra motivation. This year, he's going to be fighting for his first big pay day. Enough said.
Rice is considered by most to be a top-six player. Where he fits in that top six varies. I wouldn't necessarily take him at No. 3, but I think I would probably rank him there with what I know now.
Other than Arian Foster and AP, I think Rice is the best fantasy option this year. Between his skills as a runner and pass-catcher, his durability and the offensive scheme he plays in, I wouldn't be surprised if Rice has a huge year.
If you want Rice in an auction draft, you're going to have to pay a pretty big sum of money to get him. Right now his value is hovering around $50. While I don't usually like targeting top level players, if you can get Rice for a shade over $50, I say you might as well go for it if it fits into your draft strategy. If I'm going after any top-10 player, it's definitely going to be Rice.
Follow me on twitter @MaxMinsker