2012 Fantasy Football: Overvalued and Undervalued Running Backs

Contributed by: Jared Dang
Last Updated: Jul 26, 2012 10:55 AM

Like all fraternities, in the NFL there exists a pecking order that must be respected, which is why the Miles Austins, the Arian Fosters and the Tom Bradys --stars of today, but benchwarmers of the past-- have all at one point in their careers sat patiently on the sidelines waiting for an opportunity which might never come.

For many, it never does. The NFL is unfair like that. Success more or less, is dependent on opportunity rather than talent and hard work.

But football is still a violent game and from this violence springs opportunity in the form of high ankle sprains, torn ACLs and free agent departures. Here's a look at a few running backs to whom opportunity has presented itself and a few to whom it hasn't quite yet.

Opportunity Knocks

James Starks, Green Bay Packers, Current ESPN ADP: 97.8
Because he has a cool name. Because all great superheroes must eventually pass the torch or handoff the pigskin and the odds of Aaron Rodgers throwing for 45 touchdowns in 15 weeks is slim. Because Ryan Grant led the team in carries with 134 (to Starks' 133) and is no longer on the team while no other viable running backs were added in the offseason. Because Starks ran at a 4.3 clip while battling injuries all year and now says he feels "faster than ever". And because there's no reason a 3-down back should be available at 97.8.

Donald Brown, Indianapolis Colts, ADP: 102.6
Brown is about as aesthetically pleasing as a Home Improvement marathon yet the former 1st rounder reached double digit fantasy points in three of the last six games of 2011, while showing breakaway speed with nearly 12% of his runs going for 10+ yards. With Joseph Addai gone, look for Brown's carries to increase significantly.

DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys, ADP: 23.6
Week 7-14 stats: 139 carries, 824 yards (103 average), 22 rec, 160 yards (20 average) 2 total TDs
You've got to give credit where credit is due which for the Cleveland Browns would entail forgetting about Jerome Harrison, Peyton Hillis and their spectacular 2009 and 2010 seasons. The credit should go to the men who don't show up in the stat sheet. The O-line, anchored by Joe Thomas, Eric Steinbach and Alex Mack were considered by many to be the No 1. run blocking unit and that didn't include Lawrence Vickers, regarded as a top run blocking fullback himself.
Vickers is now in Dallas along with two free agent offensive line signings in Nate Livings (signed for $19 million) and Mackenzy Bernadeau (signed for $11 million), both of whom are capable run-blockers. With their free agent signings, Murray potentially could lead the league in rushing.

Buyer Beware

Roy Helu, Washington Redskins, ADP: 48.4 John Travolta coming out of the closet. Mitt Romney befriending black people. Me paying money to go see a movie about Katy Perry. All things that are more likely to happen before Mike Shanahan fully commits to a running back for the entire season, let alone a few weeks in a row. As of right now, Tim Hightower is the front runner to start, so save yourself the migraines, the unexpected DNPs and a likely 5th round pick and go in another direction.

Stevan Ridley, New England Patriots, ADP: 86.7
If you think Ridley's 210 yards on 39 carries over the last three weeks of the regular season is a sign of more carries to come, slap yourself. There's no consistency for running backs in this offense, especially later on in the season when Belicheck's game plan is to conceal future game plans. Seven weeks did BenJarvus Green-Ellis finish with less than double digit carries and four of those came after a week with 10+ carries. Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead will make sure Ridley does not live up to his current ADP.

Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, ADP: 82.7
Is Nickelback really that bad? Will Tampa Bay really turn the ball over to a rookie when LeGarrette Blount does things like this and this? The answer to both questions is no. I think. But would you rather wait a few weeks to see how the RBBC shapes up in Tampa Bay, or take a chance on a high risk/reward player like Mark Ingram, Denarius Moore or Malcom Floyd, all of whom have lower ADPs?

Keep An Eye On

Daniel Thomas, Miami Dolphins, ADP: 124.7
Recent news out of Miami indicates that Reggie Bush will see less carries in the new west coast offense that first year Dolphins coach Joe Philbin is installing. This can only mean more carries for Thomas, who did nothing to earn them in his rookie season, averaging 3.52 yards per carry on 165 carries. Nevertheless, if Bush is to revert to his old role in New Orleans, Thomas should lead the team in carries.

Joe McKnight, New York Jets, ADP: Undrafted
As long as Shonn Greene plays like Shonn Greene, any running back that shows a semblance of competence has a shot to take over the starter's carries. This is not up for discussion, no matter how much Rex Ryan says Greene will run, anybody who has watched Greene lately knows the backup running back will have a shot. According to this beat writer's blog post, there are those in the organization who are predicting a breakout for McKnight.

Guaranteed Opportunities

Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams, ADP: 32.1
The fact that Jackson is publicly stating his belief that Isaiah Pead will be limited to the change-of-pace role is a good sign that the 29 year old back is not worried about his carries. Perhaps 25-30 touches per game is a little much, but then again maybe Jackson touching the ball 25-30 times is probably the only way the Rams can win.

Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers, ADP: 13.5
So what if Mathews doesn't necessarily have the heart to be a top-5 running back, Mike Tolbert left so it doesn't matter! Most analysts project Mathews to see roughly a 100+ carry increase and Tolbert's 10 touchdowns have to go somewhere.

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