Running Back Sleepers & Values

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By John Paulsen (Senior Editor) on August 13, 2012

John was named the Most Accurate Fantasy Football Expert by FantasyPros for the 2010 season, finished as runner-up in 2011 and 4th in 2012 for an unprecedented three straight top 5 finishes. Cumulatively, John was the most accurate expert from 2010-13 while also winning the 2011 Fantasy Sports Trade Association award for the most accurate preseason rankings.  Follow John on Twitter: @4for4_John.

Since the position is at such a premium on draft day, it can be tough to find good value at running back. But that doesn't mean it can't be done.

 

Value RBs

For the purposes of this article, I'm defining value as those players who are going in the middle rounds at a discount given their role and/or projected production.
 
With Brandon Marshall gone, the Dolphins don't have very many playmakers, so it would make sense that they would lean on Bush after his very solid 2011 campaign. He thrived as the Dolphins' lead back, racking up 1,382 total yards and seven TDs in 15 games. So our projection of 1,312 yards and 6.5 TDs seem reasonable, even for a player with his injury history. Bush has said that he'll line up at receiver at times in the new offense, so he should continue to carry extra value in PPR formats.
 
For those that want to put Turner to pasture, he had eleven 20+ yard runs in '11 (3rd in league) and four 40+ yard runs (2nd), with a 4.5 YPC. While he did have 1,189 carries in his last four seasons, he only had 228 in his first four seasons (in SD behind Tomlinson) so he doesn't have as many miles as most 30-year-old RBs. ATL will reduce his workload but he's still a good bet for 250+ carries and his fifth-straight 10+ TD season.
 
Greene finished the 2011 season RB18 in standard scoring formats, but he's the #25 RB off the board despite the fact that he's still young (27 to start the season) and that the Jets let LaDainian Tomlinson (117 touches) go. Sure, Tim Tebow may very well eat into his rushing TDs, but he only had six scores in 2011 so he can only drop so far in that area. He has improved as a pass-catcher as well. He should make a solid (if unexciting) RB2 or a very good RB3. For more on Greene, read Josh Moore's breakdown: "Boring Production in the Middle Rounds." Josh's ideal strategy is letting someone else draft Shonn Greene for the brutal early schedule and targetting him as a buy low candidate around NFL Week 5 or 6. In shallow leagues, Greene may even hit waivers around that time.
 
Stevan Ridley, Patriots 
Ridley ran exclusively at the 1st team in Thursday night’ s preseason opener, rushing 8 times for 40 yards. He appears to have a stranglehold on the RB 1 job in new England, and is the favorite for the goal line duty that made BenJarvus Green-Ellis a fantasy factor over the last few seasons. He has been going in the 6th or 7th round, but his ADP is going to creep up into the 5th round given his recent play. This is not a safe pick, and could cause some frustration week-to-week, but there is a lot of upside here.
 
McGahee isn't likely to repeat his 1,199-yard season, but with Peyton Manning under center, McGahee should be less of a focus for the defense. His 4.8 YPC in 2011 indicates that he still has something left in the tank. While he is on the wrong side of 30, last season was the first time since 2007 that he cracked the 200-carry mark, so he has less tread on his tires than the average 30 year-old RB. Obviously Ronnie Hillman is a concern, but HC John Fox isn't known for trusting rookies. And for those who don't think that the running game is important in a Manning-led offense, the starting RB for the Colts from 1999 to 2007 (i.e. Edgerrin James and Joseph Addai) averaged 89.6 yards per game. That equates to 1,433 rushing yards over a full season.
 
Brown averaged a gaudy 4.8 YPC in 2011, but without his 161-yard effort against the Titans in Week 15, his YPC would drop to a more pedestrian 4.1 YPC. However, the running game should have more room to run with QB Andrew Luck under center in 2012. We're expecting Brown to be the lead back, but that could change in training camp.
 

Sleepers

With Jahvid Best's status up in the air, Smith's ADP has been creeping up into the 8th or even 7th round. Mikel Leshoure is also in the mix, but Smith proved that he could produce as a feature RB last season when he racked up 506 total yards and seven touchdowns in his final six games. He has also proven to be very adept in pass protection, so he has extra value in PPR leagues.
 
Evan Royster, Redskins 
Royster appears to be headed for RB1 duties since he is better able to break tackles than Roy Helu. Royster's ADP is still in the 11th round, so he can be had on the cheap. Buyer beware, however, because once you buy in to the Washington running game, you're guaranteeing yourself a headache just about every week.
 
Jacquizz Rodgers, Falcons 
In the Falcons' preseason game on Thursday night, Rodgers carried the ball nine times for 33 yards and a touchdown. He had one catch for 3 yards. He didn't join the starters until the 4th series, but the Falcons have made it clear that they want to get him more involved this season. Turner is still the feature back, but Rodgers may be a flex option in PPR leagues.
 
Jennings has proved himself to be capable of carrying the load when Maurice Jones-Drew misses time. Given the relative uncertainty surrounding MJD's holdout, Jennings is worth a flier in the later rounds, especially if you can draft him out from under the nose of the MJD owner in your league.
 
Filed Under: 2012, Preseason